What's a portfolio?

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Andrew Goldman

Andrew Goldman has been writing for over 20 years and investing for the past 10 years. He currently writes about personal finance and investing for Wealthsimple. Andrew's past work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, New York Magazine and Wired. Television appearances include NBC's Today show as well as Fox News. Andrew holds a Bachelor of Arts (English) from the University of Texas. He and his wife Robin live in Westport, Connecticut with their two boys and a Bedlington terrier. In his spare time, he hosts “The Originals" podcast.

A portfolio is simply what invested assets you’re holding in total, and how they’re divided. Think of your holdings as a banana cream pie — or whichever objectively inferior pie you prefer. This pie is divided into different sized slices that coincide with your various holdings — be they stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs or liquid cash equivalents.

How the pie is divided will say a lot about your risk tolerance. If your pie is made up of huge slices that together reflect an investment in large cap stocks, municipal bond funds, and cash reserves, you should expect very low volatility, and relatively slow growth. If your pie shows a large percentage of your money in mid and low cap stocks and relatively tiny slices of cash reserves and bond funds, you’ve put together an inherently riskier portfolio but one with potential for higher gains. Amateur investors should assess their risk tolerance, figure out their financial goals and when they’ll need to access their funds, and divide their pie accordingly.

We strongly suggest that however your ideal pie looks, you should avoid investing heavily in individual stocks since humans are notoriously terrible stock pickers. To have a truly diversified portfolio, you’d be much better off investing in things that for one price will offer you exposure to many, many stocks and other asset classes. Buying mutual funds is one way to buy many stocks at once. Our personal favourite investment vehicle are ETFs, short for exchange traded funds, which, through investing in a wide assortment of equities, mirror stock market indexes like the S&P 500, and, unlike mutual funds, feature exceptionally low management fees.

Last Updated December 8, 2017

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