The first day of my (Tim) Introductory Microeconomics class our teacher provided us with a few key tenants surrounding microeconomics; 1) assumptions must and will be made (I still don’t agree with this principle and feel it can distort the real world – maybe it will be our next blog post), and 2) there is no such thing as a free lunch. The second point baffled me at first. I had heard of opportunity cost, but I had never truly sat down and thought of its real-life application. Our teacher began peppering us, attempting to see if we could break this fundamental rule. It is a difficult and an almost impossible task. Anything you do has another side of the story; as humans, we are constantly battling a zero-sum game. Opportunity cost is real and is a core tenant not only in economics, but in your financial plan as well.
When a family or individual approaches us to begin assessing their ability to retire and live on a fixed income, we explain that financial planning comes down to a simple equation: income (I) – expenses (e) = free cash flow (FCF). Where things become subjective and more complicated is the composition of I and more specifically E. A subjective piece to E, is the rate at which it is increasing over time, otherwise known as inflation. One metric used to describe inflation is the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures the rate of change for a basket of goods and services purchased by households. CPI is a general indicator of the rate at which E is increasing over time. The issue – not every E category is inflating at the same rate. Furthermore, each E category has a differently weighted percentage relative to E. Meaning, averaging CPI over time and applying that percentage across all E categories may produce results that are not indicative of the future. To produce a more accurate picture, you must understand the amount you will be spending for each E category and then apply an appropriate inflation rate. Moving forward, one E category one must truly understand is healthcare.
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