[In my best Ron Burgundy voice] “My portfolio looks good. I mean really good. Hey everyone! Come see how good my portfolio looks!”
I’ve touched on the importance of investing early and often, but I haven’t given you a clue as to how I invest. It wasn’t until sometime last year that I wrote myself an Investor Policy Statement and came up with an asset allocation that felt appropriate. I made a few transactions to apply the allocation across my various accounts. This is the allocation I’ve decided upon:
- 50% US Stocks (with a tilt to small and value)
- 20% International Stocks (50 / 50 developed and emerging markets)
- 20% Alternatives (real estate and small business)
- 10% Bond & Cash (mostly bond plus cash emergency fund)
Is this the perfect asset allocation?
No. The White Coat Investor has identified 150 other asset allocations that are “better than yours“, although I think mine is definitely better than some of them. The only way to know, of course, is to look back at some future date and determine which portfolio performed the best. We could look in the rearview mirror and backtest a bunch of portfolios, but as we all know, past performance does not predict future results.
How has the portfolio performed?
How did the portfolio perform in 2019?
Our portfolio returned just over 24% in 2019. I’ll gladly take that any year. The Rule of 72 tells me that my investments would double in just three years with steady returns of 24% (not that I have any expectation of that happening).
Compound interest is akin to the feeling you get when you step off the treadmill after a good run. Your legs continue to propel you across the gym without conscious effort. You can’t help but move forward. Here’s how our returns look in graphical form.
My mid-cap holdings, a top performer in 2019, eked out a slight edge over the S&P 500.
Stock funds performed very well, but bond funds didn’t have a bad year, either. It was a low performer relative to the rest of the portfolio, but I’m quite happy with a 7.5% return on my bonds.
If you like these fancy charts, Personal Capital’s free software will give you these and a whole lot more.
How did I come up with this allocation?
Researching for this post, I played around with the questionnaire a little bit and couldn’t actually come up with a 90 /10 stock bond recommendation. I’m not sure that outcome is even in the algorithm. I usually got 100% stock or 80 / 20 or 70 / 30 depending on when I said I would start taking the money from my investments.
The majority of my portfolio is invested in US stocks. I like stocks for the returns, which have delivered an average of about 10% a year for a very long time. Small and value stocks are favored by people smarter than me for potentially higher returns, so I tilt a bit that way.
I have international stocks for diversification. I overweight emerging markets for the same reason I tilt to small value. Experts with much more experience than me recommend anywhere from 0% to 50% or more of your stock portion be international. I’ve gone with a nice round number in the middle.
REIT funds are considered part of the stock portion, but provide some additional diversity. High volatility has been rewarded with solid returns, particularly if you look back more than 10 years. That says nothing about the future, but real estate will always be required by businesses and people.
Bonds are there as a safe haven and diversifier. If we experience a downturn worse than the Great Depression, I should have something left. I doubt that will happen, but I feel better having a small bond allocation than none at all.
Let’s look under the hood.
Below you will see my asset allocation with the money I’ve got earmarked for retirement. Several items are not listed, including our Donor Advised Funds and 529 Plans. I do include our 529 Plans in our net worth (it’s about 5%), but do not include it in our retirement portfolio, as it’s earmarked for a different purpose.
The DAF money, which would represent about another 8% of our portfolio, is no longer mine and will eventually be granted to charities of our choice. I don’t include that in our net worth or the retirement portfolio, but it will certainly serve a purpose in our retirement.
I’m a little overweight in international stocks and a bit underweight in US Stocks as compared to my desired asset allocation. Towards the end of 2019, I made another six-figure donation of VTSAX to the donor advised fund, a move that is partially responsible for the imbalance there. The rest looks pretty good.
If you’d like a copy of the template I use to track my portfolio, you can download it here.
The taxable account has US stocks and International stocks. I tax loss harvest from this account, so the particular fund(s) used will vary as I exchange from one fund to a similar fund.
The international funds kick off a foreign tax credit that has grown to $1,000 a year. I wouldn’t get that credit if I owned international funds in a tax-advantaged account. On the other hand, they do pay a higher dividend than the US stock funds, so that’s not optimal. You know how I feel about dividends in a taxable account.
The Roth accounts have my small-cap and mid-cap value stocks, and REITs. The REIT fund is not very tax efficient, so this is a good place for it.
You might wonder how I have such a large percentage in the Roth IRA. Back in 2010, I converted pretty much all my retirement savings, which was in a SEP-IRA, to a Roth IRA.
In hindsight, it was probably not the smartest move, but the prevailing thought at the time was that the window to make a conversion would only be open to high earners for one year. The window never closed, and I paid 6 figures in extra income tax by making the conversion when I did. Live and learn.
I keep bonds in the 401(k) and 457(b). A total bond fund is not particularly tax efficient, so tax-advantaged accounts are a good place for my bonds. After I retire, I anticipate rolling this over to a traditional IRA, and likely doing some Roth conversions. Whatever hasn’t been converted when I turn 72 will be subject to RMDs, so I also like bonds here for the likely lower long-term return.
The 401(k) also has small-caps and mid-caps. Since I tax loss harvest in the taxable account, I avoid keeping identical funds here or anywhere else in the portfolio. Automatic investment and reinvestment of dividends could trigger a wash sale.
Nearly all funds are with Vanguard. The portfolio consists entirely of mutual funds and a bit of cash. I could also use ETFs, which are very similar to mutual funds, but trade a bit differently. My mutual funds are passive, index funds. There is no active management in these funds, and each passive fund tracks an established index. This keeps fees low, and it’s not common for an actively traded fund to consistently outperform the index.
Why so aggressive?
I’ve chosen a rather aggressive allocation. Increasing risk increases potential reward. I know from experience (that ugly 2008) that I’ve got the mental fortitude to watch my accounts lose half their value and not sweat it. Those accounts have bounced back nicely and I was buying on the way down and also on the recovery upswing.
My goal was to have > 36 years of anticipated expenses saved up before fully retiring; this is considerably more than the 25 years worth often cited as required to be FI (financially independent) and RE (retire early) and allows for a withdrawal rate of less than 3%. I like to call this financial freedom, which a level up from financial independence.
There seem to be two schools of thought as to how to invest an oversized nest egg. Some would say, “You’ve won the game. Why keep playing?” Put that money in a very safe portfolio and you’ll never run out. You could go with a conservative portfolio of 80% bonds / fixed income and coast.
Quitting is not my style. My plan is to hold about 5 years worth of expenses in bonds. Assuming I still have my site, I can also count on an income stream from it, which is a nice bonus I didn’t necessarily anticipate when I first wrote this post.
With the remaining funds, I can be as aggressive as I wanna be. I’m not saying that I’m putting half my portfolio into Malaysian microcaps. I just don’t have a good enough reason to play it safe with this half of the portfolio. It’s a cushion that I would love to see grow, but if it dropped in half it wouldn’t phase me or affect my long-term plans whatsoever. It’s also money that I may not touch for a very long time, if ever, and if the market does tank, I’ll have time to allow it to recover while spending from the bond portion.
Does this plan expose me to unnecessary risk? I suppose, although a diversified portfolio of index funds is light-years away from the riskiest way to invest a big pile of money. So why would I choose stocks over bonds for the overflow portion of my retirement portfolio? Because I can. Because I’m a man who like to compete and win. Like Ron Burgundy.
I’m willing to take the slight risk that my accounts could lose value and never recover in order to reap the benefits of the much more likely outcome of continued growth that outpaces both bond returns and inflation.
I’m not interested in working until I’ve amassed an 8-figure portfolio, but I’d be lying if I told you I don’t like the idea of maybe having one someday. If it happens, I’d prefer to let the portfolio do the heavy lifting for me.
Portfolio Performance Updates
- May 16, 2016: Pof Portfolio Performance Update
- January 3, 2017: Pof Portfolio Returns: How Did We Fare in 2016
- April 11, 2017: 2017 Q1 PoF Portfolio, Spending, and Blog Performance Update
- August 15, 2017 Q2 PoF Portfolio, Spending, and Blog Performance Update
- October 10, 2017: Q3 PoF Portfolio, Spending, and Blog Performance Update
- January 23, 2018: 2017 Q4 & Annual PoF Portfolio, Spending, and Blog Performance Update
- April 3, 2018: 2018 Q1 PoF Portfolio, Spending, and Blog Performance Update
- July 3, 2018: 2018 Q2 PoF Portfolio, Spending, and Blog Performance Update
- October, 2018: 2018 Q3 PoF Portfolio, Spending, and Blog Performance Update
- January, 2019: 2018 Q4 & Annual PoF Portfolio, Spending, and Blog Performance Update
- April, 2019: 2019 Q1 PoF Portfolio & Blog Performance Update
- July, 2019: 2019 Q2 PoF Portfolio & Blog Performance Update
- January 2020: Four Years of Physician on FIRE: Fellowship, Fun, and Philanthropy
What do you think of the PoF portfolio? Is it a PoS portfolio, or something you could live with as your own? I’m open to advice and criticism and I would expect nothing less from my friends on the internet. Sound off below!