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Why your investments aren’t growing

What an awesome year for investors! The Dow Jones Index is up 58% in the last year. Rank amateurs are striking it rich. Your Uber driver, plumber and urologist are all making zillions! Investing has become a way better fad than the Macarena, the Ice Bucket Challenge and even fidget spinners. And everyone is crushing it except, maybe, you. Let’s look at the 5 reasons why your investments aren’t growing and everyone else’s are:

1. Everyone else’s aren’t growing

It’s a bit like Facebook. Remember Ronnie’s post about getting demoted at work? No? How about the one about Tom getting dumped by his girlfriend? Or maybe the one showing Tammy watching Netflix all alone since she wasn’t invited to the virtual wine and cheese Zoom party? Investing is a lot like that. People do plenty of bragging about their winners. Everyone stays silent about their losers. In other words, don’t listen to the hype, its likely not showing you a clear picture. Maybe you are doing ok and everyone else is just exagerating.  On the other hand, maybe your results really do suck. Let’s fix that. Read on.

2. You are watching your stocks like, well, a watched pot

No wonder they aren’t boiling. Warren Buffett often paints the picture of someone building or buying a business. Do they call in a business valuator every day to get an update on the value of the business? How about 4 times a day? Unlikely. Give your stocks some time. As a stockholder you own a piece of a business, give it time to grow.

For example, look at this stinker of a stock:

why your investments aren't growing
Stock Number 1 – time to sell!

Whoa! A drop of almost 37% and this chart was taken over just 2 1/2 months. Should I sell?

Why can’t it be more like stock Number 2 below?

why your investments are't growing
Stock Number 2 – let’s buy more!

This one went up almost 10X in just 2 years. Love that. And the great news is that the first stock IS a lot like the second stock. In fact they are the same stock. They are both Apple stock (AAPL). Here is a longer term chart:

why your investments aren't growing
Actually they are the same stock! Keep holding!

If you play around with stock charts, you will find that any stock can look like a winner or a loser by just changing the time frame. In conclusion: Buy quality stocks and hold them for the long haul. Don’t buy or sell based on the ups and downs of their charts. Stop watching them at every commercial break, they will do just fine without you. Too much trading could be why your investments aren’t growing.

3. Don’t buy and sell based on news headlines, boredom or tips

The news is there to sell more news. It’s not intended as investment advice. Let’s look at a few headlines that might have made you sell your stocks:

  • North Korea is going to flatten us with their missiles.
    Didn’t happen. The stock market continues to grow. If it does happen, our investment returns won’t be our biggest worry.
  • We are running out of oil, the world is doomed!
    Lots still available! In fact oil prices were negative just a few months back. Couldn’t give the stuff away.
  • The 2008 Financial Crisis will decimate stocks.
    It did for a while. Since then they have grown 292%. Thankfully you didn’t sell and miss all of that. Did you?
  • The volcano in Eyjafjallajökull Iceland will wipe out airline stocks!
    Hard to spell and it did suspend flights, but planes are back and flying.
  • Financial expert says get out of the markets now!
    This is a permanent-headline. Like the sign at a bar that says free beer tomorrow. Ignore it.
  • If Trump gets in, the stock market will implode.
    Actually markets rose 9.6% in his first 4 months.
  • If Biden gets in, the stock market will implode.
    Actually markets rose 13.6% in his first 4 months.

In other words, headlines don’t have a great track record of predicting stock markets. Even if you get out at the right time, how will you know to get back in at the right time? Build a quality portfolio and then let it grow.

Warren Buffett’s quote tells the story

“The stock market is a device to transfer money from the impatient to the patient”. Print this off, cut it down to size and Scotch tape it to the screen of wherever it is that you buy and sell stocks. It’s like taping a picture of either your fat self, or the movie star you want to become, to your fridge door.

A Dalbar Inc study showed that for the twenty years ending in 2015, the S&P 500 averaged growth of 9.85% a year, while the average equity investor earned a market return of just 5.19%. The reason is human emotion. Greed. Fear. The fun of hitting the buy and sell button. The craving to lock in wins. The panic to avoid tragic losses. Resist! Keep a qualified financial advisor in between you and your investments. Or develop the discipline to buy and hold. It works.

If you have dividend stocks with a dividend reinvestment program in place, you may learn to love the dips in stock prices. Sound weird? I wrote about that here.

The conclusion – buy and hold for the long term. Think of that old adage that your investments are like a bar of soap. The more you handle them the smaller they get. It could be a big reason why your investments aren’t growing.

4. Stay properly diversified

Some companies do better when interest rates rise. Others are happier when they fall. Sometimes bonds do better than stocks, other times the reverse is true. The US markets might outperform Europe. or it may be the other way around for a period of time. The same is true of small company stocks vs large company stocks. Returns vary by industry as well.

All of this makes it very hard to consistently pick winners. And even if you pick a great stock in a growing industry in a booming economy with rising productivity and a powerful product advantage and great Super Bowl ads, it may all come crashing down when the CEO gets caught licking quarts of ice cream at the supermarket.

How to prosper? Invest with proper diversification by:

  • Asset classes – stocks, bonds and cash. Maybe some real estate.
  • Geography – exposure to the major economies
  • Duration in the case of bonds. Short, medium and long term
  • Company size – so called large caps and small cap companies
  • Industry type – tech, resources, consumer goods, financials etc

As an example of the first point, many people are terrified of the stock market and instead hold only cash, treasury bills, short term bonds and their wallet. As a result, they see terrible returns of under 1%. After tax they earn well less than inflation. That means that their money buys less every year. They lose by not investing. Here is a post about how to solve that one.

If this sounds complicated, get some help from a qualified financial advisor, or use Exchange Traded Funds to simplify diversification. As an example, part of my holdings are in Vanguard’s VTI Exchange Traded Fund. It holds over 3,600 companies in every industry. Well diversified. It has averaged over 8% annual growth since its inception and even pays a dividend. Combine that with a bond fund and you can build a solid portfolio. This is just an example, readers should do their own research prior to investing.

In short, if you are wondering why your investments aren’t growing, it could be that you aren’t properly diversified.

5. Don’t overpay for investment advice.

Many studies have been done about the ability of investment pros and fund managers ability to consistently outperform the market. The answer is that about 90% don’t. And you might be paying 1.5%, 2% or even more in fees for the privilege of trailing the market. The fees could be a combination of advisor fees, fund fees, commissions and other expenses. It can be a big reason why your investments aren’t growing.

How much does this matter? A lot. Those fees come right out of your returns and the effect compounds over time. Let’s take an example of an investor who invests $100,000, pays 1.75% in total fees and the investments earn 5% per year. Over 25 years, the investment would grow $238,635, but investment fees would add up to $116,176 and the investor would keep $122,460 or about half of the total return. Try some different scenarios on the excellent simulator at Larry Bates’ site here.

While that tool might whip you into a frenzy about investment fees, remember that for many people, an investment advisor can save them from blunders 1 through 4 above. The key is to ensure that you are getting more in value than you are paying in fees. Maybe that financial advisor stops you from selling during the start of the Covid crisis, thus keeping you in the market as it rebounded more than 50% in a year.

In summary, know how much you are paying in investment fees of all kinds and know your investment returns for each year. Compare your after fee returns to the benchmarks for each of your investment types – stocks, bonds etc.

Why your investments aren’t growing – the summary

Saving 10% or more of your income is a powerful step to wealth building. But the magic really happens when you have those savings invested and the results compound over time. If you are saving less than 10% look for ways to save more. There are lots of ideas in my blog on how to do that with minimal effort and sacrifice.

But it is just as important to make those savings grow. Select quality stocks and bonds (or funds) and then give them time to grow. Diversify your portfolio and align it with your risk tolerance. Then track your investment returns and fees for the last several years. If you aren’t growing as fast as the market, take the time to understand why not.

Which of these issues are hampering your investment growth? What are you looking to change? Please let me know in the comments.

Photo credit Pixabay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Save big on home improvements

In the olden days, pre 2020, we all paid scant attention to the condition of our homes. Back then, we focused on the snack we were grabbing in the kitchen, the dog we were leashing for a stroll and the barbecue out on the deck. Now that we are all held in house arrest without bail, we are starting to see the aging kitchen from which the snack came, the scratched floor underneath the dog and the rotting deck under the barbecue. At virtual dinner parties and Zoom wine hours, the conversations turn to home improvements. And with our Stimulus stipends spent, we are all starting to wonder how to save big on home improvements.

We saved 60% on 3 projects – read on!

We recently had 3 situations that nicely illustrated some nifty ideas for savings. With some simple principles we saved $7,000 on the first project, nearly $1,200 on the second and $5,000 on the third. The first was right here at Cashflow Cookbook Global Headquarters. That big chimney on the cover picture needed some work.  The second was a dryer that developed a heat and motion phobia.  The third was a garage rebuild that was close to a full, well, rebuild. Each project highlighted a different idea to save big on home improvements. To illustrate, let’s take closer look at each of these examples.

Look for a different approach.

Nothing says a romantic night like a crackling fire, a bottle of Pelee Island wine and a good Netflix series. Unless of course the chimney inspector says no fires until the chimney is fixed. Who knew that a 1938 chimney would have such issues? After much peering up our chimney, it was decided that a relining was needed to remediate the flue cracks. In other words, about $10,000. Turns out you can put a price on romance and indeed, money can buy happiness.

In true Cashflow Cookbook form, I called around to check pricing. Five chimney places all said that it would run $350 a foot for a stainless steel chimney liner and that, on a 25 foot chimney that would come to about $8,750, plus tax. Seemed like some sort of chimney flue collusion. I noodled the thought of clamoring up our slate roof brandishing a 25 foot stainless steel tube, but the wind was picking up and rain was threatening. What could go wrong?

Wives have a sixth sense about husbands leading themselves into danger and so it was that Deb developed a sudden interest in chimney lining. She found a chimney specialist with a different approach and suggested that I call. I got through to Brad right away and he indicated that he has a special machine that relines the chimney with concrete, fully safe and guaranteed. He had been relining chimneys with concrete for over 20 years. Google glowed about his work with dozens of positive reviews. Total tab? $1,750. In conclusion, shopping around is great, but sometimes a different contractor can bring a different approach. $7,000 in the bank and on to the next chance to save big on home improvements.

Yes you can do it

Broken dryer, home improvement project savings
Broken dryer, home improvement project savings

When my mother-in-law’s dryer packed it in, my thoughts turned to a trip to Home Depot. My brother-in-law and I got together to craft the plan. I brought a credit card and he arrived with his toolbox. Hmm. I’m fairly handy, but hadn’t spent much time on the inside of a dryer. But I remembered fixing a broken ice-maker and I dashed home to get my iPad. I set it on top of the dryer and surfed over to my friends at repair clinic. Entered the make, model and symptoms and there are all of the possible issues, how to test for each, and a little video that shows each step. Nice! With some safety glasses and the right tools, my cat could fix this dryer**.  The Repair Clinic even sell the parts!  Boom. We found the problem on the third issue they listed. Turns out that a little piece of plastic had broken off the door switch. A $9 part and about 30 minutes of diagnostic work. Another $1,200 saved, some good bonding and an excuse for a celebratory beer.

Don’t underestimate what you can tackle yourself. There are so many great videos and PDFs out there to light the path for you. Bring along an in-law for some extra knowledge and know how. You got this. DIY is another great way to save big on home improvements. Another trick is to see if your contractor will let you help, building your knowledge and savings. I tried this approach on a deck rebuild a few years back, check it out. Let’s take a look at one more idea.

Shop around for quality and price

 

garage rebuild - shop around
garage rebuild – shop around

A relative in town had a garage that needed some care and attention, including but not limited to a new roof, soffit, fascia and gutters.  Although price is important,  the wrong contractor could turn the situation from bad to worse. We networked our way to a few contractors and kept a spreadsheet with their name, company, years in business, sense of their competence, their approach and pricing.

Steve had done some work on a neighbor’s house so we tracked him down and he showed up for the estimate. He had a clipboard and a tape measure, but strangely, no truck. Teleportation? Alien beam down? He scrambled around the roof, flailing his tape measure and muttering as he scribbled down numbers. Not too promising. Chad was next, and gave the garage a good staring from the ground. He disappeared into his truck to “work some numbers” and pronounced the garage dead. It needed to be razed and start over. He would reluctantly attempt the rebuild but it would run a good $12,000.

Robert arrives on the scene

And so it went, until we asked a well regarded garage door man who he would use. Robert was the man for the job. He showed up for the estimate in a crisp white (terrestrial) van with custom cabinetry inside of his own hand. Nice. Some careful measuring, a firm Covid elbow tap and he was off, leaving only a promise of a next day quote. Sure enough, there it was in all its detail, including a price of $7,000.

His work was stellar and he even ran wiring for a garage door opener. The floor was swept clean and everything was tight and true. Shopping around and working referrals is a another key to big savings on home improvements.

** I should note that our cat, Susan, is blind and really not great at appliance work. She is, however, an accomplished lounger.

save big on home improvements
Susan the repair cat lounging

If you enjoyed this post, please share it!

How have you saved on home improvements? Let me know in the comments!

Take care and stay safe.

Gordon

 

 

 

Reduce bill anxiety!

Ugh. There it is. That gnawing feeling that there is something not so good in your finances. Maybe you have a sense that you missed a past due bill? Perhaps a fear that those last few purchases put you into overdraft? Or maybe there is a masked money monster on your desk, lurking under a jumble of bills, bank statements, cat toys, tax receipts, charging cables and lint. Whatever the situation, let’s permanently reduce bill anxiety in your household.

Let’s start by setting up your money into 3 pots:

reduce bill anxiety with 3 pots of money
reduce bill anxiety with 3 pots of money

Your Savings Pot

Your Savings Pot(s) are anywhere you send money to decrease debt or increase your investments. It might include registered accounts, work pensions, investment accounts or aggressive mortgage pay downs.

  • Ideally, get your savings money payroll deducted and straight into your Savings Pot. If that isn’t possible then set up an automatic monthly transfer from your Fun Pot where your income gets deposited each month.
  • Your Savings Pot is a priority. It sets you up for financial freedom. Do some quick math and see how much of your gross income you are saving.
  • Add up how much you save each month. Include what goes into your registered accounts like your IRA, 401(k) (or TFSAs and RSPs for Canadians) as well as what you are saving in cash accounts and divide that by your monthly gross income.
  • If the result is less than 10%, you need to free up some cash to increase your savings rate. Are you saving 10-20%? You are well on your way to financial freedom. Crushing it with a savings rate of 20-50%? Please reach out to me and let’s do a case study on you!
  • If you are overwhelmed by bills, and can’t save anything at all, you may end up working longer than you would like.  Find ways to grind down your monthly bills and/or your fun expenditures. Check out my blog posts or some of the ideas in Cashflow Cookbook.

Some savings come with extra sauce

  • If your company offers company pension plans, company sponsored 401(k) plans or company stock plans it is their way of trying to give you free money! Don’t say no!. Look for ways to free up cash and participate.
  • The government wants to help too! Tax advantaged plans like IRAs, 401(k) and 529 education savings plans (TFSAs, RSPs and RESPs in Canada) also provide free money by reducing the taxes you would otherwise pay. When your government offers free money, don’t say no to that either.
  • Sometimes debt repayment can be the best place to ‘save’. As an example, say you are carrying $30,000 in credit card debt at 22%. If your tax rate is 40%, paying that off is like investing in a government bond that pays 36%  interest! Bit of a no brainer. *

Boom! Savings are covered. Just let that pot simmer. Nothing to worry about, you are on track for financial freedom. As you earn more, be sure to generously top up your Savings Pot. On to the Fun Pot.

Your Fun Pot

Your Fun Pot is just a checking account where your paychecks or other income get deposited each month. An automatic monthly transfer pours bill payment money to your Bill Pot each month. The rest is yours to enjoy.

  • You may want to do all your spending on a rewards credit card to pick up some cash or travel points, then pay off the card every month from your Fun Pot. I like the reward credit card finder from SmartAsset (or the rates.ca credit card  finder for Canadians)
  • If you share your finances with someone else, be sure to have regular communications about this account. What  larger expenses are planned for this month? Where do we stand now and what trips, dinners and things are left to buy?
  • With the bills out of the way in the Bill Pot, it is much easier to manage your fun money. No surprise bills coming out that kick you into overdraft hell. Less arguing about money. A way to reduce bill anxiety.
  • Look for ways to get more for your fun money spend. Clever ways to share things vs buying your own? Better ways to buy things? Or even ways to save on vodka?

Your Bill Pot

Automating and streamlining your bills is a great way to reduce bill anxiety. Here are some steps to get things under control:

  1. Pull out each of your recurring bills (cell phone, internet, gas, electricity, insurance etc) and calculate the average monthly spend for each and total them up. Add 10% for good measure.
  2. Set up a separate “Bill Pot” account that is only used to pay your recurring monthly bills. This account will have 6-12 bills a month drizzling out and one monthly payment coming in. Find the lowest cost account that can do that.
  3. Set up an automated transfer for the amount in step 1, coming from your Fun pot into your Bill Pot once a month.
  4. Set up a browser favorites folder on your computer called “Household Bills”. Create accounts with each of your service providers with automatic bill payments coming from your Bill Pot Account. Bookmark each of them into your Household Bills folder. Lovely! While you are at it, select the paperless billing option. Add each of your bill accounts to your Household Bill folder on your computer and use a password manager so you don’t have to remember dozens of passwords like Ye$EyElike2Golf.
  5. Double check that everything gets paid as you transition between manual bill payment and this automated approach.
  6. Enjoy bill freedom. Throw out all of that paper. Let those companies do the filing for you. Want to retrieve an old bill? Have a sudden hankering to review last May’s gas bill? Go to Household Bills and peruse away. No hassles, no overdue bills, no paper, no stress.

The fine tune

Once you get everything in place and your bills pay themselves, you have managed to reduce bill anxiety, eliminate a lot of paper and automate your savings, it’s time to fine tune things:

  • Call each of your providers each year and make sure that you are on the best plan, getting the best rate and enjoying all of the discounts. They would love to hear from you. An example script for speaking with your cell phone provider is here. Some gentle mention of the competition or actual shopping of the competition never hurts. Once optimized, reduce the money flowing into the Bill Pot and increase your Savings Pot if you can. Set a reminder to call each provider every year or use online comparison tools like Zebra (For US car insurance) or rates.ca (Canadian car and home insurance, credit cards, life insurance and more).
  • As you reduce these boring and painful bills, use the freed up cash to reduce the monthly transfers into your Bill Pot and increase your automated monthly Savings Pot contributions.  If you are already saving 10-20%, then splurge with a higher Fun Pot.
  • Not a bad idea to set up an emergency account or have access to a credit line to cover unforeseen emergencies like broken dishwashers, dog operations or car crash deductibles.

At Retirement

In retirement, keep going with your Fun Pot and your Bill Pot.

Reduce bill anxiety in retirement
Reduce bill anxiety in retirement

Your Savings Pot now replaces your income and just pours cash into the other two every month. Keep seasoning your Bill Pot by optimizing your expenses. Monitor your Savings Pot to make sure that you don’t outlast it. And enjoy yourself! You’ve earned it!

 

*If you want an explanation of this 36% government bond, leave a comment below and I will respond.

If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to my blog, and share on social media.

How do you set up your accounts? What did I miss? Please let me know in the comments.

 

How to beat bank savings rates

Sometimes you wonder how they say it with a straight face. Two tenths of one percent? How can they even call it a savings account?  At 0.20% it would take 360 years to double your money. If you invested all of your earnings at 0.2%, moved back in with your parents, skipped coffee and cut your own hair, you still couldn’t retire before 136. There has to be a better way to invest. So how do you beat bank savings rates?

And what of those articles comparing bank savings rates? In depth comparisons of banks paying 0.74% on their accounts vs a paltry 0.20%. Why bother with the comparison? What difference does it make? Say you had $50,000 to invest. At 0.74%, at the end of a year you would have made $370 of interest and the government would take away, say 30% in taxes, so you are left with $259. At 0.20% you would pick up a tidy $100 in interest, with the tax person taking her $30, leaving you with $70. So at the end of the year, by shopping for savings rates, you would be ahead by $189. That might net you a dinner for two with wine, but not a real wealth builder. So shopping around isn’t a way to beat bank savings rates.

Short term vs long term

For short term goals, you have little choice. You need somewhere to accumulate money that won’t fluctuate, lest a chunk of it vanishes just as you need it. The low interest rates are the price you pay for some certainty that you won’t take a loss right when you need the cash. But for longer term savings goals like retirement and building wealth, you need exposure to stocks to create growth.

How do we know that stocks rise over time?

Over time, stock markets rise. That has been proven over decades, through wars, depressions, pandemics and whatever is coming next. What are my predictions for next week, next month or next year? No idea. And neither does anyone else. But why do they rise?

Most of you likely work for an organization of some sort. And that means you have a boss sending pressure your way to do your part to help the company make more money, look for ways to do things cheaper, avoid expensive lawsuits or hire people who can do all of the above. Sure, there are a few slackers, but the rest of the company feels that same pressure and is working hard to perform. If it is your own company, you know all of these same pressures, except it is you sending the pressure to yourself. The net of all that hard work is growing profits which increase the value of the company and its stock.

If you owned stocks in that company, you benefit as all of those people make sales calls, slash costs, reduce taxes and grow the company, all while you do nothing. Not bad. Now suppose you own stocks in a few companies instead of just one. If some are mediocre, the rest will likely cover them as all of those people all work to get their bonuses, while their bosses try to get their larger bonuses, all the way up the chain. So owning the stock of a few companies protects us from the risk that the company will go out of favor, the CEO gets charged with something immoral or another company makes a better widget.

Could we own the whole market?

Well what if we could own a little bit of all of the companies that trade on the stock exchange? Wouldn’t that further lower the risk and improve our returns? And indeed it could! You can do that through Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs). You can buy them just like stocks, but they effectively give you a little slice of hundreds or even thousands of stocks. All full of employees working like the Dickens to make their bonuses as you binge-watch Netflix on your iPad. In fact, Netflix and Apple are in lots of ETFs, so you can even benefit by other people watching Netflix and buying iPads. Hmm. One of my favorites ETFs is Vanguard’s VTI fund. It includes thousands of US stocks, including Netflix and Apple.

So how have these ETFs done over time? Can they beat bank savings rates? Well heck yah! Let’s look at VTI as an example. Here is its chart:

Vanguard VTI fund performance
Vanguard VTi fund performance

So 20 years ago, you could have bought the fund for $56.50 and today it would be worth $207. Not bad. It quadrupled over 20 years. That is the same thing as earning about 6.71% a year, every year for 20 years. But that’s not all, it also pays a dividend of about 1.3% which means that you would have a total return of about 8%. That’s a lot better than 0.2%

But what about the drops?

Imagine that you bought 1,000 shares of VTI in September of 2007. You would have paid $76,960 of your hard earned money to do that. But then the financial crisis hit and your investment would have sailed down to $36,810 in February of 2009. That is a drop of more than half. Ouch! Does that mean that even the stock market can’t beat bank savings rates?

No it just means that the market is unpredictable in the short run. It is still a great place to build wealth over the long run. Say you invested in January 2020 just before the virus hit. You would have bought in at $163.52. Just 2 months later your share would have plunged to $128.91. Ouch. But if you hung on for a full year until January of 2021, your share would be back to $193.99. A gain of nearly 19%. Over the short term no one knows what the markets will do. Over the long term they do well!

Conclusions

  • The way to beat bank savings rates is to not use them to power your long term savings.
  • Use savings accounts as short term money storage.
  • To build wealth use a mix of stocks and bonds that are aligned with your age, stage and risk preference
  • Exchange Traded Funds can be a low cost way to add exposure to the stock market with lots of diversification
  • You can augment Exchange Traded Funds with specific stocks if you are confident in certain investment themes. Read more on that here.
  • When you buy any kind of stocks or ETFs, remember that you are holding them for the long haul, don’t read the headlines or be tempted to sell at every piece of bad news.
  • If you aren’t confident investing on your own, retain a competent investment advisor
  • As you get closer to any goal, including retirement, you may wish to reduce volatility with a heartier mix of bonds and cash.

I have used Vanguard’s VTI fund for illustrative purposes. Investors should conduct their own research or consult a financial advisor. I hold VTI as part of my investment portfolio.

To free up more funds for investing, check out my blog and Cashflow Cookbook where I detail ways to free up to $13,000 of monthly savings.

What are you doing as an alternative to beat low bank savings rates? Please let me know in the comments and share this post to help others!

photo credit Roman Synkevytch on Unsplash