Friday, October 4, 2013

Do not despise the days of small beginnings

As a writer on a my website, I receive a decent amount of feedback from many readers through comments or emails. My recent article on the ten companies I purchased for my Roth IRA raised an interesting question. In the article, I had mentioned that it was better to invest $2000 in ten dividend paying stocks, rather than in just two.

My article was assuming that transactions costs can be maintained below 0.50%, and quality is not sacrificed. The question raised was whether it was worth it investing in dividend paying stocks at $200 per position.

The argument against investing $200 in dividend paying stocks was that the amount of the dividend would be so miniscule, that it would essentially not add any value to the investor. In other words, investing $200 at a time is probably not worth the effort.

I wholeheartedly disagree with this argument for so many reasons, that I decided to write a whole article about it.

1) The most important thing about dividend investing is to actually get started. That way, you get to put the power of compounding to your use for the longest time possible. If you put $200/month for 15 years in dividend paying stocks yielding 4% today, which raised dividends by 6%/year, and if you reinvested dividends over time, you would be earning $265 in monthly dividend income. While you would be earning $4 in annual dividends on the first purchase, after 15 years of persistent saving, investing and reinvesting, you would be generating more than what you are putting to work in your brokerage account. The power of compounding is strongest when you let your amounts work for you for long periods of time. To put it in perspective, if you put $200 at age 15, and let it compound at 10% for 70 years, you would end up with over $170,000 by your 85th birthday. Even after adjusting for 3% annual inflation, you still end up with close to $20,000 in inflation adjusted dollars.

2) The other reason is that one does not need a million dollars to get started with dividend investing. If you start with as little as $100 - $200/month, and you get to increase your contributions as your financial position improves, you have a very good shot of achieving your financial goals. Just by saving $100 - $200/month, you are ahead of most people in the US, who live paycheck to paycheck. Just remember that in order to reach your goal of financial independence, you would have to balance time to your goal, amount you put to work, and the investment return assumptions you are taking.

3) A third reason to start as soon as you have some money is because dividend investing is a cumulative learning process. When you start small, you can gain the knowledge on how to screen for dividend stocks, how to analyze them, how to select dividend stocks, and how to build and maintain a diversified income portfolio. You would also learn eventually not to panic during bear markets or not to get too excited when stock prices keep setting all time highs every single day. Those skills are highly scalable, meaning that if you know how to invest with $5,000, you also know how to invest with $5 million. For example, I spent several years learning about investing and paper trading, before putting actual money to work. I have found that you learn much more about investing, and the emotional side to it, when you have actual money on the line. Therefore, I would have been better off putting a few hundred dollars on the line, while paper investing.

4) A fourth reason to get started as early as possible is to experience the motivating factor of receiving passive dividend income. It is really refreshing to see your money work for you, and sending you a growing amount of dividends every quarter, no matter how small initially it is. I received my first “a-ha” moment when the first dividend payment hit my brokerage account several years ago. For the labor of identifying a dividend stock, and for the trouble of risking a small amount of funds on that idea, I was going to be paid a small but growing amount of income. I didn’t have to wake up at 6 o’clock, shuffle TPS reports all day long, deal with the eight levels of management above me, or get stuck in traffic for 2 hours/day to get my dividend payment. This dividend payment was also growing much faster than the salary raises most employees receive. Using this idea of dividends as a passive income source, I have been able to put every extra dollar to use in dividend growth stocks.

5) The fifth reason is somewhat of a repetition of everything from the previous four reasons. It is the story of Grace Groner, who was a secretary at Abbott Laboratories (ABT) who purchased 3 shares at $60 each in 1935. She then patiently reinvested the dividends for almost 75 years, until she passed away in 2010. At the time of her death, her investment was worth over $7 million, and throwing off over $300,000 in annual dividend income. If she had listened to the naysayers who would have told her that the dividend income from a mere $180 investment would be too low to be even worth doing, her estate would not have been able to leave millions of dollars to fund scholarships for generations of talented students.

6) Last but not least, putting a few hundred dollars to work per position might be a better alternative for most dividend investors, compared to making one or two large purchases per month. This applies to investors who build diversified portfolios of quality merchandise selling at attractive valuations over time, and who can maintain purchase costs below 0.50%. For several years i would buy stocks in $1000 - $2000 increments per position. Since I have 10 - 15 ideas at all times, this meant that I might wait for several months before I have the cash to buy more stock from ideas number 10 through 15. At that point, these ideas might be overvalued and no longer cost effective to buy. As a result, I would end up with plenty of companies which are a great long-term hold, although the positions are destined to remain low in proportion to my average portfolio positions.

By reducing purchase lot sizes, I increase my flexibility to add purchase shares in more than one – three companies per month. If I can keep commissions to below 0.50% overall, it is better to invest $2000/month in 10 companies than investing it in 2 companies.

Overall, in the past few weeks I have decided to start buying more than 1 – 3 positions per month, mainly by reducing my purchase size per position. I am essentially going to ramp up purchases in my Sharebuilder taxable brokerage account using their monthly plan for 12 transactions for 12 dollars. In addition, there are no additional fees to pay. Check my article on Best Brokerage Accounts for Dividend Investors.

The investments are made every Tuesday, and the stock prices I end up paying are very competitive. In my investing, I usually place the buy order in the morning before the stock market opens. I very rarely make investments during the day. With the likes of Zecco or Tradeking, I almost always managed to get filled at the open price. With Sharebuilder, I am actually getting a slightly better price in the aggregate. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter if I paid $38.02/share for Coca-Cola (KO) shares using Sharebuilder, versus $38.27/share that I would have gotten with another brokerage. The most important thing is to look at the big picture, and not be carried away chasing pennies and losing dollars in the process. If my thesis is correct, 20 years from now Coca-Cola will trade anywhere between $120 - $160/share and pay over $4/share in annual dividends.

If I see a big drop in the stock of a company I am following and plan on purchasing, I might still purchase it in another account, especially if I believe that this is an opportunity that is short-lived. Sometimes, paying a $3 - $5 commission might make sense over a $1 commission, if it provides slightly more flexibility. After analyzing my investments however, I can attest that such purchases happen only 2 – 3 times/year.

Relevant Articles:

Dividend Growth Investing is a Perfect Strategy for Young Investors
Reinvesting Dividends Pays Off
How much money do you really need to retire with dividend paying stocks?
Dividend Portfolios – concentrate or diversify?
Check the Complete Article Archive

This post was featured in the Carnival of Wealth, Snowflake Edition


  1. Thank you for a great post .
    I wonder why you are ignoring the taxation impact on your income from dividends .
    I would love to have your comments on the tax(deduction of 15-25%) issue .

    Keep up the great work !

  2. These have been my thought since I was a kid although I have only been able to put these concepts in play on a serious level in the past few years. I'm looking to see the payoff in 20 years.

  3. "I am essentially going to ramp up purchases in my Sharebuilder taxable brokerage account using their monthly plan for 12 transactions for 12 dollars"

    Exactly how I started a few years back with I think $200 or $300 per month! I still have those shares today.

    Even today I am not putting a lot maybe $500 or $1000 per month in, but I know this is not for Evan. My dividend portfolio is for Evan + 15 years. 46 year old Evan is going to be VERY happy.

  4. I use Buy & Hold. (
    For a monthly fee of $14.99 you get unlimited trades. You don't have to buy stocks in whole amounts. They have several thousand issues. This way you can "DRIP" $150 here, $75 there etc. I have built a portfolio of about 30 dividend paying stocks & every time I get paid I pay myself first by buying a bit more of several issues & leaving them in the account to compound. For the $15.00/month fee this always for very flexible investing.

  5. This is exactly what I am doing, and outlying on my own blog.

    I am reading and researching many companies, and trying to find groups at a time to sink in money through Sharebuilder.

    My plan is to go through them and add more to round them all out.

    I never want to sell share unless I am forced to by unsustainable business practices.

    With an uncapped investment portfolio I am always adding more companies that fit into a working delta of 3% of my floating total amount per each equity position.

  6. The idea of starting now with what you have, vs. waiting until you "have enough saved to invest" or "make enough money to invest" can't be understated...I'm sure most people think this way. I know I did until recently.

    The stories of people who started small, and used the power of time on their sides are very powerful, and we can all hope to be so lucky with the time that we have.

    Great post.

  7. As long as you can buy even a single share of stock or fund, you are good to go with investing. You will end up paying higher commissions (as a percentage of your investment principle) with smaller amounts, but that's it.

    Great read and I'm featuring it in my round-up today!

  8. This article really is very true. When I first started investing at 18 (last year) I bought 7 shares of ABT. That was only about $650 but I have now also received ABBV and am up 50% in that position. I now save money up and buy stocks once I get about 1k and then once I get a job with a salary I can increase the position sizes as need be. I will probably always hold ABT and ABBV (probably buy more eventually) as a sign of where I came from and where I am now.

  9. Wife started small in company plan norwest only worked for them/wfc for 7 years till she was 28. As an administrative assistant not a big salary but with all divis @age 50 she has over 2000 shares

  10. The assumption of 0.50% transaction cost is not realistic for transactions of $100 - $200. If one takes the one of the lowest cost brokers on your 'Best Brokerage Accounts for Dividend Investors' list: Tradeking, a $100 - per trade results in 5% transaction cost and 2.5% transaction cost for $200 trade. So, to obtain the 0.5% transaction cost, the minimum trade with the lowest cost broker on your list is $1000. Would appreciate you addressing this.

    1. I need to add Interactive Brokers and Loyal3 on that list. It is possible to not pay commissions, as long as one is flexible and keeps an open mind for opportunities.

  11. All good points. Jason recently published an article where he described dividend growth investing as being similar to a snowball rolling down the side of a mountain.As it pick up more snow it gets larger and larger. Also a good read. Although I'm currently an active stock trader, my plans are to build a dividend growth portfolio to serve as a passive income source until it can cover 150% of my expenses.

  12. I also use ShareBuilder but can no longer find the plan for the 12 transactions/mo. I remember it but when I search I can no longer find that page to sign up. If anyone knows the link let me know. I am with DGI. With my recent budget I can invest only a little each month. It does give me real world practice and I feel better knowing I am working towards my goal of FI. Might be slow right now but that is OK.

  13. Not sure if anyone mentioned :

    This is the cheapest way to buy stocks and enroll in DRIP's. Like in your point two above you don't need a lot of $ to start... Also join an investment club. Great way to start IMO.

  14. Hi DGI,

    It's definitely a little frustrating when you're just starting out; putting in hours of work studying the best stocks you can put your money into at that time, shuffling in thousands of dollars, wiping the swear off your brow and only receiving a measly $10-20 per month from dividends.

    You wrote it absolutely perfectly here in demonstrating that this is completely normal, to bear with it, and to enjoy the fruits of your labour at a later date as compounding takes effect and turns that money, reinvested, into hundreds, thousands, etc.

    It really is a magical process.

    Best regards,
    Dividend Beginner


Questions or comments? You can reach out to me at my website address name at gmail dot com.

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