After the TSP, I invest my money in Betterment and Vanguard. I track all of my investments with Personal Capital. I also wrote a short, 2 hour book summarizing this site. You can buy it here.
What a roller coaster of a year! Between a rough start in January when the S&P 500 was down 5% (the worst month since 2009), Brexit, the Trump election night crash and then end of year “Trump bump,” I don’t think anyone foresaw that the market would be down and then WAY up by the end of the year.
2016 Year In Review
In 2016 our investments returned 10.7% and our net worth grew by 15.8%. Details on what worked for me and my wife below after a few thoughts on investing in 2016.
While I followed most of the big news throughout the year, I did not change my asset allocation at all. I have quickly learned that whenever I or anyone else tries to outsmart the market, you lose pretty quickly. My response to the uncertainity: stick to the plan!
Did I think Trump would win the election? No. Did I think the market would react so positively to his winning? No. Did I think the year would end with the markets up more than 10%? No. I thought the market would be down or flat in 2016.
Do I think the market is overvalued now and due for a correction? YES! But I thought this last year as well. Am I changing my investment strategy based on this guess? No.
Timing the market is a fools game. Time IN the market is what makes the average investor money.
Check out the Shiller P/E ratio, which is the price earnings ratio is based on average inflation-adjusted earnings from the previous 10 years, known as the Cyclically Adjusted PE Ratio (CAPE Ratio), Shiller PE Ratio, or PE 10. As you can see, we’re not quite in 2001, Dot-Com Bubble territory yet, but we are already above the 2008-2009 housing market collapse CDO, mortgage back securities area.
If you are saving for financial independence or early retirement, a good -50% market correction can be great for your portfolio. You get to buy all of the best companies in the world on sale! If you are already retired or approaching FI, a bear market can delay your plans by a few years.
Sequence of returns risk can be detrimental to early retirees. The first ten years of your retirement will pretty much dictate whether your assets will survive you or you will need to supplement the income slightly. Check out the MadFientist Safe Withdrawal Rate and GoCurryCracker Worst Retirement Ever articles for more details. Great writing with a lot of in depth math.
My 2016 Asset Allocation
I re-balance my portfolio in May of each year. No real reason for this other than it avoids the stock market mayhem of end of year selling, beginning of year exuberance, and summer doldrums. This year my asset allocation was 75% US stocks, 20% international shares, and 5% bonds, split evenly between government and corporate bonds.
I discuss in more detail why I chose this asset allocation here. I plan to keep this asset allocation heading into 2017.
I have been doing some more research on increasing my bond exposure due to the increased gains and reduction of volatility. Volatility does not worry me at the moment, but it may become more important as my wife and I approach financial independence.
This year I turn 30, giving me ten more years to reach my goal of financial independence by age 40. We have passed $250,000 in net worth and should be able to save $1 million by age 40, giving us $40,000/year to live on.
My current career goals are to continue working beyond age 40, but to work less days per month. I am finding as I get further along in my career that I enjoy my free time to cycle, run, lift, relax, and socialize more than I enjoy climbing the career ladder.
My 2016 Investment Performance
My assets are scattered across 6 Vanguard accounts, a TSP account, and a Betterment account. I keep track of all of them through Personal Capital, a free account aggregation tool that lets you look at performance, asset allocation, and run retirement models, all for free.
If you sign up through my link, I may receive a commission, but it’s free for you to sign up. I have been using PC since 2014 and it’s still my “go-to” to look at all my accounts in one place.
2016 Vanguard Performance: 10.25%
My Vanguard account includes my Roth and Traditional IRAs, my wife’s Roth and Traditional IRAs, and my SEP (Simplified Employee Pension) IRA, which I contribute to from my website income, and a joint taxable brokerage investment account.
In these accounts we hold Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Admiral Shares and Vanguard Total International Stock Market Index Fund Admiral Shares (VTSAX and VTIAX). Here’s what our returns looked like throughout the year:
You can see how we got slammed in January, as did nearly every other investor in the stock market. Many people panicked and pulled out their assets. They missed out on a major bull run for the year!
By the end of 2016, our Vanguard assets were up 10.25%
It’s even more impressive to look at the growth of our Vanguard assets since we started investing with them in 2013. While there was a big dip in late 2015, early 2016, the 2016 bull run added over $10,000 to our net worth.
2016 Betterment Performance: 9.5%
Betterment is known as a “robo-advisor.” You tell the software what your risk appetite is or what stock/bond ratio you want and the computer algorithm selects an investment portfolio for you out of 10 ETFs. Of course they charge a fee for this service, but it’s quite small once you get above $10,000 in assets invested.
Of course you can do it all yourself (DIY) and save a lot of money. You should never be paying an expense ratio more than 0.25% for any investment! I like to experiment with DIY vs. automated investments. In 2016 my investments beat Betterment but only by 1 per cent. One year is not long enough for a data point, we will see who invested better after 40 years.
My Betterment return for 2016 was 9.5%, as you can see below.
Above you can see the chart comparing my Betterment account at 90% stocks, 10% bonds vs. the S&P 500. Warren Buffett is right when he says just leave it in the S&P 500 for most investors!
My fancy computer selected portfolio couldn’t beat the returns on the 500 largest companies in America. Again, one year is too short a time period for comparison, but it is interesting. With 10% bonds in my Betterment portfolio, that dragged down my returns this year. But in a bad year for stocks, the bonds should perform better. Yin and yang.
I’m investing for the long run, so I don’t sweat one years performance.
2016 Thrift Saving Plan (TSP) Performance: 11.5%
My best performing account was the TSP. I have often preached the simplicity, automation, low costs, built in diversification, and tax advantages of the TSP, but in 2016 my TSP account delivered all that PLUS an 11.5% return!
You can see how my asset allocation that I set in May 2016 (on the right) drifted a bit to what it was 31 Dec 2016 (on the left). This is due to the small cap stocks (S Fund) outperforming the G and F fund (which you would expect).
All of my investment accounts beat my benchmark, the Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund, which is a 80% stocks (60% US, 40% international) and 20% bonds, which returned 8.33% for 2016.
However, none of my accounts beat the S&P 500, which returned 11.92% for 2016. Despite not outperforming the S&P 500, I am happy with my investment performance and look forward to what 2017 will bring.\
My asset allocation is working well. My principles of automation, diversification, simplicity, and low costs continue to reward me.
So reader, how did your investments do in 2016? Did you beat your benchmark? Please share any lessons learned that we might all become better investors in 2017!
2 Websites I Use to Achieve Financial Independence Faster
I have investment accounts all over the place. To keep track of all of them in one place I use Personal Capital. It combines all of my accounts, shows me where I may be overpaying in fees, and provides beautiful charts showing my overall asset allocation and performance.
I use Personal Capital to track my Roth and Traditional TSP, Vanguard IRAs, banking accounts, SDP, and my Betterment taxable account, all in one place. It's free, secure and presents me with a one-stop dashboard so I can see all my money on one site.
Read my full review of Personal Capital and see how easy it can be to manage your investments in one place. Trust me, once you try it, you'll love it.
P.S. - If you have over $100,000 of assets and a 401k, you really need to run the Personal Capital 401k Fee Analyzer.
The best way I know to achieve financial independence is to keep your investments simple, diversified, automatic, and low-cost. Costs eat into your returns like you wouldn't believe! A 1% difference in expense ratios can mean $100,000s lost to fees over a lifetime of investing.
Even if you're a DIY (do-it-yourself) investor like I am, you need to check out Betterment. You can read my full review here, but the bottom line is for only $250 per $100,000 invested (0.25% expense ratio) you get simple, diversified, and automated investing. In addition every account now gets free Tax Loss Harvesting+ features, which should increase returns for the average investor more than the minuscule management fee.
If you're not a DIY investor or are just getting started with investing, then you definitely need to check out Betterment. It's what I recommend to my family and friends who aren't strong investors or don't care to learn about asset allocations, diversification, or rebalancing.