How To Cheaply Build A Diversified Investment Portfolio If You Don’t Have Much Money

Diversity by
Diversity by

The rich get rich by buying appreciating assets like stocks, bonds, real estate, and fine art. They have very diversified investment portfolios.

The people who don't get rich spend their money on depreciating assets. They buy cars they can't comfortably afford instead of using my 1/10th rule for car buying. And, they waste money on things like clothes they only use a few times a year.

It takes discipline doing research on investable assets. This is probably one of the reasons why many people don't even bother. But, investing and building a diversified portfolio are keys to growing wealth.

#1 Excuse: It's Too Hard To Build A Diversified Investment Portfolio

One of the biggest push backs I hear from readers who want to get rich, is that investing is too complicated. People don't like change either, because it takes effort. But anyone can learn how to invest.

And thanks to the boom in fintech companies, investing today is easier than ever. Not only that, fintech companies have made a wide array of investment types accessible to every-day investors. You don't have to be a hedge fund manager or a professional day trader to build a diversified portfolio.

Any novice can open an E-Trade account and the like. Just stay away from RobinHood trading platform.

#2 Excuse: I Can't Afford To Have A Diversified Portfolio

The second most common push back I get from readers is that they don't have enough disposable income to invest. People whine all the time that investing costs too much. In the past, broker commissions might have been a deterrent. But guess what folks – most reputable trading platforms like Fidelity now offer free trades.

And thanks to technology, some brokerages let you buy fractional shares of stocks. Fractional share trading was introduced by Motif Investing, which was acquired by Charles Schwab. Now anyone can afford to buy positions in stocks with 3 and 4 digit share prices.

Not only that, fintech companies have enabled both non-accredited and accredited investors to invest in a wide range of asset types. For example, you can now invest in real estate crowdfunding, farmland investing, fine art, collectibles, and more with just hundreds of dollars instead of millions of dollars.

A Diversified Portfolio Is A Wise Move

I've been encouraging folks to save, invest, earn passive income, and build a diversified portfolio for well over a decade.

It's been a while since I've had to carefully watch my own cash position. But since I spent a lot of money buying a fixer last year, cash flow is tight. I have a goal of rebuilding my liquid cash hoard to $100,000, while also paying off roughly $85,000 in rental mortgage debt. It won't be easy because I don't want to cheat by selling assets to pay off debt.

Despite my debt elimination and savings goals, I want to continue investing in stocks and bonds when I see opportunity. With the recent volatility in the market, I see A TON of opportunity right now. Oil and energy stocks have gotten crushed, but aren't going to zero.

Market darlings such as Tesla, Pandora, GoPro, Yelp, and Lending Club have all taken a beating, and I love all their products and services. Interest rates are moving, providing a tailwind for a couple industries. And I want to invest!

How To Cheaply Invest In A Diversified Portfolio Of Stocks

Common pain point: How do I build a portfolio of stocks at a low price if I don't have a lot of money to invest?

In the past, it used to costs $7.95 to buy or sell a stock online. If you've only got $1,000 to invest, buying a basket of 20 stocks at that rate would cost you 20 X $7.95 = $159. Paying $159 in commissions for a $1,000 portfolio is a whopping 15.9% fee! Even if you had a more chunky $10,000 to invest, $159/$10,000 is still a 1.59% commission. We all know that commissions and fees puts a drag on returns.

But, trading commissions aren't an excuse anymore. Competition in the fintech space has really helped retail investors save a ton of money. Online brokerages offer free trades now.

It doesn't take a lot of money to start investing in stocks folks!

Given the high cost of investing, the following is what happens:

1) Don't bother investing. People who want to invest in a diversified portfolio of stocks, but who don't have a lot of money to invest, end up not investing at all. Savings is important, but buying assets that appreciate over time is the real kicker to generating wealth. Not bothering to invest due to cost and understanding are the two main reasons why people don't invest. It's much easier to spend money on a gourmet meal, a fancy watch, or a nice handbag rather than research and invest in a stock, and then hope it goes up.

2) Go the easy route. People who don't have a lot of money to invest will often end up buying a market index fund or ETF like VYM or SPY. This is not a bad way to go at all. In fact, this is the way to go for 70%+ of your investment portfolio. Low cost index funds and ETFs are about gaining exposure in a risk-adjusted manner. The only downside is that you lose flexibility in exactly what you can invest. For example, SPY is the ETF for the S&P 500 Index. What if you only like 100 companies out of the 500? You're stuck.

3) Invest in a risk inappropriate manner. People who don't have a lot of money to invest may end up investing way more than they should on a particular stock, ETF, or fund because they want to save on commissions. This action can be a penny wise and pound foolish, especially when things go bad. I've been guilty of this and lost thousands of dollars by overallocating into one stock.

If only I had invested in a bunch of different names, I would have lost much less or made money. It just feels like a waste to spend $79 on commissions to buy 10 stocks. But most of the time this isn't an issue anymore. If you're still paying for trade commissions, it's time to switch brokerages!

Related: Reasons For Hiring A Financial Advisor


Thanks to the 270 or so participants in my survey on company loyalty, I took a part-time consulting job with Motif Investing (had a good two year run until end of 2016). I'm lucky to live in San Francisco where there are so many innovative companies in the area. I first heard about them when they won best in show at Finovate 2014. I believed in their value proposition for retail investors, but I wasn't 100% sold until I experienced the pain point of not having the normal amount of money I usually invest in stocks.

There's a great feeling of making money from investing that's hard to explain. There's also a terrible feeling of missing out on investing opportunities that you strongly believe will do well. I was planning on buying Amazon and Netflix before their 4Q2014 results, but I didn't because life got in the way. As a result, I lost out on 12%+ returns. Just in case oil and my favorite tech stocks snap back, I want to participate in the recovery, even if I only invest a much smaller amount that I'm used to.

I'm generally a VERY aggressive investor when it comes to actively investing 20% of my investment portfolio (~80% of my investment portfolio is passively managed and pretty conservative with index funds and structured notes). I'm aggressive because of my experience as a 22 year old who turned $3,000 into $165,000 with one very lucky trade.

If I had invested $25,000 into VCSY, I would have been an instant millionaire after taxes! At least I parlayed the $165,000 into a $580,000 San Francisco condo in 2003, which has since grown in value thanks to inflation and a robust economy.

How I Built A Diversified Investment Portfolio

Motif Financial Samurai Dashboard Balance
Invested $10,000 into a motif I built on 1/30 when the stock market was selling off

Although Motif Investing was acquired by Charles Schwab and isn't available anymore, here's a look at how I constructed my motif at the time. I decided to bank transfer a lower than desired, but still respectable $10,020 into my Motif Investing account in order to build a meaningful portfolio full of stocks and ETFs I think are attractive at this moment.

I added the $20 for commission purposes, but I realized afterward that every new account with at least a $2,000 balance over 45 days gets at least $50 in free trade credit if they make at least one transaction (up to $150 total free credit). That's me because as soon as the ACH transfer was confirmed, I got to work in building my motif that day.

Originally, I was thinking of just buying around 10 highly speculative stocks to punt around. But then I was reminded that I can buy up to 30 stocks in one Motif for the same price of $9.95. That's a $228.55 commission savings if I were to buy the same names at E*TRADE or Fidelity, my other two brokerage accounts. Furthermore, $10,000 is not exactly chump change. It can buy half a Rhino, my 2015 Honda Fit beast.

Given I'm all about getting the best deal possible, I decided to do just that by actually building a real 30 stock/ETF portfolio divided into seven main categories: International/Defensive, Internet, Oil & Gas, Autos, Financial Institutions, Property, and Technology.

I built my diversified investment portfolio under the following assumptions:

1) Stocks that have corrected and are currently out of favor. Target beaten up stocks that have corrected by 20% or more from their highs. I'm biased towards growth stocks that have brand names.

2) Buy companies I use and understand (the Peter Lynch model). One of the easiest ways to get over your fear of investing, or finding stocks to buy, is to research and buy stocks that you know. Names in my portfolio include: Apple, Yelp, Netflix, Hawaiian Airlines, Chevron, Bed Bath & Beyond, and GoPro.

3) Stocks that may benefit in a low interest rate environment: real estate, home furnishing/remodeling, banks. Rates have fallen off a cliff recently with the 10-year yield now at ~1.63%. If stocks start falling out of favor, real estate and real estate related stocks may be relative outperformers.

4) Stocks that may benefit from a sustained low oil and gas price environment: autos and airlines. Nobody expected oil to collapse by 50% in one year. Airlines have already zoomed higher, but not Honda partially due to supply constraints. Low oil should actually hurt Tesla Motors at the margin, since this makes their product more expensive on a relative basis, but I like their upcoming product cycle. I'm a buyer of oil here, rather than a seller, hence the oil ETF USO.

5) Create a total portfolio performance that severely underperformed the S&P 500 over the past year. Once you've built your motif, the platform will show you how it would have done over the previous three month, one year, and five year periods. This particular motif would have returned -15% over the past year, while the S&P 500 returned +16%, a 31% spread. Picking stocks with a downward bias generally leads to more losses over the shorter term as it's impossible to pick bottoms. My hope is that these stocks will return back to favor if the markets stabilize over the next year.

Financial Samurai Motif
My 30 stock/ETF motif that I plan to rebalance twice a year

Grow Your Wealth Today

Building a diversified investment portfolio is a wise move. I would spend most of your time focusing on a proper asset allocation of stocks and bonds. Once you have the proper asset allocation, then consider investing in real estate.

With a limited amount of funds and a strong desire to invest now, I completely understand the frustration of paying expensive commissions that inhibit one from investing. A large part of the reason why I want to save up $100,000 again is so that I never have to feel like I can't invest in something because I don't have enough money.

For those of you who want to improve your own financial health, check out my top financial products page. There are a lot of great resources that I've regularly used to invest and grow my own wealth.

Personal Capital has the best free wealth management tool for investors and people who are the most serious about planning for a healthy retirement. You can easily x-ray your portfolio for excessive fees, get a snapshot of your asset allocation by portfolio, track your net worth and plan for your retirement.

Planning for retirement when paying for private grade school

When there is so much uncertainty in the world, you absolutely must stay on top of your finances. Understand where your risk exposure is. Stay on top of your cash flow. Personal Capital’s free tools will help you bring calm to the chaos. Sign up for free here.

About The Author

78 thoughts on “How To Cheaply Build A Diversified Investment Portfolio If You Don’t Have Much Money”

  1. i’ve decided to avoid USO because of its tax complications. Under the right conditions, the IRS will send a pretty steep bill (as far as I can tell). :-/

  2. It looked up VYM and on morninstar it seemed to show worse performance than SP500 every year and the drawdown in 2008 was close to SP500. Do you know overall how vym has done….? I know that smallcap value is the best performing long term asset and Paul Merriman has spoke lot on it….anyways good…..

    Also do you have a post about how you like to ladder CDs?

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  7. Hello Sam,

    What do you think about apps like Acorns Investments? I am currently investing 25% of my 48000/year income into my 401k, so money can be tight when talking about investing in other stocks. I want to invest, but it is painful. I’ve been using Acorns for about two months and it really takes the edge off of feeling I am doing absolutely nothing with the rest of my disposable income.

    1. Bump on this….i just started investing in that app also. I have it for the long run. I have little funds but plan to deposit at least $300 per month at my current income. I will up it up a notch once my income level increases. Is it worth it to invest my money into the acorn app? Or is it better to open up a motif and try my luck there?

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    1. Wow! Good luck to you :)

      I haven’t changed anything, but I plan to write a quarterly update to discuss the holdings at least.

      My goal for the portfolio is to construct it so I don’t have to rebalance more than twice a year.

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  10. Great read, great comments – thanks to all.

    FS – is your motif available on the site that we can track?

  11. Adam @

    I’m a Motif fan. It will be a big part of my taxable portfolio strategy going forward.

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  13. JJ Criggins

    did you use a Motif Created Motif? Or did you create your own Motif?

    I would definitely buy the Motif you have shown here



    1. Hi JJ,

      I created this bad boy myself. I could go into deeper analysis on my weightings, and stock by stock reasons for buying, but the post would balloon from 2,000 words to 3,000+ words. I haven’t made the post available in the motif community yet, but when I do, I’ll let you know. Or, you can simply just copy my weightings and picks. I missed out on one, Zillow for my real estate section. That stock moved 8% today. Crap.


  14. Another great article! Thanks a lot!

    Motif’s seem like a great place to invest money. Now lets say one does have $120K plus in liquid $ to invest. How how your strategy change and what break down would you allocate to a Vanguard account vs Motif’s vs p2p lending?

    1. Hi Flyers – It depends on your income, cash flow, net worth, and risk tolerance.

      I like P2P lending for a passive, no stress, 7-10% return profile. I like Motif because I’m able to buy a bunch of stocks and build a portfolio at a low price. There is no guaranteed return of course. And I like Vanguard simply b/c it has low fees, but there are lots of Vanguard funds to invest, so deciding which one is more important.

      1. Well cashflow is pretty good and IRA/401K are fully funded each year. Only real debt is mortgage but rate is like 2.7% and I don’t know how long I will be there so im ok not paying it down. Looking to invest about 60K extra a year on top of initial $100K and just trying to put together a strategy for 2015. Your articles on Motifs have got me hooked with the limitless possibilities. I have some risk tolerance so if I can net around 10% a year avg, I would be completely ok with that.

        1. I feel with 80% confidence that a A to AA portfolio of at least 30 notes in Prosper will return at least 7% per annum. I earned 7.4% a year for two years and only had around 10, A and AA notes. I feel with 90% confidence that a lending portfolio of 50+ A and AA notes will not lose money over the next year. During the downturn, P2P lending was flat to up for those with 100+ notes.

          Regarding investing in stocks, it all depends on what you invest and the overall market. The variance is much wider e.g. -10% – +30% in a bull market, -20% – +10% in a bear market, etc.

          I constructed my motif so it is a relatively balanced portfolio that I can hold for the long term and rebalance just twice a year. I recommend everybody rebalance at least twice a year to make sure they are on top of their money, even if they don’t do any rebalancing. There’s nothing I like better than having a passive perpetual returning portfolio, but that doesn’t exist, except for if you invest in private equity and have to commit for years due to the lockup.

          1. Do you think investing lets say 70K into the Vanguard VTSMX (70%) and VBMFX (30%) and the extra 30K between motifs and p2p would be a good start?

            1. I have to jump in here and add a couple words regarding P2P…

              Sam mentions 30 or 100 notes… If you’re jumping in with $30k, I’d consider investing $50-75 per note. This will give you 400-600 notes, all but assuring you some tremendous diversification. If you put in $15,000 or less, I’d really recommend no more than $50 per note.

              While Sam still handpicks his notes, some simple filtering coupled with the diversification just mentioned will greatly narrow the expected range of returns in a positive way.

  15. Sam another great article per usual. Have you heard of RobinHood? You can trade commission free on any stock, eft, etc. it is only supported as an app on IOS devices such as iphone and ipad. No minimum investment amount and you can trade as much as you want all day every day. It allows the smaller capital investor to have a balanced portfolio without being eaten alive with fees.

    1. Yep, I first heard of RobinHood a couple months ago. Motif has a very cool social investing aspect as well. The community has actually built over 70,000 motifs already, and I’ve added one more with mine in this post! You can follow others, you can also build one and I think if others follow your ideas you get rewarded as well.

      For RobinHood, I’m just afraid of people investing solely based off social. People tend to invest with a herd mentality, which causes great bubbles and explosions.

      1. I’m lost on what we mean by ‘investing solely based off social’

        You can essentially create you own mutual fund / motif with robinhood by just buying small portions of whatever you’d like…I’m not understanding what the social aspect of robinhood is?

  16. Sam,

    Great post. I have been using Motif (read about it in your previous post) for a few months now and I enjoy tracking my motif compared to the S&P 500. ‘

    I wanted a way to invest in oil stocks in a way that would reduce chances of total loss if these companies started to go under, but also reap some gains if oil started rising. My favorite aspect of Motif is that I can dollar cost average into my custom Motif for only $9.95, while staying diversified.

    Thanks for the post,


    1. Thank. Yep, it’s nice to continuously dollar cost average every pay check or whatever the cadence and have the money automatically diversified in the particular motif you own. Makes things so simple. I might have to create a new goal of building my motif balance up to $50,000 by year end if the positions turn out OK. My motif was up 1.69% today when the market was up 1.29%. Now let’s see how the motif fairs during down days.

      The great unicorn is a portfolio outperforms on the way up AND down.

  17. mysticaltyger

    My first post disappeared, so I will have to repeat myself and say one can make investing easy with balanced funds. They own a mix of stocks and bonds, so you get an all in one diversified portfolio with minimal complexity. Most people can hold these funds for decades, if not their whole lives. Here are some good low minimum funds to look into:

    Vanguard STAR: $1000 IRA and Taxable Accounts
    Dodge & Cox Balanced: $1000 IRA; $2500 Taxable Accounts
    FPA Crescent: $100 IRA; $1500 Taxable Accounts
    Mairs & Power Balanced: $1000 IRA; $2500 Taxable Accounts

    The funds listed below are stock funds but have relatively low volatility

    Amana Growth & Amana Income: $100 IRA; $250 Taxable Accounts. The Income fund is the less volatile of the two, although are less volatile than your typical stock mutual fund.

    Parnassus Equity Income: $500 IRA; $2000 Taxable Account. This fund is more like a balanced fund in terms of volatility. It also focuses on socially responsible companies. The expense ratio, while not super cheap, is reasonable compared to other socially responsible mutual funds.

    1. But what are in these funds? And what are the expense ratios? I’m friends with a number of Dodge & Cox fund managers (they are based here in SF), and I know they are not cheap. They also all earn multiple millions of dollars a year as a private company that rakes it in, in fees.

      1. Mysticaltyger

        Like I said, the balanced funds are a mix of stocks and bonds. Typically the stocks are in the 60% to 70% range and the bonds are in the 30% to 40% range. You can look up their allocations by typing in their 5 letter tickers at

        Fund name, ticker, & expense ratio
        Vanguard STAR (VGSTX): .34% (cheap) Sticks to a 60% stock 40% bond mix. It invests in several different Vanguard it’s a “fund of funds”.

        Dodge & Cox Balanced (DODBX): .53% (Dodge & Cox, expensive? They’re the cheapest fund company after Vanguard. They also just waived their $12.50 IRA fee for all. I know because I own one of their funds, although not the Balanced fund) Morningstar rates the expense ratio for this fund as “Low”, which puts it in the cheapest 20% of no-load funds in its category.

        FPA Crescent (FPACX): 1.14%. The expense ratio for 2014 hasn’t been reported yet. It’s probably come down a notch, but I’ll concede the expenses for this fund are above average. But it does have excellent 10 and 15 year trailing returns, and its more recent returns are decent, although not outstanding. It’s a great fund to get started with if you don’t have much money.

        Mairs & Power Balanced (MAPOX): .72%. Below Average Expenses. The fund has been around since the late 1950s and has consistently above average returns.

        Amana Growth (AMAGX): 1.09%. Yes, it’s expensive, but its asset base has grown and costs have come down. They recently introduced a lower cost share class for those who have 100K or more that charges a more reasonable .87%.

        Amana Income (AMANX): 1.14%. Same deal as above. Cheaper share class for 100K is .90%. Both funds have well above average returns over the latest 10 and 15 year periods.

        Parnassus Core Equity (PRBLX): .87% This is below average and the ER for 2014 hasn’t been reported yet, so it will probably tick down a notch. They also have a cheaper share class for those with balances of 100K or more which charges .69%. I am lucky to have the cheap share class of this fund at work. Full disclosure: This is my largest mutual fund holding. I actually don’t want too many people to find out about it because I don’t want it to become asset bloated. It’s a great, socially responsible, growth oriented stock fund with top notch returns and moderate volatility. Like Dodge & Cox, Parnassus is also a San Francisco based firm.

        If you ever want me to write an article on mutual funds for your blog, please contact me. I am a mutual fund junkie/geek/whore.

        1. Wow, thanks for the detailed info and response!

          Yes, SOLD! I would love for you to write a detailed post on some of the best performing, and oldest mutual funds in America that you think are great for XYZ type of investor and person at a particular stage in their life.

          There’s been a movement away from long only active funds to just passive index/ETF funds, and I’d love to get the “Why Investing In Active Mutual Funds Is Still A Great Move” type of post! Obviously there are active fund managers who consistently do well, so this post will be a good reminder.

          I think you have my e-mail.


          1. As i consider JEMSTEP, Betterment, Fortune Advisor, Motif, would be great to see “Why Investing In Active Mutual Funds Is Still A Great Move”…… thanks!

  18. mysticaltyger

    Here are some more balanced funds with low minimums:

    Oakmark Equity and Income: $1000. $500 if you do the Automatic Invesment Plan.
    Mairs & Power Balanced: $1000 IRA, $2500 Taxable Account

  19. This is off topic, but I thought people here might actually know the answer.
    If my wife and I each have a health plan at work which has a HSA and we are both covered on each others plan, can we max out both HSA’s per the family contribution limits?

  20. I really like the idea of Motif, Shareowner is something similar that we can utilize here in Canada. I wish there are more companies like Motif here in Canada though.

      1. Thanks! If it’s not currently available, it could be a great feature to add in the future for less active investors.

        1. Hi Aaron, I just asked the Motif guys and you cannot do a stop loss for individual stocks in a Motif yet, although it is on the roadmap to not only provide this function, but to also have a stop loss function for the overall motif as well.

          What they plan to do beforehand is build Alerts and Signal notifications of positions so the individual can make an informed choice.

  21. This Motif investing seems very interesting, and a cheap way to build out an index fund to your specifications.

    I’d have to agree with Steve above. I wonder about the tax headache that this may cause if you rebalance twice a year. Short-term capital gains are never fun when you’re trying to limit your tax liability.

    1. I asked the Motif guys and every time you rebalance/sell etc, you will get a sale price entry per individual security since you own those securities. Hence, there is no simplification of taxes, unfortunately. All the more reasons to do a lot of research on companies you plan to hold for the long term, and not tinker too much once the portfolio is created.

  22. Motif looks really neat. I am kind of interested in giving it a try and it seems like a logical recommendation for a lot of people.

    Commodity ETFs are a turn off for me. USO has exposure when the forward strip enters contango because they’re rolling front month contracts. It becomes a serial loss. Its historic performance also proves a low correlation to the price of oil itself. For more pure commodity exposure, with the potential for significant dividends, I would look at royalty trusts instead.

    1. Any specific publicly traded royalty trusts you can recommend? I’m all ears for optimizing my portfolio. USO and GLD in my motif are hedges, and probably not enough with the way this market is reacting!

  23. Had no idea this service even existed. Really cool. And LOL @ LC’s “money center bank” categorization. Pretty funny.

    1. It’s super fun to build your own portfolio with their interface. They should check their tagline, or adopt a tagline to “Be Your Own Rockstar Fund Manager” or something to that nature. Their product could really assail the traditional long only fund management industry.

      LC has corrected by 40% from its euphoric highs, yet P2P lending is still only around $6 billion vs. the $3 trillion lending market. Valuations are still whacky, but the upside is juicy over the long run.

  24. That’s VERY cool you can build a portfolio with that many names for only $9.95. It doesn’t make sense for anybody to buy so many stocks individually elsewhere if you can do it so cheaply and easily in one straight shot.

    Can you just continuously contribute to your motif with new fund? Or do you have to constantly buy new motifs? I’m assuming the former where you can just continue to rebalance, but just checking.

    Thanks! I’m gong to try them out.

    1. Hi Jackie,

      You can continuously contribute to the existing motif you own/built/purchase as new funds come in. For example, let’s say you have $2,000 in disposable income after your paycheck to invest, you can simply add $2,000 to your existing motif for $9.95, and the $2,000 will be dispersed in the exact individual weightings.

      If you want to change a single stock, it’s $4.95.


  25. I have always hated paying commissions for this very reason. It totally sucks feeling limited to buying a diversified set of holdings when you don’t have a lot to put into the markets because of the commission costs.

    I’ve been meaning to open an account I’ve just been waiting to get a little more cash flow. Now I’m pumped to get started. Very cool you created your own motif!

  26. I definitely like the concept of Motif, especially for newer investors. I’d certainly invest with it myself if you can convince them to expand beyond the US shores and let your Australian friends get involved!

  27. Sam — The beauty of your post is captured in the first two sentences. I’ve recently spent a lot of time discussing with my wife the BIG DUH moment when I realized that clothes are perhaps the most rapidly depreciating asset items we own. And your first sentence would be even better if you added the word APPRECIATING in front of “assets.”

    Motif is not the first company to do the basket of stocks thingie — e.g., FolioFN back in the day.

    Furthermore, there are other ways to cut this. For example, one could embark on a 90% core and explore strategy, allocating the remaining 10% of her/his stock portfolio toward buying a maximum of five securities. This is what I’m doing now with my stock portfolio. So far I’ve purchased BP and Diageo. As you mentioned, I expect both of these to dip lower. And I plan on hanging onto them until you turn 50, at least.

    BACK TO MOTIF: Unless I embarked on a purely price chart/technical analysis based method, I don’t know that I’d want to keep track of 30 securities — for my brain, 10 would be about the limit. But I do love the potential purity of managing my own fund, so to speak.

    A MOTIF QUESTION: With more frequent trading, how simple or painful is the tax management process? In other words, how does Motif simplify this…or not?

    1. Keep your wife happy Steve and let her buy her clothes. When was the last time you said, “Honey, you look so beautiful tonight.”?

      Regarding keeping track of stocks, I hear you. I bought 30 b/c that was the limit, I know way more than 30 stocks to invest, and I had the “buy more, save more mentality” going in terms of saving on commissions. I plan to check into my motif once a month or quarter. Given no position is greater than 7% (Tesla Motors) and $700, I’m not that worried. Where I do get worried is having $50,000 – $200,000 positions in ONE STOCK. I’ve done that many times before and can’t rest easy without checking the market every day.

      My goal is to focus on the long term regarding my investments, and focus on my business and that which I can control in the day to day.

      I’ll ask about the tax management process. You own all shares in the motif, so there will be a tax form come due if you start selling/rebalancing.

      1. Thanks Sam. Wife dresses just fine. I’m the one who looks a bit disheveled.

        If you’re going to down to San Mateo once per week for your Motif gig, make sure to check out Rave Burger in Downtown. Lovely place. Support your small business.

  28. Motif Investing keeps popping up over and over. Each time I read about it I am more inclined to give it a shot. We have always agreed that a total market index fund is the best for us. With two full time jobs and two small children, putting the investments on cruise control brought a sense of comfort. We’ve never educated ourselves about the ins and outs of stock valuations. But as we become more and more savvy to the ways of the market, it seems like an obvious move. Thanks for all the advice!

  29. Sam, I’ve looked into Motif investing and one thing that I can’t quite wrap my head around is selling the stocks. I do have individual investments that I plan to buy and hold, but what about the ones that I only plan to hold for a few years? How do transfers and sales work in Motif?

    1. Good question. Here’s the answer:

      Anytime you trade at the motif level it will cost $9.95, whether it’s a buy, rebalance or sell for two or more positions. I plan to rebalance my 30 stock/ETF motif twice a year. Each rebalance will likely consist of at least two changes, if not closer to 10 changes as position weightings change over time, and no one position holds more than a 7% weighting.

      If you want to trade a single stock out of the motif, the cost is only $4.95.

      In other words, it’s cheaper to build a diversified portfolio than other platforms, and it’s cheaper to rebalance/maintain the portfolio over time, especially since there are no ongoing fees. The downside for those who are too busy is you’ve got to manage the portfolio yourself. I personally love the process of researching stocks and ETFs, and making decisions for 20-30% of my investments. The rest is basic asset allocation based on risk tolerance.

  30. Joshua Myers

    Loyal3 is another great resource. No fees or commissions for anything, ever. Plus you can invest as little as $10 per transaction. There are only 50 or so companies available, so it’s not an answer for everything (i.e. no oil and gas, healthcare or defense companies), but its a great way to build positions in some top notch consumer and technology stocks.

  31. Hey FS!,

    I feel very conflicted right now! I graduated college in May ’14 and have since been working an Analyst position. Also, I’m in my early 20s. I have saved aggressively and am about to reach the $10k savings milestone pretty soon. While out with my friends yesterday, I told them that I’m conservative when it comes to my portfolio/investing strategies and would prefer to invest my $10k in “safe nets” like a CD. One of them suggested that since I’m young and have time to rebuild the $10k (and more) to just invest the current $10k in stocks (of course with proper research and knowledge). What are your thoughts? The only issue is that I’m not as educated on stocks as I am on other investments such as CDs and P2P Lending and I don’t feel as comfortable because I’m scared of losing all of that money :(. And like you said in a previous post, you never know when the market will tank again. But the market has been good the past 2 years. But I’m definitely not using that as an excuse and will educate myself better (plus, it’s not really rocket science haha). Below is my current plan, could you give me your thoughts:

    – Invest $10k in 5 year 2.25% CD
    -Invest my next incremental $1k in motif investing
    -Invest the next incremental $1k in P2P Lending
    -Rebuild $10k in liquid savings (while continuing to slowly add onto motif investing/P2P lending accounts)

    1. Justin Williams

      Don’t lock up your 10K in CD’s. I am returning 8.7% with Prosper all seasoned notes. P2P is a no brainer for me but for more excitement I buy stocks, and when I don’t see anything I like I pay down mortgage debt.

  32. I like the motif idea a lot. I remember having an account at td ameritrade when I only start at $2000, 10$ commission per trade was too much money. S&p are down 3%, I think I can selectively find 10-30 companies that I would like to buy. I’m one of those who are still enjoying the sweet deal from a bank that offer $0 commission for the first 100 trades per account. If they decide to stop, I’ll buy my stock in a basket like this, I can’t afford the commission fee. Especially, I want to follow smooth out my dividend income like dividend mantra does. He buys one stock at a time, but if I can buy oil refinery company, gas station company, machinery company, metal company, right now all pay 4-6% of dividend, and all are taking 20-25% beating from the 1 year high at $10 bucks? That is a great deal.

    1. One thing to keep in mind is that at this time, Motif doesn’t handle Cash Payed Dividens in the way you would hope. They are not auto-reallocated and go back into your account balance. Which would then inquire another transaction fee to re-allocated those dividens. Just something to keep in mind. First timer here as well, Love this blog. Has been a huge lifeline so far! Keep up the great work.

  33. I don’t understand, why everybody keeps on thinking, a diversified portfolio have to be set up right from the beginning. Most people do plan to invest for a period of at least 10-20 years. So if you manage to invest in 2-3 different stocks per year, you can easily build up a diversified portfolio after 10 years. Additionally — not all stocks are on fair value at the same time. So why buy all stocks now if you dont have the money anyway? safe the fees and buy a bigger portion of one stock at the time.

    1. Not sure if I understand why you don’t understand.

      Let’s say you only have $5,000 to start investing. Are you saying one should spend the entire $5,000 on two or three different stocks a year, so you have a 50%/50% or 33/33/34% weighting under the assumption that one day the person will have XYZ amount to invest? I don’t think that’s a wise move at all. Concentrating all your money, into just a few investments is not diversification, but super risky.

      I’d much rather build a diversified portfolio for the same price from the beginning and build upon all positions by their desired weightings.

      1. Hi Sam, I get your point.

        The theory is that we always save money every year. So i can invest the money from this year in some stocks and buy other stocks next year with my next years savings.

        Of course it seems to be “less risky” to buy many stocks at one time. But that is only a temporary condition. The question to ask is: what risk are you trying to reduce? By diversifying you reduce the risk of bankruptcy and volatility. And — the risk of losing your dividend payment.

        The question is: how much does that matter if i wanna hold the stocks for 20 years?

        If i buy a stock now planning to hold it “forever” is it reasonable to be scared of a stock price pullback or a bankruptcy?

        Isn’t it much likely that if I buy all the stocks on my list right now: there will be stocks that are overvalued and have a high risk of losing value?

        Why not buying less stocks now and pick those that seem to be in low value (eg energy stocks) and buy stocks like PG or JNJ later after they came back in value?

        I think you do agree that there is almost no stock that keeps on going up straight for 20 years. there is always a chance to pick it up for less :-)

        I forgot to mention: you do a great job here. I always love your articles Sam :-)

        1. Sure, in the long run, everything smooths out. The question is, what if you don’t last that far? Life has a great way of throwing curve balls and pegging people in the face. In other words, the short-term risk is that people who just started investing lose money and never jump back into the market. Look at the change in mindset by many of our younger generation who have shunned stocks and housing after the 2008-2010 crisis. I know many 20-something year olds who have 50% of their net worth in CASH.

          I do have two related posts you might like:

          Never Stop Fortune Hunting
          My Preference For Growth Stocks Over Dividend Stocks

          Please share how you are investing your savings in terms of asset allocation, picks, portfolio amount, etc.

    2. “Honestly i dont understand why you like to push this motif investing so much ”

      ummm, he is consulting with them in a media marketing capacity…

      1. I don’t think Rico read my article, but that’s fine, as the article is 2,000 words long. It was only when I started experiencing the conflict of wanting to invest in this current environment, but not having enough to invest in multiple stocks that I like, did I truly understand the motif value proposition for the retail investor. There is no way I’ll be paying $7.95 to buy a single stock one by one on another online broker firm ever again.

        There’s also free “Horizon Motifs,” which act like target date funds with no carrying costs. I’ll write about them in the future.

        1. Another great article that makes for great conversation!

          100% agree that any long term strategy revolves around diversification of your portfolio.

          One point that I think Rico makes and I happen to agree with is “not all stocks are on fair value at the same time”. I dont want to say its timing the market however short term oppertunities arise that should be taken advantage of. Maybe thats his point?

          Continious low interest rates made REIT’s very attaractive and good performers within the past few years, Oil where it is today is also an area that I feel is a good oppertunity to invest. I consider these oppertunities short term investments as my long term strategy like my 401K is to keep buying broad market etf’s (domestic and foreign) and bonds for the purpose of aquiring shares for long term growth.

          BTW, BOA rolled out a system where depending on the amout of funds you keep in the institution you get X amount of no commission trades a month. Its pretty sweet to finally reward their clients with privledges.

      2. because maybe he knows how daunting it could be for young or inexperienced people with low capitals who don’t know of the different and cheaper alternatives there are out there to investing in the stock market, other than using the traditional big name brokers. before reading his blog I wouldn’t have found out about motif which is exactly what I was looking for myself because most banks or brokers require you to open accounts with very high investments (100k or higher) for a professionally managed account. and I’ve always wanted to be in control of my own portfolio so this is perfect, and definitely a lot cheaper than Personal Capital which I thought was already revolutionary when it first came out though with less equity options but still out of my league. also, if not for this blog I wouldnt have found out about sliced too which is something I have been wanting to get involved in but again, with limited capital it’s really hard to participate in hedge funds, so thanks Financial Samurai.

    3. Above Average Black

      I sort of agree with Dave. I’ve been investing for about 10+ years now and over that time I’ve been able to grow my portfolio to around 15 individual stocks. I consider myself a longterm investor. If I had 10k to invest ,I don’t think I would split into 30 stocks. That’s only like $333 allocated for each stock. I would probably split it into 1 to 5 new stocks or buy more of what I already own. Also, I would save on fees by not buying 30 stocks in the first place :)

      “Diversification is protection against ignorance, it makes little sense for those who know what they’re doing.” – Warren Buffet

      1. The issue is, a lot of people don’t have a lot of money to invest, and they also can’t afford to take too much risk because they don’t have that much to invest. You may know what you’re doing, and are an experienced investor with a lot of money, but lots of people aren’t as experienced. But you are right, most people believe they are Warren Buffet in a bull market and can do no wrong.

        I look at my motif investing in 30 stocks/ETFs as an entire unit of $10,000, just like I would look at a $10,000 stock position.

        May I ask what your net worth allocation to stocks is currently and whether you are in the finance industry?

        1. Above Average Black

          I get what you are saying about looking at your investment motif investing as one unit. For you its one unit. For someone just starting out its what they have and a methodology they might continue to use moving forward.

          No, I’m not in finance. Though i like finance, don’t think i could go in that field because my hands would be tied by various rules, models, restricted stock lists, etc. The money is good though in that field just don’t think I’d be very effective. :)

          Anyway, below is the break down.

          34% individual stock (15 individual)
          34% retirement (401k + ira)
          29% real estate
          3% art

          I didn’t include any emergency fund cash. The real estate and art portion, I haven’t added any appreciation to yet. Maybe in a few years I will. I haven’t gotten into motif investing or peer to peer lending yet. I’d like to get into startup investing next but I can’t until the SEC makes a move on Jobs Act Title 3 (Thx Obama). I’m in that 500k to 1 mill net worth sweet spot. At the present moment they think I’ll hurt myself if given the opportunity Lol. Anyway, once SEC acts on Title III, I’d like to slowly work my way up to 10 percent of my net worth on those type of investments. If SEC continues to do nothing then will need to just wait until I reach 1 mil naturally.

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