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)
|US Small Value
WisdomTree SmallCap Dividend ETF (DES)
|International Total Stock
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, VTIAX)
|Emerging Markets Small Value
WisdomTree Emerging Markets SmallCap Dividend ETF (DGS)
|US Real Estate
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, VGSLX)
|Intermediate-Term High Quality Bonds
Vanguard Limited-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VMLUX)
|Inflation-Linked Treasury Bonds
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VAIPX)
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.