2018 Q4 & Annual PoF Portfolio, Spending, and Blog Performance Update

Every three months, I publish an update to let you know how well my portfolio has done, how much we’ve spent as a family of four, and what’s going on with the blog. Some people like to know the blog stats. Weird, I know.

After three years of tracking our family’s expenses, I’ve learned something. We spend about as much as I thought we did. As the late Denny Green famously said, “they are who we thought they were!” That’s us.

Before I started blogging, I had a pretty good idea of what we were spending based on the credit card statements. It turns out I was right, and I have decided to stop tracking our spending down to the penny. I did so to prove to both me and you that we were actually financially independent, and now we know.

Yes, we are still FI after the recent downturn in the markets. I’ve argued that a bear market can’t really “unFI” you, but that’s a different post.

With the conundrum of expenses that can be attributed to the blog, expenses that can be attributed to our upcoming build (is that spending or building home equity?), I am no longer going to report the precise dollar amount. I’ll continue to watch it from a 37,000 foot view, which is good enough for me. I hope it’s good enough for you.

 

2018 Q4 & Annual PoF Portfolio, Spending, and Blog Performance Update

 

2018 PoF Portfolio

 

Using my universal portfolio tracking spreadsheet that I’ve made available for everyone, I’ve updated my portfolio as it stands in early 2019.

 

 

Rather than share the actual values, I’ve altered the dollar amounts to add up to a cool $1 Million dollars. The ratios are perfectly accurate, though.

The taxable portion makes up over 50%. Roth accounts are about 25%. I’ve got about 13% in two 401(k) accounts. The 457(b), which I’ll deplete over 5 to 10 years beginning in 2020 is just over 6%. The remainder is cash, brewery, and other investments like my HSA and crowdfunded real estate (which deserves its own line — next time).

With an average expense ratio of 0.068, this portfolio costs me $680 per million invested. Compare that to a 1% AUM fee of $10,000 per million invested, and I’m pretty happy to be a DIY investor.

If you opt not to DIY, please strongly consider a financial advisor who doesn’t charge huge fees or push suboptimal investment products on you. My recommended financial advisors are fidicuary, fee-only advisors with some of the lowest fees you’ll find.

I’ve intentionally strayed from my “desired” allocation as we prepare to build a home, allowing cash to pile up while our equity investments lag a bit. The spreadsheet shows the following, again with modified sums but accurate percentages.

 

 

By this time next year, we hope to have built a house, sold a house, and I should be in a position to rebalance the portfolio back to the desired allocation.

If you’d like a copy of the spreadsheet I created, enter your email below and I’ll send you a link. Well, not me personally… it’s an automated thing. Anyway, you will be subscribed to my email list at least momentarily but you can opt out at any time.

 

 

2018 Q4 PoF Portfolio Performance

 

Do we have to do this? Really?

It wasn’t pretty. To be honest, though, I knew with certainty that there would be a bear market at some point. I didn’t know when, of course, but I was secretly hoping it would happen before I retire rather than shortly thereafter. And it did happen, at least according to most definitions.

Sorry about that. I should be careful what I wish for!

How did my portfolio do in the fourth quarter of 2018? Quite poorly, and thanks for asking.

According to Personal Capital, my You Index, which I would call My Index, lost 10.97% while the S&P 500 lost 13.97%. My portfolio was down, but I beat “the market” as defined by 500 large cap US stocks by 3% last quarter.

 

 

It helps to be holding some cash (in the Vanguard Treasury Money Market Fund (VUSXX) earning 2.3% and state-income-tax free). The cash isn’t represented in my You Index, but the bonds are. The bond index fund I own eked out a slightly positive return of 0.87% last quarter.

 

 

On the other hand, a small value tilt did me no favors. The fund lost 17.4% in the fourth quarter of 2018.

 

 

The only individual stock I own, Berkshire Hathaway, only lost 4.6% and the REIT fund performed better than most stock funds, recording a 6.5% loss.

 

 

The volatility was impressive. Over the course of a couple months, I saw about 5 or 6 entire years worth of future spending disappear. The day after Christmas, I got a year back, and I’ve gotten a couple more years back since.

I had a little bit of money invested back in 2000 and a low six-figure amount back in 2009. I handled those nasty drops without issue, but this was the first test I’ve had with a seven-figure portfolio.

Although the drop wasn’t (or isn’t to date) nearly as dramatic as the 40% to 50% drops in the first decade of the milliennium, but I feel like I’ve passed this test just fine. I pretty much just shrugged my shoulders, understanding this was not abnormal.

The only selling I did was matched with buying as part of some tax loss harvesting efforts. Since I’ve been hoarding cash this year, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for me, but I did manage to take some paper losses that will become future tax deductions.

 

2018 PoF Portfolio Performance

 

When looking at the bigger picture, we can see that a decent chunk of the fourth quarter losses were taking back gains made over the course of the first 9 months of the year.

My portfolio dropped 7.5% on the year while the S&P 500 lost 6.2%.

 

 

 

The bright spot? Berkshire Hathaway, with a 3% gain on the year, moving into positive territory in the final week of the year.

 

Bonds didn’t fare so well in the increasing interest rate environment. The total bond fund dropped 2.8%. Bonds are poorly correlated with stock market returns, but not inversely correlated. They were not a safe haven in 2018.

 

 

 

International stocks were a real drag in 2018. My worst performer was the developed markets fund, losing 14.5%. Thanks, Europe.

 

 

It will be interesting to see what 2019 brings. After 6 trading days, we’re up about 3.5%. If this pace continues, I expect my portfolio to be up about 150% by New Year’s Eve. fatFIRE, here we come!

 

 

 

2018 Annual Spending

 

If you read the introduction, you’ll know that I don’t have exact figures to share.

We did have some big expenses this quarter, though. I spent around $2,500 on four flights to Costa Rica and Honduras — we’ll be going back to another medical mission in May.

And then there was the $28,000 I dropped on a 2017 Nissan Armada. The next big ticket purchase will probably be a travel trailer to pull behind the beast of a vehicle I now drive.

As of last quarter, we were on pace to spend about $66,000 this year. Two years ago we spent $62,000, last year we spent $61,000, but now we’re paying an extra $5,000 or so in property taxes this year.

The consistency was remarkable, but I blew it out of the water with the SUV. Since we tend to replace a vehicle every 5 or 6 years on average (driving two vehicles for 10 to 12 years), the cost should really be spread out over that timeframe.

I’ve maintained that we spend about $5,000 to $6,000 a month ($60,000 to $72,000 a year), and adding $5,000 to $6,000 a year for vehicle replacement to the prior years’ spending totals lands us squarely in that range.

This year, the grand total of our spending was just shy of $100,000 and next year we’ll be spending all kinds of money on building supplies and labor. Eventually, we should settle into a more predictable pattern, but I’m glad I’ve worked “one more year” several times before retiring in 2019.

 

2018 Annual Blog Performance

 

This blog is now a confident toddler, having celebrated its third birthday yesterday.

E-mail subscribers can skip to the end, as they’ve already seen this data and more. I also share site revenue data with subscribers and some details on how this site managed to clear a six-figure profit last year.

As you may know, I am donating half of my profits, and I plan to make a six-figure donation in 2019 as a result.

If you’d like to be included in the next quarterly newsletter to get all the juicy details, please subscribe in the box below. You’ll get some great bonuses, as well.

 

 

Site Statistics:

 

As of 01.09.2019, the site has 547 published posts and 47 pages. These have been visited by people in 215 countries. Still no visitors from Greenland, Svalbard, North Korea, Western Sahara, or the Republic of the Congo.

Please tell all of your friends in Greenland, Svalbard, North Korea, Western Sahara, and the Republic of the Congo about the site so we can fill in the rest of the world map!

Don’t worry about those other white spots between countries. I won’t get credit for visits from the Baltic, Black, or Caspian Seas.

 

 

As of yesterday, the site’s pages have been viewed 4,625,321 times, with more than half of those (2,637,402) coming in 2018. We’re off to a strong start in 2019 as people are attempting to fulfill their Financial New Years Resolutions.

 

 

 

 

How readers are following Physician on FIRE

If you’ve got any friends who may benefit from my content, please forward this e-mail on to them. The more people who hear the message of financial independence, the better.

 

The Top 5 Most Viewed Posts of all-time:

  1. Vanguard Backdoor Roth 2019: a Step by Step Guide (143,162 views) (has been republished with annual updates x2)
  2. Is Having a Mortgage a Great Way to Force Savings? (52,876 views)
  3. How Much Does a Doctor Need to Retire (47,954 views)
  4. The PoF Portfolio (41,873 views)
  5. Tax Loss Harvesing with Vanguard: A Step by Step Guide (36,505 views)

Tax Reform! How Physicians and the Self-Employed are Affected dropped out of the top 5.

#2 is a Saturday Selection from PIMD that had amazing traffic over a few days, presumably thanks to Google’s content suggestion in new tabs in Chrome and on Android phones. I think physicians are searching online for how much they’ll need to retire, as #3 moved up from the #4 slot last quarter.

 

The Top 5 Posts of the Quarter:

  1. Vanguard Backdoor Roth 2019: a Step by Step Guide (41,452 views)
  2. Tax Loss Harvesing with Vanguard: A Step by Step Guide (22,981 views)
  3. How Much Does a Doctor Need to Retire (14,182 views)
  4. The Marginal Value of the Backdoor Roth. Is it Worth the Trouble? (10,927 views)
  5. Credit Cards for People Who Love Free Travel and Money (9,457 views)

Only #4 was a post written in the last quarter, and a couple others (#2 and #5) were revised and republished in the 4th quarter. #6 was another new post: Physician Retires Early and is Met With Scorn.

 

Where is my traffic coming from? Top 5 referring sites all-time:

  1. White Coat Investor (107,369 sessions)
  2. Twitter (81,959 sessions)
  3. Facebook & Facebook Mobile (69,092 sessions)
  4. Rockstar Finance (40,594 sessions)
  5. Reddit (17,675 sessions)

My WCI Network partner Passive Income MD is #6 with 12,924 referrals.

 

Top Referring Sites this Quarter:

  1. Facebook & Facebook Mobile (13,170 sessions)
  2. White Coat Investor (10,777 sessions)
  3. Twitter (8,762 sessions)
  4. Bogleheads (5,682 sessions)
  5. Doximity (2,074 sessions)

I send a lot of traffic to Bogleheads. I have learned so much from my peers on the forum.

 

Where do people go from Physicianonfire.com? (mainly referred from The Sunday Best & Christopher Guest Posts): All time clicks:

  1. ESI Money (26,525 clicks)
  2. Passive Income MD (15,542 clicks)
  3. Bogleheads (13,265 clicks)
  4. Early Retirement Now (10,307 clicks)
  5. Nerd’s Eye View (kitces.com) (9,148 views)

WCI would very likely show up at the top, but some must exist that keep me from seeing those clicks in the Jetpack Site Stats. #5 is a new entry. I love Michael Kitces’ deep, detailed dives into financial topics.

 

Most clicked site this quarter:

  1. ESI Money (5,561 clicks)
  2. Passive Income MD (2,773 clicks)
  3. Bogleheads (1,915 clicks)
  4. Miss Bonnie MD (1,527 clicks)
  5. Nerd’s Eye View (kitces.com) (1,470 views)

 

What’s Next?

 

In the coming months, I’ll be further elucidating the “marginal benefit” of the backdoor Roth with some projected numbers. I plan to review a couple FIRE books coming out from popular FIRE bloggers. I’m going to review the retention bonuses offered by credit card issuers as welcome bonuses are starting to become a bit more sparse. I’ll revisit stealth wealth and write about Disney World for the FIRE crowd.

In early March, I’ll be presenting as part of a Financial Independence online conference #FIsummit. I’m looking forward to connecting with folks around the world and will be joined by some great speakers and friends including people behind Choose FI, the FIRE Drill Podcast, Montana Money Adventures, The Thrifty Couple, and Mr. Money Mustache. 

At $49 or $29 and 10% off with the code POF, you might want to consider signing up to pick up some knowledge and motivation from this talented cast of characters. And by using my discount code (POF), a portion of your purchase will help support our charitable mission.

I hope you have a great winter and if you live someplace cold like I do, you find a way to enjoy the outdoors and/or escape for a spell.

 


Track your investments for free with Personal Capital. That's how I track the PoF portfolio

 

Cheers!

-Physician on FIRE

 

 

18 comments

  • You continue to impress, PoF! It’s awesome to see people who are willing to help others be successful.

    The market was a bit rough in 2018, particularly at the end, but it is good to know you just stuck the course and shrugged your shoulders. I think that’s a great test of your resolve and how you feel about your portfolio, which I imagine can be a tough task when you are nearing retirement.

    In fact, one of my partners has had this exact dilemma over the past 12 to 18 months trying to figure out if he has “enough.” I sent him an article that Kitces wrote about sequence of returns and down markets after retirement. It turns out, that as long as you have a reasonable amount saved a down year or two won’t throw you overboard. A down decade just might, but what are the odds of that happening?

    This is one of the biggest reasons to have some side income coming in whether that is from a blog, real estate, invention, book, or part ownership in a brewery. It helps buoy the nest egg when needed.

    Keep up the good work!

    TPP

  • Subscribe to get more great content like this, an awesome spreadsheet, and more!
  • Congrats POF on a great year! I’ve learned a lot and taken action on all sorts of things thanks to your blog. Good luck with the upcoming year 🙂

  • Your blog stats are absolutely mind-boggling. I think based on current pace I will achieve those numbers in year 40 or so, LOL.

    I have no idea how I did it, but I actually got one visitor from Greenland credited to my blog (which I celebrated on Twitter). Greenland was my elusive unicorn and just because it was such a large area on the map, it was nice to fill out on Google Analytics.

    I too am impressed with my risk tolerance as I basically had absolute losses last year that far exceeded the total amount I had invested in 2009. Which demonstrates that when you have this amount of money in play, even smaller swings (either direction) can mean quite eye popping #’s.

    It also proves to me that when you are near retirement age, it is appropriate to adjust your asset allocation accordingly (ie more conservative) as you will soon have to live on the proceeds from your nest egg and no longer contribute via income/savings to “buy stocks at a discount.”

    Here’s hoping that 2019 is kind to us all.

  • Amazing stats on the blog and awesome transparent post.

    Did I ever tell you that you should be so incredibly proud of the blog you have created? There, I just did.

    Cheers!

  • The amazing thing about your blog is that I learn something new every time I read it. I had no idea that Vanguard has money market funds that are tax free. What is the rationale for picking VUSXX versus VMSXX?

  • I’m impressed with the calmness by which you view the markets.

    ” I saw about 5 or 6 entire years worth of future spending disappear. The day after Christmas, I got a year back, and I’ve gotten a couple more years back since.”

    I honestly could not have handled that type of loss, which is why I’ve kept my public equity exposure to less than 25% of my net worth. It just frustrates me how quickly equities can lose value.

    I’m about a 2 years limit kind of guy as I’m petrified of having to go back to work. So you having work income must help the risk tolerance.

    Thank goodness for the post Christmas rally though! Let’s hope 2019 is a better year.

    Very impressed with your site’s growth! Sounds like there are good network effects going on.

    Sam

  • Dan Soltys

    POF,
    Nice update. It looks like Personal Capital reports index returns based on price alone which excludes the impact of dividends. So yes, just by the price change alone, the S&P 500 was down 6.24%, but when dividends are included, the S&P 500 was down 4.38%.
    -Dan

    • Good catch!

      I’ve complained about this to P.C. in the past, and they basically told me I was wrong. It’s easily apparent, though, when you see how the Vanguard S&P 500 index fund outperforms their S&P 500 line by about 2% per year.

      I may reach out to them again.

      Best,
      -PoF

  • Nice update, the spending consistency has been quite impressive, if you take out some of the big item expenses.

    And I’m very impressed so far you’ve been able to grow the blog. Congrats.

  • Dr. Lm

    Thank you for the update: The annual spending is a shocker to me. I realize that different stages of life, that it can be hard to compare ones spending to another. But they are so vastly different. It just highlights the issues that we’ve had as a couple/family with money. Your annual spending being in the low 60s compared to our past 2 years of 254k and 274k. I imagine your 60k doesn’t include a mortgage/rent or pre-school tuition. Even then, there is a wide gap.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Dr. Lm

      Adjusted for similar setup (no mortgage/rent, loans, tuition and insurance) like one of your prior blog posts. Comes out closer … $168k annually. Closer.

      • You’re getting there!

        I also benefit from living in a LCOL area, count donations separately, no car loan or lease, etc… I’m also obviously not counting taxes as spending. I put more towards taxes than all other area combined and it’s not even close.

        Cheers!
        -PoF

  • This is terrific. I’d admire everything you’ve done with POF. Keep up the incredible work!

    Best wishes,

    DeForest

  • I like your attitude when it comes to the market. I am more in line with your attitude in terms of how to react to market fluctuations. They will come and go, but in a few years, we will all be better off.

    The numbers are interesting to me. Do you have any guesses as to why certain places drive more traffic your way? Regardless, its cool to see the breakdown. I hope more sites do this as I enjoy reading your analysis.

    • A lot of it is effort dependent. I am quite active on Facebook and Twitter. I have classic posts republished at The White Coaat Investor and Passive Income MD, and I repost their stuff, as well. Google traffic is a bit of a mystery to those of us that are not SEO masters, but mine has been growing steadily.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • An impressive year!! Thanks for sharing the blog stats and where traffic comes from. And wow, a six-figure charitable donation for 2019–sweet goal!! Out of curiosity, how’d you grow your FB traffic so much?

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