When 2% Costs Everything: How Investment Fees Cost You Your Freedom

When 2% Costs Everything: How Investment Fees Cost You Your Freedom

One of the greatest appeals for having a financial advisor is the comfort we feel in having an “expert” do our investing for us. We fear that we don’t know what we’re doing with our own money. Most of us didn’t go to school for finance and we figure that a seasoned professional knows how to invest our money better than we do. They must have years of experience, training, and the industry savvy to know better than we do. Right?

Not necessarily. It’s not that financial advisors are bad. But for the fees they charge, the results are no better than a cat picking stocks by random chance. (No seriously, this is a real thing. Orlando, an orange tabby, literally beat out a trio of seasoned financial professionals. The cat randomly picked the highest performing investments in a year-long contest.)

Don't Believe Me? You Can Believe Buffett

Financial gurus like Warren Buffet and J.L. Collins have touted the brilliance of low-cost index funds. In fact, Warren Buffett, much like the orange tabby, once placed a $1 million bet against some notable hedge fund managers that his index funds would beat their speculative guesses. He totally prevailed with higher returns from his super boring index funds.

So, why do we put our faith in advisors and investment vehicles that carry fees? Often, we doubt our own competence. And probably the biggest thing–we don’t see how even 1-2% can seriously hurt our overall wealth over time.

Many of us extol the virtues of compound interest when it comes to our frugality. We see that even skipping out on a $5 latte on our morning commute, can glean some serious headway as an investment, thanks to the power of compounding interest. When invested wisely, that $5 can work for us through the years much harder than the immediate caffeine rush we crave. When it comes to saving and investing, we get it–even little investments matter.

Cognitive Dissonance With 1% Gains (Or 1% Losses)

Why is it then, we seem to have cognitive dissonance (meaning our thoughts and our actions seem at odds with one another) when it comes to understanding the impact of fees? Why does abstaining from a $5 latte seem to get more attention than the $190 we are paying on our 401ks?

Unfortunately, from the mainstream perspective, we’re often taught that our nest egg is best left to the professionals. And more damning still, is the mainstream notion that 1-2% off the top isn’t so bad–it’s just the convenience fee you pay to get wealthy.

Except, that it doesn’t have to be. Enter VTSAX. VTSAX is a collection of index funds that on average, yields better average returns than investing in individual stocks. It, also, doesn’t require any other adult to act as a gatekeeper to your wealth, taking their own slice of pie in the process.

It's In The Math: Comparing VTSAX Over 30 Years

Let’s do some basic math to illustrate the huge difference between a 0.05% fee from Vanguard’s VTSAX and a 2% fee you’d find investing with an advisor to cover the typical 1% “fund expense” and a 1% “advisor expense,” just for them to manage your portfolio.

Imagine we started with a $100,000 initial investment and each month, we put $1,000 additional dollars into the pot for the bulk of a person’s working life–let’s say, 30 years. We will assume the market is providing 9% average annual returns for both the VTSAX investor with Vanguard and the person who decided to use an advisor. Here’s how the math shakes out:

With $100,000 out the gate and $1,000 cash invested each month with an average 9% return:

The person who invested with VTSAX with only 0.05% in fees paid $37,087. The fund grew to $2,991,794.

The person who invested with an advisor with 2% in fees paid $1,159,257. The fund grew to $1,869,624.

The difference is staggering. That 1.95% difference amounted to over $1,122,170 more in your pocket.

Think about that–more in your retirement account. NOT because the investment performed any better, but because you weren’t paying a middleman. Yikes. Even if the 2% fee, managed fund increased its return to 10%, the 9% with 0.05% fees would give you more for your nest egg. $2,327,924 to $2,991,794, respectively.

Managed Fund Fee Calculator

Still Not Convinced? Vanguard’s VTSAX Is Simple

If that staggering $1.1 million fee wasn’t enough to convince you that you should make the switch, perhaps it would help to understand that you CAN make the switch. Moving from an outsourced approach to a DIY approach with Vanguard is incredibly simple.

In fact, if you’re worried about having an awkward conversation with your advisor–don't be. You can make the switch and Vanguard will issue a letter on your behalf to release the funds, no weird phone calls with your advisor or tearful breakups, back peddling, or awkwardness needed.

Related: How To Move Money From A Financial Advisor To Vanguard

Automating Your Way To Success Without The Middleman

You can begin your account setup online, or call Vanguard to kick off the process. After the transfer is complete, you can then set up automatic deposits to grow your nest egg on a weekly or monthly cadence.

While there are some financial barriers to getting started, mainly having enough cash to invest in the funds–you can work your way to get there. To get started with Vanguard’s VTSAX, you’ll need an initial $3,000.

If you’re not quite there, they also offer the VTI fund which is a total stock market ETF and has no minimum investment. It can be the perfect starting point for new investors.

Related: How To Open Accounts With Vanguard, Fidelity, And Schwab

Not Just Vanguard

Fidelity and Schwab both offer great mutual funds as well. So if Vanguard isn't your cup of tea don't give up. There are plenty of choices out there.

With low-cost index funds, it’s this easy to make giant gains simply by avoiding fees. You don’t need an advanced degree in finance to make the switch, and you can reward yourself with a venti latte with all the add-ons without a twinge of guilt since you’ve literally made that money up in moments of making the switch.

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When 2% Costs Everything: How Investment Fees Cost You Your Freedom

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2 thoughts on “When 2% Costs Everything: How Investment Fees Cost You Your Freedom”

  1. I currently have VTSAX as my main investment vehicle at a 0.04% expense ratio. How does this compare with Fidelity’s two total stock market index funds, one at 0.015% and the other at 0%. Are we comparing apples to apples with these funds, and is it something to consider switching to, based on the expense ratio only?

  2. We’ve read quite a bit on this because my husband who is a teacher got stuck in a terrible AXA annuity “investment” with 2% fees years ago. We thought we were doing a good thing by having a 457 he can access when he retires at 53 and a more traditional 403B, but it has turned out to be worse and worse each year. This year we finally got the financial “advisor” to tell us fees were around 2%, but he couldn’t tell us for sure. From what I understand, we are required to keep it there until he changes school districts. The reason he is not changing school districts is because he’s 9 years from retirement and if he stays he will have an option to buy health insurance at a teacher’s rate. I’ve been rolling over the idea of pulling the money out vs. leaving it. We literally LOST $258 on about $80K over the past 12 months (April ’18 to April ’19). We called each of the school districts 11 other options for 457/403Bs and they were all similarly terrible. We also called the school to see if they’d be willing to add a better option, but they’ve said they are too busy to do that. It sounds like this is common practice for school districts to have a bunch of options, but no good ones. We do have other investments, but we just don’t know what to do with this one. Are there any options to get out other than leaving your job?

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