Insights from Our Free Investment Portfolio Check-Up, and How to Get Yours

by on February 18, 2013 · 13 comments

There is something that I have learned along the way in my frugal decadent lifestyle: if you practice frugality all of your life, then you are most likely going to accumulate money. Never once in my teenage years or my pre-college graduation angst of having to enter the “real world” did I think I would stockpile money alongside 10¢ tubes of toothpaste. I assumed I would barely eke out a living, just like my family of dairy farmers had done. I would use my ingenuity and practical frugal skills to stretch each blessed dollar I received, and would “make it” through each month. But I guess that is not all that life had to offer me; as it turns out, frugality and solid money management can lead to a stockpile of cash.

I never took the time to learn how to invest the bounty from a frugal lifestyle. We have an investment portfolio, but it probably cannot be considered a “portfolio” as it’s not really cohesive by any means. Each time I think about reviewing it to optimize our investments, my head starts to hurt. How do I identify weaknesses? What does a sound investment strategy for a couple in our situation look like? Heck, I’d even like to see a dollar amount of the overall dividends and fees we are paying.

Probably the biggest question of all has been how do we find answers to these questions without paying someone an exorbitant fee or commission?

When I heard about a free portfolio check-up through Personal Capital that several of my blogger buddies had already taken advantage of, I decided to give it a shot. I knew that the only thing I had to lose was a few hours of my time. What I did not know is the vast amount of specific, actionable information I had to gain. Here’s what Personal Capital has done for us:

Aggregates all Accounts and Net Worth for an Eagle Eye View

I seem to collect accounts like Carrie Bradshaw collects shoes. The benefits of opening so many new accounts are the sign-on bonuses and other perks. The drawbacks are having to manage each of these accounts as well as manage an unwieldy list of usernames/passwords. After quitting my day job one month ago, it turns out that this serial account opening/managing may have been on purpose: checking these accounts throughout the weeks and months gave me something to do. Now that I am working at my passion, I just don’t have the time to burn on this sort of thing.

Personal Capital offers a great solution to our serial account problem by aggregating all of our accounts into one account I can access online whenever I’d like. After I signed up with them for free, I filled out information for our checking, savings, mortgage, investments and retirement accounts (FYI: if your particular institution is not listed within their website you can manually input the information). In a few days all of the fields had been populated, and it became quite clear to me the advantages of having an eagle eye view of our portfolio. At a glance we can see a synergy of accounts that allow us to compare them and determine which are prosperous and which are sinking the ship.

Keeps a Running Tally on All the Fees We are Paying

I knew that we were paying low fees with our retirement accounts. But even so, I didn’t keep track of the fees across the portfolio, nor did I have an exact figure of what we are paying each year. One of the advantages with Personal Capital is that they tally up your fees from every account that you own and give you one number. It turns out that our current annual fees are $116.48. They even project the amount of money we will pay in fees over the next 20-year horizon. What great information!

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Offers a Free Personal Consultation with Invaluable Insights

Probably the most mind-opening experience of Personal Capital was the free personal consultations with a financial adviser  I spoke with Michelle over two different phone calls, and she drafted us a personal investment strategy based off of our goals, income, retirement age, kids, risk, age, etc. The amount of free information gleaned from this consultation was well worth the time to set up our account.

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Here are some of the invaluable insights about our portfolio:

  • We are heavily invested in US stocks with not much in emerging markets/growth markets (i.e. Brazil, China, and India)

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  • We have too much risk in the tech and financial markets (which happened to plummet in the last recession)
  • We have very little “alternatives” in our portfolio (i.e. hard assets like gold, other metals, energy, agriculture, etc.)
  • There are some tax shield/tax optimization strategies that we could be taking advantage of (this was particularly exciting to discuss with her!)

Sends a Weekly Monitor Email

Personal Capital sends a weekly email that summarizes gains and losses on each of our accounts as well as the overall gain/loss for the week. I was surprised to receive this the first few times (and a bit alerted with headlines such as “Your Portfolio Balance is Down By -0.29%”). While it’s a nice overview, I will likely change the frequency of these emails to monthly or semi-annually because I don’t like to know how our investments are doing on such a frequent basis.

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Even though I have been investing in retirement and non-retirement accounts for seven years now, I feel that it is time to put more energy into getting our money to work just as hard as we do. Personal Capital has been very much worth our time in this pursuit, and I hope that you find the same.

 

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Tony@WeOnlyDoThisOnce

Very cool, Amanda. It’s important to get a “check up” once in awhile for sure. As long as you are getting sound advice from someone who is not wanting to sell you product. Great post!
Tony@WeOnlyDoThisOnce recently posted..The 8 Week Rule

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Doctor Stock

I worked in the industry for years as one of those advisors who would prepare these fancy designs… and there is some value. Unfortunately, as much as they may seem “personalized” they are often designed to lead to cross-selling opportunities for the advisor. As you can imagine, these are not always in the best interest of the investor.
Doctor Stock recently posted..Canadian and US REITS – Out of Favour or Added Flavour?

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FruGal

Good morning Doctor Stock!

Yes, they would like the opportunity to manage our portfolio. I inquired about how much (the nice thing is that there was no hard sell at all–I was really happy about that), and it would come to less than 1%.

However, there is a lot of positive and insightful information I got from our conversation. On top of that, I was able to ask all kinds of investment questions I did not understand before, and Michelle was great in explaining in a way I could understand.

Thank you for your perspective, seeing how you used to work in this market.

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Marie at FamilyMoneyValue

There are other ways to get a one time review/plan. I once worked for a mutual fund company, one of the perks was development of a financial plan by one of their advisors. It didn’t help us much – as we were just starting out, saving every penny we could. The advisor’s plan was ‘just keep doing what you are doing’.

Another one was from a firm that came to a later employer of mine and taught ‘retirement investment’ classes. They offered a free plan as well, which also didn’t help much. Of course, they also wanted to manage our assets for a fee.

The last opp was with Vanguard. When I moved my retirement assets to an IRA I had enough there for a free financial planner conference. She gave very stock advice about what she recommended I do (and of course had to push Vanguard assets). The advice did not consider my risk tolerance, which apparently was much higher than hers!

I find that self education and management has worked best for us, but yes, it is a pain to do.
Marie at FamilyMoneyValue recently posted..How to Pass along Family Legacy with Hero’s Quest Stories

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FruGal

Hello Marie!

Thank you for sharing your experiences.

Something I forgot to mention is you do not have to participate in the personal consultation. You can just use the website for free and have your accounts aggregated in one spot (you can get a lot of information from just this). However, I shared my consultation experience because I was truly impressed with it. It was great to have someone break down my Target Fund, cost/fees, etc., even though yes, I could have done this myself (though it would have taken a lot more work on my part). It was also really neat to hear about possible tax shelters. Overall I’ve learned a lot from this experience, and wanted to share it with others.

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Chris

I love the idea of a weekly email telling me that i’ve made some money, best email in the world!
Chris recently posted..Where to start investing your money!?

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FruGal

Haha–totally:).

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Joe

I like Personal Capital too and I’m glad you had a productive session. It’s great to be able to ask some financial questions to a expert. The lack of hard sell is great too. Will you invest more in emerging market? Vanguard has some low fee funds that might fill the hole.
Joe recently posted..Traveling is more fun when you are young

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FruGal

Hi Joe!

Thank you for sharing your experience with them. I do believe I will be looking into emerging markets, so thanks for mentioning that there are funds available to mitigate some of the risk.

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Joe Saul-Sehy

All I’ve heard lately is good stuff about Personal Capital. Impressive write-up. Did you get any sales pitch to keep working with the advisor on a fee basis, or was it strictly a “here’s what you need to know” discussion?
Joe Saul-Sehy recently posted..Long Term Care Planning: What Would You Do?

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FruGal

Hi Joe!

That was one of the best things about this consultation; there was no hard sell at all. We got to the end of the presentation, and she said “okay, I think you should discuss this with your husband and then get back to us if you think we can help you with this.” Pretty good!

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