When people ask me about asset allocation, I guide them towards family wealth.
Over your life, you will see things blow up.
- Jobs will be lost
- Divorces will happen
- Guarantees will be called
- Companies will fail
- Investments will go to zero
Certain habits make us more prone to blowing up:
Debt – fixed obligations can ruin you in bad times.
Lack of emotional control – this runs deeper than, say, anger management.
People who make a habit of rationalizing a lack of control in one domain (elite sport, closing a sale, acting in a client’s best interest) rarely have the capacity to control themselves across domains. If you might get caught, then you’re fragile.
Substance Abuse – it’s more than the cost of sorting yourself out – it is the lost opportunity of a life well lived and the impact on the rest of your family, especially your kids.
Spending vs Cash Flow – personal spending, burn rate and fixed costs => the more spending you have relative to cash flow, the more fragile your finances.
The above is a long way of asking, “What aspects of your life might blow up?”
Which is a polite way of saying, “I’m not sure asset allocation is the most pressing issue in your life.”
If you work in an ethically-challenged field, have a lot of borrowings, have a high burn rate or are surrounded by peers with issues…
…then tweaking portfolio construction is a lower priority item than immediately removing what might ruin your life.
I’ve done it. You can do it. It’s better on the other side.
How large is your current portfolio when compared to your lifetime portfolio? – AKA you might have more wealth available in your career than your portfolio.
Investing is different at 25, 40 and 55 years old.
The nature of “different” depends on your personal circumstances.
#1 => Consider your Core Capital. The single best thing I did out of college was save four years of personal living expenses, $100,000 in the mid-1990s. It sat in a bank account, while I worked my ass off at my career.
Having that money enabled me to choose better and choosing better became a habit.
Very, very, very (!) few people can be professional investors – AKA can I get rich by beating the market?
Take an honest look at the people that you know in finance. How many of them “got rich” from their own money? Remember these are the experts.
In finance, most people get rich due to the rules of their game and collecting pools of other people’s money (your money, by the way).
With your portfolio, keep it safe, simple and low-cost. A target-date fund makes a nice core holding.
Having my Core Capital enabled me to take more risks in my career path, and life experience => not with my Core Capital.
Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities happen once a decade – AKA great deals happen when credit markets are shut
Here are the assets I own and why I own them:
- Index funds => long-term, diversified, not linked to my home real estate market
- US Treasuries/Core Capital => 5 to 10 years family expenses
- Boulder real estate => A relative value play against California, a cost-effective way to raise a family and a fantastic outdoor life. Think very carefully before locking yourself into any location. As a young man, my lack of ties enabled me to jump at great opportunities.
- Cash => my early retirement was funded by three deals I did coming out of the last credit crisis. Once you have your Core Capital (say, five years living expenses) then building up a pool for “great opportunities” is a consideration.
Starting out? Read this PDF.
Be wary of home bias => you can see it in my portfolio => even more risky is having your balance sheet, retirement and job reliant on the success of your employer.
Switching Costs – AKA think carefully before you sell good assets
I have assets in my portfolio that I would not buy at today’s prices. Financial theory tells me I should sell these assets.
- I have zero confidence in my ability to predict the future.
- If I sell assets then I pay taxes and commissions.
- After selling, I have to figure out where to put the capital.
- I doubt any “new” plan will be better than my current plan, which is simple and low-cost.
Release yourself from constant optimization => good enough is good enough.
Put your efforts into being a better version of yourself.