Most people must rely on the power of smaller, regular investments from work income to build up their retirement nest egg. In the latest Sound Investing email, Paul Merriman shared a new Lifetime Investment Calculator that helps you see how these gradual investments (dollar-cost averaging) would have added up during various periods, using actual historical returns from 1970 to 2020.

I’ve already tried to illustrate how regular investments of $250 or $500 a month can add up over time. But instead of having to manually gather performance numbers from a Vanguard Target Retirement fund in a spreadsheet, this fancier calculator lets you adjust many more variables. You can choose different asset allocations, stock/bond ratio, investment amounts, and so on. Importantly, the calculator uses actual historical returns, so you can see what would happen if you invested through the 2001 dot-com bust, 2008 financial crisis, and so on.

You can start the sequence of returns from any of the 51 years to replicate your financial picture as if your decisions were available in the past. For example, you could simulate the role of luck by starting or ending your journey in a bull or bear market. It is not a financial planning calculator per se, nor meant to be a complete planning tool, but it allows you to customize both growth (accumulation) and distribution phases based on your personal timeline and investments.

If you aren’t familiar with Paul Merriman, he is an advocate of adding a bit of complexity to index fund portfolios via additional exposure to smaller and value-oriented companies. For a test run, I went for the “Ultimate Buy and Hold Worldwide (70% US/30% International)” portfolio, alongside a simple S&P 500 portfolio.

Here is $10,000 invested every year for 15 years, with small ~3% increases each year with inflation (ideally corresponding with a higher paycheck), starting in 2005:

Here is $10,000 invested every year for 15 years, with small ~3% increases each year with inflation (ideally corresponding with a higher paycheck), starting in 2000:

Here is $10,000 invested every year for 15 years, with small ~3% increases each year with inflation (ideally corresponding with a higher paycheck), starting in 1995:

You can see that an internationally-diversified portfolio may not be the best in some periods, but it also may not be the worst in others. (I admit I am a bit confused as to why the performance numbers for any given year are slightly different for each test run, perhaps someone out there can explain that to me.)

Even in the 1995-2010 period that contained both the 2001 dot-com bust and the 2008 financial crisis, your ending balance would still have ended up much higher than your total contributions with the internationally-diversified portfolio.

“The editorial content here is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone. This email may contain links through which we are compensated when you click on or are approved for offers.”

Real-World Smoothing Effects of Regular Investments (Dollar Cost Averaging) from My Money Blog.


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