Small Improvements Make a Big Difference


When working on something new, sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of putting off small incremental improvements while holding out for the next big idea. We’ve all been there. Maybe you’re avoiding boring tasks at work while spending all of your energy on something more interesting that probably won’t go anywhere. Perhaps you feel disconnected from other people because of the pandemic but spend your time fantasizing about a future party or thinking about moving rather than simply picking up the phone. And we probably all know someone who likes to talk about saving the environment but who can’t be bothered to pick up the litter in their own back yard.

Thinking big sometimes blinds us to the opportunities around us that are small in isolation but can cumulatively make a big difference.

Me? As a designer at heart, I definitely have a tendency to get caught so deep in new idea exploration that time flies and my everyday to-do list falls behind. But the little details really do matter, and I recently made a couple of small changes that I’d like to point out.

Three-Fund Portfolio Update

Anyone who spends time on the Bogleheads forum is likely familiar with Taylor Larimore, and even if you don’t I wager you’ve heard of his Three-Fund Portfolio. Taylor was gracious enough to contact me recently and politely point out that I had slightly misinterpreted his recommendations.

Long story short, I’ve been presenting the Three-Fund Portfolio as 40% domestic stocks, 20% international stocks, and 40% bonds with the understanding that the bond portion can be adjusted to personal tastes. Taylor corrected me and clarified that he recommends an international allocation equal to 20% of the stock portion of the portfolio. The end result is that with the same 60% stock allocation, a true Larimore-approved Three-Fund Portfolio contains 12% stocks (20% of 60) rather than a flat 20%.

I always do my best to accurately represent author ideas, so I promptly changed the default Three-Fund allocation and also added a few notes to explain the original design intent. It shouldn’t make a huge difference in the stats, but it could still be worth the time for Three-Fund fans to check in to see if the updated data affects your personal decisions in any way.

Thanks, Taylor!

Insights Page Improvements

Usability is always high on my priority list, which is why I spend a lot of time experimenting with how to condense complex data into something that everyone can understand. The more information you’re dealing with, the harder it becomes!

As part of extending some of those usability improvements to things beyond numbers, I recently tweaked the Insights page to make it a little easier to navigate the collection of articles. First, I separated any posts about regular site updates from the larger group of more timeless investing topics that are the real core of the site. Second, I tweaked how those investing articles are filtered to make it a little more obvious how to find the topic you’re looking for. And finally, I added information at the bottom of the page about various ways to find an old article in the archives. Did you know that Portfolio Charts has a search function? If not, that’s on me. Click the + on the bottom of any page and try it out!

Little Things Add Up

None of those changes are groundbreaking on their own, but taken together I think they really do make the site just a little bit better. I think that mindset is helpful in lots of areas. Dream big, but never lose sight of the small things that can move you one step towards that goal today. It’s all about balance and the appreciation of incremental progress.

So after you check out the new updates, maybe think about some of the little things in your own financial life that could perhaps use some attention. Here are a few ideas for inspiration:

  • Have you checked the expense ratios in your funds lately? Are there cheaper alternatives?
  • For US-based investors, it’s tax season. I’m sure you’re on top of it. But when is the last time you updated your W-4 withholding?
  • What is the one subscription service you use the least? Would you be just as happy without it?

Maybe you’ve been ignoring those things because you feel like you have more important issues to worry about. I’m sure you’re right! But take the time to address the little stuff, and before you know it you’ll look around and notice that they added up to make a real difference in your financial life.

Even a simple cup of coffee can be a big help