Much of the investment industry is in the business of making things sound complex so that you feel inadequate enough to turn over control of your money to an “expert”. While trustworthy advice from a reputable adviser is always welcome, the plain truth is that paying a premium for professional investment management does not automatically guarantee superior returns especially once you account for fees. For proactive investors willing to take charge of their own destiny, the good news is that it really isn’t difficult to build and manage a portfolio using many of the same allocation techniques of the pros. By doing it yourself you’ll not only stay in full control of your finances but you’ll also save a good amount of money in the process.
Not sure where to start? Here’s what you have to do:
Learn a few simple investing principles
There are lots of different investing methods out there and some of them are pretty intimidating. But while complicated systems requiring lots of information, attention, and time may work fine for some people they’re not necessary to be a successful investor. Portfolio Charts focuses on sophisticated but low-key index investing strategies that only require you to purchase a handful of index funds and rebalance your portfolio once a year. If you can follow a recipe, you can manage your own portfolio! To help you get started and introduce you to the most important ideas, try reading through these Basic Concepts.
Find a portfolio plan that works for you
This site is designed as a repository and testing resource for all kinds of portfolio ideas, and the Portfolios section is a great place to browse the many good recommendations of various experts. Study the charts, look at the data points such as the long-term returns and deepest drawdown, and find something that resonates with you. For things that look interesting, take the time to read the books and source materials offered by the original authors. By understanding not only why you are attracted to a certain portfolio but also how it works, you’re already far better off than most investors. And if you want to tweak things you can also play with the interactive Charts to learn how changing ingredients may affect the taste of the final recipe, but that’s certainly not a requirement.
Open a brokerage account
The funds you need to purchase are held and traded at a financial intermediary called a brokerage. Think of it as a special type of bank that does all of the legwork for you to buy and sell stocks from various companies without you having to call them all up individually. There are many good brokerages out there, but a few of the most popular are Vanguard, Fidelity, Schwab, and TD Ameritrade. After you open your account, transfer the money you’d like to invest from your bank account to the brokerage account and you’ll be ready for the next step.
Purchase the necessary index funds
Let’s say you’ve decided the Three-Fund Portfolio is for you. The next step is to purchase the necessary index funds in the right proportions. The Asset Allocation section on the portfolio page explains the recipe and provides links with details on each Asset. In this case, you need 40% Domestic Total Stock Market, 20% World Total Stock Market, and 40% Intermediate Term Bonds.
When you go to purchase these assets in your brokerage, you’ll find that there are many different index fund options for each asset. To get you started, I’ve compiled some of the most popular index funds and sorted them by asset type. Do your own research, and shop around for the one with the lowest cost. Depending on the brokerage you chose, some funds may cost less than others once you account for both expense ratios and trading fees, so take the time to pick the best options for you.
Once you find the right funds, purchase them through your brokerage in the percentages required for your portfolio. If you find that process tricky, call your brokerage and they’ll be happy to help. Congrats — You just built your own portfolio!
Take your time
There’s no need to rush, either in selecting a portfolio or in implementing one.
When you think you’ve found a portfolio you like, sleep on it before doing anything. In fact, I recommend waiting a few months before lifting a finger. Buyers remorse is fine when you return an item to the store, but exchanging a portfolio has major tax implications and it’s important to be smart about your decisions and not to act emotionally.
And when you’re just getting started with investing, don’t necessarily stress about getting your portfolio perfectly implemented from the get-go. A great way to start any portfolio is to first buy a total stock market or large cap index fund, as that will be a core component of almost any other asset allocation you grow into. As you accumulate more money and learn more about how the markets work, you can look at new assets to diversify your holdings and move towards a long-term asset allocation goal.
Rebalance once a year
Despite the impression you may get from reading the financial news, the best way to manage your portfolio is generally to ignore it. Remember, you’re already far better off than the vast majority of investors because you selected an asset allocation with your eyes wide open to its historical returns and volatility, so you can rest easily knowing that you made a well-educated decision. Markets go up and down all the time, and your asset allocation will passively do its job protecting and growing your money with no hand-holding required.
The one thing you need to do is check it once a year to see if any of the assets have deviated from your target percentages. If they have, then it’s time to rebalance. You can do this in one of two ways. First, you can use new money you saved throughout the year to purchase new shares of the funds that have dropped below their target percentage. And second, you can sell shares of the funds that did very well to purchase more shares of the funds that did not.
A note on taxes
One thing to keep in mind is that if you’re investing in a taxable account (not an IRA or 401k), selling funds will impact your taxes. That’s why I recommend first buying shares with new money before you sell anything. And when you do need to sell, be sure to understand the tax impact of any change before you make it. That may sound intimidating, but on a positive note there are many ways to reduce taxes by smartly managing your own portfolio that other people handing their portfolio choices over to others do not have the same access to. If you find this part confusing, this is a good situation to see a tax adviser. But once you do it a few times, you’ll get the hang of it.
Go on with your life
Find an appropriate portfolio for you, purchase the required index funds in a brokerage account, and rebalance once a year. It’s really that simple. You absolutely have the ability to manage your own portfolio using the asset allocation methods of respected financial experts, and it’s a lot easier than you may think!