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My Life as a Client: A DIYer Finds a Balance


I’ve always had an interest in financial markets. I asked my parents to get a satellite dish in our backyard when I was in high school and dabbled in trading futures during the 90’s. Didn’t do super well, but I found it very interesting. I got to know my parent’s advisor, who became a family friend. I wanted to be a stock broker at one point.

I didn’t have any money to invest until I was in my late 20’s. It was in the mid-2000’s, and I sold a home when the market was really strong. It yielded me some assets. So, around 2010, I went back to that same advisor, the family friend. He was with a big firm at that point.

It went well at first. But after a while, I started wondering why I wasn’t beating the market, if I was paying those fees. An advisor ought to generate better results than I can do on my own. He’s driving a Maserati and living in a nice house, so it looked like he understood how to make money. He should be able to help me. He’d tell me that I needed to be patient and it would take time. And he’d show me his track record.

I realized what he was doing was a lot of churning. And I also didn’t have a lot of control over the investments. He took his clients’ assets and aggregated them all in different things together, and I’d get a slice of that pie.

He made that totally clear from the beginning. But the more I thought about it, the more it didn’t make sense to me. After two years, I ended up terminating the relationship and tried to manage my investments myself, buying and selling individual stocks. Still, I struggled. I read some books about growth stocks, and what I learned made sense to me, but I could never quite put it into practice. Volatility would get the best of me. I’d sell low and buy high. I didn’t have the stomach for it and ended up putting most of my money in cash.

About a year later, I met an individual through my website business. He was an independent advisor, ran a one or two-man show. I shared my experiences with him, and I learned he put together a portfolio based on each client’s needs. So, I moved my accounts with him to Fidelity. It all sounded like a better fit for me.

He was super nice guy. Yet, we weren’t beating the market. And I was still paying a percentage of assets. That started to rub me the wrong way. The guy made money whether I did or not. I kept thinking if I were in an index fund, I’d be doing better. And if I needed to get some money out, it felt like I had to ask his permission. It’s my money, I don’t need hand holding.

After 18 to 24 months, I ended that relationship and switched to a robo advisor. They were just coming on the market then. It was reasonably worthwhile. There was the attraction of lower fees. That worked out ok.

But I ended up leaving that robo advisor and consolidating everything with Schwab. That was partly because they came out with a robo advisor with the ability for us to talk to a human financial advisor at a local branch and also had low fees. At that point, I was in my early 40’s, the sole income provider with a wife and five kids. If something were to happen to me, my wife could call Schwab and meet with someone. That would be better than being completely in the cloud.

Around 2019, I left the robo advisor, but stayed with Schwab, and started shifting more into index funds and ETFs in general. I was assigned an account rep who I talk to about account management matters. And I did more research into different investment models. I now do a monthly sector rotation. Sometimes I move into different ETFs if it makes sense. Sometimes I don’t. That improves my results a little. And, I’ve learned to manage my reaction to market volatility. On down days, I just don’t look at my portfolio. I’ve found a balance that works for me.

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