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Simple Investing is Better Investing

I’m a bit zealous in my preference for lazy portfolios and simple investing plans. So it’s no surprise that I sometimes get emails asking whether I really believe that it’s worth “dumbing down” a portfolio just to save a few minutes every month.

My answer: It’s not being lazy or saving time.

Beyond the time saved from not having to monitor your investments everyday, there are multiple tangible benefits to using a simple portfolio and investment plan.

Protecting Against Mistakes

The simpler your portfolio and investment plan are, the easier it is to have a true understanding of them. And the better you understand them, the less likely you are to make mistakes.

A deep understanding of every piece of your investment plan helps prevent technical mistakes like rebalancing improperly. And (perhaps more importantly) it helps prevent emotional mistakes — giving up on your plan to chase performance somewhere else, for instance.

Protecting Your Spouse

If your spouse inherited complete control and responsibility for your portfolio tomorrow, would he or she know what to do with it?

  • Would (s)he know the purpose of each of the investments in the portfolio?
  • Would (s)he know the desired allocation for each of those investments?
  • Would (s)he know how you intended that allocation to change over time?

And, even if your spouse would know what to do with the portfolio, would she have any interest in actually doing it? What you see as “rebalancing” and “regular maintenance,” your partner may see as “hassle” and “endless tinkering.”

The simpler your investment plan is, the better your spouse/partner’s position if he or she ever has to take over maintenance of the portfolio.

Protecting Against Cognitive Decline

It doesn’t happen to everyone. And hopefully it won’t happen to you. But cognitive decline does happen to a lot of people. And, by its very nature, it’s darned hard to self-diagnose. So you have to prepare for it ahead of time.

If you have a simple portfolio — especially one in which each of the parts performs an obvious function — it will be much easier for your loved ones to handle things for you, should that need arise. (Important note: You’ll also have to provide them with the legal authority to do so.)

Ways to Simplify Your Investing

Stick with one brokerage firm: Choose one low-cost brokerage firm, and stick with them. Having everything in one place makes it easier to see how your portfolio is allocated. It makes it easier to track performance. And it makes it easier to rebalance when necessary.

Hold fewer investments: If you can put together a diversified portfolio using just 3-5 index funds or ETFs, I say go for it.

Consider annuitizing: If you’re retired, consider devoting a portion of your portfolio to a single premium immediate annuity. With such annuities, there’s no ongoing maintenance to be done. All you have to do is make sure you’re spending less than the income you’re taking in — something you’ve been doing for years.

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  1. Great post and I am a living testament to this simplicity. Nearly one year ago, I got the “Investing Made Simple” book, and started an investment account and IRA at Charles Schwab. My IRA is made up of SCHB, SCHF, and SWHGX…my investment account SCHB, SCHF, and some company stock I had. I will be at the 1 year mark in January…currently, my IRA is up 4.5% and my investment account (not couting company stock) is up 7.77%. Pretty decent returns considering the economy this year. I plan on balancing my portfolios this year with some of Schwabs Bond ETFs after the holidays for added stability. Thanks Mike!

  2. Hi Micah.

    I’m happy to hear that a simple, low-cost investment strategy is working out for you! 🙂

    And, I think you’re right that it’s a good idea to add some bond holdings. At the moment, your portfolio is nearly 100% stock (SWHGX holds ~20% in cash and bonds).

  3. Great post Mike. Couldn’t agree more.

    I started investing a few years ago in college, attempting to beat the market. I spent an hour or two researching what to invest in, and multiple hours checking yahoo finance to see how they were doing.

    A friend recommended that I read The Boglehead’s Guide to Investing and I’m sure glad I did.

    My plan is pretty simple now. In my 401(k), I have a total world index fund. In my Roth IRA, I have Vangaurd’s 2050 fund.

    Not only are my investments making more, I’m spending less and sleeping better.

  4. I love the part about what your wife would do if she had to take over tomorrow. I am a pretty active investor with a strong track record of performance, but my wife can’t understand what I am doing (I know she can, but she doesn’t want to invest the time because she is not passionate about it).

    We agreed to keep all of our accounts very simple, except my own personal trading account. So our 401(k)s, IRAs, etc are all long term index funds, and then I have my own brokerage account where I can do as I please with an agreed upon initial investment.

  5. Ah, simple investing. It makes so much sense. Thats why its not talked enough about. You will never hear it mentioned on CNBC. It’s the only way I have used to invest that lets you sleep well.

    I also agree with the Schwab portfolios. What low or no fee investing, am I dreaming. Finally, more money in my pocket than the investment houses. Thanks for a great post.

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