The Basic, All-Purpose, Master Mutual Fund Investing Portfolio


(This is part of a series of articles to teach those who are new to investing how to invest.  To find other articles in this series, choose “Beginner Investing Class” under “Investing” in the menu at the top of the page.  If you have questions or you’d like a topic to be covered, please leave a comment at the bottom of the post.)

Perhaps you’ve tried baking and found an all-purpose, master bread dough recipe.  This is a basic recipe that can be shaped in a variety of different ways, perhaps to make loaves of bread, cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls, and maybe even morning pastries.  Perhaps this master dough could even be used to create the crust for a pizza.

To start out our lessons on learning to invest, we’ll begin with a basic mutual fund investment portfolio and build from there.  Think of this as a master dough for your investing needs.  This is a general portfolio that would be suitable for almost anyone who was planning to invest for at least five years before needing the money.  Once we introduce the basic portfolio, we’ll then talk about why it is designed the way that it is, then tweak it a bit to show how you can adjust it to meet your particular needs.

So what about people who need the money in less than five years?  Investing involves taking a calculated risk with your money to get a higher return than you could with things like bank CDs and savings bonds.  In our case, we’ll be investing in stocks, corporate bonds, and real-estate portfolios.  Part of investing is to put the odds well in your favor.  One of the easiest ways to do this is to invest for long periods of time.  Over less than a five-year period, history has shown that stocks, bonds, and real-estate can produce a positive or negative return, and these returns can vary widely.  Over a period of at least five years, there has almost always been at least positive return.  Over periods of fifteen years or longer, there has always been a positive return and a return averaging about 12-15% per year for stocks.  Because we’re talking about investing, holding periods of at least five years are expected.  If you need the money before that, bank CDs or some sort of government bonds are the way to go since their returns are predictable, if also boring and low.

Before we go too much further, let me highly recommend that you pick up a copy of The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing.  This book will go into a lot of the details behind how mutual funds work and why you should buy certain types funds (index funds).  It also gives great advice on things like life insurance.  If you buy a copy by clicking on the book cover below and going through Amazon, it won’t cost you anything more than it would if you bought it elsewhere, but I’ll get a couple of dollars from Amazon.  If I get enough of these commissions, it keeps me wanting to write more great articles like this one instead of going fishing, so it is really in your best interest too if you like good free web content.  Just saying.

The Basic, Master Portfolio

As promised, we’ll start out by providing the investments in the basic, master portfolio.  This is the “what,” given before the “why” and the “how.”  Those details will come later.  Please don’t confuse the portfolio (which is a set of investments) with an investment account (which is the wrapper that holds the portfolio).  The basic, master portfolio could be a portfolio held in a standard brokerage account, in a retirement account such as a 401k, 403B, or an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), or it could be held in an Educational Savings Account (ESA) or a Health Savings Account (HSA).  Each of these accounts is just a place to hold the investments.  It is not an investment itself. 

If this is confusing, think of the accounts like types of automobiles and the investments like passengers.  The investment account functions in some fashion and has certain rules for its use, but you can put any assortment of investments into the account, just as you could put any combination of passengers into a given car, truck, dune buggy, or minivan as long as they would f0it.  Different types of accounts are generally suitable for different purposes, just as different vehicles have different uses.  You would not use a retirement account when you were 23 years-old, for example, to save up money you want to use to buy a house in ten years just as you wouldn’t use a sports car to drive down a jeep trail to a campsite.  Certain accounts are also more suitable for certain types of investments.  You might not want to put a high-yield bond fund into a standard brokerage account because of the taxes you would pay, for example, just as you might not want to put your toddler with a box of nuggets and a milkshake in your Corvette.

The basic, master portfolio is composed as follows:

20% General Large-Cap US Stock Index Fund

20% General Small-Cap US Stock Index Fund

20% International Stock Index Fund

20% General US Bond Index Fund

20% US Real-Estate Investment Trust (REIT) Fund

Each of these investments is what is known as a mutual fund.  With a mutual fund, a group of people pool their money together and have a professional investment manager invest the money for them, with everyone in the mutual fund owning a portion of the investments in proportion to the amount of money they invest.  For example, let’s say that you and the 500 people at your work each put money into an envelope and then hired someone to buy a set of investments with the money.  If the envelope contained $100,000, perhaps the manager would buy a portfolio consisting of ten different stocks with $10,000 invested in each.  If you had put $1,000 into that envelope, you would own 1% of the portfolio, meaning you would have $100 invested in each of the stocks.  If the stocks in the portfolio then went up and the portfolio was now worth $150,000, your portion of the investment would be worth $1500.

Furthermore, each of these is an index fund.  We’ll get into what index funds are and why you want them in later articles.  Let’s just say for now that with an index fund, rather than having a manager choose investments for you, he has a specific list of what she is supposed to buy.  This makes it really easy since the manager doesn’t need to spend time picking stocks and doing all sorts of research to do so, which makes the cost to the investors low.  Realize that the salary for the mutual fund manager and all of the travel and things she needs to buy to do research comes out of the fund, so the more you need to pay the manager, the more money gets sucked out of the fund each year.

So What’s in this Basic, Master Portfolio?

The master portfolio is made up of five different funds, each investing in different things.  We’ll get into why we spread the money out like this later, but for now let’s just say it is for something called diversification, which is a way of reducing your risk.  Investing is all about maximizing your returns while making it very unlikely that you will lose money.

The large-cap US stock fund invests in big companies headquartered in the United States.  These are household names like Apple, Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Procter and Gamble, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, and McDonald’s.  Some large-cap funds have the words “large-cap” right in their titles.  An S&P 500 fund, which invests in a list of stocks called the “S&P 500,” is a very common large-cap US stock fund.

The small-cap US stock fund invests in little companies that you’ve probably never heard of, but some of which you will hear lots about in a few years.  These are the little, fast-growing companies.  Some of these companies will make you a lot of money (think if you’d bought Amazon and Ebay back in the early 1990’s).  Many others will disappear and never be heard of again (think of Pets.com and WebVan, also from the mid-1990’s).  On average, you’ll make money by investing in a whole bunch of these small companies since those that become Amazon will make up for those that become WebVan.  The Russell 2000 is a commonly used list of small-cap US stocks.

The international stock fund buys stocks in non-US companies.  This could include companies based in countries in places like Europe, Asia, and South America.  (Yes, for our neighbors to the north, it could also be Canadian companies.)  It might also mix in a few developing countries in Africa or Central America where there is a bit more risk because the political system is a bit unstable, but there could be a huge reward if things work out.  For example, there are a huge amount of valuable resources in the Congo, but there have been many civil wars and coups in the past.  You might have a company there that is very profitable, but then a group of rebels take over the headquarters and take all of the equipment, making your investment worthless.

The bond fund buys bonds, which are loans made to companies and government entities.  Because you receive interest payments from these loans, and because most of the loans will be paid back if you wait long enough, bonds are generally less risky than stocks if you hold them for a long period of time.  Because they are less risky, however, your potential returns will be less than they will be for stocks.  You, therefore, want to have some bonds, but not all bonds.  20% of your portfolio in bonds is a good starting point that can be adjusted up or down, depending on the amount of risk you are willing and able to take, plus the amount of time you have before you’ll need the money.

Finally, the REIT buys a set of properties.  For example, REITs buy groups of office buildings, apartment buildings, malls, and even storage sheds and cell phone towers.  Chances are, the shopping mall near you and that big office building in downtown are owned by an REIT.  REITs both collect rents and sell properties for a profit as the land and buildings increase in value.  Because they are radically different from stocks or bonds, they provide yet another leg to your portfolio.  (Again, we’re doing that “diversification” thing.)

So there you have it – the master portfolio.  In the next article, we’ll break it down a little more and explain why we’ve made the choices we’ve made.  We’ll then talk about ways that you can adjust this basic portfolio to meet your risk tolerance and your needs.

Want all the details on using Investing to grow financially Independent?  Try The SmallIvy Book of Investing.  

Have a burning investing question you’d like answered?  Please send to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles.  @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Avoiding Bad Investing Advice


I am a big fan of the financial independence, personal finance movement and all of the great people trying to help others not be “normal,” as Dave Ramsey would say.  It is great to hear about others’ experiences, both to learn new ways to do things and also see that others aren’t perfect either.   People who reach financial independence don’t do everything perfectly.  They buy a latte once in a while.  They sometimes buy something on vacation they later regret buying.  They maybe miss making a budget some months (very guilty, but I’m hoping to do better in May).  It is good to see that you don’t need to be perfect to make your life better and more secure in ten years than it is today.

One area that concerns me, however, is when people start to get into investing advice.  I don’t mind when people say what they are doing with the caveat that they are learning.  Just as with personal finance, hearing stories of what people are doing to invest and their results is good for all.  In particular, if someone does a boneheaded move and tells people about it and the money they lost, that is helpful.  Maybe others won’t do the same. (Although I’ve found you need to lose money sometimes before you’ll accept a lesson.  I call this “paying tuition to the markets.”)

What I don’t like is for someone who has little or no investing experience trying to tell others how they should invest.  Investing is a craft which takes years of experience to really master.  You need to have gone through up markets and down, made and lost money, and read a lot before you can really know where the pitfalls are and learn what works and what doesn’t.  This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t start to invest until you have a huge amount of experience, because you can’t get experience without actually investing.  This is to say that you shouldn’t be recommending that people put all of their money into XYZ stock when you’ve just opened a brokerage account yourself and have been investing for a year or two.

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Note that just because a person is “in the industry” does not mean that they know how to invest either.  There are a lot of people in the financial planning business who maybe have some sort of certification, meaning that they’ve passed a test on things like tax planning and life insurance with perhaps a few questions about what a stock and a bond are thrown in, but without any real experience investing.  They’ve never felt what it was like when your portfolio has declined by 40% in a month and it seems like the whole world is crashing down.  They also are often on commission to sell the high-priced mutual funds that their firm pushes so they may not have your best interests at heart.

Someone with a finance degree, or a business degree, is also not necessarily the person you want to be taking advice from.  These degrees might give them some good insight into how the financial system runs or how to run the payroll at a business, but they do not make them good investors.  In fact, there really are no college degrees that make people good investors, just as there are none that make people good salesmen of woodworkers.  It all comes from experience.

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Having said that there is a lot of bad advice out there, obviously, there is a need for good advice.  If you want to reach financial independence within your working lifetime, investing is almost a must.  You should be investing a portion of your paycheck and building up a portfolio that will provide income to you.  This is the way that you become financially independent.

To fill that void, you’ll see a change in the articles and organization of The Small Investor going forward.  We want to become the go-to site for people who want to learn how to invest, both complete novices and those who have been investing for a while and want to do things better.  We’ll also keep a personal finance flair as well, since managing your income correctly is the way that you free up cash to invest.

It will take a little while to rejigger things, but you’ll soon see a shift in the way The Small Investor is laid out and the kinds of articles we publish.  Most articles will be placed within two focuses – investing and personal finances.  With investing in particular, we’ll have very basic articles designed for those who know nothing about investing organized in such a way that you can go from square 1 to being knowledgeable in what you’re doing if you keep reading.  We’ll also seek out good articles from others and link to those so that readers can gain from some of the great stuff that is out there.  Finally, we’ll have a reading list that you should take advantage of if you want to really get good at investing.

So, please check back often, or better yet, subscribe so that you’ll get notified as content is added.  Also, please let me know your questions about investing and comment on what is helpful and what is not.  Let’s build a generation of investors.  Society will be better when more people are standing on firm financial footing.

Have a burning investing question you’d like answered?  Please send to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles.  @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

How A Target-Date Fund Works


A target-date fund is a great choice for those who want to invest for retirement but don’t want to spend time learning to invest.  In fact, it is better for you to use a target date fund if you don’t know what you’re doing than it is to not know and not try to learn, yet try to manage your retirement plan anyway.  Unfortunately, many people try to do so and end up jumping from fund to fund (trying to chase returns), staying all in cash (because of fear of loss), or staying all in stocks too long (trying to maximize account balances before retirement).  Each of these mistakes could leave you far short of your monetary needs in retirement.

If you are putting at least 10% of your gross pay into a 401k or similar retirement investment plan, before any employer match, you should be set for retirement.  The main reason you would not be is because you make one of the mistakes mentioned above.  Chasing returns normally means that you are buying stocks high and selling them low, resulting in returns way below those that you would have gotten if you had just stayed in the markets and rode out the ups and downs.  Staying all in cash may seem safe, but it actually guarantees that you will end up with a negative return if you include the effects of inflation and denies you all of the benefits of investing.  Being invested entirely in stocks too long, hoping to make a big score before you retire, can lead to a huge loss right before you need the money.

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So why is a  retirement date fund a good way to avoid these issues?

Think of a target date fund (TDF) like an automatic transmission in a car.  While someone who is skillful with a manual transmission can get better gas mileage or get from 0 to 60 faster than someone using an automatic transmission, someone who doesn’t know what they are doing can easily break something or get worse performance.  Someone who is skillful at investing can do better choosing funds than someone who uses a TDF, but someone choosing funds who is not willing to do the (small amount) of extra work involved or who just guesses blindly can end up breaking their retirement fund.  A decent TDF will get you 90% of the way to your retirement goals.  Choosing funds can get you that extra 10%, which could be millions of dollars, but might just mean that you retire with $4 M instead of $2 M.  Someone managing their account badly could retire with $0.4M instead, which could be a very meager lifestyle.

A TDF does several things automatically for you.  Specifically it:

  1.  Diversifies your investments among different asset classes.  In simple terms, it spreads your money around so that you’ll always have some of your money in whatever is doing well and not have all of your money in whatever is doing badly at any given time.
  2. Adjusts your investment as you get closer to retirement.  As you get closer to the time when you’ll need the money, it shifts from growth investments, which have a great long-term return but have very unpredictable returns over periods of a few years, to fixed-income assets, which return less but are more predictable.
  3. Rebalances your portfolio, selling what has done well (selling high) and buying what has not done as well (buying low).

The manual on how to make money by investing.  Read The SmallIvy Book of Investing.  

 

How to Use a TDF

Inside your retirement plan (or on the website for a mutual fund company if you’re using a private IRA to save for retirement) you’ll probably fund several TDFs with names like “Retirement 2060”, “Retirement 2070”, and so on.  The number refers to the retirement year for which it is designed.  For example, a 2060 fund would be designed for people who are planning to retire around the year 2060.

To use a TDF, just:

  1.  Figure out your retirement age (pick when you’ll be about 65 or 70 – more on that in a minute).  For example, if you’re 25 today, you’d be retiring around the year 2058, so you would select the 2060 fund.
  2. Once you find your fund, direct all of your investments there.
  3. Don’t touch anything – you’re done.

Let’s go through the reasons for each of the steps above.

Why pick 65 or 70?  What if you’re planning to retire at age 50?

Even if you’re planning to retire 15 or 20 years early, you won’t want to invest like you’re 15 or 20 years older than you are.  TDFs invest more aggressively while you are far away from retirement, then get more conservative as you start to get near your retirement date.  If you invest in a fund designed for 40-year olds when you were twenty, you would not be taking on enough risk to get the returns you need to grow your retirement savings early.

Instead, choose the fund appropriate for your normal retirement age.  If you save like crazy and do really well in the TDF in the first couple of decades, such that you think you’ll be able to retire within five years or less, shift to a TDF designed for someone five years from retirement at that point.  If the markets do not do well or you aren’t able to save like you think and you end up not having enough to retire at age 45 like you planned, you might just need to work another five or ten years.  Eventually, there will be a good streak in the stock market that will raise your returns.  If you invest too conservatively early, you’ll virtually guarantee that you will have sub-par returns and need to work that much harder to meet your goals.

Why not supplement your TDF investments with other funds?

You might be tempted to add a bond fund, small-cap fund, or specialty fund to your TDF to up your returns.  But remember what you’re doing – you’re using the TDF to automatically get you to your goals.  Adding other funds to your TDF would be like adding a clutch and gearshift option to your automatical transmission.  You might shift up into 4th gear when your automatic transmission was trying to shift down into 2nd.  A TDF fund is designed to work alone, so adding other funds makes things not work as designed.

Why not touch anything?

Let’s say that your coworkers or CNBC commentators start talking about how overpriced the markets are and how stocks are ready for a fall.  You might be tempted to sell your TDF and go to cash for a while.  The truth is that your coworkers and CNBC don’t know anything more about where the markets will go next year than anyone else.  Just because stocks are pricey doesn’t mean that they won’t go up more.  Just because stocks are cheap doesn’t mean that they won’t go lower.  If you sell out because you’re worried, you might miss a big rally that adds another couple of million dollars to your retirement account over time.  If you shift to all stocks because you think that the markets are ready to rally, you might go all-in right before a 40% bear-market decline.  It is better to leave things alone and let your TDF do its job.

Have a burning investing question you’d like answered?  Please send to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles.  @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

If You Think Investing is Gambling, You’re Doing it Wrong


 

I often hear people talk about how stock investing is gambling.  “It’s no different than Vegas when you put your money in the market,” they’ll say.  When I hear this sentiment, I know that the people I’m talking to have no idea how to invest.  They either don’t invest or use the markets as a casino, betting on red and black.  People who know how to invest understand risk and reward and use this knowledge to put the odds totally in their favor.  They know they will make money and can estimate about what return they’ll get, the only uncertainty is their rate-of-return during any given short time period.

It is true that if I were to put $1000 into XYZ stock and plan to sell within a year, I would be gambling.  I’ve spent over 30 years in the markets and I have no earthly idea what any individual stock will do during the next year.  I don’t even know what the markets in general will do, which is easier to predict because the action of no one person will move a whole market, but a single company can be moved by the actions of their CEO or even a single line employee.  But I can pick out a set of ten stocks and be fairly certain that I’ll make somewhere in the range of 10-15% annualized if I hold them for 10-20 years, only selling if something about the company drastically changes or a single position gets too big.  If you’d like to find out more details on how this is done and why it works, check out my book, The SmallIvy Book of Investing.  

Hey – if you like The Small Investor, help keep it going.  Buy a copy of the SmallIvy Book of Investing: Book1: Investing to Grow Wealthy or just click on one of the product links below, then browse and buy something you need from Amazon’s huge collection.  The Small Investor will make a small commission each time you buy a product through one of our links.

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It would also be gambling to buy a mutual fund or even a set of mutual funds using money that you need at the end of the year.  For example, if you were planning to retire next year and decided to put your life savings into the Investment Company of America Class A fund with hopes of doubling it so that you could go live on the beach, you would be gambling.  You would just as likely be down 30% as be up 30% next year.  Most likely you would have between 90% and 110% of the amount you invested when the year ends.  No one can predict where the markets will go over a short period of time.  To take a position thinking that you can is gambling.

You see, as long as everyone is trading with the same information, which is largely the case since financial news gets distributed so quickly and insider trading is illegal (but still does happen, and is legal for members of Congress – go figure), everything known is already priced into the price of stocks in the markets.  If it is expected to be a cold winter, the shares of companies that sell coats and heating oil have already risen.  If a tsunami were to wash over Florida and wipe out Disney World, the shares of Disney would have already fallen by the time you heard the news.  If you think that stocks are overpriced, so do a lot of other people and they have already adjusted the prices accordingly.  

 

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Because stocks are already priced to include everything already out there already, where they go next over the next week or the next year is all a matter of chance.  Maybe someone in one of the company labs will find a cure for cancer and the shares will shoot up 1000%.  Maybe the CEO will get indicted and the shares will fall 50%.  Maybe someone who owns 30% of the company will decide to throw a big party for his daughter’s wedding and sell half of his stake, causing the price to dip.  Maybe some people will just see that the price of the stock has gone up and buy more, figuring that the price will go up further.  With all of these individuals making independent decisions in the marketplace, what the stock price will do next is anybody’s guess.

So if it is all random, how can you put the odds in your favor?  You do so by looking at the past and finding the things that were true then and will likely be true in the future.  While I cannot predict whether the market will be higher this year or lower, I do know that the market is up about three years for every one that it is down.  This means that if I hold stocks for 20 years, I will probably have somewhere around 15 up years and four down.  I can also see that the returns for long periods of time (20 years or more) average around 10% before inflation.  I, therefore, know that if I hold stocks for long periods of time, while I don’t know what will happen and when it will happen, I can be fairly certain that I’ll make about 10% annualized per year before inflation.

So, if I buy a mutual fund and hold it for a year, then shift to another one or pull money out of the market, I’ll be gambling and the odds will be about 50-50 that I will make money in any given year.  This means that I’ll probably break even over long periods of time.  If I include trading fees, taxes, and the fees that the fund charges, I’ll be slowly losing money over time.  This would be like playing baccarat in a casino.  If I hold for a long period of time and don’t mess with things, the odds are very strongly in my favor (like 99 out of 100 or more) that I’ll make money, and I’ll probably make around 10% annualized.  This means that my money will double, on average, about every seven years.  It’s not like putting money into a bank CD, but it sure isn’t gambling.

So, are you investing, or are you gambling?

 

Have a burning investing question you’d like answered?  Please send to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles.  @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

If You Really Want to Close the Wage Gap, Here’s How


We’ve all heard the statistics, that women only earn 81 cents for every dollar that a man earns or some such number.  Progressives argue that this is due to sexism and discrimination, so we must have the government go in and set salaries, have affirmative action in promotions and hiring, and probably remove some men from CEO seats and insert women.  But these solutions are neither fair nor will they be effective at both creating an equal society and one at maximum productivity.  As usual, Progressives can make us all equal but they do so by making everyone broke (except for a few progressive oligarchs).

I was reading a really interesting post on Money After Graduation called The Impossible Price of the Motherhood Tax.  In this post, Bridget Casey really nails it when it comes to the reason for the wage gap, at least when it comes to men and women of equal education and vocations.  On average, women and men make similar incomes coming out of college and through their early twenties, but then they diverge.  The reason that men make more than women after this point comes down to one obvious reason:  children.

In Canada, where the author resides, new mothers can use the unemployment system to take either a year or a year and a half off (depending on where you live) when they have children and receive a little over half of their pay while they are off (they can actually start a couple of months before they have children).  (Dads can take some time off as well, but it starts after the baby has been home a few months.)  Their employer is required to take them back in the same job and at the same pay when they return.  In the US we obviously have no government mandated system, but many women (and some men) take time off when they have children.  Some, those who wish to continue to work, then put their children into daycare at 6 months or at a year or two.  If they have very understanding employers, they may be able to come back into their old job.

Others stay home until the children are in kindergarten or older, which normally means finding an entirely new job, possibly in a different line-of-work.  Because they are not able to work full hours even once the kids are in school, they often take part-time jobs in whatever is available with the needed hours and flexibility.  Even when the children are in high school and full-time work is possible, many find that they don’t want to work full-time anymore since their priorities have changed or they don’t want to go through the effort needed to regain skills and get on-the-path again if they even can.

Hey – if you like The Small Investor, help keep it going.  Buy a copy of the SmallIvy Book of Investing: Book1: Investing to Grow Wealthy or just click on one of the product links below, then browse and buy something you need from Amazon’s huge collection.  The Small Investor will make a small commission each time you buy a product through one of our links.

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As the author points out, the reason for the wage gap is that parents who stay home as full-time parents, even for a couple of years, miss out on experience, raises, and promotions.  This is not a temporary issue since future raises and promotions typically build upon where you are now.  If you miss out on 20% now, you’ll always be 20% behind, even if you work full-time after that.  And because most of the time it is the woman who stays home, men in their thirties, forties, and later will tend to make more than women in the same industries. It has nothing to do with sexism by the employer.  It is due to a break in a career.  There could be some sexism involved, in that an employer who fears that a woman of child-bearing age might go on maternity leave, might not select her for a critical position.  Women who never have children might, therefore, be passed over for the best opportunities.

She advocates that it is an investment to pay for daycare since then women (and men) who are the initial primary caregiver for the children will not miss out on as much time at work.  (She does not advocate that Canadians forego the year of paternal leave, although doing so would make sense if your career were your primary concern since taking a year off per child does not help your career progression either.  I’m guessing that there is a feeling of entitlement to that paid leave, so while daycare is an investment, foregoing paid leave is not.)  While I agree that taking less time off would help, it would not solve the issue.

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The problem is that while you can lessen the initial effects of having a child on your career by limiting your time off, the person who remains the primary caregiver for the children will continue to see their time split between kids and work.  If a child has a cold or another illness, the caregiver must take time off work.  If the kid’s school gets done at 3:00, the caregiver must leave work on a schedule to pick up or meet the children.  The people who make the most in the workforce are those who have their employer as their primary responsibility.  They are able to work over as needed, come in weekends sometimes, and perhaps travel on short notice.  Unless you have someone who can take the children when plans change, often on short notice, this cannot be a person who is primary caregiver.

While Ms. Casey advocates for 32-hour work weeks and the ability to work from home so that stressed mothers can take care of that pile of laundry, the truth is that those who make the big incomes are often putting in 100-hour weeks and are always at the office.  (They are also not doing laundry when they are supposed to be on-the-clock.)  Their employer knows that they are dependable and able to drop other things to be there when the business needs them.  Someone who is the back-up when childcare falls through cannot meet that kind of responsibility.

One idea would be to have both parents split the responsibilities.  The issue here is again, to really advance in salary and position, you need to be able to put work first.  If both parents are putting in just enough hours at work and taking time off sporadically due to the normal childcare issues, neither parent will get into one of these high-paid roles.  They will both top out in salary and stature.

The only solution I can see, if your goal is to equalize pay, is for more women to choose to be the primary bread-winner and more men to choose to become full-time parents while the kids are young and then part-time or self-employed workers when the kids are older.  This will mean that women who are planning to focus on career will need to choose men who have traits of great parents (patience, charisma, responsibility, energy, organization) rather than the type-A traits of a CEO.  They will need to also shy away from professionals with gobs of college and look for guys who would be willing to give up whatever they do to focus on parenting.  Women will soon discover what men have known for ages:  To be successful in a career, you need someone behind you that will relieve you of other responsibilities so that you can focus on career.

For the guys, I think the real issue is that men currently gain most of their identity and their pride from their work.  This will be difficult to overcome, but eventually, I think that they will find that being a fulltime parent is far more important than things that most people do at work in a given day.  They may also find that the benefits when the kids get older – having more time off during the day and the home to themselves – also can be nice.

Have a burning investing question you’d like answered?  Please send to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles.  @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

The Basics of Investing: What is a Stock?


Before we get into mutual funds and other topics, let’s start with the very basics and talk about what a stock is and why you should be interested in buying shares of stock.  Shares of stocks are just what the name implies – they are a portion of ownership in a company.  If you own 1 share of GE, you are a partial owner of GE, meaning that you get a share of the profits they make, you get a partial say in how the company is run and what they do, and if they are ever bought by another company, you would get a share of the money when GE was sold.

The term, “shares of stock,” is used to indicate the amount of ownership, where the term, “stock,” is often used by itself when referring to the shares of stock for a particular company.  For example, you might talk about the “stock” of Apple going up in price, meaning the shares of stock for the whole company are selling for more money.  You might also talk about your “stocks,” referring to the shares of the different companies in which you have ownership.  You would say that you have “100 shares of Apple” if someone asked you about your ownership in Apple.  You would say that Apple was one of the “stocks” that you owned.

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Why would you want to own shares of stock?  Well, one of the easiest ways to become wealthy is to run a business.  This is because, when you own a business, your potential income is not limited by the salary that someone else is willing to pay you.  If you add customers, add locations, and add employees, you can increase the amount the business makes.  If the business makes more money, you as the owner, make more money.  You can either take a larger amount of the income that the business is making home with you or you can sell part or all of the business to someone else for more money since the business is making a larger profit.

For example, if a pizza restaurant you own is making a profit of $100,000 per year, you could take up to $100,000 home with you, investing the amount you don’t want to take home back into the business.  If you double sales and now make a profit of $200,000 per year, you could take up to $200,000 home.  If someone wanted to buy the business after you had increased the sales, they would also be willing to pay you more than they would have before the increase since they could make $200,000 per year instead of only $100,000 if they owned the business.

Many people don’t want to go through the hassle of owning a business.  It means you need to deal with suppliers, find customers, deal with employees, worry about you building and equipment, and worry about all of the business and tax paperwork.  Perhaps you want to work at a bank or in a middle-management job at a company where someone else worries about all of these things and you just get a paycheck.  Yet you still want to be able to increase your income.  Eventually, you want to get to the point where you don’t need to work anymore, instead just having money come to you like it would if you owned a business and had other people running it so that you could lie on the beach and collect the profits.

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Owning shares of stock allows you to do this.  You buy a partial interest in the company by purchasing shares of stocks.  You can thereby be a partial owner, getting a share of the profits, but not need to run the company.  Instead, the corporation hires managers who take care of the day-to-day details of running the company for you.  All you need to do is find companies that have good teams of managers and invest your money there.  (Theoretically you could also buy a company with bad managers and vote out those bad managers, but that is almost impossible with the way things are set up.  It is better to just sell your shares and go somewhere else where they managers are good if you don’t like the management team.)

You can buy a very small percentage of the company by only purchasing a few of the shares that have been issued, or you can buy a big portion of the company by buying lots of shares.  The number of shares you own divided by the total number of shares out there shows what percentage of the company you own.  Most of the time you’ll only own a very small portion of a company, but you’ll still be able to receive a return from the business, assuming it is profitable and able to grow, eventually sending you a portion of the profits the company makes a few times per year in a payment called a dividend.

So there you have it:  What a stock is and why you want to become a stock investor.  It gives you the ability to generate income like a business owner does without actually needing to open and run a business.

Have a burning investing question you’d like answered?  Please send to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles.  @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

How to Tell if Your 401k Plan Really Stinks


There is nothing wrong with the 401k, but there are a lot of really bad 401k plans out there.  If you’ve never invested, you may not be able to tell the difference.  But it is worth learning how to spot a bad 401k plan because it might be something to consider when looking at a prospective job.  You can also change your behavior if you have a bad plan to improve your investing options.  We’ll talk about this at the end of this article.  But first, here are some things to look for in your 401k.

1.  A lack of index funds.

In the world of investing, there are managed funds and index funds.  Managed funds have a whole team of managers who go out and find “investment opportunities” and “seek to manage risk while providing a reasonable return.”  The trouble is, the vast majority of mutual fund managers don’t do as well as the markets, and all of that research and pontificating comes with a hefty price tag.

An index fund doesn’t try to beat the markets.  It just buys stocks as dictated by some index, which is a hypothetical portfolio of stocks designed to track the behavior of some part of the market.  For example, in the early 20th century, Charles Dow wanted to have a way to see how the large industrial companies in the US were doing.  He chose a group of large industrial companies that covered the different industrial business areas at the time and pretended that he invested an equal amount in each company.  He then began to track what the value of that portfolio was compared to its value when it was formed and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was born.  About 90 years later, a company started an index fund that simply bought the stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and thus the “DIAmonds” index fund was born.  Unlike a managed fund, the index fund just buys what’s in the index and doesn’t need to pay a team of analysts and managers, thus the costs are a lot lower.

An index fund will typically have fees of 0.25% of assets or less.  This means it will cost you $25 per year if you have $10,000 invested.  A managed fund can have fees of 1% or more, meaning you’ll be paying $100 per year for each $10,000 invested.  While this difference may not seem like much, it means you’ll be making about 0.75% more each year in the index fund, which will add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over your working lifetime.  A plan that lacks index funds stinks.

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2.  A lack of diversity of funds.

As a minimum, a good plan should have:

  1.  A total stock market index fund
  2. A total bond market index fund.

A better plan would also have:

3.  An international stock index fund.

4.  An REIT fund.  (An REIT is a mutual fund of investment real-estate properties, such as apartment buildings or malls, even cell towers and storage centers.)

The best plans would also have:

5.  Target-date retirement funds.

6.  Small and large-cap funds.  (Capitalization, or “Cap,” refers to the size of a company.  Small-caps are small companies, large-caps are large companies.  Mid-caps are – you guessed it – medium companies.)

7.   Growth and value funds.  (Growth funds invest in companies that are growing, while value funds invest in companies that are undervalued.   This is either buying what is doing well or buying what is considered cheap.  Both strategies work with one outperforming the other at different times.  Most index funds give you both, but some specialize in one or the other.)

Having choices allows you to tune your retirement investing.  The target-date retirement funds also allow you to put your retirement investing on autopilot if you wish.  If your 401k choices only include high-cost funds that don’t really tell you in what sector of the market they invest, your plan stinks.

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3.  Your plan switches in and out of funds.

This really isn’t so much the plan itself, but the people setting up the plan.  Sometimes the board who creates and manages the plan will change the funds available because some funds have not done well.  Assuming the funds don’t have high fees or something, the reason they may not have done well is that the sector of the markets in which they invest may not have done well.  For example, maybe you have a value index fund during a time when growth stocks are doing well, so the value fund returns 3% while the growth funds return 20%.  The board may see this and get rid of the value fund, substituting another growth fund in its place.

This is exactly the wrong thing to do.  Because growth stocks have done well, it means that they may have already gone up in price to the point that they are expensive.  Conversely, value stocks may now be especially cheap.  Think of going to the store and finding that strawberries have doubled in price, while grapes are selling for 80% of what they normally sell for.  While you don’t know what strawberries and grapes are going to sell for next week, you can bet that over time strawberries will not go up in price as much as grapes will.  The same is true for stocks.  While the timing is difficult, you will not do as well buying stocks when they are expensive after a big run-up as you will if you buy them after a drop when they are cheap.  If you find that your funds get dropped when they don’t do as well as other funds, other than due to the fact that the fees are high, your 401k plan may stink.

What to do if you have a stinky plan.

There is not that much you can do if you have a bad plan, but there are a few things.  These are:

  1.  Invest outside of your plan in an IRA.

You can open up an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) with any mutual fund company or brokerage firm.  This will allow you to get the same tax-deferral that you get with a 401k plan.  Inside an IRA, you can invest in almost anything.  If you open an IRA with a mutual fund company, you will often be able to invest in their mutual funds without paying a fee when you buy or sell the funds.  Tax laws may limit the amount you can put into an IRA if you have a retirement plan at work, but you may be able to put some into an IRA.  You will also probably be able to put the full amount (currently $5500 per year) in an IRA for a non-working spouse even if you have a 401k plan at work.

2.  Invest in a taxable account.

While not as good as an IRA, there is nothing from stopping you from investing for retirement in a taxable brokerage or mutual fund account.  If you invest in index funds and hold them for long periods of time, you’ll still pay very little in taxes each year.  While you may pay some taxes on capital gain distributions from the fund, as well as on dividend and interest payments, most of the time you’ll only see a big tax bill if you sell funds at a big profit. If you buy and hold, most of your money will be left to compound just like it would in an IRA or 401k.  In fact, your tax bills at the end may be lower than you’ll see with a 401k since capital gains rates, which you’ll pay on profits from a taxable account, are usually substantially lower than standard income tax rates in the top brackets, which is what you’ll pay for large 401k distributions.  You won’t see a tax break when you put the money into a taxable account, however, like you will when you put the money into an IRA or 401k.

You can also buy some individual stocks in a taxable account and not see a big tax bill (until you sell).  You just need to hold them for long periods of time, like ten to twenty years, rather than buying and selling stocks for a quick profit.  The good news is, you’ll do far better buying stocks for long periods than you’ll do trading.  This is like a win-win.  You can also reduce your taxes when you do sell by selling losing positions to offset gains in winning positions

3.  Be sure you still get the company match.

If you do decide to us an IRA or invest in a taxable account, you’ll still want to put enough money into the 401k plan to get whatever matching funds the company provides.  This is like getting a 100% or 50% return on your money right from the start.  If you do this, but your 401k plan stinks, you can always roll whatever is in your 401k plan to an IRA when you leave the company.

Have a burning investing question you’d like answered?  Please send to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles.  @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Why the Debt-Free Dave Ramsey Snowball Works


I wrote a contributor post for Camp FIRE Finance this week.  I hope that you will take a look at the post and also the other great articles on that site.  This is a website with articles for people who are attempting to become Financially Independent and Retire Early.  Some individuals who achieve FIRE have large incomes and just live a modest life.  Others have normal incomes but then decide to live very frugally so that they can put money away to retire early.  This second group would be the tiny house types, cutting things down to the bare necessities so that their cost of living was very low.

My post was on cash flow.  Specifically how the way to gain financial independence is to create a large free cash flow, defined as the money that you have left over after paying for everything and putting money away for things like retirement and healthcare.  In both of the cases described above, the high-earning couple who live modestly and then put a lot of money away and the couple who cut their expenses to the bone so that they can save up, really what these individuals are doing is creating free cash flow.  If the high-earning couple makes $500,000 per year but lives on $400,000, it is no different than the couple earning $120,000 per year who lives on $20,000.  Both have a free cash flow of $100,000 per year.  This means that they will both be in the same condition financially in ten years.  They will both have $1 M, assuming they both put their money in their mattresses rather than investing.

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A comment on my post really made me think.  He said that what I was describing was what Dave Ramsey calls the “Debt Snowball,” but done in reverse.  That is almost correct.  What I am really doing is telling you what to do after you’ve paid off your debt and done the debt-free scream on the show.

The Dave Ramsey show tells people how to pay off their debts using his “baby steps.” He advises people to first 1) build up a baby emergency fund, then 2) get current on all of your bills, then build up a full emergency fund (3 to 6 month’s worth of expenses) 3) start attacking the smallest debt while paying the minimums on the other debts, 4) once the first debt is paid off, use the money you’re saving on payments plus the money you were using to pay the smallest debt to attack the next highest debt, 5) continue to pay off debts, adding the money you’re saving to your payments each time, 6) pay off your largest debt, becoming debt-free, then call up the show and scream about it.

The trouble is that he then kind of leaves you hanging.  He will talk a little about putting money away into mutual funds, particularly for retirement.  He will also tell you to continue to budget to avoid going into debt in the future.   But he really doesn’t keep you focused,  continuing to use your snowball of free cash to build wealth now that you have gotten this far.

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And that is really what the debt snowball is – building up a snowball of free cash.  At the start, because you have so many obligated expenses each month – things that you are forced to pay like the mortgage, car payments, student loan payments, and credit card payments – you have very little free cash flow. Pretty much every dollar that you have is already spoken for before the month even begins.  But you gather up the little bit that you have, forming a little bit of free cash like the kind of snowball you can hold in your hands and use it to attack the first debt.

When you kill off the first debt, you now have a little more free cash flow.  The money that was going towards payments on your smallest obligated expense is now free since that obligation is gone.  Maybe it was $50 you were sending in each month to pay on a credit card for a department store.  You add this to the $300 per month you had in free cash, and now you have $350 in free cash each month.  The snowball gets a little bit bigger.

Maybe you now attack a $3000 debt you have on another credit card that you were paying $75 per month on.  You attack this debt with your $350 per month in free cash flow and pay it off in 10 months.  Now you have $425 in free cash flow to attack the next debt.  You continue on this path, increasing your free cash flow each time that you pay off a debt.

Once you have paid off your last debt, you now have a huge free cash flow snowball.  Maybe you have $2500 per month that you were spending on student loans, car payments, and credit cards.  Maybe you even pay off your mortgage and now have $4000 in free cash flow each month.  You can use this free cash flow to start building up assets, which now pay you interest each month instead of charging you interest.  (We’ll talk about how you do this in the next post.)  That is how you go from being debt free to financially independent.  If you can do this while you’re still young, perhaps you’ll reach FIRE as well.

Have a burning investing question you’d like answered?  Please send to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles.  @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

How to Find Information for Picking Stocks


Stock selection is definitely more of an art than a science.  When screening stocks – going through the thousands of potential companies and deciding which to buy – I typically use price history, earnings growth, dividend growth, return on equity and return on sales, and a general description of the company to make selections.  These are the factors that are most important to me in my buy-and-hold style.  This is because I’m looking for stocks I can hold for ten or twenty years and see them double every five or six years.

I first of all look for companies that are growing and have a lot of room to grow.  One of the easiest ways to find stocks that are growing is to just look at the multi-year price history and find those that are increasing in a linear manner for five to ten years or more.    I also want companies that are obviously well-managed, which is shown by regular earnings and dividend growth and a good return on equity.  Finally, I look at the company description because I want to select stocks in different industries.  More specifically, I try to find the best stock in each industry and buy stocks in several different industries.

All right – so now you know how to screen stocks, but where can you find information such as earnings?  The internet is obviously a wealth of information, but more and more of it is becoming a paid service.  Still, there is a lot of information out there for free.  Sites such as Yahoo give basic current stats, although I don’t know of any site that gives several quarters of earnings, P/E ratios, etc… any more.  You really need to be able to look back for several years to see how the company has grown and how it is priced currently relative to where it normally trades.

A great publication for the long-term investor is the Value Line Investment Survey (www.valueline.com).  I tend to use the print version, although there is an online version that I’m sure is also useful.  I like Value Line because it gives full-page descriptions on each stock including a price graph, stats going back several years, and  a review of the company.  It also screens stock, assigning a value for Timeliness, Safety, and Technical.  Here, buying stocks with a 1 of 2 for Timeliness and at least a 3 for safety would be recommended in general.  Value Line costs quite a bit (about $800 per year), but it is worth the price because one will make far more in investments than the subscription price for a moderate-sized portfolio.  For someone starting out, most libraries also have Value Line subscriptions.  Given that you’ll only need to research new stocks every few months at most, this would be a good way to go initially.

Value Line

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Select®: Dividend Income & Growth April 2017: Discover dividend-yielding stocks selected by Value Line analysts.

For getting investment ideas – which stocks at which to take a closer look, publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Barrons, Forbes, and Money can be useful.  You need to be careful though in that many stocks will jump in price just because they are recommended in one of these publications.  The price will normally fall back within a couple of weeks after the jump, so perhaps a good strategy would be to wait a couple of weeks after the issue comes out before buying in.  The publications also periodically have articles on ways to invest, although I’d avoid taking anything you read by itself on faith.  It is better to read a lot, and then make your own decisions.

Another possibility is simply going to the websites for the companies and looking for annual reports and data they provide.  This, however, doesn’t give you the ability to screen several stocks, looking for the ones that stand out.  If you get a tip from a magazine, however, you can go to the company website and find annual reports to get more information.

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Have a burning investing question you’d like answered?  Please send to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles.  @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

The Three Investments Every New Investor Should Have


There are a lot of investment choices.  There are stocks, bonds, REITs, Options, Warrants, and convertibles.  Then there are funds that buy and sell these different investments for you, which would make things simpler, except that there are many different funds out there.  In fact, there are actually more mutual funds buying and selling individual stocks than there are individual stocks.  So, how do you choose?

The good news is, there are really only a few things that you should invest your money in.  Once you know these few investments, you can cut through all of the noise and make a wise choice of where to place your money.  I would say that there are three investments you really should make before you get near retirement.  Ignore the rest.  Here are the three:

1.  Total Stock Market Index Mutual Fund

This investment does what it says – it buys stocks in the total US stock market.  Buying just this one mutual fund will mean that you are diversified over the whole stock market.  You’ll want this because it eliminates the risk of picking a bad stock or a bad sector.  It is possible that one company could go out-of-business and you’d lose your whole investment if you try to pick a stock.  But what are the chances that every company in the US stock market will be wiped out?  If that happened, you wouldn’t be too worried about your portfolio.  You would be worried about finding enough ammo to keep the wandering bands of marauders at bay.

You need to have stocks when you are investing for a long time since they are the only investment that will grow over time.  This means that you will make real money, even when inflation is taken into account.  Put your money in the bank for 30 years and you’ll find that you’ll be able to buy maybe 75% of the stuff you could have bought with the money when you put it in.  Put your money in the stock market for the same period of time, and you’ll be able to buy about eight times as much stuff.

You buy an index fund because they are cheap.  The fees are really low, often below 0.25% of the amount of money in your account each year.  If you go out and buy a managed mutual fund where someone, or a team of someones, buys and sells stocks for you, you’ll pay 1% or more per year.  Given that most managers match the indexes at best over long periods of time, you’ll probably make a lower return in a managed fund than an index fund.  So, go for the index.

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2.  A Corporate Bond Index Fund

A bond is a loan to a company.  In exchange for the loan, they pay you interest payments twice a year for a period of time.  At the end of the period, they pay you your money back.  Bonds are good because they give you steady income that quiets down the gyrations caused by a stocks.  If you have an all-stock portfolio, you might be up 30% one year, but then down 30% the next.  Over time you’ll make about 7% after inflation, but it is a wild ride in the mean time.  Add 20-30% bonds, and you’ll see lower swings since the bonds will always be there, paying out interest, which helps offset the swings in stock prices.

You don’t want to have all bonds.  That is even more risky than having a mix of bonds and stocks.  You also don’t want to hold a lot of bonds for thirty years or longer since the returns you’ll get will be lower than they will be from stocks.  Over shorter periods of time, however, bonds will sometimes outperform stocks, particularly if there is a big downswing like we saw in 2008 and early 2009.  In that period, while stocks lost 40%, bonds actually went up a few percent.  They did a lot worse than stocks in late 2009 and 2010 as the markets recovered, but people who were holding bonds during 2008 and 2009 felt a lot better than those holding stocks.  Again, buy an index fund that holds a lot of different types of bonds for low cost and diversification.

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3.  An International Stock Fund

US stocks are often the place to be since the economy is stable and often growing, but it is not always the best place.  You’ll always want to have some of your money in whatever segment of the market is doing the best at any given time.  You should therefore put some of your money, maybe 20-25%, into an international stock fund.  Here you want to look for inexpensive index funds that invest all over the world, rather than picking a niche fund that invests only in Asia, for example.

So there you have it.  A total stock market fund, a bond fund, and an international fund.  Find cheap index funds, send in a check, and never look back.  Happy investing!

Have a burning investing question you’d like answered?  Please send to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.