My Money Blog Portfolio Income and Withdrawal Rate – March 2019 (Q1)

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

dividendmono225One of the biggest problems in retirement planning is turning a pile of money into a reliable stream of income. I have read hundreds of articles about this topic, and I have not yet found a perfect solution to this problem. Everything has pros and cons: stocks, high-dividend stocks, bonds, annuities, real estate, and so on.

The imperfect (!) solution I chose is to first build a portfolio designed for total return and enough downside protection such that I can hold through an extended downturn. As you will see below, the total income is a little under 3% of the portfolio annually. I could easily crank out a portfolio with a 4% income rate, or even 5% income. But you have to take some additional risks to get there. With a total return-oriented portfolio, I am more confident that the (lower initial) income will grow at least as fast (and hopefully faster) than inflation.

Starting with a more traditional portfolio, I then try to only spend the dividends and interest. The analogy I fall back on is owning a rental property. If you are reliably getting rent checks that increase with inflation, you can sit back calmly and ignore what the house might sell for on the open market.

I track the “TTM Yield” or “12 Mo. Yield” from Morningstar, which the sum of a fund’s total trailing 12-month interest and dividend payments divided by the last month’s ending share price (NAV) any capital gains distributed over the same period. (Index funds have low turnover and thus little in capital gains.) I like this measure because it is based on historical distributions and not a forecast. Below is a very close approximation of my investment portfolio (2/3rd stocks and 1/3rd bonds).

Asset Class / Fund % of Portfolio Trailing 12-Month Yield (Taken 3/15/19) Yield Contribution
US Total Stock
Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTI, )
25% 1.81% 0.45%
US Small Value
Vanguard Small-Cap Value ETF ()
5% 2.03% 0.10%
International Total Stock
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, )
25% 2.89% 0.72%
Emerging Markets
Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF ()
5% 2.63% 0.13%
US Real Estate
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, )
6% 4.21% 0.25%
Intermediate-Term High Quality Bonds
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt Fund ()
17% 2.86% 0.49%
Inflation-Linked Treasury Bonds
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund ()
17% 3.09% 0.53%
Totals 100% 2.67%

 

Using this metric, my maximum spending target is a 2.67% withdrawal rate. One of the things I like about using this number is that when stock prices drop, this percentage metric usually goes up… and that makes me feel better in a gloomy market. When stock prices go up, this percentage metric usually goes down, which keeps me from getting too happy. This also applies to the relative performance of US and International stocks. In this way, tracking yield adjusts in a very rough manner for valuation.

We are a real 40-year-old couple with three young kids, and this money has to last us a lifetime (without stomach ulcers). This number does not dictate how much we actually spend every year, but it gives me an idea of how comfortable I am with our withdrawal rate. We spend less than this amount now, but I like to plan for the worst while hoping for the best. For now, we are quite fortunate to be able to do work that is meaningful to us, in an amount where we still enjoy it and don’t feel burned out.

Life is not a Monte Carlo simulation, and you need a plan to ride out the rough times. Even if you run a bunch of numbers looking back to 1920 and it tells you some number is “safe”, that’s still trying to use 100 years of history to forecast 50 years into the future. Michael Pollan says that you can sum up his eating advice as “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” You can sum up my thoughts on portfolio income as “Spend mostly dividends and interest. Don’t eat too much principal.” At the same time, live your life. Enjoy your time with family and friends. You may be more likely to run out of time than run out of money.

In the end, I do think using a 3% withdrawal rate is a reasonable target for something retiring young (before age 50) and a 4% withdrawal rate is a reasonable target for one retiring at a more traditional age (closer to 65). If you’re still in the accumulation phase, you don’t really need a more accurate number than that. Focus on your earning potential via better career moves, investing in your skillset, and/or look for entrepreneurial opportunities where you get equity in a business.

My Money Blog Portfolio Asset Allocation and Performance, March 2019 (Q1)

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

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Here’s my quarterly portfolio update for Q1 2019. Most of my dividends arrive on a quarterly basis, and this helps me decided where to reinvest them. These are my real-world holdings, including 401k/403b/IRAs and taxable brokerage accounts but excluding our house, cash reserves, and a few side investments. The goal of this portfolio is to create sustainable income to cover our household expenses for the next (hopefully) 40+ years. We are currently “semi-retired”, meaning we both work part-time while also spending a portion of our dividends and interest from this portfolio.

Actual Asset Allocation and Holdings

I use both Personal Capital and a custom Google Spreadsheet to track my investment holdings. The Personal Capital financial tracking app (free, my review) automatically logs into my accounts, adds up my balances, tracks my performance, and calculates my asset allocation. I still use my (free, instructions) because it helps me calculate how much I need in each asset class to rebalance back towards my target asset allocation.

Here are my YTD performance and current asset allocation visually, per the “Holdings” and “Allocation” tabs of my Personal Capital account, respectively:

Stock Holdings
Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTI, VTSMX, VTSAX)
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, VGTSX, VTIAX)
WisdomTree SmallCap Dividend ETF (DES)
Vanguard Small Value ETF (VBR)
Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF (VWO)
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, VGSIX, VGSLX)

Bond Holdings
Vanguard Limited-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VMLTX, VMLUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VWITX, VWIUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury Fund (VFITX, VFIUX)
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX, VAIPX)
Fidelity Inflation-Protected Bond Index Fund (FIPDX)
iShares Barclays TIPS Bond ETF (TIP)
Individual TIPS securities
U.S. Savings Bonds (Series I)

Target Asset Allocation. Our overall goal is to include asset classes that will provide long-term returns above inflation, distribute income via dividends and interest, and finally offer some historical tendencies to balance each other out. I make a small bet that US Small Value and Emerging Markets will have higher future long-term returns (along with some higher volatility) than the more large and broad indexes, although I could be wrong. I don’t hold commodities, gold, or bitcoin as they don’t provide any income and I don’t believe they’ll outpace inflation significantly.

I believe that it is important to imagine an asset class doing poorly for a long time, with bad news constantly surrounding it, and only hold the ones where you still think you can maintain faith based on a solid foundation of knowledge and experience.

Stocks Breakdown

  • 38% US Total Market
  • 7% US Small-Cap Value
  • 38% International Total Market
  • 7% Emerging Markets
  • 10% US Real Estate (REIT)

Bonds Breakdown

  • 50% High-quality, Intermediate-Term Bonds
  • 50% US Treasury Inflation-Protected Bonds

I have settled into a long-term target ratio of 67% stocks and 33% bonds (2:1 ratio) within our investment strategy of buy, hold, and occasionally rebalance. I will use the dividends and interest to rebalance whenever possible in order to avoid taxable gains. (I’m fine with it drifting to 65/35 or 70/30.) With a self-managed, simple portfolio of low-cost funds, we minimize management fees, commissions, and taxes.

Holdings commentary. On the bond side, I still like high-quality bonds with a short-to-intermediate duration of under 5 years or so. This means US Treasuries, TIPS, or investment-grade municipal bonds. I don’t want to worry about my bonds “blowing up”. Right now, my bond portfolio is about 1/3rd muni bonds, 1/3rd treasury bonds, and 1/3rd inflation-linked treasury bonds (and savings bonds).

On the stocks side, everything has had a nice bounce back up since the drop in late 2018. I didn’t really sweat the ride down, so I’m not celebrating the ride up. I remain satisfied with my mix, knowing that I will own whatever successful businesses come out of the US, China, or wherever in the future.

Performance commentary and benchmarks. According to Personal Capital, my portfolio went up 8.6% already so far in 2019. I see that during the same period the S&P 500 has gone up over 12%, Foreign Developed stocks up nearly 11%, and the US Aggregate bond index was up nearly 2%.

An alternative benchmark for my portfolio is 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund and 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Moderate Growth Fund – one is 60/40 and the other is 80/20 so it also works out to 70% stocks and 30% bonds. That benchmark would have a total return of +8.6% for 2019 YTD. This quarter, I’m right at this benchmark with my customized portfolio.

I’ll share about more about the income aspect in a separate post.

Roth vs Traditional Pretax 401k? Compare With These Example Worker Profiles

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T. Rowe Price has an article by Roger Young that covers the basics on the choice between a “Traditional” pretax or Roth IRA or 401k account:

The primary factor to consider is whether your marginal tax rate will be higher or lower during retirement. If your tax rate will be higher later, paying taxes now with the Roth makes sense. If your tax rate will be lower, you want to defer taxes until then by using the pretax approach.

With the Traditional pretax, you get to avoid paying income taxes on the contribution now, but you must pay taxes up on withdrawal. With the Roth, you pay income taxes now, but you don’t own any taxes upon withdrawal. However, I am linking to it because it also includes a table with some sample worker profiles. This may help clarify things for people who are still confused about which to pick.

There are other considerations due to our overly-complex tax code, but I think this is still a helpful tool.

A Sense of Urgency: Money Can’t Buy You More Time

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Over the weekend, I read the NYT Magazine article about the rich and unhappy, which included a man who earned $1.2 million a year in Manhattan and hated his job:

“I feel like I’m wasting my life,” he told me. “When I die, is anyone going to care that I earned an extra percentage point of return? My work feels totally meaningless.” He recognized the incredible privilege of his pay and status, but his anguish seemed genuine. “If you spend 12 hours a day doing work you hate, at some point it doesn’t matter what your paycheck says,” he told me. There’s no magic salary at which a bad job becomes good. He had received an offer at a start-up, and he would have loved to take it, but it paid half as much, and he felt locked into a lifestyle that made this pay cut impossible. “My wife laughed when I told her about it,” he said.

Based on a short conversation in a class reunion, it’s easy to extrapolate endless stressful hours at work, a huge mortgage, fancy private school tuition, expensive vacations, and a high-maintenance spouse. Such a picture makes all of us not earning $1.2 million a year feel better about ourselves. But is he really that miserable?

I suspect it is more like the same situation a lot of people are in. They aren’t happy, but things aren’t bad enough to keep them from still doing the same thing. It’s easy to just say OMY (One More Year) because change is scary. I’d certainly rather be in that position while earning a million bucks a year, rather than earning $40k. He has a lot more optionality than most.

Ever since my post on Retirement Nest Egg Calculators: Running Out of Money vs. Running Out of Time, this following statistic has been stuck in my mind:

If you’re 40, you have a 10% chance of dying before even reaching 65.

What is your likelihood of dying within the next 20 years? Here are based on for US citizens, sorted by age and gender. Below are the rough numbers, along with an edited screenshot of the source at the very bottom.

  • A male, age 30 has a 1 in 20 chance of dying in the next 20 years (age 50).
  • A male, age 40 has a 1 in 10 chance of dying in the next 20 years (age 60).
  • A male, age 50 has a 1 in 5 chance of dying in the next 20 years (age 70).
  • A female, age 30 has a 1 in 35 chance of dying in the next 20 years (age 50).
  • A female, age 40 has a 1 in 15 chance of dying in the next 20 years (age 60).
  • A female, age 50 has a 1 in 7 chance of dying in the next 20 years (age 70).

I try to use these numbers to motivate myself and create a sense of urgency. I’m 40 years old now. There is a 1 in 10 chance that I won’t be old enough to see my daughters even finish college. The person profiled in this article is also probably around 40 years old (15-year reunion of business school). I’m sure there are plenty of 60-year-olds who say “60 isn’t old!” and it isn’t, but that is literally survivorship bias. We all know people who didn’t make it to 60, and these are the overall odds.

Time is your most precious resource. It doesn’t matter what your income is, you only have so much time. Therefore, you should spend it in a way that aligns with your values. Look for ways to get closer to that. If you can’t quit, do the same job with a better employer. Keep working, but switch to a different job within that field/skillset with more personal meaning. Saving more can mean you can get by working fewer hours. If you think you can retire but just can’t seem to pull the trigger, you need to directly confront those last few worries.

Are you unhappy with your situation and still in the same spot as a year ago? Try to find something psychological that will create a sense of urgency. I tell myself “Why am still wasting my time with [insert task]? 1 in 10.”

Historical IRA Contribution Limits 2009-2019

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ira_heartIndividual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs) are way to save money towards retirement that also saves on taxes. For 2019, the annual contribution limit for either Traditional or Roth IRAs increased to $6,000 (it is roughly indexed to inflation). The additional catch-up contribution allowed for those age 50+ stays at $1,000 (for a total of $7,000). You can’t contribute more than your taxable compensation for the year, although a spouse can contribute with no income if the other person has enough income.

Historical limits. Since I enjoy visual aides, here’s an updated historical chart and table of contribution limits for the last 11 years. I’m happy to say that we’ve both done the max since 2004. Consistently saving for a decade can result in some fat nest eggs!

Year IRA Contribution Limit Additional Catch-Up Allowed (Age 50+)
2009 $5,000 $1,000
2010 $5,000 $1,000
2011 $5,000 $1,000
2012 $5,000 $1,000
2013 $5,500 $1,000
2014 $5,500 $1,000
2015 $5,500 $1,000
2016 $5,500 $1,000
2017 $5,500 $1,000
2018 $5,500 $1,000
2019 $6,000 $1,000

 

Traditional IRAs. If you are covered by a retirement plan at work, deductibility of your contribution to a Traditional IRA is based on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) and tax-filing status. See the IRS page on . However, there are no income restrictions as to who can contribute to the full contribution limit for a Traditional IRA.

Roth IRAs. It doesn’t matter if you are covered by a retirement plan at work for the Roth IRA, and contributions to a Roth are never deductible (but they aren’t taxed on upon qualified withdrawal). However, the contribution limit and overall eligibility may be capped based on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) and tax-filing status. See the IRS page on . But wait… high-income earners may be able to get around these income restrictions with a Backdoor Roth IRA (non-deductible Traditional IRA + Roth conversion). Yeesh, I really wish they would simplify all this stuff.

Saver’s Credit. If your income is low enough (less than $63,000 AGI for married filing joint), the can get you back 10% to 50% of your contribution (of up to $2,000 per person) when you file your taxes.

Also see: 401k, 403b, TSP Historical Contribution Limits 2009-2019

Sources: , [PDF]

401k, 403b, TSP Historical Contribution Limits 2009-2019

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

401k_limitsEmployer-based retirement plans like the 401(k), 403(b), and Thrift Savings Plan are not perfect, but they are often the best available option to save money in a tax-advantaged manner. For 2019, the employee elective deferral (contribution) limit for these plans increased to $19,000 (it is indexed to inflation). The additional catch-up contribution allowed for those age 50+ stays at $6,000 (for a total of $25,000).

Here’s a historical chart of contribution limits for the last 11 years (2009-2019).

Year 401k/403b Elective Deferral Limit Additional Catch-Up Allowed (Age 50+)
2009 $16,500 $5,500
2010 $16,500 $5,500
2011 $16,500 $5,500
2012 $17,000 $5,500
2013 $17,500 $5,500
2014 $17,500 $5,500
2015 $18,000 $6,000
2016 $18,000 $6,000
2017 $18,000 $6,000
2018 $18,500 $6,000
2019 $19,000 $6,000

 

The limits are the same for both Roth and “Traditional” pre-tax 401k plans, although the effective after-tax amounts can be quite different. Employer match contributions do not count towards the elective deferral limit. Curiously, some employer plans set their own limit on contributions. A former employer of mine had a 20% deferral limit, so if your income was $50,000 the most you could put away was $10,000 a year.

For 2019, the maximum contribution limit when you include both employer and employee contributions is $56,000, an increase of $1,000. The employer portion includes company match and profit-sharing contributions.

The employee salary deferral max limit applies even if you participate in multiple 401k plans.

Sources: , [PDF], .

Investing $10,000 Every Year For the Last 10 Years, 2009-2018

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keepcalmInstead of just looking at one year of returns, I prefer taking a longer view. Most successful savers invest money each year over a long period of time, these days often into a target-date fund (TDF). Don’t get caught up in the daily news reporting the recent performance of the Dow or S&P 500.

Investment benchmark. There are many possible choices for an investment benchmark, but I chose the . This all-in-one fund is low-cost, highly diversified, and available in many employer retirement plans as well open to anyone with an IRA. In the early accumulation phase, this fund is 90% stocks (both US and international) and 10% bonds (investment-grade domestic and international). I think it’s a solid default choice where you could easily do worse over the long run.

Investment amount. For the last decade, the maximum allowable annual contribution to a Traditional or Roth IRA has been roughly $5,000 per person. The maximum allowable annual contribution for a 401k, 403b, or TSP plan has been over $10,000 per person. If you have a household income of $67,000, then $10,000 is right at the 15% savings rate mark. Therefore, I’m going to use $10,000 as a benchmark amount. It’s easy to multiply the results as needed.

A decade of real-world savings. To create a simple-yet-realistic scenario, what would have happened if you put $10,000 a year into the Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 Fund, every year, for the past 10 years. You’d have put in $100,000 over time, but in more manageable increments. With the handy tools at and a Google spreadsheet, we get this:

Investing $10,000 every year for the last decade would have resulted in a $57,000 investment gain. If, for example, you were a couple that both maxed out their 401k and IRAs at roughly $20k each or $40k total per year, that would leave you with a gain of roughly $230,000 over the last decade (and a total balance of $630,000).

Timing still matters, but not as much as you might think due to the dollar-cost averaging and longer time horizon. More importantly, you can’t control that part. You have much more control over how much you save. Here are previous results for January 2007 to December 2016 and January 2008 to December 2017.

Work on improving your career skills (or start your own business), save a big chunk of your income, and then invest it in productive assets. Keep calm and repeat. Our path to financial freedom can be mostly explained by such behavior. The only “secret” here is consistency. We maxed out both IRA and the 401k salary deferral limits nearly every year since 2004. You can build wealth with something as accessible and boring as the Vanguard Target Retirement fund. We received no inheritances and don’t pay a brilliant hedge fund manager.

Blooom Review 2019: Free 401k Analysis + Human CFP Financial Advice For $10 a Month

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Does the New Year have you motivated to give your retirement account a tune-up? As opposed to many other online advisors, Blooom.com (with three Os) focuses on providing advice for 401k, 403b, 457, and TSP accounts by offering both a free 401k analysis and charging a flat $10/month fee for ongoing portfolio management and CFP advice. They don’t require you to move any money over to them.

Free 401k analysis screenshots. Anyone can sign up for their free 401k analysis with no commitment. They don’t ask for last name or credit card information.

1. They ask you for first name, current age, and retirement age. You don’t need to be super-specific here, they just want some basic information to create your target asset allocation and time horizon.

2. They ask you short risk questionnaire. I’m still not convinced of the validity of finding your risk tolerance via a few multiple choice questions, but I suppose this is the most practical way to at least get you in the ballpark. They had me at 68% stocks and 32% bonds, which is actually really close to my actual stock/bond mix.

3. Provide your login credentials. Blooom will automatically pull in your 401k holdings and other information when you provide them your username and password. This is similar to how I track my own portfolio via Personal Capital. It took them a couple of minutes to crunch everything.

4. Analysis results and screenshots. They first give you an overall report card. Looks like I have a lot to work on:

Next, they told me about the fees that I am paying. It appears that because my fees were “difficult to identify”, they used an average number based on all of their clients. I’m guessing this is because I have a lot of non-mutual-fund holdings in my Solo 401k.

They then analyze asset allocation, identifying the mutual funds and assigning the proper asset class. They they compare with their recommended asset allocation for you:

Free 401k analysis review. My main concern about this analysis is that it only takes into account your 401k. If your 401k is your only retirement savings, then this is fine. However, my 401k is only a portion of my overall portfolio. In addition, I use tax-efficient asset placement, so my 401k mostly holds REITs and TIPs. While their asset allocation breakdown of my actual funds was mostly correct, I was never going to be close to their target mix. This prevented me from getting value out of this service.

Paid management service review. Here’s what the paid service includes:

  • Fee analysis. Each mutual fund you own charges an expense ratio that is quietly taken out of your balances daily. There may also be additional administrative fees charged by your provider.
  • Asset allocation advice. They will come up with a mix of stocks and bonds that are appropriate for your age, and time horizon. Their suggested asset allocation advice is in line with that of other robo-advisors.
  • Rebalancing service. Blooom will rebalance your assets periodically back towards your target values. They’ll help you maintain diversification across asset classes like US stocks, international stocks, safe bonds, etc.
  • Chat with Certified Financial Planners. You can e-mail or Live Chat with a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) about any financial topic, not just 401ks.
  • Fiduciary advice. Blooom is a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) and pledges a fiduciary duty under the law to give advice in your best interest only. This is an important detail!

Blooom has settled on a flat $10 a month fee for ongoing 401k management and advice. This is the same if you have $10,000 or $10 million. Flat fees end up being a high percentage of small accounts though, for example on $10,000 that ends up being 1.2% a year. My personal opinion is that if you have few thousand dollars or less, you should buy the cheapest S&P 500 index fund (or a low-cost Target Date fund) in your 401k and focus on increasing your contribution rate. You don’t need to pay $10 a month for advice right now. Asset allocation isn’t that important yet. Of course, the financial advisor access may be worth more than $10 a month by itself (see below).

While flat fees don’t work out mathematically for small accounts, you will start to save money as your account grows when compared to a percentage-based fee. Once you reach about $50,000 in assets, paying a flat $10 a month becomes cheaper than paying 0.25% of your assets annually.

If you had a solid low-cost, diversified Target Retirement fund from Vanguard, Fidelity Index Series, or Schwab Index Series, you may not need to pay for extra advice either. The asset allocation, rebalancing, and growing more conservative over time is all baked-in. The problem is that there are a lot of bad Target Retirement funds out there that have added layers of fees, stuffed with expensive questionable funds, and chase performance.

The hidden deal? You can get ongoing financial advice from a human CFP for only $10 a month! I think the most overlooked feature of the Blooom paid service is that they include the ability to Live Chat (text) or e-mail with Certified Financial Planners with no minimum balance requirement. A real human CFP, not some AI bot!

DID YOU KNOW blooom clients have access to a CFP? Just ping us on chat, email, Morse code, singing telegram, Pony Express… well, you get the idea, we are accessible.

You are welcome to ask questions about topics outside your 401k:

Ask our advisors any financial questions you have… even beyond 401ks! […] We go beyond retirement advice. Thinking about how a puppy or new car might affect you financially? Give us a whirl! Whether it’s $20 or $20,000, we want all our blooom members to make smart decisions about their finances.

I don’t know of any other place I can get a CFP to chat with me for ten bucks. For example, won’t let you have CFP access until you have $100,000 held with them (and 401k assets don’t count). You could always pay $10 for the first month and see how you like their CFP advice, as there is no contract on the monthly plan.

Bottom line. Blooom is an online financial advisor that manages 401k/403b/TSP employer retirement accounts. This works out if the majority of your retirement assets are in such a plan. They offer a free 401k/403b analysis to try them out. Above that, they will manage your funds and provide chat/e-mail access to a Certified Financial Planner for a flat $10 a month. This is one of the cheapest ways I know of to chat and email with a human Certified Financial Planner.

Disclosure: I have an affiliate relationship with Blooom. If you try out the free 401k analysis, I get nothing. If you end up being a paid member of Blooom through one of the links above, I will get a commission at no extra cost to you. All content and opinions remain my own.

My Money Blog Portfolio Asset Allocation and Performance Tracking, Year-End 2018

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

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Here’s my final quarterly portfolio update for Q4 2018. This is how I track my real-world holdings, including 401k/403b/IRAs and taxable brokerage accounts but excluding our house, cash reserves, and a few side investments. The goal of this portfolio is to create enough income to cover our household expenses. As of 2018, we are “semi-retired” and have started spending a portion of our dividends and interest from this portfolio.

Actual Asset Allocation and Holdings

I use both Personal Capital and a custom Google Spreadsheet to track my investment holdings. The Personal Capital financial tracking app (free, my review) automatically logs into my accounts, adds up my balances, tracks my performance, and calculates my asset allocation. I still use my (free, instructions) because it helps me calculate how much I need in each asset class to rebalance back towards my target asset allocation.

Here are my YTD performance and current asset allocation visually, per the “Holdings” and “Allocation” tabs of my Personal Capital account, respectively:

Stock Holdings
Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTI, VTSMX, VTSAX)
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, VGTSX, VTIAX)
WisdomTree SmallCap Dividend ETF (DES)
Vanguard Small Value ETF (VBR)
Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF (VWO)
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, VGSIX, VGSLX)

Bond Holdings
Vanguard Limited-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VMLTX, VMLUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VWITX, VWIUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury Fund (VFITX, VFIUX)
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX, VAIPX)
Fidelity Inflation-Protected Bond Index Fund (FIPDX)
iShares Barclays TIPS Bond ETF (TIP)
Individual TIPS securities
U.S. Savings Bonds (Series I)

Target Asset Allocation. Our overall goal is to include asset classes that will provide long-term returns above inflation, distribute income via dividends and interest, and finally offer some historical tendencies to balance each other out. I make a small bet that US Small Value and Emerging Markets will have higher future long-term returns (along with some higher volatility) than the more large and broad indexes, although I could be wrong. I don’t hold commodities, gold, or bitcoin as they don’t provide any income and I don’t believe they’ll outpace inflation significantly.

I believe that it is important to imagine an asset class doing poorly for a long time, with bad news constantly surrounding it, and only hold the ones where you still think you can maintain faith based on a solid foundation of knowledge and experience.

Stocks Breakdown

  • 38% US Total Market
  • 7% US Small-Cap Value
  • 38% International Total Market
  • 7% Emerging Markets
  • 10% US Real Estate (REIT)

Bonds Breakdown

  • 50% High-quality, Intermediate-Term Bonds
  • 50% US Treasury Inflation-Protected Bonds

I have settled into a long-term target ratio of 67% stocks and 33% bonds (2:1 ratio) within our investment strategy of buy, hold, and occasionally rebalance. (Small changes to 65/35 or 70/30 are also fine.) With a self-managed, simple portfolio of low-cost funds, we minimize management fees, commissions, and taxes.

Holdings commentary. On the bond side, I still like high-quality bonds with a short-to-intermediate duration of under 5 years or so. This means US Treasuries, TIPS, or investment-grade municipal bonds. I don’t want to worry about my bonds. Right now, my bond portfolio is about 1/3rd muni bonds, 1/3rd treasury bonds, and 1/3rd inflation-linked treasury bonds (and savings bonds).

On the stocks side, I made a few comments in my 2018 year-end asset class return review. US stocks went down in 2018, but international and emerging markets stocks did even worse. On the flipside, international and emerging markets are a lot cheaper based on various metrics. I remain satisfied with my mix, knowing that I will own whatever successful businesses come out of the US, China, or wherever in the future.

Performance commentary. According to Personal Capital, my portfolio went down 6.9% in 2018. I see that during the same period the S&P 500 has lost 6% (excludes dividends), Foreign Developed stocks lost 14%, and the US Aggregate bond index was basically flat. Of course I didn’t want to see my value fall, but most of the change was due to a lower P/E ratio as opposed to lower earnings from companies.

An alternative benchmark for my portfolio is 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund and 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Moderate Growth Fund – one is 60/40 and the other is 80/20 so it also works out to 70% stocks and 30% bonds. That benchmark would have a total return of -5.9% for 2018.

I’ll share about more about the income aspect in a separate post.

Solo 401k: Best Self-Employed Retirement Plan For Aggressive Savers ($50k/$100k Income Example)

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

Each December, I run the numbers to see how much more I can contribute to my Self-Employed 401k plan, aka Solo 401k or Individual 401k. , , and (used below) have calculators to figure out contribution limits to various types of retirement plans (Solo 401k, SIMPLE IRA, SEP IRA, Profit Sharing Plan).

In general, as long as your income isn’t too high ($275,000+) and you aren’t deferring salary from another workplace retirement plan, the Solo 401k will allow you to defer the largest percentage of your business income. This is because the Solo 401k allows you defer as much as $18,500 (2018) in salary as an employee as well as 20% of your net self-employment income as an employer (both sides of your business) up to $55,000 total (2018). For example, if your income from your side business was $5,000 and you had no other salary deferral elsewhere, you could put 100% of that into a Solo 401k. (If you are age 50 or over, you can also add a $6,000 catch-up contribution to the salary deferral limit.)

Here are sample numbers for a $50,000 net income to your self-employed business. This assumes you are a sole proprietorship or an LLC taxed as a sole proprietorship. The math for a single-owner corporation is slightly different.

At $50,000 net business income, you can defer 56% annually ($27,793). This is exactly $18,500 more than if you went with the SEP-IRA.

Here’s the comparison for a $100,000 net income to your sole proprietorship.

At $100,000 net business income, you can defer 37% annually ($37,087). Again, this is exactly $18,500 more than if you went with the SEP-IRA.

Now, the Solo 401k does require a bit more paperwork. For example, you will need to file the IRS Form 5500-EZ separately every year once your Solo 401k assets exceed $250,000 to avoid steep IRS late penalties. SEP-IRAs have no such annual requirement. Therefore, if you don’t intend to take advantage of the higher contribution limits of a Solo 401k, I would consider sticking with the SEP-IRA. But if your goal is a high savings rate and maximum tax-deferred funds, look into the Solo 401k. I would compare the offerings from Vanguard, Fidelity, and Schwab. (Mine is at Fidelity.)

My Money Blog Portfolio Income – October 2018

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

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For a young person making a plan to reach financial independence at a very early age (under 50), I think using a 3% withdrawal rate is a reasonable rule of thumb. For someone retiring at a more traditional age (closer to 65), I think 4% is a reasonable rule of thumb. However, life is less stressful when you are spending just the dividends and interest generated by your portfolio. The analogy I fall back on is owning a rental property. If you are reliably getting rent checks that increase with inflation, you can sit back calmly and ignore what the house might sell for on the open market.

Therefore, I track the “TTM Yield” or “12 Mo. Yield” from Morningstar, which the sum of a fund’s total trailing 12-month interest and dividend payments divided by the last month’s ending share price (NAV) any capital gains distributed over the same period. (Index funds have low turnover and thus little in capital gains.) I like this measure because it is based on historical distributions and not a forecast. Below is a very close approximation of my portfolio (2/3rd stocks and 1/3rd bonds).

Asset Class / Fund % of Portfolio Trailing 12-Month Yield (Taken 10/21/18) Yield Contribution
US Total Stock
Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTI, )
25% 1.71% 0.43%
US Small Value
Vanguard Small-Cap Value ETF ()
5% 1.96% 0.10%
International Total Stock
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, )
25% 2.86% 0.72%
Emerging Markets
Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF ()
5% 2.56% 0.13%
US Real Estate
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, )
6% 4.30% 0.26%
Intermediate-Term High Quality Bonds
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt Fund ()
17% 2.90% 0.49%
Inflation-Linked Treasury Bonds
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund ()
17% 3.30% 0.56%
Totals 100% 2.69%

 

The 2.7% trailing income yield is up slightly than in recent updates, mostly due to increased bond interest. The fact that interest rates are now reliably above inflation across the yield curve is good in my opinion, even if it means some of my bond prices drop. The relative contribution of US stocks is down, as US stock prices are slightly up. The relative contribution of International stocks is up, as International stock prices are down. In this way, tracking yield adjusts in a very rough manner for valuation.

We are a real 40-year-old couple with three young kids, and this money has to last us a lifetime (without stomach ulcers). This number does not dictate how much we actually spend every year, but it gives me an idea of how comfortable I am with our withdrawal rate. We spend less than this amount now, but I like to plan for the worst while hoping for the best. If we both lose our jobs, we should have manageable expenses such that we still won’t need to spend more than 2.7% to 3%. For now, we are quite fortunate to be able to do work that is meaningful to us, in an amount where we still enjoy it and don’t get burned out.

Life is not a Monte Carlo simulation, and you need a plan to ride out the rough times. Even if you run a bunch of numbers looking back to 1920 and it tells you some number is “safe”, that’s still trying to use 100 years of history to forecast 50 years into the future. Michael Pollan says that you can sum up his eating advice as “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” You can sum up my thoughts on portfolio income as “Spend mostly dividends and interest. Don’t eat too much principal.”

My Money Blog Portfolio Asset Allocation, October 2018

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

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Here’s my quarterly portfolio update for Q3 2018. These are my real-world holdings and includes 401k/403b/IRAs and taxable brokerage accounts but excludes our house, cash reserves, and a few side investments. The goal of this portfolio is to create enough income to cover our household expenses. As of 2018, we are “semi-retired” and have started spending some dividends and interest from this portfolio.

Actual Asset Allocation and Holdings

I use both Personal Capital and a custom Google Spreadsheet to track my investment holdings. The Personal Capital financial tracking app (free, my review) automatically logs into my accounts, tracks my balances, calculates my performance, and gives me a rough asset allocation. I still use my (free, instructions) because it tells me exactly how much I need in each asset class to rebalance back towards my target asset allocation.

Here is my portfolio performance for the year and rough asset allocation (real estate is under alternatives), according to Personal Capital:

Here is my more specific asset allocation broken down into a stocks-only pie chart and a bonds-only pie chart, according to my custom spreadsheet:

Stock Holdings
Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTI, VTSMX, VTSAX)
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, VGTSX, VTIAX)
WisdomTree SmallCap Dividend ETF (DES)
Vanguard Small Value ETF (VBR)
Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF (VWO)
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, VGSIX, VGSLX)

Bond Holdings
Vanguard Limited-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VMLTX, VMLUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VWITX, VWIUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury Fund (VFITX, VFIUX)
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX, VAIPX)
iShares Barclays TIPS Bond ETF (TIP)
Individual TIPS securities
U.S. Savings Bonds (Series I)

Target Asset Allocation. Our overall goal is to include asset classes that will provide long-term returns above inflation, distribute income via dividends and interest, and finally offer some historical tendencies to balance each other out. I personally believe that US Small Value and Emerging Markets will have higher future long-term returns (along with some higher volatility) than US Large/Total and International Large/Total, although I could be wrong. I don’t hold commodities, gold, or bitcoin as they don’t provide any income and I don’t believe they’ll outpace inflation significantly.

I believe that it is important to imagine an asset class doing poorly for a long time, with bad news constantly surrounding it, and only hold the ones where you still think you can maintain faith.

Stocks Breakdown

  • 38% US Total Market
  • 7% US Small-Cap Value
  • 38% International Total Market
  • 7% Emerging Markets
  • 10% US Real Estate (REIT)

Bonds Breakdown

  • 50% High-quality, Intermediate-Term Bonds
  • 50% US Treasury Inflation-Protected Bonds

I have settled into a long-term target ratio of 67% stocks and 33% bonds (2:1 ratio) within our investment strategy of buy, hold, and occasionally rebalance. With a self-managed, simple portfolio of low-cost funds, we minimize management fees, commissions, and taxes.

Holdings commentary. On the bond side, as Treasury rates have risen, last quarter I sold my shares of Vanguard High-Yield Tax Exempt and replaced it with Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury. I liked the slightly higher yield of that (still pretty high quality) muni fund, but as I settle into semi-retirement mode, I don’t want to worry about the potential of state pension obligations making the muni market volatile. In addition, my tax bracket is lower now and the Federal tax-exempt benefits of muni bonds relatively to the state tax-exempt benefit of Treasury bonds is much smaller now. On a very high level, my bond portfolio is about 1/3rd muni bonds, 1/3rd treasury bonds, and 1/3rd inflation-linked treasury bonds (and savings bonds). These are all investment-grade and either short or intermediate term (average duration of 6 years or less).

No real changes on the stocks side. I know that US stocks have higher valuations, but that’s something that is already taken into account with my investment plan as I own businesses from around the world and US stocks are only about 30% of my total portfolio. I have been buying more shares of the Emerging Markets index fund as part of my rebalancing with new dividends and interest. I am considering tax-loss harvesting some older shares with unrealized losses against another Emerging Markets ETF.

The stock/bond split is currently at 68% stocks/32% bonds. Once a quarter, I reinvest any accumulated dividends and interest that were not spent. I don’t use automatic dividend reinvestment.

Performance commentary. According to Personal Capital, my portfolio now slightly down in 2018 (-2.7% YTD). I see that during the same period the S&P 500 has gained 5% (excludes dividends), Foreign (EAFA?) stocks are down 8.2%, and the US Aggregate bond index is down 2.4%. My portfolio is relatively heavy in international stocks which have done worse than US stocks so far this year.

An alternative benchmark for my portfolio is 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund () and 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Moderate Growth Fund (), one is 60/40 and one is 80/20 so it also works out to 70% stocks and 30% bonds. That benchmark would have a total return of +0.07% YTD (as of 10/16/18).

I’ll share about more about the income aspect in a separate post.

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