Archives for June 2015

Global Asset Allocation Book Review: Comparing 12+ Expert Model Portfolios

gaafaberI am a regular reader of Meb Faber’s online writings, and volunteered to received a free review copy of his new book Global Asset Allocation: A Survey of the World’s Top Asset Allocation Strategies. It is a rather short book and would probably be around 100 pages if printed, but it condensed a lot of information into that small package.

First off, you are shown how any individual asset class contains its own risks, from cash to stocks. The only “free lunch” out there is diversification, meaning that you should hold a portfolio of different, non-correlated asset classes. For the purposes of this book, the major asset classes are broken down into:

  • US Large Cap Stocks
  • US Small Cap Stocks
  • Foreign Developed Markets Stocks
  • Foreign Emerging Markets Stocks
  • US Corporate Bonds
  • US T-Bills
  • US 10-Year Treasury Bonds
  • US 30-Year Treasury Bonds
  • 10-Year Foreign Gov’t Bonds
  • TIPS (US Inflation-linked Treasuries)
  • Commodities (GSCI)
  • Gold (GFD)
  • REITs (NAREIT)

So, what mix of these “ingredients” is best? Faber discusses and compares model asset allocations from various experts and sources. I will only include the name and brief description below, but the book expands on the portfolios a little more. Don’t expect a comprehensive review of each model and its underpinnings, however.

  • Classic 60/40 – the benchmark portfolio, 60% stocks (S&P 500) and 40% bonds (10-year US Treasuries).
  • Global 60/40 – stocks split 50/50 US/foreign, bonds also split 50/50 US/foreign.
  • Ray Dalio All Seasons – proposed by well-known hedge fund manager in Master The Money Game book.
  • Harry Browne Permanent Portfolio – 25% stocks/25% cash/25% Long-term Treasuries/25% Gold.
  • Global Market Portfolio – Based on the estimated market-weighted composition of asset classes worldwide.
  • Rob Arnott Portfolio – Well-known proponent of fundamental indexing and “smart beta”.
  • Marc Faber Portfolio – Author of the “Gloom, Boom, and Doom” newsletter.
  • David Swensen Portfolio – Yale Endowment manager, from his book Unconventional Success.
  • Mohamad El-Erian Portfolio – Former Harvard Endowment manager, from his book When Markets Collide.
  • Warren Buffett Portfolio – As directed to Buffett’s trust for his wife’s benefit upon his passing.
  • Andrew Tobias Portfolio – 1/3rd each of: US Large, Foreign Developed, US 10-Year Treasuries.
  • Talmud Portfolio – “Let every man divide his money into three parts, and invest a third in land, a third in business and a third let him keep by him in reserve.”
  • 7Twelve Portfolio – From the book 7Twelve by Craig Israelsen.
  • William Bernstein Portfolio – From his book The Intelligent Asset Allocator.
  • Larry Swedroe Portfolio – Specifically, his “Eliminate Fat Tails” portfolio.

Faber collected and calculated the average annualized returns, volatility, Sharpe ratio, and Max Drawdown percentage (peak-to-trough drop in value) of all these model asset allocations from 1973-2013. So what were his conclusions? Here some excerpts from the book:

If you exclude the Permanent Portfolio, all of the allocations are within one percentage point.

What if someone was able to predict the best-performing strategy in 1973 and then decided to implement it via the average mutual fund? We also looked at the effect if someone decided to use a financial advisor who then invested client assets in the average mutual fund. Predicting the best asset allocation, but implementing it via the average mutual fund would push returns down to roughly even with the Permanent Portfolio. If you added advisory fees on top of that, it had the effect of transforming the BEST performing asset allocation into lower than the WORST.

Think about that for a second. Fees are far more important than your asset allocation decision! Now what do you spend most of your time thinking about? Probably the asset allocation decision and not fees! This is the main point we are trying to drive home in this book – if you are going to allocate to a buy and hold portfolio you want to be paying as little as possible in total fees and costs.

So after collecting the best strategies from the smartest gurus out there, all with very different allocations, the difference in past performance between the 12+ portfolios was less than 1% a year (besides the permanent portfolio, which had performance roughly another 1% lower but also the smallest max drawdown). Now, there were some differences in Sharpe ratio, volatility, and max drawdown which was addressed a little but wasn’t explored in much detail. There was no “winner” that was crowned, but for the curious the Arnott portfolio had the highest Sharpe ratio by a little bit and the Permanent portfolio had the smallest max drawdown by a little bit.

Instead of trying to predict future performance, it would appear much more reliable to focus on fees and taxes. I would also add that all of these portfolio backtests looked pretty good, but they were all theoretical returns based on strict application of the model asset allocation. If you are going to use a buy-and-hold portfolio and get these sort of returns, you have to keep buying and keep holding through both the good times and bad.

Although I don’t believe it is explicitly mentioned in this book, Faber’s company has a new ETF that just happens to help you do these things. The Cambria Global Asset Allocation ETF (GAA) is an “all-in-one” ETF that includes 29 underlying funds with an approximate allocation of 40% stocks, 40% bonds, and 20% real assets. The total expense ratio is 0.29% which includes the expenses of the underlying funds with no separate management fee. The ETF holdings have a big chunk of various Vanguard index funds, but it also holds about 9% in Cambria ETFs managed by Faber.

Since it is an all-in-one fund, theoretically you can’t fiddle around with the asset allocation. That’s pretty much how automated advisors like Wealthfront and Betterment work as well. If you have more money to invest, you just hand it over and it will be invested for you, including regular rebalancing. The same idea has also been around for a while through the under-rated Vanguard Target Retirement Funds, which are also all-in-one but stick with simplicity rather than trying to capture possible higher returns though value, momentum, and real asset strategies. The Vanguard Target funds are cheaper though, at around 0.18% expense ratio.

Well, my portfolio already very low in costs. So my own takeaway is that I should… do nothing! 🙂

Alpha Architect also has a review of this book.

My One-Page Financial Plan: Why Is Money Important To Me?

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onepage0I’ve already shared two nuggets from the book The One-Page Financial Plan by Carl Richards – the importance of getting started and the true value of a human advisor. But what about the title itself?

Before even reading the book, I was impatient and tried to make a one-page financial plan but it didn’t sound right. Even after reading it all the way through, I got a bit lost as besides “one-page plans”, it also tried to cover other big topics like budgeting, investing, and insurance. It took a few re-reads before things finally settled down in my mind. Here are the parts that helped the most:

Your one-page plan simply represents the three to four things that are the most important to you: some action items that need to get done along with a reminder of why you’re doing them.

Having done this with hundreds of my clients, I’ve found no more efficient strategy for solving the problem of how to handle our finances than asking “Why is money important to you?” […] If you’re doing this with a spouse, it’s important that each partner answer the question separately.

The reason I ask my clients this question is because it helps us understand their values. Often, the process of asking “Why?”—“Why is money important to me?” or “Why have I been so anxious about money lately?” or “Just why do I work so hard anyway?”—uncovers deep desires and fears that we are often too busy or too scared to think about. While the process can be uncomfortable, recognizing what really matters to you is the first step toward making financial decisions that are in sync with your values.

Recently, the author shared his own plan on his website – What Does a One-Page Plan Look Like?:

onepageplan1

There are many reasons why my plan (at the top of this post) will be different from the author’s and yours. Our current situation is different, our priorities will be different, our goals will be different.

Why is money important to me?

  1. I greatly value security, sometimes so much that it is irrational. I don’t want to have to rely on anyone else for money or favors. We cut back on work hours to spend more time with kids, but we still want to make more than we spend. It’s not time to touch that nest egg yet!
  2. I greatly value spending time with my family, both on a day-to-day basis and for extended vacations in new and strange places. I have to work hard to avoid getting into a rut where the days and weeks all start melding together. Even if it means lugging multiple car seats and strollers everywhere, I still want to stay curious, make some mistakes, have some adventures.
  3. I want to someday shift my activities such that they more directly give back to my community or some other greater good. I don’t like the idea of just writing checks though, so I need to find a more active and satisfying role. If I could make some money while doing this, that would be great, but otherwise I need to put enough aside that my investments will support me.

The overall point of both this exercise and the book is that improving your financial life doesn’t have to be done perfectly. Just by getting started and putting down your best guess down on paper, you’ll already be better than most. If you see something wrong when comparing your values and your actual behavior, then make some changes. Having done them, I recommend both doing this exercise and reading the book. If your library participates with Overdrive.com, it is available to borrow as a Kindle eBook.

Why I Hold TIPS in My Portfolio (Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities)

EconompicData has a nice, relatively brief post about the relationship between US Treasury bonds, TIPS, and inflation. I would hold either Treasuries or TIPS (or both) because they have the highest credit quality available, and that is a big part of why you should own bonds in the first place. Read the whole thing, but the conclusion below pretty much sums up why I prefer to have TIPS in my investment portfolio.

In normal market environments when inflation is relatively stable, long-term returns tend to be similar for both Treasuries and TIPS. However, TIPS materially outperform in an inflationary environment, while Treasury outperformance is capped by a rate roughly equal to the break-even inflation rate in a deflationary environment. Thus, assuming a view that an inflationary and deflationary scenario are equally likely, the unlimited potential outperformance of TIPS vs. Treasuries in an inflationary environment and limited upside of Treasuries vs. TIPS in a deflation environment would sway an investor towards TIPS.

Best Frugal Chef’s Knife – America’s Test Kitchen (For 20 Years In a Row!)

fibroxUpdate: ATK just sent me a new review that considered newer chef’s knives that have come onto the market, and the same knife won again! They say it has now been on top for 20 straight years. You can see the methodology and full rankings here, but it requires a free registered account. There’s also a good embedded video that doesn’t require registration.

Original post:

Some of you may be familiar with the PBS cooking show America’s Test Kitchen. The same company publishes the magazines Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country, which you can think of as Consumer Reports for cooking in that they do not accept any advertising and are entirely subscriber-supported. I happened to find a bunch of back issues on sale at a community garage sale a few weeks ago for a dollar. Wow, I can only describe the content as heaven for cooking geeks! Lots of good tips inside.

Common frugal wisdom is that you don’t really need a 15-piece knife set with a fancy wooden block that costs hundreds of bucks, it’s mostly marketing. The 8-inch chef’s knife is often recommended as the most versatile and useful knife. (I’m partial to the Santoku-style knife or hefty Asian cleaver, myself.)

Cook’s Country tested the 8-inch chef’s knives from all the major brands that cost under $50 – Wusthof, Henckels (various), MAC, Calphalon, OXO, Chicago Cutlery, Victorinox and Farberware.

The bargain chef’s knife winner? The Victorinox Fibrox 8-Inch Chef’s Knife outperformed many more expensive competitors including a $50+ knife from the Wusthof Gourmet line and everyone else. The knife was judged to be sturdy, stayed sharp, and had a well-designed, comfortable handle. Amazon has 700+ now 3,000+ reviews with a 4.8/5 star average.

Another frugal chopping tip is that you don’t really need expensive cutting boards, let alone multiple ones for food safety reasons. Simply buy a set of flexible cutting mats to place on top of one cutting board or durable surface. They are thin yet sturdy, and can be rolled up like a funnel for transferring ingredients easily. You can get a set of four CounterArt Flexible Cutting Mats for only $8.50, which are the current best-selling ones on Amazon. Comes with Microban antibacterial stuff and is dishwasher safe.

Early Retirement Portfolio Income Update, Mid 2015

The closer I get to the reality of living off of my portfolio, the more I like the idea of living off dividend and interest income. However, you can’t just buy stocks with the highest dividend yields and junk bonds with the highest interest rates without giving up something in return. Certainly there are many bad investments lurking out there for desperate retirees looking for maximum income. My goal is to live off my portfolio income while not reaching too far for yield.

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) 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 (6/24/15) Yield Contribution
US Total Stock
Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTI, VTSAX)
24% 1.79% 0.42%
US Small Value
WisdomTree SmallCap Dividend ETF (DES)
3% 2.78% 0.08%
International Total Stock
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, VTIAX)
24% 2.75% 0.81%
Emerging Markets Small Value
WisdomTree Emerging Markets SmallCap Dividend ETF (DGS)
3% 2.81% 0.09%
US Real Estate
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, VGSLX)
6% 3.76% 0.22%
Intermediate-Term High Quality Bonds
Vanguard Limited-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VMLUX)
20% 1.63% 0.34%
Inflation-Linked Treasury Bonds
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VAIPX)
20% 2.18% 0.45%
Totals 100% 2.24%

 

The total weighted 12-month yield was 2.24%. This number is lower than the last three updates: 2.41%, 2.49%, and 2.31%. This means that if I had a $1,000,000 portfolio balance today, it would have generated $22,400 in interest and dividends over the last 12 months. Now, 2.24% is significantly 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. I should note that the muni bond interest in my portfolio is exempt from federal income taxes.

As noted previously, a simple benchmark for this portfolio is Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund (VASGX) which is an all-in-one fund that is also 60% stocks and 40% bonds. That fund has a trailing 12-month yield of 2.01%. (Last update, it was 2.09%.)

So how am I doing? Using the 2.24% income yield, the combination of ongoing savings and recent market gains have us at 72% of the way to matching our annual household spending target. If I switch to a 3% benchmark, we are 96% there. Consider that if all your portfolio did was keep up with inflation each year (0% real returns), you could still spend 2% a year for 50 years. From that perspective, a 2% spending rate seems like a very conservative lower bound.

Sadly, some valuation models predict exactly that: 0% real returns over a long time. My portfolio has certainly gone up a ton in value due to the ongoing bull market. Bottom line is that we are getting closer but not quite where we want to be.

Early Retirement Portfolio Asset Allocation Update, Mid 2015

Here’s a mid-year update on my investment portfolio holdings for 2015. This includes tax-deferred accounts like 401(k)s and taxable brokerage holdings, but excludes things like physical property and cash reserves (emergency fund). The purpose of this portfolio is to create enough income to cover all of our household expenses.

Target Asset Allocation

aa_updated2015

I try to pick asset classes that will provide long-term returns above inflation, distribute 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 (i.e. don’t buy what you don’t can’t stick with).

Our current ratio is roughly 70% stocks and 30% bonds within our investment strategy of buy, hold, and rebalance. With a self-directed portfolio of low-cost funds and low turnover, we minimize management fees, commissions, and taxes.

Actual Asset Allocation and Holdings

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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 Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VWITX, VWIUX)
Vanguard High-Yield Tax-Exempt Fund (VWAHX, VWALX)
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX, VAIPX)
iShares Barclays TIPS Bond ETF (TIP)
Individual TIPS securities
U.S. Savings Bonds (Series I)

Notes and Benchmark Comparison

There has been very little portfolio activity over the last 6 months. No major market movements (the S&P 500 hasn’t moved more than 2% in day so far in 2015). No mutual funds added or removed. I continued to invest in the same funds through 401k auto-contributions and the occasional fund purchase from saved income. Things are little off, but I’ll just wait and rebalance with new money. Some of my usual savings has been diverted to college savings. Mostly, just keeping my head down and moving forward. 🙂

A simple benchmark for my portfolio is 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund (VASGX) and Vanguard LifeStrategy Moderate Growth Fund (VSMGX), one is 60/40 and one is 80/20 so it also works out to 70% stocks and 30% bonds. That benchmark would have returned about 3.5% YTD for 2015. I haven’t bothered to calculate my exact portfolio return, but it should be roughly around this number.

I like tracking my dividend and interest income more than overall market movements. In a separate post, I will update the amount of income that I am deriving from this portfolio along with how that compares to my expenses.

The Most Important Factor To Maximize In Your Portfolio

wrenchWhen it comes to constructing an investment portfolio for yourself, there are many things you could tweak and maximize. Obviously, you can look back at historical data and maximum past annual returns while minimizing volatility. For some, this means more stocks and less bonds. Or buying small companies over huge companies. Or buying “value” stocks with low price-to-book ratios over those with high price-to-book ratios. Or buying stocks with high dividend yields. Or buying asset classes with momentum. Or often, a big mishmash of all of the above.

But really, do most folks invest in these “optimized” portfolios really understand them? What if we worked to maximize something else instead?

From Patrick O’Shaughnessy of Investor Field Guide:

I believe the most pertinent question to ask about any systematic/quantitative strategy is not “how hard would this be to replicate” but rather “how hard would this be to stick with.”

From Tadas Viskanta of Abnormal Returns:

The best thing investors can do is put their time, effort and energies in finding a strategy they can stick with. The same goes for those who provide financial advice to a broad audience. This may not sell as well but at least it has some grounding in reality.

If you don’t understand why you’re buying something, then it may be better just to stay away until you do. For example, I don’t understand commodities futures or oil prices. I don’t understand gold at all. If their prices fall, I have no idea if, when, or why they will rebound. (But you might.) In contrast, if buy all the US companies weighted by their market value, then I feel confident that eventually those companies as a group will work things out and come back. (But you might not.) I also hold a big slug of government and municipal bonds as I think they have very low credit risk. (You might disagree.)

This need for understanding can be either a positive or negative when making the case for financial advisors. A good financial advisor will explain things in a manner you understand, and keep you on track during times of stress. A bad financial advisor will simply sell you an “advanced” portfolio vetted by super-skilled geniuses, leaving you even more scared during a market crisis (“if even the smart guys didn’t see this coming, then is the sky falling?!?”).

Bottom line: Think carefully about how likely are you to stick with your portfolio during both boom times and panic. 

Liquidating My LendingClub Loans Using Folio Investing

I recently finished liquidating the remaining loans in my $5,000 LendingClub P2P portfolio, but due to a unfortunate crash I lost many of my notes and screenshots. I can still share the most important parts like my final results and selling recommendations.

lctradeing5

As when liquidating my $5k Prosper P2P portfolio,
I used the “Trading Account” option – run by outside brokerage firm Folio Investing – which allows me to sell my notes to other individuals which . For residents of many states, the only way to buy LendingClub P2P loans is on this secondary market as they are not allowed buy them directly. In my opinion, this makes the pricing of the notes more competitive than with Prosper.

Prospers allows an auction format for selling notes, but LendingClub does not. Instead, you must set a price and either someone volunteers to buy it or not. Folio Investing charges a 1% transaction fee to the seller of the note after a completed transaction. If the note does not sell, then you simply keep your note and pay no fees. It’s hard to know the market value of each note, as there is no real-time data based on past sales of similar notes available.

lctradeing

Due to the constraints of this setup, if you want to optimize your selling price and don’t care about your time spent, you should initially list all of your loans at a significant premium of say 5% above principal. If they sell, they sell. Usually there is a large enough group of bidders that if they don’t sell within a day, they probably won’t ever sell. If they don’t sell, then you lose nothing but time. Next, reprice your notes after 24 hours and lower the markup to say 4%. Rinse and repeat at 3% premium, 2% premium, 1% premium, par, 1% discount, 2% discount, and so on until nearly all your notes should be sold within a week.

After that, you’ll probably be left with loans that have a previous late payment or two somewhere in there, which note buyers seem to avoid like the plague even if the loans revert to current. If you really want to sell those last few loans, you may have to put them up at significant discount of 10% or more.

(LendingClub does not allow the sale of loans that are currently late or in default. This can be annoying when a loan become late after you list it for sale, and thus gets pulled. So close!)

However, I was impatient and I just wanted to sell my notes with minimal time spent. I basically put up all of my notes at par (no markup or discount) and the vast majority of them sold within a few hours. In retrospect, I could have definitely listed them at a higher price. Then I started discounting the remaining loans heavily so they would also sell quickly. I reasoned that missing out of 1% of my entire $1,400 portfolio was just $14. In then end, I got back 98.8% of my principal before the 1% fee, or 97.8% of my principal after the 1% fee.

Once the trade clears, transfers from LendingClub to my bank account were very, very quick. I initiated the transfer during a weekday during work hours and at midnight my bank alerted me that an electronic deposit had been made.

So now the only thing left in my portfolio is a single 30+ days late loan that I can’t sell, with a remaining principal of $6.09. I doubt I’ll ever see that money anyway, so I consider my account completely liquidated. The good news is that it should be fully charged-off by the end of 2015, so I won’t have any more tax concerns past the 2015 tax year.

Recap. In my experience, you should be able to liquidate your current LendingClub loans within a week while still roughly maximizing your the market value of your notes. You should have the money in your bank account by the end of the second week. For current notes, you should be able to average a gross sale price very close to or even higher than the current face value (principal + accrued interest) of your loans. Keep in mind the 1% transaction fee paid by seller. You may have some “leftover” late loans that will take a few more months to fully charge-off and realize losses.

Financial Freedom and The Parable of the Mexican Fisherman

mexfishIn the rush of our everyday lives, it’s easy to lose sight of the real reasons why we work and toil every day. Money is a tool, not the end.

I’ve seen several versions of this parable in various books and blog posts (like here and here), but haven’t been able to pin down the original source. Here’s my favorite variation:

An American investment banker took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village, on doctors orders due to his stress-related health problems. Unable to sleep, he took a walk along the pair and saw a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.” The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.” The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

“Millions – then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

I also use this story to remember to live and enjoy things now and not focus solely on the future.

Image credit: gogeid of Flickr

The True Value of a Real, Human Financial Advisor

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The hot buzzword right now is “FinTech”, where technology will help us manage our finances more and efficiently than before. But I’ve also been tracking the reasons why working with a human advisor can be worth the money and time spent. As I’ve mentioned, the strength of the book The One-Page Financial Plan by Carl Richards is that you’re hearing the voice of an experienced financial planner who also has the skill of distilling his experiences down to a sketch. Here’s how he puts it:

onepage_bigmistake

Takeaway: A good financial advisor keeps you from making The Big Mistake that derails your plans.

The big institution Vanguard says that a good financial advisor should be able to improve the performance of a “average” client’s portfolio by about three percentage points in the following ways. Take note of which one factor makes up half of that 3%:

vgalpha

Takeaway: The biggest “value add” from good advisors is their “behavioral coaching”.

Here’s more incisive commentary by Josh Brown of The Reformed Broker, called When the flood comes:

When the flood comes, all of the bullshit arguments among the financial commentariat will come to an end. This will be my third time through. Believe me. We will not be arguing about how many basis points an advisor charges versus another advisor or a software program.

The people who are there for their clients and keep a cool head in public will come through okay. More than okay – they’ll actually raise assets from new and existing households who realize what a mistake they’ve made with their previous advisor or solution.

Takeaway: A good client advisor will help you keep your cool when the next disaster comes.

I’m sure you’ve caught onto the theme by now.

The value in a financial advisor arrives when they help you maintain your plan through both the good times and bad. They will prevent you from participating in the mania during the next bubble, and they will keep you from bailing out during the next crisis.

The problem is, how do you find this “good” financial advisor amongst a sea of average to downright dangerous ones? Here’s some advice from The One-Page Financial Plan:

To a certain extent, the process of finding a real financial advisor is a qualitative experience. It boils down to the question “Can I see this person getting to know me well enough so that I can trust him to help me behave for the next twenty years of my life?” Yes, you should verify that they’re properly registered. Do a Google search of their regulatory record. I’m not talking about blind trust here— the kind that would allow someone to steal your money. I’m talking about finding someone who’s willing to get to know your goals and values well enough to help you stick with your plan. Remember, your financial advisor is the only one standing between you and the Big Mistake of buying high and selling low. You’re hiring them to do what you can’t: make unemotional decisions about your portfolio. If they can’t do that, why pay them?

Now, I still don’t see myself hiring an outside advisor. But I do keep my portfolio conservative enough that my portfolio “boat” stays relatively stable even in rough weather. We’ll see if I can remain unemotional during the next flood, as it is not a matter of “if” but “when” the next one comes along.

Big Data Knows If You’re Comparison Shopping… Or Not

cheapscore0One of the few benefits of getting older is that my car insurance premiums are much lower today than in my 20s. But is that low rate caused by insurance companies knowing that I recently switched high-speed internet and refinanced my mortgage twice? Via drawpoker of Bogleheads, here’s an NPR article called Being A Loyal Auto Insurance Customer Can Cost You about the practice of “price optimization”.

“Well, it’s really profit maximization,” says Bob Hunter, with the Consumer Federation of America. He says insurance companies can buy software that compiles an astonishing amount of data on everyone who buys almost anything, anywhere.

“They have all the information on what you buy at your grocery store. How many apples, how many beers, how many steaks,” he says. “They have all the information on your house. They have incredible amounts of information on are you staying with DirecTV when Verizon is cheaper.”

A sophisticated algorithm crunches that data and spits out an index showing how sensitive a customer is to price increases. Only the insurance company knows the index.

From a USA Today article on the same topic:

Many insurance companies now use a sophisticated data-mining technique called “price optimization” to set rates just high enough that inertia keeps customers from shopping around. Research found that the longer customers had been with their insurers on average, the greater their savings when they switched, due to all the rate increases they experienced during their loyal years. […]

A 2013 Earnix survey found that 45% of large insurance companies and 26% of all insurance companies in North America currently optimize prices, with an additional 36% of all companies reporting they plan to adopt this technique in the future. What this means is that given two customers with identical risk profiles, the one who’s judged less likely to switch carriers if his rate increases will pay more.

In other words, forget just FICO scores affecting your insurance rates. Your grocery club card, your mortgage quote requests, your switching from cable to DSL, your social media activity, it all could be funneling into some sort of “Frugal Cheapskate” Score. If you don’t shop around elsewhere, you probably won’t shop around for your insurance so they can hike it up without worrying about you jumping ship.

If you want some hints as to where you should start your comparison shopping, you may want to check with your state insurance department. For example, California provides some numbers for your rough situation without needing any personally-identifying information. Here are some numbers for a married couple living in Alameda Country, driving 9k to 16k a year, with no accidents or violations. The lowest average premiums are coming from USAA, Wawanesa, and Anchor General.

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All-Clad VIP Factory Sales: Limited-Time Discounts on Lifetime Cookware

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All-Clad cookware is known to be very high quality, but also quite expensive. If you cook often, then the prices aren’t so bad when you consider that the stainless steel pans will essentially last forever (skip the non-stick stuff). Frugal home cooks know that All-Clad has (semi-annual?) Factory Sales that offer the same pans with slight cosmetic blemishes for significant discounts. These still come with the same lifetime warranty as if you’d bought them at Williams-Sonoma. (Really, who cares about dents and scratches when it comes to cookware!)

The products which are for sale on this site are FACTORY SECONDS. They have minor cosmetic scratches and/or dents. There are no defects which will affect the cookware’s performance. For this event, all sales are final, no returns will be accepted.

Usually, first there is a huge in-person sale near their headquarters – last one was in Washington, Pennsylvania. After that, they have a semi-secret online sale, which is going on right now from June 15 to June 17th. Visit this link and use the pass code ACVIP15, thanks to mrdjman of FW. I was also given the access code via All-Clad e-mail so it should be open to all.

(The physical sale already happened last week, sorry! For future reminders, anyone can like their All-Clad Facebook page or send an e-mail to [email protected] to get on their mailing list.)

I’ve been tracking these for a couple years after I was gifted a set of All-Clad fry pans. America’s Test Kitchen often finds All-Clad pans to be the “best” when price is no object, but in terms of quality/price ratio, that is debatable. However, I do love the hefty feel and balance of my All-Clad pans and have come to appreciate quality in cookware after using my Le Creuset and Staub dutch ovens. As a lazy shopper, I just like the idea of buying something once and never worrying about it again.

The current sale has a much better selection than the other recent ones I’ve seen, so if you’re ready to buy then now is a good time. Or just browse now and think about it while signing up to be notified of the next one. Even on sale, this stuff is spendy. 😉

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