In order to understand your investments, you need to put all of your investments on a single page. Most people have their data in various locations, such as Quicken or in other financial planning tools. However, few have them organized into a single view so that they can see the key variables at a glance. This is very important and here is how you can do it.
There are a few key elements to every investment. For the purpose of this blog post, I am massively simplifying investing and if you have a complicated portfolio you should likely see a professional. But everyone can benefit from attempting to put these elements on a single page.
The first thing you have to do is go and find all of your investments. This is often far harder than you would think. Let’s look at some of the common elements:
- Brokerage statement – if you have stocks and bonds and cash in a firm like Fidelity, Vanguard, eTrade, your band, etc… pull that out and get the detail
- IRA / 401(k) – as you switch jobs, you will accumulate IRA’s and 401(k)’s with different employers (unless you consolidate them, which I recommend). Pull all of these out, as well
- Bank – you will need your bank statement, for your balances in checking / savings / money market
- Stock apps – if you have (significant) stock in apps for trading, you need that information as well
- ESPP / Options – if you have employer stock or options that are in the money or restricted stock, you should include that too
- Deferred compensation – if you have any other form of deferred compensation, find those documents, and you also should determine what is vested
- Government debt – many people have treasuries or other types of government bonds that they own or were gifted
- Insurance / annuities – these get more complicated but if you have significant investments in these types of assets you should get them out, as well
- Land / Debt / Mortgage – this author is not an expert on debt / mortgages but you should include at least the net value as real estate here
- Crypto – if you have crypto that is significant, you should include that as well
Once you have all this information, you need to classify it a few ways. These include:
- pre tax or post tax – it is important to classify assets as pre or post tax. Your pre tax investments are effectively “overstated” because at some point they will (likely) need to “wash” through and become taxed
- By type of investment – you can get as detailed as you’d like but at a minimum I generally use “cash like”, “investment grade bonds”, “US equities”, “non-US equities”, “gold”, “real estate”, “other”. If you have a concentration in a particular stock, add that stock specifically (could be your employer, your ESPP, you have options with them, etc…) if it is more than 2% or so of your portfolio
- By ticker – ideally, when you get the information together, get the specific “ticker” such as VTI for the vanguard ETF or the specific stock ticker. There also are tickers for most mutual funds. If you are in a proprietary fund, they still will have some sort of unique identifier, try to get that, because you can use it to track your # of shares, price per share, and then categorize the investment
- For the sake of this analysis, I am assuming that you are “dollar based”. If you are based in a foreign currency, you also need to add what currency it is based in because moves in that currency vs. the dollar will be a very significant variable
When you have this information, you need to put it down into a spreadsheet (ideally a google sheet, so that you can auto-update it by price or update the ones such as proprietary investments periodically), and look at it and see if it makes sense.
When people look at the stocks that they are considering for investing, it really only makes sense in the total context of their portfolio. If you have a lot of cash or cash like investments elsewhere, then you can consider a higher portion of your stocks being “in the market” (and at risk). But you can only do this if you first put it all down on a sheet of paper (or in a spreadsheet).
Once you do this, ideally you would quarterly calculate your “net worth” (for this purpose, your debt is “net” on real estate and I’m not considering other forms of debt like student debt or credit card debt, but you can add that in as an offset) and physically look at it. Once you gather all the investments together, looking at this quarterly is not as difficult as you’d expect, but the first time is harder. Not only would you know your net worth, but you would be able to see at a glance your position in cash, investment grade debt, equities, etc… at a glance which is a critical part of the equation.