Up until our late 20’s, my husband and I didn’t think much about retirement at all. We were far too busy being 20-somethings – too busy hosting dinner parties with our friends and planning weekend getaways and pool parties. We never looked much further into the future than a month or two, or past whenever our next vacation or relaxing weekend was on the agenda. And why should we? We were in our 20’s, after all, and middle age and retirement seemed like a lifetime away.
But then we had our first daughter, Lydia Rose, and our entire world changed. Almost overnight, we had something to plan for – something to protect. Out of love, we did what most parents do; we bought life insurance to make sure she would be okay if something were to happen and started a college fund for our tiny surgeon, lawyer, or day trader in the making.
We also got serious about retirement because we wanted to take care of our precious child – not the other way around. Fortunately, time was on our side, so we progressed slowly to the point where we could max out retirement accounts and save lump sums for college, all while prepaying our mortgage on a monthly basis.
And by the time our second child came along, we were painfully aware that we were responsible for the outcome of our lives, financially and otherwise. We knew that we needed to take control of our financial situation – because no one would do it for us. We also learned that we had the power to make a positive change for the future; we only needed to seize it.
Discovering Personal Capital – My “Aha” Moment
Over the years, our investment portfolio has grown to include all kinds of components – retirement accounts from old employers, rental real estate, my SEP IRA, our Roth IRAs with Vanguard, taxable investment accounts, and multiple personal and business bank accounts. What once was easy to keep track of had become insanely complicated, with multiple log-ins and passwords and various intricacies to keep track of on every level.
Then one day, I heard about Personal Capital from someone who explained it as an online platform that would track every aspect of my financial life with just one username and password. I was worried about security at first, but was put at ease when I learned of the security measures Personal Capital uses to keep their client’s personal information safe, secure, and protected. After much thought and thorough research, I signed up and linked all of my personal and business accounts. The entire process only took about twenty minutes, but I was instantly shocked at what I saw.
Everything, and I mean everything, was there on one screen for me to study – my monthly cash-flow with spending and income broken down by category, date, and transaction. My portfolio balances and how they’ve performed over the past 30 days, 6 months, and year. My portfolio allocation in a fancy, colored graph that displayed my investments in a way that numbers on a page simply cannot. And it even provided a snapshot of my real estate portfolio, with both mortgage balances and property valuations on prominent display.
Even better, Personal Capital took all the information I gave them and handed me back my net worth, a figure many people use to measure their real financial progress over the years.
And there it was – my “aha” moment. For once, I had a complete picture of everything that was going on in our financial lives. It was also a proud moment, and not because I had forced myself to use Personal Capital even though linking my accounts sounded like a pain (it wasn’t), but because I liked what I saw. Our net worth is and has been growing steadily, and I learned that we’re definitely on the right track. But that wasn’t all I learned…
What I Learned from Using Personal Capital
First of all, Personal Capital offers an instant snapshot of your investments to help you better visualize the big picture. That feature is extremely helpful if you need to know, for example, your bond and stock mix, because chances are good that all your securities are spread across multiple accounts. And plus, it’s free, so why not?
And that’s not all – every component you link to Personal Capital updates in “to the minute” fashion, meaning that the information you see today can be different than what you saw even yesterday. This feature allows you to see track your progress frequently if you want, and see “real time” analysis of all of your assets and holdings. And it doesn’t just work on a PC or laptop either- all of your information can be easily accessed via smartphone app or tablet as well, making it the optimal way to stay in touch with your investments while you’re on the go.
Even better, Personal Capital makes it easy for you to help yourself, simply because they put everything you want to know (and don’t want to know) right in front of your face where you can’t hide from it if you tried. Here are some things I learned within the first hour of linking my accounts to Personal Capital:
- Retirement Fees – Using the Retirement Fee Analyzer, I learned that the fees associated our Vanguard accounts are significantly less than the benchmark of .50%. As someone who hates paying higher fees than absolutely necessary, I was thrilled beyond belief to see that.
- My Portfolio – Using Personal Capital’s Investment Checkup feature, I was able to see how my portfolio stacks up against a target portfolio Personal Capital selected for me based on my retirement goals and current data.
- Our spending – There’s something very startling about seeing every financial transaction you’ve made over the last six months in one place. I learned a lot by clicking through the various components of our cash-flow breakdown, including the fact that we’ve spent over $900 at one Thai restaurant this year!
Uncovering the Big Picture
You always hear people say that those little things matter, and they do. Mandatory fees on investment accounts chip away at your earnings year after year, and spending too much on delicious spring rolls and spicy tofu wraps will inevitably add up too. But exploring those truths isn’t the best part of using Personal Capital– not even close.
The best part about this free service is that it lets you see the big picture. It shows you what you exactly where you’ve been and where you’re going, all while providing tools that can help you analyze and explore the many investment options out there- and what you might want to do differently.
My husband and I are light years away from where we started when we had kids, but we’re no longer stressed about the future like we once were. We’re saving a large percentage of our income and investing it wisely, all while paying down our real estate debts and stashing money away for college. Personal Capital has changed none of that, but what it has done is force us to take a step back and look at much more than today, yesterday, or even this year.
Now more than ever, we feel in control of our own financial destiny. We know that we have the power to change everything, for better or for worse. And we’re painfully aware that our children are not only counting on us, but they’re watching us too.
But now that we see where we’re going, we can simply slow down and enjoy the ride.
Interested in checking out Personal Capital? Click here to start tracking your financial progress for free.
Editor's Note: I've begun tracking my assets through Personal Capital. I'm only using the free service so far and I no longer have to log into all the different accounts just to pull the numbers. And with a single screen showing all my assets, it's much easier to figure out when I need to rebalance or where I stand on the path to financial independence.
They developed this pretty nifty 401K Fee Analyzer that will show you whether you are paying too much in fees, as well as an Investment Checkup tool to help determine whether your asset allocation fits your risk profile. The platform literally takes a few minutes to sign up and it's free to use by following this link here. For those trying to build wealth, Personal Capital is worth a look.