Seven Stages of Grief: Google Finance Portfolios Feature Discontinued

“Google Finance is under renovation. As a part of this process, the Portfolios feature won’t be available after mid-November 2017. To keep a copy, download your portfolio.”

Stage 1: Shock and Denial

This cannot be. I track all my Robinhood stocks through the Google Finance portfolio feature. Google would not remove one of the most useful features when it comes to monitoring finance, right? I continued on as if everything was normal for a few weeks. Maybe it would just be renovated and temporarily unavailable.

Stage 2: Pain and Guilt

I check Google Finance every day. The beige rectangle of doom was not going away. I slowly realized the portfolio section was going to be discontinued – not just renovated. It was difficult to imagine visualizing my Robinhood account without Google Finance. I love sorting my holdings to see what I am most invested in and where I might invest more.

Those days were coming to an abrupt end.

Stage 3: Anger and Bargaining

Ugh! Who made this decision? Aren’t they going to lose all their users? I wanted to lash out. Maybe I could just wait and see what the new Google Finance had to offer? Aside from “renovation,” there’s no description of what the new Google Finance will offer or look like. I didn’t want to wait around to find out.

Stage 4: Depression, Reflection, and Loneliness

It’s fully sunken in. My favorite way of tracking my stocks will be gone, and soon. I remember my first foray into stocks back in 2008. I could look up any stock and quickly see its performance. The layout was so clean and easy to navigate for a beginner like me. Even today in 2017, the layout is very unchanged. It’s simple, clean, and while it doesn’t offer as many functions as other sites, it is my favorite to use. I will miss Google Finance.

Stage 5: The Upward Turn

Maybe this will push me to explore other options. I love my tracking spreadsheet I’ve come up with, but what was I missing besides basic price movements? I got a bit excited and checked out some other options.

Stage 6: Reconstruction and Working Through

I’m at step 6 as I write this. I checked out a few alternatives and decided to transfer my Google Finance portfolio over to Morningstar. I’ll detail this process below, but so far I am enjoying what they have to offer (for free!) and I believe I duplicated what I had at Google Finance.

Stage 7: Acceptance and Hope

It’s going to be a sad day for many people when Google Finance Portfolios shuts down. Maybe it will be back in the future. Whatever Google Finance is doing, I imagine it is going to be a massive upgrade and improvement. It seems a bit secretive, but I can’t wait to see what Google Finance unveils.

Meanwhile, Morningstar (and other services) offer some great tools. As a dividend growth investor, I’m already in love with some of the Morningstar features, such as 1-, 3-, and 5-year dividend growth rates displayed next to all my stocks! At the same time, I’m excited for Google – one of the most innovative companies in history – to revamp their finance page.

Transferring From Google Finance to Morningstar

There are a number of alternatives to Google Finance. Yahoo Finance, Sharesite, SigFig, and Wikinvest are a few.

Yahoo Finance has so many ads. I couldn’t imagine trying to load it on my phone (or on my computer).

Sharesight seems to charge to track more than 10 stocks in a portfolio. I tried importing my Googe Finance portfolio to Sharesight and got this message:

Can not draw information for British American Tobacco (BTI)

This might have a solution, but I decided to move on from Sharesight and look at other options.

Morningstar looked promising. I already use Morningstar for information on ETFs and mutual funds, but I’ve never made an account. I registered, chose the basic (free) option, and began to import my .csv Google Finance portfolio.

I ran into some vague error message when importing my portfolio into Morningstar. What worked was rearranging the columns into “Symbol, Date, Action, Shares, Price.” I then wrote a formula to combine these values into a comma-separate format.

Check out the formula if you’d like to duplicate this process. Then copy/paste all cells in the F column into a notepad file, and save as .csv. Morningstar will ask you to identify the columns. Voila!

If you do a “My View,” you can pick from a long list of information to see in column format.

Morningstar does everything I used to do with Google Finance. I just want a simple column layout of all my holdings, and the ability to enter new purchases when I make them. I’m loving the 1-, 3-, and 5-year columns. I’m already seeing stocks that I wouldn’t mind adding to in the future.

What about the mobile format?

Morningstar looks exactly the same on mobile as it does on a computer. It moves smoothly, sorts the columns, zooms in/out, and does everything I need.

Morningstar also has a mobile app. The app doesn’t bring in your “My View” portfolio columns, but it does let you customize it with all the same variables. No real loss, just redundant work to set it up. I will probably stick to the web version.

So far I’m enjoying Morningstar, and that must mean I’m working towards acceptance and hope, fully through the grieving process for Google Finance portfolios.

Should You Make 401(k) Contributions if There is no Match?

We all know to pay off debt and build an emergency fund. Usually, the next step is to maximize any available 401(k) match.

I turned off all 401(k) contributions after losing my company match

Life always come up and it’s easy to neglect the 401(k). I work in the energy industry which has been in a downturn for over two years. My employer quickly halted the company match on the 401(k). This was disappointing, but I knew there would be tough times ahead.

At the same time, I had also recently bought a house in a high cost-of-living area. I used a piggy back 80-10-10 loan and planned to quickly pay it off in less than five years.

Along with other unexpected expenses that come along with buying a house, my budget was rocked. I was still paying into my 401(k) with 0% company match. I decided to discontinue all 401(k) contributions and redirect them towards my house.

Now two years later, I have payed off my piggyback 80-10-10 loan. I refinanced my mortgage and lowered my interest payment substantially. I built up my emergency fund and things seemed pretty great. I wasn’t paying into my 401(k) at all, but with no company match, I didn’t think I should.

I was leaving money on the table

Meanwhile, I caught on to dividend growth investing and began saving/contributing in a regular, taxable stock trading account. My account grew and grew, but I had a nagging voice in my head that I wasn’t doing something right.

It was time to revisit my 401(k). Fewer investment options and no company match were not appealing to me. However, my whole dividend growth investment strategy was geared toward building an income stream of dividends. I realized the available 401(k) funds paid dividends too.

The tax advantages would be very small though, right? My taxable dividend income would only be taxed at a low 15%. If my overall portfolio dividend yield is 3.0%, taxes biting 15% out of that would be almost negligible.

There are good reasons to pay taxes and not contribute to a 401(k). If someone was saving up for a house down payment or expected large expenses, a taxable account allows withdrawal any time without penalties.

I already had a house, and I already had an emergency fund built up. I had no excuses. I had to do the responsible thing for my own self and begin my 401(k) contributions again.

In the past, I contributed to a 401(k) and never looked at that money again. This time around, I check my account after each pay period. Tracking my progress keeps me inspired. I am contributing less now to my taxable stock account, but I am fortunate to be maxing out my 401(k) limit. There’s still no company 401(k) match, and I don’t expect one any time soon. The good news is that my account (and my future income stream) is growing slightly faster thanks to the portion that is growing tax-free in my 401(k).

Looking at the numbers

Let’s look at an example.

Let’s say I contribute $1,000 to my 401(k), and my friend contributes $1,000 to his regular taxable stock account. Let’s also say we both get 3% in annual dividend yield and we both reinvest our dividends. Only he has to pay 15% tax on his dividends received, so he reinvests a little less than I can.

After the first year, my account grew $30 and his grew $25. $5 is hardly any difference he says, and he also likes having immediate access to that money if he were to need it.

The years go on and no one makes any additional investments. The dividends are reinvested and both accounts grow. My taxable friend has grown his initial $1,000 into a nice $1,614 after 20 years. He wants to know how I am doing.

I reached $1,605 after 17 years. I can get almost a 3-year head start on him in retirement!

Or, I can keep my money in for 20 years like he is doing. After year 20, my original investment will pay $53/year in dividends, and his will pay $41/year in dividends.

That fraction of a fraction of a percent really adds up when it comes to multi-year growth and reinvestment. Everyone’s situation is different, but I’m glad I am catching up on 401(k) investments this year and hope to max it out every year.

I haven’t even mentioned one of the biggest 401(k) benefits. I was able to deduct that original $1,000 investment from my taxable income that year. Even without considering the initial tax write-off, or a company match, the 401(k) outperforms regular taxable investing after a number of a years.

Playing 401(k) Catch-Up

Photo by Dafne Cholet

I started 2017 with no 401(k) contributions

Since focusing on retirement saving a year ago, I’ve aimed to maximize my tax-sheltered options. My company provides a 401(k) with no match. I can still benefit from it in the form of a huge tax deduction up front along with tax-free dividend growth within the account.

I had lots of room to improve my saving habits. My company discontinued my 401(k) match a few years ago around the same time I bought my house. I discontinued my 401(k) contributions for a period of time. I only decided to resume 401(k) contributions in April of 2017 (this year).

My income allows me to max out my 401(k). In April, I set my employee 401(k) contribution to $1,500 per month, which would come out to the IRS maximum of $18,000 per year.

At this point, I gave myself a huge pat on the back

Great job, Mr. Dividend Dozer. I was now contributing what I thought was the maximum I could. Four months went by and I felt great about my discipline in saving. And then in August, I realized I was not actually maxing out my 401(k). In fact, I would have been leaving over $4,000 of potential tax-deductible investments on the table.

Realizing another beginner mistake

After realizing I did not max out my Roth IRA for 2016, I am glad I realized my 401(k) mistake while I still had time to correct it. I only began contributions in April. Contributing $1,500/month amounts to $18,000 over twelve months, but I only had April-December to work with for 2017.

I bumped my monthly contribution to $2,466 for the last half of August through the end of the year. My 2017 401(k) will be maxed out. I’ll have to contribute less to my taxable accounts, but this is another step towards financial independence. When 2017 is over, I can scale back my 401(k) contributions to $1,500 per month. I look forward to that! It might be painful now, but I will be happy to maximize another one of my 2017 tax-sheltered accounts.

 

My Beginner Mistakes

Mistakes – I’ve had a few! Since I decided to get serious about investing, I went through a range of strategies. I jumped in with very little experience and learned along the way. A lot of these are good strategies, but I just didn’t execute them well. Or they may just not fit my liquidity/risk/other needs. Let’s see what didn’t work so well for me.

Value Investing

This one seemed obvious. Pick stocks that appear undervalued by the market. Only one problem – I had no informational advantage over the market. Yes, there are indicators (low P/E, for example). “This is easy!” I thought.

I didn’t put enough work into evaluating these companies. I was essentially guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar at a carnival. My individual guess would surely be too many or too few jelly beans. And most likely, the average of everyone’s guess (the market) would be nearly correct. Why did I think I was smarter than the market as a whole? Lesson learned.

I now consider a stock’s value to be reflect everyone’s guess at that moment

Picking the Bottom and Timing the Market

This one seemed too easy. I’m embarrassed to say I thought this was a viable strategy at one point. Find a volatile stock and time the purchase at a low point in value. I loved 52-week lows. How could it possibly not go up?

It’s commonly referred to as “catching a falling knife.” And, my good friend described it as “running in front of a train to pick up a nickel off the train tracks.” If only I had heard these phrases earlier. There is something to be said about momentum. Another lesson learned.

Looking at historic returns for any long-term market period gives me comfort. As long as I hold a long-term view, I am perfectly comfortable adding to my positions even at all-time highs.

Real Estate

I am sure I will come back to this one often in my life. I’m still on the fence about it. I’d love to hear more arguments for and against it.

Pros:

  • Potentially high initial return on investment
  • Easy to secure leverage
  • Steady monthly income when occupied

Cons:

  • Unpredictable expenses
  • Unpredictable tenants
  • Continuously hands on
  • Can not access capital easily on short notice
  • Requires large investment for a single product
  • Lack of interesting available properties in my local area (Denver)

I still like the idea of collecting rent. I have seen it work out marvelously. But, there is something to be said about investing in stocks and collecting dividends almost entirely hands-off.

My original jump into dividend investing was funded with my savings intended for a property. I realized I could save for a few more years to have enough for a down payment, or start making returns on my money now. I still believe I could collect a higher monthly return with a rental property, but for now I am enjoying completely passive investments.

Picking Individual Stocks

It’s really fun to pick an individual stock and imagine hitting it big after 20 or 30 years. I’ve accumulated about 42 stocks I like. I have seven of my early picks marked to sell eventually and shift into my dividend growth strategy, so that will leave 35 core holdings.

Going back to the jelly bean example – I no longer try to pick the exact number of jelly beans when I buy a stock. I might buy at its all-time high, and I might pay less attention to some fundamentals as long as I believe it is a good prospect.

But, lately I’ve been listening more to people I consider patient, smart investors. Low-cost ETFs are like looking at the average of everyone’s guess at the number of jelly beans in the jar. It’s boring, but so far my individual stock picks are performing the same as my total market fund. My goal is to add to my total market fund until my taxable account is one half stock picks, and one half total market ETF.

Lessons Learned

So, I no longer think I am smarter than the overall market. I don’t pretend to know when a stock is at its bottom. Real estate is still intriguing, but is probably for another time for me. And, the easiest, most hands-off investing style at all may be to just keep adding to a total market ETF as if it was a savings account. For the first time, I feel like I’m figuring out how to do this!

 

Nine Months Into Dividend Investing – Where I’m At

I’ve always considered myself a good saver, but had fallen off the tracks a bit in the last few years. A side comment made by a friend at a party flipped a switch in my brain and my wallet, and I’ve been aggressively learning, saving, and investing since.

Starting a blog

I’m excited to share in the hopes it may help other people. I want:

  • Accountability
  • A recorded history
  • Inspiration for future me

My background

I turned 34 in 2017. I got a degree in engineering when I was 22. I spent the next six years pursuing everything except engineering. I sporadically saved a few thousand dollars in a Roth IRA during this time.

At 28, I finally succumbed and have been in a steady and lucrative engineering position since. At times, I’ve maxed out my 401k. Other times, I haven’t contributed a single dollar. At the same time, I purchased a house and managed to effectively put 20% down. I also took a five-month self-paid sabbatical. I’m excited to expand on some of these things in upcoming blog posts.

A light bulb goes on

I often thought retirement was not in my future. I had a year’s salary or so saved up in retirement accounts at the age of 33. Assuming I live until 85, I figured that meant I could retire when I turned 84. It seemed dim.

And that was when I mentioned my lackluster investment experiences to a group of friends. One of them looked at me and said, “Let’s talk.”

I never actually did talk to him. Instead, I started a $6,000 brokerage account and picked about 12 companies that I believed were undervalued based on a free stock screener.

The next six months were a learning process. I contributed more as time went on, I chased high yield, or in some cases, recently discontinued dividend companies. I was a blind mouse trying to go through a maze.

I discovered dividend growth investing

I eventually stumbled onto a blog that chronicled steady, growing dividends. The author described exchanging $1,000 to buy a low yield, fast-growing dividend stock. Every $1,000 would generate around $30 of yearly income for the rest of his life. The idea clicked with me.

I refocused on companies with a dependable, growing dividend. I also re-evaluated my earlier stock choices and made a few adjustments.

Now that I had a strategy, I began taking advantage of my available tax-sheltered accounts, and warmed up to the idea of mutual funds and ETFs in addition to individual stocks.

My current standing

A sizable percentage of my take-home pay now goes into my retirement accounts. I envision replacing my salary with dividend income. At that point, I will be able to choose whether to keep working, take another sabbatical, retire, or do whatever I want! That’s my definition of financial freedom.

For now, I reinvest all dividends. Each contribution I make speeds up my process. I’m glad I figured it out now rather than later, and I actually get enjoyment out of buying a good company. Follow along on my progress as time goes on!

I hope to hear from others, and I enjoy reading other peoples’ progress as well.

Dividend Dozer