Where do I get annual returns for my calculation of our Safe Spending Amount?
Posted on November 30, 2018

Today, November 30, is the last day of our 12-month performance year. I must post annual returns for our stocks and for our bonds on the spreadsheet that calculates our Safe Spending Amount (SSA) for the upcoming year. I already know that our SSA will adjust only for inflation this year: our portfolio did not grow enough. (It will decline in terms of constant spending power.) But I always I need to track annual changes to our portfolio to see if and when our SSA can increase by more than inflation. It’s not exactly obvious where to get one-year  return rates ending on November 30. This post answers the question: where do I get those return rates?





==== Return rates track portfolio value ====


I use return rates to track what is really happening to our portfolio over time. Now that we’re retired, we’re withdrawing for our spending; when we rebalance we may be shifting some from stocks to bonds or vice versa. If we just look at the dollar changes in our portfolio, it’s easy to get confused as to how we’re really performing.


Using return rates to track what’s really happening is simple for Patti and me and should be for you. We only hold four securities, which, in turn, hold over 21,000 total stocks and bonds. Our portfolio is in perfect balance right at the beginning of our performance year – or within a day or two. I don’t tweak or rebalance during the year, meaning I can use the posted 12-month returns for each of four securities to get to the total change in our portfolio. Where do I get these for the 12-months ending November 30?


==== One-year returns for funds ====


I use Morningstar to get one-year return rates for funds. That’s FSKAX for us. (Fidelity recently changed the ticker symbol of FSTVX to FSKAX.) I get the one-year return for a date on the next day. Tomorrow I’ll enter “FSKAX” in the search bar at the top of the home page. That leads to a quote page. I scroll down and find a table titled “Performance FSKAX”. It shows the 1 Yr return, and in the faint text at the bottom it will tell me, “Data as of 11/30/2018”.


(Morningstar states they are changing the display of pages; in the future you may have to select the Performance tab along the top to get this information.)


==== One-year returns for ETFs ====


I also use Morningstar, but it I have to go to a second page to get the information. At the top of the home page I enter the ticker symbol for an ETF, e.g., IUSB. I get a quote page (tab highlighted on that page). That page doesn’t have the return data. I have to click on the fifth tab across the top, “Performance.” When I’m on that page I scroll down to a table “Trailing Total Returns IUSB” and use the price data, “IUSB (Price)” for 1-Year  return. Tomorrow the faint text at the bottom will tell me, “(Price) return as of 11/30/2018”.


An alternative site is It has a clear display of “1 YEAR” “PERFORMANCE (as of [date])”, but the data lags by one or two business days. If I look tomorrow, it won’t be for 11/30/2018. I have to wait to see the same returns as on the Morningstar site.



Conclusion: Nest Eggers track what’s happened to their portfolio over time. It’s the only way to understand when it is safe to increase our Safe Spending Amount (SSA) by more than inflation. The spreadsheet I use (download a blank version under Resources) uses annual return rates to track what is really happening to your portfolio. That’s really simple if your keep your portfolio simple and uncluttered. You get one-year return rates that you need for the funds and ETFs you own most quickly from the Morningstar site.

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