Why Didn’t Technology Create a 4-Hour Workday?

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier over time, but what is the reality? We may not spend all day hunting and gathering anymore, but we still work similar hours to our great-grandparents. From the paper A Century of Work and Leisure [pdf] published in the American Economic Journal:

We find that hours of work for prime age individuals are essentially unchanged, with the rise in women’s hours fully compensating for the decline in men’s hours. [...] Overall, per capita leisure and average annual lifetime leisure increased by only four or five hours per week during the last 100 years.

The following video by CGP Grey called Humans Need Not Apply methodically describes how robotic automation will soon make an additional chunk of people unemployable.

Horses aren’t unemployed now because they got lazy as a species, they’re unemployable. There’s little work a horse can do that do that pays for its housing and hay. And many bright, perfectly capable humans will find themselves the new horse: unemployable through no fault of their own.

If robots are doing all the work, shouldn’t that mean that the workers should be able to get by working less? Some people thought so. The famous economist John Maynard Keynes wrote in 1930 that “by 2030 he expected a system of almost total “technological unemployment” in which we’d need to work as few as 15 hours a week, and that mostly just to avoid losing our minds from all the leisure.”

That is taken from the Vice.com article Who Stole the 4-Hour Workday? (warning: other parts of this site may be considered NSFW), which discusses how the dream of a shortened workweek fell apart:

A new American dream has gradually replaced the old one. Instead of leisure, or thrift, consumption has become a patriotic duty. Corporations can justify anything—from environmental destruction to prison construction—for the sake of inventing more work to do. A liberal arts education, originally meant to prepare people to use their free time wisely, has been repackaged as an expensive and inefficient job-training program. We have stopped imagining, as Keynes thought it so reasonable to do, that our grandchildren might have it easier than ourselves. We hope that they’ll have jobs, maybe even jobs that they like.

The new dream of overwork has taken hold with remarkable tenacity. Hardly anyone talks about expecting or even deserving shorter workdays anymore; the best we can hope for is the perfect job, one that also happens to be our passion. In the dogged, lonely pursuit of it, we don’t bother organizing with our co-workers. We’re made to think so badly of ourselves as to assume that if we had more free time, we’d squander it.

The Vice.com article focuses on the idea that workers should organize and fight for their share of the benefits.

Instead, we see that the benefits of any technological advancement or increase in productivity has predominantly gone to the owning class (business owners, content owners, and corporate executives) as opposed to the working class. A thick, NYT bestselling economics book posits that when the rate of return on capital is greater than the rate of economic growth, the result is wealth inequality.

I certainly don’t know how this will play out. Will robots cause mass unemployment? Will we all have 20-hour workweeks with no pay cut? In the meantime, as an individual its seems wise to keep converting my excess work energy into ownership of assets. If all you do is work, get paid, and spend it all, then you may be stuck in the rat race indefinitely. A way out is to save a portion and buy some assets. Businesses, real estate, shares of common stocks. Or start your own business and/or create some assets.

How Reliable Is The Income Stream From Dividend Stocks?

If you’re trying to achieve early retirement, that means you have less time for compound interest and more time living off your investments. As a result, many early retirement investors like to own income-oriented investments like rental properties or dividend stocks. People used to own bonds and also be happy with that income when the interest rates were well above the inflation rate, but right now that is not the case.

So a good question is – How reliable is the income stream from dividend stocks? Joseph G. Paul of the AllianceBerstein blog tried to address this issues a couple different ways. First, he pointed out the dividend income from the S&P 500 went up in 39 out of the last 46 years. When it did drop, the largest single year drop was 20% from 2008 to 2009.

Now imagine that own the S&P 500 index or a High Divided Yield index (top 1/3 of S&P 500 by dividend yield) and simply spend the dividend income every year, but don’t sell any shares. 10 years later, would you have the same amount of money that you started with? (That’s what would happen with a 10-year bond.) Here are the results:


In fact, in 87% of 10-year periods that we surveyed, investors in equities got their money back receiving, on average, more than twice as much (Display) from a $100 investment. The high-dividend-yield portfolio was even more stable than the market as a whole, only failing to recover the initial investment in one out of 38 10-year periods.

The AB article makes a case for the suitability of a diversified basket of dividend stocks for long-term investors that want to spend the income every year without selling shares, with the warning that they also need the ability to ignore share price fluctuations and avoid selling in a down market.

On the other hand, financial author William Bernstein wrote in his book The Ages of the Investor that you can only treat 50% of your dividend income as absolutely reliable. His reasoning, at least as quoted from the book:

If you counted on your stock holdings to see you through retirement, you’re likely to be seriously disappointed. Yet, there is a small part of the equity portfolio that can be considered in the funding of retirement: the “safe dividend flow” from stock holdings. Although the value of stocks can fluctuate wildly, their stream of income is much more stable. At no point in the history of the U.S.stock market has its real dividend stream fallen by more than half, even during the Great Depression. During the most recent financial crisis, for example, although stock prices fell by more than 50%, dividends also dropped, but by only 23% from their peak, and only temporarily.

Horizon Motif Review: Commission-Free, No Advisory Fee, Index ETF Portfolios

motiflogoMotif Investing is a discount brokerage with a twist: you can buy a basket of up to 30 different stocks or ETFs and the entire basket costs just $9.95 a trade. When I first heard of this company, I thought it would be a cool way to build your own custom ETF. It could be dividend income stocks, your own balanced fund of stocks and bonds, whatever. You can start with as little as $250 and they use fractional shares so all your money is invested.

But you could also make a diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds. Motif went one step further and introduced their own Horizon motifs, which come with zero trade commissions as well as no management fees. There are 9 different Horizon Motifs – you pick one of three time horizons (1 year, 5 year, or 15 year) and one of three risk levels (conservative, moderate, or aggressive). Consisting mostly of Vanguard and iShares ETFs, here is the asset allocation for their 15-year, aggressive portfolio:

  • 27% US Stocks (VTI)
  • 17% International Stocks (VXUS)
  • 8% US Real Estate (VNQ)
  • 5% Commodities (GSG)
  • 27% International Total Bond (BNDX)
  • 16% US Total Bond (BND)

Overall, the asset allocation portfolios are pretty similar to those offered by other brokerage firms, mutual fund companies, and “robo-advisor” online portfolio managers. I would note that compared to their competitors’ asset allocation models, Horizon Motifs as a whole have a slightly greater allocation to bonds. Usually an “aggressive” long-term portfolio has 70% to 90% in stocks, while Motif has roughly 60%. Their 15-Yr Conservative is ~50% stocks and their 15-Yr Moderate is ~40% stocks. You can adjust the relative percentages of the ETFs inside the Motif, but that will change it to a custom Motif and thus trades will cost $9.95. (I tried.)

I have an Motif Investing account, and here is confirmation that the trade commission is zero and an illustration of how fractional shares work (click to enlarge):


Horizon Motifs can be a great way for beginner investors to get started without getting eating alive by fees. The impact of zero commissions is greatest when your portfolio size is small. For example, paying $10 commission on a $250 monthly deposit is an instant 4% drop in your balance. Through this whitepaper, I found that the Motif is rebalanced based on tolerance bands linked to time and percentage variations. Rebalancing would be free as well since it is usually just charged as one trade.

I don’t know anywhere else you can buy a basket of 6 low-cost ETFs for $250 with no commission and have every dollar split into fractional shares so that you are always fully invested and have it rebalanced for you regularly for free. Once you start investing larger amounts down the road, then you can switch to something more customized if desired.

To answer a reader question, Motif is a “real” brokerage firm with the usual $500,000 of SIPC insurance and uses Apex as their clearing firm (same as TradeKing, Betterment, OptionsHouse). They also offer two-factor authentication for security.

Motif Investing does have some new customer promos, but some won’t apply if you only make free trades. You can get a $150 cash bonus if you deposit $2,000 and make 5 trades at $9.95 each. They also have a $150 IRA promotion if you transfer over $5,000 in assets.

Covestor Core Portfolios Review: Free Managed ETF Portfolio

covlogoLow-cost index ETF portfolio are everywhere these days! Covestor is a site that usually charges you a fee to manage your portfolio to follow various active managers, with fees ranging up to 2% per year (split Covestor/manager 50/50). However, they recently introduced their Covestor Core Portfolios, which consist of passive ETFs from providers such as Vanguard and Blackrock iShares. These have no management fees, so you’ll just pay the expense ratios of the underlying ETFs plus any trading commissions. Total trading commissions are estimated at $20 annually (investments held at Interactive Brokers, average trade runs about $1, no markup charged). There is a $25,000 minimum investment required.

The three initial portfolios are the Covestor Core Moderate (40% stocks, 60% bonds), Core Balanced (60% stocks, 40% bonds) and Core Growth (80% stocks, 20% bonds). Periodic rebalancing will be done to maintain risk-return profile. Unfortunately, you can’t see the exact portfolio asset allocations without having an account (why not??), but you can try and tease most of the info out of what they give you. Let’s take the top 5 holdings of Core Growth:

  • 34.7% Total US Stock (VTI)
  • 21.4% Emerging Markets Stock (VWO)
  • 19.2% Developed International Stock (VEA)
  • 7.2% Total US Bond (AGG)
  • 5.1% US REIT (VNQ)

The top 4 stock ETFs add up to 80.4%, which must be all the stock ETFs that they use. Broken down in terms of stock asset allocation only, that is 43% Total US, 27% Emerging Markets, 24% Developed International, and 6% REITs.

Let’s take the Top 5 holdings of Core Moderate:

  • 31.8% Total US Bond (AGG)
  • 29.7% Total US Stock (VTI)
  • 10.1% Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities TIPS (TIP)
  • 9.2% Commodities (DJP)
  • 5.6% Emerging Markets Stock (VWO)

Total US Bonds and TIPS only add up to 41.9%, but there are supposed to be 60% bonds, so I’m a bit confused. My guess is that their commodities futures ETN (DJP) is considered fixed income? Usually commodities futures are considered equity-like or an alternate asset class. I suppose they are collateralized by T-Bills, but still even added in, that’s only 51.1%. Still confused.

What about competitors? At a $25,000 portfolio balance, Betterment would charge $62.50 a year and Wealthfront would charge $37.50 a year (first $10k free). At a $250k portfolio balance, Betterment would charge $375 a year and Wealthfront would charge $600 a year (first $10k free). Vanguard Personal Advisor Services has a $100,000 minimum, but includes regular interaction with a CFP and costs 0.3% a year (a $250k portfolio would cost $750 a year). All include any trading commissions in their fees.

All in all, the lack of transparency and also lack of the asset allocations making sense don’t have me very interested in Covestor Core Portfolios, but it is definitely part of an accelerating movement towards having low-cost index funds as your primary investment holding. Remember, with a little learning you can easily DIY all this for “free” as well and maintain full control over your investments.

More: Barron’s (their asset allocation percentages are wrong, they assume the Top 5 holdings are the entire portfolio), ETF.com

TradeKing Advisors Review: Managed Core and Momentum ETF Portfolios

tkalogoAnother online ETF portfolio advisor joins the mix. Discount brokerage TradeKing, possibly best known for their $4.95 stock trades, announced a new subsidiary called TradeKing Advisors which will directly manage ETF portfolios for retail customers. Details:

  • Portfolio asset allocation designed and monitored by Ibbotson Associates. There will be Core and Momentum portfolios.
  • The portfolio will be determined by an 8 question risk questionnaire.
  • TradeKing Advisors will manage and rebalance portfolio as needed to stay on target. Assets will be held at TradeKing brokerage.
  • Management fee of 0.75% of account balance annually for Core portfolios, minimum initial investment of $10,000. For Momentum portfolios, 1% management fee and $25k minimum account size. For account balances over $250,000, the fees for each portfolio are reduced to 0.50% annually.

Per their website, their “strategies include a diversified allocation of up to 20 asset classes – including fixed income, equities, real estate and foreign investments – implemented cost-effectively with ETFs.” I could not find any specific information about the asset allocation of these ETF portfolios or the ticker symbols used.

But that’s okay, as I pretty much stopped listening when the fees were listed at 0.75% for a basic index ETF portfolio. It may be less than what E*Trade charges but in my opinion that’s still too much to pay for any ETF portfolio, and much more than many other services like Betterment and Wealthfront that do pretty much the same thing also with a slick user interface. Supposedly TradeKing will differentiate themselves with their “exceptional customer service”. As a TradeKing brokerage customer, I found their customer service fine and Live Chat is nice but not worth another 0.40% to 0.50% annually as you don’t even get assigned a Certified Financial Planner or CFA. So far it just sounds like an expensive robo-advisor. In that case, I will pass.

Net Worth Breakdown: Saved Income vs. Investment Returns 2004-2014

I’ve talked about the importance of savings rate, but remember that investing that savings prudently is also part of the process. Here’s a question – What percentage of your current net worth is saved income, and what is investment growth? This can be a tricky question, as most people invest their money gradually over time and only look at the total balance on their statements. However, as times go by your investment growth should be significant.

For example, I spent the first few years of working paying down my $30,000 in student loans. I finally started investing in 2004, which means I have been regularly saving for about 10 years now. As a rough proxy for my portfolio, I will use the Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund (VASGX) which holds a static 80% stock and 20% bond portfolio consisting of diversified, low-cost index funds. It’s pretty darn close, especially considering all the options out there.

The 10-year historical return of VASGX is roughly 7.03%. Put another way, $100,000 invested back in 1/1/2004 would be $205,497 today. But I didn’t invest all my money at once, I had to wait for each paycheck or any side business profit to come in first.


A better simulation would be investing $10,000 each year from 2004 to 2013, for a total of $100,000 spread out over that decade. I don’t have any fancy software that will run the numbers for me, so I made a rough estimate using VASGX and Morningstar’s handy-dandy “Growth of $10k” charts. I calculate that:

$10,000 invested on 1/1/2004 would be $20,550 as of 7/5/2014.
$10,000 invested on 1/1/2005 would be $18,254 as of 7/5/2014.
$10,000 invested on 1/1/2006 would be $17,078 as of 7/5/2014.
$10,000 invested on 1/1/2007 would be $14,706 as of 7/5/2014.
$10,000 invested on 1/1/2008 would be $13,686 as of 7/5/2014.
$10,000 invested on 1/1/2009 would be $20,861 as of 7/5/2014.
$10,000 invested on 1/1/2010 would be $16,689 as of 7/5/2014.
$10,000 invested on 1/1/2011 would be $14,505 as of 7/5/2014.
$10,000 invested on 1/1/2012 would be $14,843 as of 7/5/2014.
$10,000 invested on 1/1/2013 would be $12,977 as of 7/5/2014.

As you can see, investment returns varied widely based on initial investment date. $10,000 invested in 2008 did only slightly better than $10,000 invested in 2013. However the total present value is now $164,149. So those ten investments of $10,000 would only be $100,000 if stuck under my mattress, but is now worth over $160,000. I calculated the internal rate of return as 8.1%.

My actual contributions were higher and not quite as constant, but it remains that roughly 60% of my portfolio size today is from saved income, and 40% is from investment growth.* This was not a product of honed skill, excellent timing, or high intelligence. It was just saving regularly, investing in low-cost diversified funds, and not panicking.

This reminds me of this Jack Bogle quote:

Own the stock market, own the bond market, as modified to meet your needs, and don’t peek. One of the greatest rules for investing ever made. [...] Don’t even peek at your account; don’t open those 401(k) statements. If you don’t look at your 401(k) statement–this sounds outrageous, but it’s true–for 45 years … you start when you’re 20 and you don’t open a single statement for the next 45 years, when you open that statement the day you retire, you are going to go into a dead faint of amazement about how much money you’ve accumulated.

The hardest part of investing is not doing anything stupid.

To summarize, looking back on my last 10 years, I must say that both savings rate and investment return are important. If I didn’t save, I wouldn’t have anything to invest. But if I didn’t invest it prudently, I’d also have a lot less than I do now. Start as soon as possible, learn about investing basics, learn about managing risk and emotions, and the combination will be quite powerful over time.

* Side note: I ran the numbers the same way for Vanguard LifeStrategy Moderate Growth Fund (VSMGX) which is a static 60% stocks and 40% bonds, and the results were still very similar. My $100,000 spread out over the last 10 years would have grown to $156,000, working out to 36% of the final portfolio being investment gains.

Why Vanguard VNQ is the Best REIT ETF

Real estate investment trusts (REITs) offer the ability to invest in commercial real estate within the comfort of your brokerage account. ETFs in turn offer the ability to invest in a diversified basket of REITs. The Morningstar article This REIT ETF Remains Prettiest on the Block by Abby Woodham offers up reasons why the Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ) is the optimal choice, including comparisons with similar products. Highlights:

  • Low expense ratio. VNQ expense ratio is 0.10%.
  • Low tracking error. VNQ’s historical performance only lags its benchmark index by 0.03%, a number even lower than its expense ratio.
  • Large, mid, and small-cap exposure. VNQ’s holdings include smaller REITs that other ETFs often exclude.
  • Exclusions. VNQ excludes mortgage REITs and non-real-estate specialty REITs (timber, prisons). This could be considered good or bad, as these will act differently than traditional REITs. I kind of like timber REITs, though.
  • Schwab US REIT ETF (SCHH) is slightly cheaper (0.07% e.r.) but lacks small-cap exposure.
  • iShares US Real Estate ETF (IYR) includes Mortgage and Specialty REITs but is more expensive (0.46% e.r.)

I agree with most of the points made; I use VNQ for my REIT exposure. It’s good to learn more about the competition as well. The same underlying holdings of VNQ are also available in mutual fund form:

  • Vanguard REIT Index Fund Investor Shares (VGSIX) – $3,000 minimum
  • Vanguard REIT Index Fund Admiral Shares (VGSLX) – $10,000 minimum

Do You Need International Bonds In Your Portfolio?

Bonds are supposed to provide both income and stability in your portfolio. International bonds, especially Emerging Markets bonds, are becoming more popular. But do you need them in your portfolio? Respected author/money manager William Bernstein doesn’t think so. From an ETF.com interview:

ETF.com: One thing that puzzled me is that among your recommendations, I don’t see an international bond fund as part of the allocation—even one that’s currency-hedged. Why?

Bernstein: Well, first, there is absolutely no way any rational investor would want an unhedged international bond fund in their portfolio for a very simple reason: Your bonds are your “safe” assets. They are what you are defeasing your retirement with; they are what enables you to sleep at night; they are your liquidity for when you lose your job or for when you want to buy cheap equities or the corner lot from your neighbor who got caught in a liquidity squeeze.

And the unhedged currency exposure with unhedged international bonds is very risky. All you have to do is look to what happened to the euro and the yen in the last crisis—they cratered. That’s a risk you simply don’t want to take.

Now, when you have hedged currency risk as opposed to unhedged currency risk in a bond fund, you’ve got a smaller problem, but it’s still a problem. And that’s when you take foreign sovereign bonds and hedge them back to the dollar—you’ve basically got U.S. bonds.

Maybe you get a tiny bit of extra diversification, but it’s a trivial amount—plus you’re paying higher expenses and higher transactional costs to deal with foreign bonds.

On the other hand, the Vanguard Group apparently does believe that holding international bonds is a worthwhile way to add diversification to your portfolio, as in 2013 they added international bonds to their Target Date Retirement and LifeStrategy all-in-one mutual funds (currently 20% of the total bond allocation). The Vanguard Total International Bond ETF (BNDX) has an expense ratio of 0.20%, while the domestic Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND) has an expense ratio of 0.08%.

As Bernstein puts it, “owning a currency-hedged bond international fund is just basically getting into slightly more expensive U.S. bond exposure.”

Personally, I’m also not convinced that international bonds offers something necessary. Maybe someday that will change. Whenever I’m not convinced, I choose simplicity. Thus, I have never and currently do not own any foreign bonds.

Prosper vs. LendingClub Investor Returns 19.5 Month Update

lcvspr_clipoIn November 2012, I invested $10,000 into person-to-person loans split evenly between Prosper Lending and Lending Club, looking for high returns from a new asset class. After diligently reinvesting my earned interest into new loans, I stopped my after one year (see updates here and here) and started just collecting the interest and waiting see how my final numbers would turn out at the end of the 3-year terms.

My last update was 4 months ago, so here’s what things look like after 19.5 months.

$5,000 LendingClub Portfolio. As of June 15, 2014, the LendingClub portfolio had 180 current and active loans. 51 loans were paid off early and 15 have been charged-off ($314 in principal). 6 loans are between 1-30 days late. 5 loans are between 31-120 days late, which I will assume to be unrecoverable. $2,679 in uninvested cash (early payments and interest). Total adjusted balance is $5,368.


$5,000 Prosper Portfolio. My Prosper portfolio now has 157 current and active loans, 78 loans paid off early, 23 charged-off. 6 loans are between 1-30 days late. 6 are over 30 days late, which to be conservative I am also going to write off completely (~$89). $2,434 in uninvested cash (early payments and interest). Total adjusted balance is $5,322.


Recap and Thoughts

  • The fact that institutional investors are buying a significant portion of Prosper and LendingClub loan inventory would seem to prove that the concept is successful. If I were to invest all over again, I would do it within an IRA to avoid tax headaches. I would also buy at least 100 loans x $25, which also happens to be the $2,500 minimum for free auto-investment at LendingClub (no minimum at Prosper). But simply put, I am not in love with P2P loans enough to allocate my precious IRA space to them.
  • My total adjusted balance is $10,690, which actually shows a slight recovery from my last update in which my total balances were actually dropping. At least I’m still headed to a final balance higher than a savings account. My idle cash is starting to pile up though, so I will take $2,500 out of each account soon and put it elsewhere.
  • Prosper says my annualized returns are actually 5.76%. But just 4 months ago, they said I was earning 7.55%. The lesson here is that your returns will continue to vary and likely deteriorate as your loans age, so don’t assume your returns will always stay the same as they are in the beginning (your returns will look good for a long time if you keep reinvesting into new loans). LendingClub says my annualized returns are now 5.94% (5.24% if you assume all loans 30+ days late will be total losses). Not awful return numbers so far in this low-interest rate environment, but less than I would have hoped for.
  • Prosper is still doing worse relatively than LendingClub. This could change again in the future. Here’s an updated chart tracking the LendingClub and Prosper adjusted balances over these past 15.5 months:

How Often Should I Rebalance My Investment Portfolio? Less Than You Might Think

An important tenet of portfolio construction is rebalancing your portfolio to maintain your desired risk profile and also provide the best risk-adjusted returns. The next question is usually – Okay, so how often do I rebalance? Well, this Vanguard article targeted at financial advisors answers that question (found via Abnormal Returns).

Longer answer:

Our 2010 study looked at the performance of portfolios that used rebalancing strategies based on various time intervals, allocation thresholds, and combinations of both. The time-based portfolios were rebalanced monthly, quarterly, or annually, while the threshold categories were rebalanced when allocations deviated by a predetermined minimum (in this case 1%, 5%, or 10%) from their target allocations. The “time-and-threshold” strategy combined periodic monitoring with predetermined minimum rebalancing thresholds. [...] We found that no one approach produced significantly superior results over another. However, all strategies resulted in more favorable risk-adjusted portfolio returns when compared with returns for portfolios that were never rebalanced.


Short answer: It doesn’t matter, as long as you do it regularly and without emotion. Rebalancing every month was no better than rebalancing just once a year.

Personally, I try to rebalance whenever I make my monthly share purchases by buying underweight asset classes, but I will only sell and create a taxable event once a year if things are really out of whack. The more common problem is that you are afraid to rebalance because that usually means buying whatever has been getting crushed and selling what has been rising. If you haven’t done it recently, that probably involves selling some stocks and buying some bonds. Like the shoe company says, just do it!

Early Retirement Portfolio Update – June 2014 Income

There is an ongoing investing debate as to whether you should focus on income or total return. I personally believe that you should focus on total return but realize that income is a critical part of that total return. If you want to live off the income produced by your portfolio, you should make sure it is stable and will grow with inflation. Reaching for yield via riskier stocks or lower-quality bonds is dangerous.

A quick and dirty way to see how much income (dividends and interest) your portfolio is generating is to take the “TTM Yield” or “12 Mo. Yield” from Morningstar quote pages. Trailing 12 Month Yield is the sum of a fund’s total trailing 12-month interest and dividend payments divided by the last month’s ending share price (NAV) plus any capital gains distributed over the same period. SEC yield is another alternative, but I like TTM because it is based on actual distributions (SEC vs. TTM yield article).

Below is a close approximation of my most recent portfolio update. I have changed my asset allocation slightly to 60% stocks and 40% bonds because I believe that will be my permanent allocation upon early retirement.

Asset Class / Fund % of Portfolio Trailing 12-Month Yield (6/5/14) Yield Contribution
US Total Stock
Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTI, VTSAX)
24% 1.74% 0.42%
US Small Value
WisdomTree SmallCap Dividend ETF (DES)
3% 2.48% 0.07%
International Total Stock
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, VTIAX)
24% 3.08% 0.74%
Emerging Markets Small Value
WisdomTree Emerging Markets SmallCap Dividend ETF (DGS)
3% 3.39% 0.10%
US Real Estate
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, VGSLX)
6% 2.72% 0.16%
Intermediate-Term High Quality Bonds
Vanguard Limited-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VMLUX)
20% 3.25% 0.65%
Inflation-Linked Treasury Bonds
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VAIPX)
20% 1.74% 0.35%
Totals 100% 2.49%


As you can see, the overall weighted yield is roughly 2.5%. This means that if I had a $1,000,000 portfolio balance today, it would have generated $25,000 in interest and dividends over the last 12 months. Now, 2.5% is lower than the 4% withdrawal rate often recommended for 65-year-old retirees with 30-year spending horizons, and is also lower than the 3% withdrawal that I prefer as a rough benchmark for early retirement. My ideal situation is to get by with just spending this 2.5% in income every year. The paranoid part of me likes the idea of just spending the dividends and interest while not reaching too far for yield. That way, theoretically if I owned say 1% of GE or ExxonMobil, if I never sold shares I’d keep owning 1%.

So how am I doing? Using my 3% benchmark, the combination of ongoing savings and recent market gains have us at 85% of the way to matching our annual household spending target. Using the 2.5% number, I am only 71% of the way there. We’ll have to see how much full retirement appeals to me once I reach my goal at a 3% withdrawal rate. I’m not opposed to working part-time if the work is interesting to me, so I’m keeping my options open.

Early Retirement Portfolio Update – June 2014 Asset Allocation

I want to get back to doing quarterly updates to our investment portfolio, which includes both tax-deferred accounts like 401(k)s and taxable brokerage holdings. Other stuff like cash reserves (emergency fund) are excluded. The purpose of this portfolio is to create enough income on its own to cover all daily expenses well before we hit the standard retirement age.

Target Asset Allocation


I try to pick asset classes that will provide long-term returns above inflation, regular income via dividends and interest, and finally offer some historical tendencies to balance each other out. I don’t hold commodities futures or gold as they don’t provide any income and I don’t believe they’ll outpace inflation significantly. In addition, I am not confident in them enough to know that I will hold them through an extended period of underperformance (and if you don’t do that, there’s no point).

Our current ratio is about 70% stocks and 30% bonds within our investment strategy of buy, hold, and rebalance. With low expense ratios and low turnover, we minimize our costs in terms of paying fees, commissions, and taxes.

Actual Asset Allocation and Holdings


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

Bond Holdings
Vanguard Limited-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VMLTX, VMLUX)
Vanguard High-Yield Tax-Exempt Fund (VWAHX, VWALX)
Stable Value Fund* (2.6% yield, net of fees)
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX, VAIPX)
iShares Barclays TIPS Bond ETF (TIP)
Individual TIPS securities
US Savings Bonds

I joined the exodus out of PIMCO Total Return fund earlier this year after their recent management shake-up. It actually coincided with my 401(k) allowing a self-directed brokerage “window” with Charles Schwab that allows me to buy Vanguard mutual funds, albeit with a $50 transaction fee. But my 401k assets are finally large enough that the $50 is worth the ongoing lower expense ratios. I’m buying more REITs and TIPS in order to take advantage of this newly-flexible tax-deferred space. I’m still holding onto my stable value fund, but I may sell that position as well in the future.

I think I mentioned this elsewhere, but I am now accounting for my Series I US Savings Bonds as part the TIPS asset class inside my retirement portfolio. Before, they were considered part of my emergency fund. They offer great tax-deferral benefits as I don’t have to pay taxes until they are redeemed. I don’t plan on selling any of them for a long time, at least until my tax rate is much lower in early retirement.