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A bull market is a terrible teacher of smart investing habits.

In the kind of fast-rising markets we’ve seen for most of the past two years, picking stocks and sectors has been an easy path to investing success. You don’t need to hit on every pick when stocks are flying. A few home runs and your portfolio is up overall by double digits.

This will not work over the long term. In fact, stock market choppiness in early 2022 suggests a tougher slog ahead for investors. Hitching a ride on stocks with momentum or great buzz on online forums – remember Gamestop? – won’t deliver the same results we saw 12 months ago.

In the final instalment of the Back to Basics series, I want to encourage you to think about simplifying some or all of your investing. That means using diversified portfolios with a mix of stocks and bonds or guaranteed investment certificates that reflect your age, your investing needs and your comfort level with the potentially sharp ups and downs of the stock market. Here are two ways to get a diversified portfolio that I refer to as easy and easier.

The easy option is set up an account at a digital broker and use it to buy an asset allocation ETF, which is a fully diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds and, in one case, a dash of cryptocurrency. ETF stands for exchange-traded fund, which is in simple terms a mutual fund that trades like a stock. The cost of owing asset allocation ETFs is extremely low, and the cost of buying them ranges from zero to just under $10 per purchase. My latest ranking of digital brokers will help you find a cost-effective broker.

The easier option is to use a robo-adviser. To be perfectly clear, the diversified portfolio you get from a robo-adviser will be quite similar to the one you get through an asset allocation ETF, but with an extra cost of as much as 0.5 of percentage point. For many people, there’s value in paying more for the extra support and guidance provided by a robo-adviser. My latest robo-adviser guide will help you understand what’s available in this sector.

Looking back at the past two years, full credit has to be given to investors for capitalizing on outstandingly good bull market conditions. The next smart move is to get back to basics.

Back to Basics

Part One: Now’s the time to revisit the most basic rule of personal finance

Part Two: Would a 20 per cent interest rate get your attention?

Part Three: A month-by-month guide to excuses for not saving money

Part Four: How to ace your mortgage decisions

Part Five: A low-effort, low-risk way to profit from rising rates

Part Six: Budgeting for the never-ending cost of kids

Part Seven: Have you answered the ‘what happens to my family if I die suddenly’ question?


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Rob’s personal finance reading list

So you think you know credit cards

Even long-time cardholders may learn something from this nine-point primer on how credit cards work. If you carry a balance, check out the sections on how card interest is charged.

Best tax software

Best paid and free tax software, and a list of seven free tax-filing options. April 30 is the deadline for filing your 2021 tax return.

Retirement’s Rule of 30

How to juggle the costs of everyday life and retirement saving over a lifetime using a rule that says you should aim to save 30 per cent of your gross income, minus mortgage or rent payments, and extraordinary short-term expenses, like child care costs. What’s unique about this approach is that it accepts people will have less to save when they are starting a family.

How to ace a job interview on video

Video job interviews became a thing in the pandemic, and they’re likely going to stick around. Here are 20 tips to help you nail the interview.


Q&A

Q: Is there any information on the internet about customer service at robo-advisers?

A: Here’s a link to a Reddit discussion on Canadian robo-advisers. If anyone has a story about particularly good or bad service from a robo-adviser, tell me about it by sending an e-mail to rcarrick@globeandmail.com


Today’s financial tool

Pay down debt or invest? This calculator shows the rate of return you need from investments to match the benefit you get in diverting money from debt.


The Money-Free Zone

Black Line by the U.K. artist Jelly Cleaver is a smoking hot song I keep listening to lately.


What I’ve been writing about

More Rob Carrick and money coverage

Subscribe to Stress Test on Apple podcasts or Spotify. For more money stories, follow me on Instagram and Twitter, and join the discussion on my Facebook page. Millennial readers, join our Gen Y Money Facebook group.

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