My Investment Portfolio: 2024

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The past year was a good one for most investors. All of the holdings in my retirement portfolio were up, many of them by double digits. Stock funds were the stars, but my bond funds did decently, gold posted a strong year, and even cash got into the act with measurable returns.

By contrast, 2022 was a sobering year for investors and early retirees. My conservative and diversified retirement portfolio lost 17.7%. It was the second-worst performance in almost twenty years of tracking my investments. What a difference a year makes.

Stock certificates

If you’re a seasoned investor, you are not surprised. Bad years in the stock market are often followed by good ones, and vice-versa. You know that when building wealth, it’s performance over the long haul, measured in decades, that matters.

Having the temperament to ride out stock market cycles is critical. Fluctuations are inevitable. But realized losses—from speculative investments or selling at lows—are not.

My investing mentor Richard Young taught me years ago that when you lose in the stock market, you must do even better to make it back. The math is not on your side. A 10% loss requires an 11% gain somewhere else to break even. A 20% loss requires a 25% gain. So, avoid taking losses!

As a retiree living off assets, caution is always advised. I’ve been in a defensive posture for most of my investing life, holding a roughly equal stock and bond asset allocation.

Read on for my annual portfolio performance report….

Current Holdings

My investment philosophy has not changed this year, nor have my holdings. The big picture is that I still have a small number of low-cost mostly index funds in a familiar asset allocation:

FundSymbol(s)Expense Ratio% of Portfolio2023 Return
Vanguard Wellesley IncomeVWIAX0.16%41.4%7.1%
Vanguard FTSE Social Index FundVFTAX0.14%12.8%31.8%
Schwab International Equity ETFSCHF0.06%10.7%18.3%
Schwab Intermediate-Term U.S. Treasury ETFSCHR0.03%9.5%4.3%
Schwab U.S. TIPS ETF SCHP0.03%8.1%3.9%
Vanguard LifeStrategy Moderate GrowthVSMGX0.13%6.8%15.5%
SPDR Gold SharesGLD0.40%5.0%12.7%
digital currencies5.1%99.4%
cash0.7%4%
OVERALL0.11%13.9%

(Note: Portfolio percentages are as of 12/29/2023. Overall return is not necessarily a weighted average of individual returns, because holdings can change slightly during the year.)

Overall, my portfolio is currently allocated about 43% in stocks, 46% in bonds, 10% in gold and digital currencies, and 1% in cash, taking into account the actual reported cash holdings in all of my funds. (The cash return stated in the table above is approximate. I don’t have a simple way to average my different cash holdings.)

NOTE: My seemingly very small cash position is just an artifact of some end-of-the-year money moves. I kept more cash than that on hand during the year.

Of the stocks, 31% is international. (Taking into account the actual reported international holdings in all of my funds, not just in those funds labeled “International.”) I’m OK with a significant allocation to international as a diversification away from potential long-term economic woes in the U.S. related to debt.

Purchases and Sales

My investment activity these days is driven by our retirement income needs.

The positions I sold to cover our retirement living expenses—mostly in the first half of the year—were a hodgepodge. I didn’t have a strong sense of stock vs. bond outperformance, so I sold equal amounts of Schwab Intermediate-Term U.S. Treasury and International Equity.

Those sales, coming from a traditional retirement account, are taxable. So I keep an eye on the realized income and the proximate tax brackets, especially toward the end of the year. So far, I’ve been successful at keeping us in the 12% marginal tax bracket.

In keeping with my theme of divesting from digital currencies, I also sold some Bitcoin early in the year. And in keeping with my theme of simplifying my retirement life, I sold the smaller of our two camper vans. I even turned a small profit on it over what I paid for it new in 2019, illustrating the fluctuations in supply and demand at work in the auto market these days.

I didn’t buy any securities during the year.

Retirement Income

In my experience, needs and markets fluctuate year to year and I’d rather respond to those conditions than blindly follow a mechanical withdrawal strategy. Though studying systematic retirement withdrawal strategies is useful as an academic exercise, to understand how your money will last under different conditions.

In the long run, I’m aiming to consolidate all our investments in one or two Vanguard balanced funds. Liquidating those will then be a simple, one-dimensional decision that takes the stock vs. bond variable off my plate. That’s probably a good thing.

As I wrote here last month, I’ve become disenchanted with annuities. The main issues are the presence of fees and complexity and the lack of inflation adjustment. All of which underlines the question: When you buy an annuity, what will you actually get down the road?

With inflation recently at a several-decade high, am I willing to gamble that an annuity purchased now will hold its purchasing power over the decades remaining in our lives? In my experience, the stock market provides more reliable growth and inflation protection over long periods.

Recently, it appears that inflation may be cooling a bit. However, philosophically speaking, I expect inflation and shortages to be part of our life going forward. The world is more crowded than ever, with more and more wealth competing for limited resources. That seems like a recipe for rising prices to me.

Alternative Investments

I’ve owned gold (ETF GLD) as a small portion of my portfolio for many decades now and not regretted it. It’s both grown in value and been an effective diversifier for me. It was a relatively strong performer again this year.

There are good arguments both for and against gold. But in my view, you hold it for the bad times. In general, if gold is going up, I know that the stock market is probably going down.

My small digital currency position had an astounding year after last year’s trouncing, hence the relatively large representation in my portfolio. But I don’t think crypto currencies have any role in the average retirement portfolio. My advice is to ignore such speculations unless you have some related expertise!

(If you do have expertise in some domain—I was a software engineer—I see no harm in small speculations on the side. Just don’t invest more than you can afford to lose!)

I long ago booked enough crypto profits to be on the winning side of that bet. Now the crypto space has attracted a horde of speculators and con artists. At this point, I’m pessimistic about digital currencies ever playing a useful role in the economy.

Overall Returns

My overall investment return for 2023 was 13.9%. That compares to 15.5% for the Vanguard LifeStrategy Moderate Growth Fund (VSMGX)—a possible benchmark for my balanced portfolio that holds about 60% stocks and 40% bonds.

The geometric mean of my returns going back for the 19 years I’ve closely tracked them now is at 6.5%. That’s a respectable average for a conservative portfolio in these times, including the 2008-2009 Great Recession.

And how about you? How did your portfolio fare in 2023?

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[The founder of CanIRetireYet.com, Darrow Kirkpatrick relied on a modest lifestyle, high savings rate, and simple passive index investing to retire at age 50 from a career as a civil and software engineer. He has been quoted or published in The Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch, Kiplinger, The Huffington Post, Consumer Reports, and Money Magazine among others. His books include Retiring Sooner: How to Accelerate Your Financial Independence and Can I Retire Yet? How to Make the Biggest Financial Decision of the Rest of Your Life.]

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27 Comments

  1. I know Darrow is now only a “contributor” to his formerly great site, and won’t reply to comments.
    But I’m baffled to see that he still remains in mutual funds, selling assets to fund his retirement and perhaps taking the unpredictable fund distributions in cash.
    For over a decade now, I’ve been transforming my portfolio into an income generator. Dividend growth stocks and preferred stocks now give me a cash flow from my taxable portfolio almost equal to my salary (I’m still working because I enjoy the work, but could have easily retired several years ago). I should never need to actually sell anything to cover living expenses.
    Honestly, I thought that was what everyone did. It’s low risk and easy to manage.

    1. Larry,

      Your strategy of living only off of portfolio income makes sense and essentially eliminates the risk of running out of money in retirement if you have a large enough portfolio to live only off of portfolio income. Most people do not have large enough portfolios to do this. As you note yourself, you could have “easily retired several years ago” but you have not. This is why you can implement this strategy, at least theoretically.

      Regarding the idea of building and managing a portfolio of dividend growth and preferred stocks being “low risk and easy to manage,” I would respectfully disagree with both of those assertions for most investors. Here is Darrow’s balanced take on the pros and cons of a dividend focused approach to investing from years ago when this site was still great.

      Best,
      Chris

      1. That article is from the good old days of 2014. It has no comments, so either I hadn’t found the site yet (or I certainly would have replied, having started my dividend investing in about 2012), or maybe all the comments got purged at some point. He’s basically talked himself out of even trying a dividend-based approach. I disagree with him on most points: that it’s too hard, too time-consuming, too risky. A planner analyzed my portfolio awhile back and concluded that I had a S&P500 index fund with a strong bias toward income. I said “Yes, I know.”

        1. Can you provide some links to easy ways to generate a living off dividend and preferred stocks? Thanks

      1. Even so, they are not managed to provide steady predictable distributions. I still own funds that I purchased mostly in the 80’s and 90’s, and while their distributions usually add a healthy kick to my solid and predictable stock dividends… sometimes they don’t.

  2. Chris,
    Thank Darrow for me. I look forward to his update every year. There is always a good nugget. I wish him many years of good health
    Sincerely
    Tom

  3. I’ve been following your blog since my wife and I began our own experimental early retirement due to an unforeseen layoff nine years ago. While usually remaining a lurker, I wanted to share a one time comment because of the amazing similarities in our situation. Having worked 30 years in the financial services industry (administrative roles only; not licensed to trade or advise), I did all the things you talk about and when I got booted from the industry about 7 years earlier than planned, we took a chance. At ages 50 and 44, we started with $650K in cash (proceeds from selling our 80% paid off house in California) and 675K in investments (80% in IRA rollovers and ROTH’s and one taxable account). We moved to Malaysia then Thailand and lived comfortably on about 40K USD including travel to neighboring countries. We left during the pandemic in 2020 and returned to Canada where we now live. Disclaimer: All our assets except one Canadian retirement account are in USD and we charge all our expenses except rent using a US based credit card. Thanks to Canadian dollar weakness we only about 73 cents for every Canadian dollar. My wife is Canadian and I have permanent residency status We do file taxes every year in both countries because US citizens tax obligations never go away despite residency status and Canada taxes on worldwide income including passive investment income. Neither of us have worked since 2015.

    Having always been a self directed investor, we maintain a relatively simple diversified portfolio with mostly NTF low fee mutual funds, and some occasional ETF’s, BDC’s and an individual stock here and there. Long story short: My portfolio lost in 2022 and gained in 2023 at about exactly the same rate as yours. With only annual or bi-annual asset allocation tweaks and staying abreast of trends in inflation, interest rates and fixed income, our annual yield in 25 years is about 7.5%. Our total portfolio has increased 77% since May, 2015 while the S&P has increased 124.5%. This is even higher than expected given our initial 55/45 strategy (now closer to 30/70 stocks to fixed income and cash). We have yet to touch any of the retirement portfolio assets and generate less than the standard deduction in income for married filing joint taxpayers so we’ve paid zero federal taxes since 2008. In fact, our net worth has gained $380K despite having spent almost $500K over 9 years thanks to prudent but simple investing, smart tax planning and budgeting every penny. Eventually, when age appropriate, we will start a $25K a year pension and my social security can start with 20K annually if we take it age 62 (4 years from now). We then plan on withdrawing about 30 to 40K from the retirement accounts and replacing what we withdraw every year with fixed income distributions.

    I might add that in 2023 I adjusted in time for a sharp interest rate rise by placing about 30% of our fixed income in floating rate short term bank loan mutual funds. As a result, we generated $67K in monthly distributions and made about 8% on these funds, well above what we’d ever need in future years to assure our cash never runs dry. Of course I will tweak back to a more diversified fixed income portfolio once rates modify.

    I encourage any reader who doesn’t have an added advantage of above average financial background through previous employment like me to read and follow your blog every week. And I thank you for helping me stay the course and becoming a real life testimonial to your financial planning that anyone can (and should) follow. Cheers.

  4. Thanks for sharing. I understand the thinking that International stocks may not have the same problems as the USA , but they I can’t really remember a time when they weren’t correlated to us markets. Looking at SCHF vrs SPY going back to 2010 (beginning of SCHF) one can see everytime the us market went down then so did SCHF. As they say when the us sneezes, the world get a cold. Spy has clearly over performed and I would guess 25% of the SPY revenue comes from intl countries anyway. As for the bond or income part, I personally have switched to MYGA’s for a steady return as one can now get 10 yr MYGA’s from insurance companies with a 6 to 6.5 guaranteed return.

  5. Nice to hear from you Darrow! I really enjoy your annual update and it reminds me of the old Lou Rukeyser days when he did the annual year end reviews. As always, your portfolio is sensible and works for you. Our return this year was 15% with a 50/50 mix, but instead of bonds I held half in 5-year CDs that averaged 4.3%. I’m not sure if that was the right way to go, but it seemed sensible. What’s killing us right now is the 20-35% increase in property taxes and insurances. These are adding over $600 a month to our budget, while adding zero value. I didn’t expect that big of increase in a one-year period. Let’s hope it’s a one off and not the new norm. Good health to you and your family! -Ed

  6. You asked, “How did your portfolio fair in 2023”? Well, we ended 2022 with a $1,707,393 balance in our portfolio. We spent $221,881 in 2023. I know, that was a lot. But we purchased a car, remodeled a bathroom, installed 20 400w solar panels on our roof along with 2 Tesla Powerwalls, installed central AC in our house up north (Lead, SD), bought a couple e-bikes, and put down deposits on a couple cruises for 2024. And after all that, including normal routine monthly expenses, our portfolio closed out 2023 with $1,852,950. 8^)

    My spreadsheet calculated our Gross portfolio return (before covering spending) as 17.73%. Our Net return (after covering expenses) was a respectable 4.73%. 8^)

    How’s that?

  7. Four years into retirement. AA 54/26/20
    As of 12/31/23 the portfolio has round-tripped to within $500 of 12/31/21.
    Don’t own any mega-cap tech stocks or cap-weighted funds.
    Using individual dividend payers in taxable with some preferred, BDCS and covered call ETF’s in an IRA for income.
    Thanks for the update Darrow!
    -JT-

  8. Margot (from the Nomad guest blog last May) here. I always appreciate these type of transparent posts. Hello from Canberra, Australia!

    Our net worth increased by 6.8% from $705,470 to $754,069 this past year. We spent a total $150,735 which included purchasing a car ($13K) and paying off our world cruise ($38K). We have paid for ALL of our 2024 lodging now, including 212 days of cruising in 2024.

    We are still spending from our cash bucket, allowing our investments to roll where they will. We have half our money in Thomas Partners (Schwab dividend fund), 45% is in two Schwab Intelligent Investment Portfolios (1 aggressive and 1 conservative) and the rest in speculative stocks for fun (e.g. IONQ, JOBY)

    I started getting Social Security in April. We’ll exhaust our cash reserves/T-bills in 2024 and starting in 2025, will withdraw $30-40K a year from investments. SS accounts for 70% of our expenses in a normal year of spending (e.g. $100K a year including splurge travel).

    some stats about our 2023:
    *We slept in 43 beds in 14 countries (plus Scotland) and 7 cruise ships
    *We cruised a total of 70 days—and thanks to my only vice (blackjack and video poker) 42 of those days were comped by the ships’ casinos.
    *speaking of gambling, the odds favored me this year and I’m AHEAD by $1800. This is not always the case so yippee!
    *We lost glasses in Depoe Bay, OR, my drivers’ license in Lake Stevens, WA, a pair of khakis in Dartford, England, a pillbox and aluminum foil in Els Poblets, Spain and we found a cocaine kit in Aruba.
    *only 1 fall! (Nick took a tumble on the stone steps of Edinburgh).
    * 8 weeks of pet-sitting, took care of one 18-year old cat, two border collies, 2 Heinz variety dogs and 29 Bonsai plants. Not a one died!

    We saw/experienced:
    *BattleBots Live in Las Vegas
    *snorkelling
    *18 Edinburgh Fringe shows, the Royal Tattoo,
    *Hadrian’s Wall
    *two West End shows—Patriots and Cabaret
    *Jeff Foxworthy at the Washington State Fair
    *caught silver salmon in Ketchikan
    *the Halle Orchestra of Manchester in the Royal Albert Hall
    *a Gig Harbor high-school production of Alice in Wonderland,
    *Holy Week processionals in Seville,
    *Nick saw a Duke basketball game in Cameron
    *had our most expenseive meal to date at QuiQue in Denia, Spain (and met QuiQue himself!)
    *Palau de la Musica
    *saw Orlando friends in Barcelona, London, Chester NJ and Blackhawk, CO, saw artist friends in Valencia and Barcelona, Boise friends in Depoe Bay, Crossland HS bestie in Denver, new nomad friends nearly everywhere!
    *human towers
    *family reunions in Mohonk (New Paltz, NY) and Miami and Redwood City, CA
    And a zillion musuems: Miro, Picasso, the Tate, the Sofia, City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Museum of Slavery in Barbados, Montserrat

    *We turned 70 and 75, we bought the last car we’ll probably ever own. Waiting in storage until we return to the States in November 2024 is a 2012 loaded Camry with 50K miles.

    I told Nick I wanted 2024 to be The Year of No Regrets. His response? “You’ll be sorry”. 🙂 🙂

    Live Your Life. Live Your Life. Grab all the joy you can muster in 2024!

    1. Margot,

      You’re definitely packing a lot in! That honestly sounds exhausting to this homebody, but the thing I took from your story last year and that comes through in this post is that you only live once. You two have certainly figured out what you want from your lives and how to make it happen. Kudos!

      My one critique is not from the financial part of my brain, but the physical therapist side. Stay upright! One fall can be one too many.

      All my best,
      Chris

  9. As always I found it enlightening to read Darrow’s end-of-year summary. However, I feel the need to comment on the couple of remarks that implied that the glory days of Can I Retire Yet? are over. At first I was disappointed that Darrow had decided to cut back on his role on the blog, but I quickly realized that Chris admirably filled his shoes, and I especially appreciate his discussion of his parents’ issues and the expertise he brings as a result of his CFP training. I also valued Margot’s end-of-year assessment that included non-financial aspects. As I get further into retirement, I’m less interested in financial yardsticks and more in questions about “How much fun are we having?” and reveling in our many rich friendships and the fact that our adult son and daughter-in-law are successfully launched and still want to spend time with us.

    And I need to thank you, Chris, for your detailed response to my concern about maintaining fitness as a huge part of quality of life. My husband and I took your advice and had VO2 max tests at our closest university. We got valuable information and fitness advice from the process. Many thanks.

    1. Agree with you completely, Elizabeth, Chris has done a great job taking over this site! Still look forward to each new post!

      1. Elizabeth and Rick,

        Thank you both for the kind words. I certainly respect the safety first approach to retirement finances and in an ideal world I think we would all love to completely eliminate the chance of ever running out of money. But in the real world, we can never know for sure. So by being so focused on having ever more money and trying to eliminate every last bit of risk, you can miss out on a lot of life which needs to be acknowledged as a risk of its own. I’ll certainly keep beating that drum.

        Cheers!
        Chris

  10. 2023 was a good year. overall 26% return. For us personally it took about 2 years to recover back to our all-time high balance of Dec 2021. Here’s to onward and upward…. at least for a little while. I think we all deserve a few good market years in a row, don’t you?

    1. Deserve???? That idea can get dangerous. Always hope for the best and prepare for the worst. 🙂

      Best,
      Chris

      1. Yep kinda joking. I did actually do an allocation change increasing our bond mix a bit after going through that downturn. I waited until late 2023 to make the allocation change. Ive been thinking a bit more about risk and volatility now that we’re 2 years into RE. Changing my mindset from accumulation to capital preservation has been challenging.

  11. Darrow, I always look forward to hearing your year end summary on portfolio review. Perhaps a suggestion or aspect that I think would be useful is to slice the portfolio by after tax vs pre-tax accounts. While the returns are the returns, it would give insight and a learning opportunity on how the tax treatment affects “real” return.
    and.. Chris, the site is better than ever and I’m as engaged and interested in all the content you bring. You are also very engaged with the readers.

    1. Jim,

      It was shared in a past post that most or all his investment are in tax-deferred accounts after exhausting taxable accounts to purchase a home. He has also shared previously that he was not convinced that the effort and cost of paying taxes up front weren’t worth doing Roth conversions.

      I personally pay attention to tax rate diversification and was curious how it would play out. So far, it seems good staying in the 12% marginal tax bracket. Hopefully, I can convince him to keep sharing these annual updates as I agree that real life case studies are interesting, with the caveat that everyone’s personal circumstances are different. So even if a decision is right for one household, it may not be right for yours.

      Best,
      Chris

  12. I love this post because while I’m not nearly as financially savvy as you, few are, my investment portfolio is very similar. And that makes me feel very good about where I’m at. I have a few small alt investments but not crypto, at least not yet. Though my walking partner this morning, who is very wealthy, was suggesting I better pay some attention to that sector.

    1. steveark,

      I think this is an interesting area to watch going forward. The approval of ETFs will open this market to many more people. Whether those people will benefit from this development remains to be seen.

      Best,
      Chris

  13. Thanks very much Darrow, as always, for sharing your portfolio and thoughtful reflections on it and the markets!

    I’m curious about which “one or two balanced Vanguard funds” you ultimately plan to simplify to. While you’ve never mentioned it explicitly it seems like you’ve long preferred to kind of equally hedge your bets between an actively-managed, concentrated fund (Wellesley) and passively-managed index funds.

    The LIfeStrategy funds have had mediocre returns for many years now due to their large (40%) allocation to international equities (while their use of hedged international bonds just adds pointless complexity). And of course one pays for that mediocre performance with a high ER and rebalancing costs so high (and so thoroughly out of one’s control) that Vanguard is facing a class-action lawsuit over them. Replacing the LifeStrategy Moderate and the smattering of their tech-heavy ESG fund with Vanguard’s Balanced Index fund VBIAX sure seems like an improvement – though the best risk-adjusted returns by far for the 19 year period you mention would’ve been a dead-simple (albeit unusual) suggestion from Tyler at Portfolio Charts: Wellesley with enough gold to meaningfully offset sequence-of-returns risks (15% being the magic number):

    https://www.portfoliovisualizer.com/backtest-portfolio?s=y&sl=3zytpO37DDLP2Wzo9cHda9

  14. Thanks for sharing yoir portfolio info. How much of this portfolio might be in Roths if any? and if so, what is the allocation you have in Roth? thoughts about any Roth conversion strategies given your low marginal rates?

  15. Darrow thanks again for posting your portfolio and Chris thanks for maintaining this great site.

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