We all know it’s important to save money for the future. But many people are afraid to invest. It looks complicated, and they don’t know who to trust. That’s why some people stockpile money in savings accounts and CDs. Others (the really quirky ones) stuff dollar bills into mattresses and empty jam jars. But this is like trying to fill a bathtub without the drain plug.
Let me explain. Every year, the cost of goods and services keeps going up. That’s inflation’s curse. Over the past three years, U.S. inflation averaged about 2 percent per year. That’s low, by historical standards. But it still takes a bite. For example, imagine a series of goods and services that cost $100 in 2016. Today, those same goods and services would cost more than $106, if the prices matched inflation.
Savings account interest rates didn’t keep up. Over the past ten years, inflation also spanked most CDs. That means the money in savings accounts and CDs lost some buying power. After inflation, they didn’t earn money.
To beat inflation, investors should prepare to take some risk. That means investing in the stock and bond markets. The stock market is never stable. But over the past 46 years, U.S. stocks have had just 11 losing years. A $10,000 investment in the average U.S. stock in January 1972 would have grown to $977,721 by January 31, 2019.
But that doesn’t mean you need to find a favorite stock. It’s smart to diversify. In other words, you need to put eggs in different baskets. That reduces risk, and sometimes, it can even juice returns.
It’s easy to do with a portfolio of low-cost index funds. However, most financial advisors don’t want you to own index funds. After all, low-cost indexes don’t pay them commissions or trailer fees. That’s why most advisors prefer actively managed funds. They pad advisors’ pockets. But indexes beat most actively managed products. And the few actively managed funds that beat index funds rarely repeat their winning ways. Yesterday’s winner, for example, often becomes tomorrow’s loser.
You might have heard about index funds before. But plenty of people ask, “How do I buy these things?” Fortunately, investors can choose from several firms that will build them diversified portfolios of low-cost indexes. They include companies like AssetBuilder, Betterment and Wealthfront.
Each company has its pros and cons. Betterment, for example doesn’t have an account minimum. Wealthfront’s account minimum is just $500. In contrast, AssetBuilder’s account minimum is $50,000. But AssetBuilder builds portfolios with a different type of index. They use funds from Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA). These are index fund hybrids with a history of strong performance. Their portfolios are based on Eugene Fama’s research– a 2013 Nobel Prize winner in Economics.
Other investors choose Vanguard, a firm that has offered low-cost index funds since 1976. Some of the company’s best products include their Target Retirement funds. These are complete portfolios of indexes, wrapped up into single funds. Plenty of people ask how to purchase such products. A Vanguard representative can help with the process. But such representatives can’t advise on tax-deferred accounts or provide financial planning advice for clients with less than $50,000.
This is where PlanVision might fill the void. A few weeks ago, a Fortune magazine journalist interviewed me about Mark Zoril, an industry enigma. As PlanVision’s founder, he offers investment guidance and financial planning for just $96 a year. I had profiled Mark Zoril on my website in 2015. Over the past few years, I’ve met several investors who gush about his service.
Mark Zoril doesn’t run an investment firm. But the Minnesotan shows investors how to navigate investment websites. He advises people on investment allocation, tax-deferred plans, and he teaches them how to invest on their own. In fact, he might be the best-known advisor in the world. In 2017 and 2018, I spoke in more than 14 different countries, delivering more than 150 talks. I was shocked to find his clients at almost every venue.
This isn’t to say that you need PlanVision, or any of the firms above. But if you’re new to investing, and you want a portfolio of index funds, poke around these options. After all, they each offer low-cost, evidence-based approaches. And unlike a savings account or a CD, over a long time period, they should trounce inflation.
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller, Millionaire Teacherand Millionaire Expat: How To Build Wealth Living Overseas