The Value of Simple is a Success!

April 10th, 2018 by Potato

Way back when I was getting ready to launch The Value of Simple, I set some definitions for success. I hit “not-failure” pretty quickly, but have only just reached “success”: I’ve made minimum wage (at least, a rounded-down amount that approximates what minimum wage was back in 2014 and ignoring all post-publication effort) on the time taken to write it!

Now, it’s felt like a success for far longer than that. Seeing that it’s actually helped people invest, is getting good reviews, and seeing people wholeheartedly recommend it to their friends made the whole endeavour feel worthwhile. But I still had that first monetary definition in the back of my mind… so hitting it still feels like an added accomplishment.

I had also said that that was about the point at which I might consider doing the whole grind again. As it happens, I do actually have an idea for another book that I might do next…

…But I don’t think I will go anywhere with it, at least not in the near term.

Getting VoS done was a personal triumph in working hard/side hustling/project management/etc., and a personal best for productivity. But burnout is a thing. These days my inbox and to-do lists are filled with small side projects that I can’t get around to completing on time (that tax video doesn’t look like it’s going to happen before taxes are due, for example) — I’m not in a hurry to dive into a major one.

Anyway, a big thanks to everyone that helped make this a success: people who bought copies, recommended it to their friends, took the time to write reviews, read beta versions, and more that I’m sure I’m forgetting!

Vanguard’s New All-in-One ETFs

April 1st, 2018 by Potato

Lots of people have been talking about Vanguard’s all-in-one ETFs that launched fairly recently. Dan @CCP talked about them in the back half of this podcast (and the first half is with me if you missed it :), and has a whole separate post on them, and likely will have another in the future as they’re generating a lot of discussion and questions.

In general, I like them: for a modestly higher MER, you get a one-stop investment portfolio.

One point I really like about them that hasn’t been talked about much is the fact that there is only one thing to look at for your portfolio. We talk a lot about the importance of having balance and diversification — so much in bonds, for example, to limit the losses you might experience in a market crash. However, in the moment people rarely look at their overall portfolio and say “Well, I’m only down X%, which I was prepared for, and my bond allocation is doing its job so all is good.” No, instead we tend to focus on the biggest, reddest number on the screen — and of course in a 3 or 4 fund portfolio, you’ll see each position individually, and have to do some math to see the portfolio as a whole.

With an all-in-one fund, you will only ever see the portfolio as a whole. You won’t second-guess your international fund during Brexit, your bond fund when interest rates are hiked, or your Canadian index fund when oil tanks. And there is a lot of investor behaviour management in the simple fact that in a diversified portfolio there is always at least one thing that is disappointing (under-performing the rest if not actually down). Not to mention in a crash — it’s hard to tear your eyes off the big red number on your losing-est fund and feel like the world is ending when that’s all that’s in the news, even if the rest of your portfolio is holding things together reasonably well. These funds will help avoid all that, and that’s the main reason I’m a big fan — all-in-one funds are best positioned to help actually match up that notion of risk tolerance for your overall portfolio and what you really see when you check in on your portfolio.

Now, these new funds do not mean that these ETFs are making Tangerine, TD e-series, or robo-advsiors obsolete. They do make investing in ETFs easier: just one thing to purchase, and no rebalancing. But you still have to deal with buying ETFs, which can’t be automated like Tangerine or TD e-series mutual funds can be. It does slightly complicate the nice one-dimensional relationship between cost and complexity that was the choice between Tangerine/robo-advisors/e-series/ETFs before. One-fund ETFs will be cheaper with automatic rebalancing, while e-series will have manual rebalancing but the ability to set up automatic purchases, and avoids the more complicated order entry of ETFs (rounding down to whole units, limit orders and bid/ask prices, worrying about market hours, etc.). I still think that overall I’d put one-fund ETFs to the right (i.e. more complex overall) than TD e-series — while rebalancing can be a pain and a bit confusing, you don’t have to do it often, while making regular purchases as easy as possible is more important to long-term success.

And if you are interested in these ETFs, you have to let the simplicity work. I mean, that’s what you’re paying extra for. I’ve seen hundreds of questions and thoughts since these launched in various blog comments and forums where people are trying to tweak the allocation to what they really want: buying VGRO and a bond fund for example, or buying both VGRO and VBAL to get an intermediate bond allocation. Just like with Tangerine’s funds a key point is to just round your desired allocation off to the nearest 20% or so to fall in to one of the choices on offer rather than trying to get lost in the details. Once you try to add more funds into the mix to get what you really want, you lose the whole benefit of the one-fund simplicity: buying more than one fund means it won’t automatically rebalance any more, and at that point you might as well buy a third (or fourth) fund and save the extra cost on bundling it up.

Never Weight – Q1-18 Update

April 1st, 2018 by Potato

This year I’m trying to make that health improvement thing real. As announced last quarter, I’m cutting the price of the course until I get my weight under control. In a quick update a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I lost a bunch of weight while I was sick with the flu. And as I suspected, I gained most of it back. However, I managed to keep off over 2 pounds (but not quite 3) in the quarter. That’s not the pace I’m aiming for, but at least it’s moving in the right direction and it’s a big enough weight loss that it should be real (and not just measurement noise). I’m looking on the bright side, here.

I was just a half a pound shy of hitting the first threshold to bump up the price of the book and course, so the price stays the same through the spring. It’s hard to exactly quantify how much revenue I’ve lost because it’s impossible to know the price elasticity — how many people would still have paid the higher price — but for the sake of motivation I’m assuming it’s nearly everyone and that junk food and laziness is costing me a new computer at this point.