Living off the Dividends?


By Dale Roberts, cutthecrapinvesting

Special to the Financial Independence Hub

It is the most popular rallying cry for self-directed investors in Canada and the U.S. – I plan to “live off of the dividends.” Or in retirement – “I am living off of the dividends.” The notion leaves money on the table in the accumulation stage and living off of the dividends leaves a lot of money on the table in retirement. Don’t get me wrong, I love the big juicy (and growing) dividend as a part of our retirement plan. But as an exclusive strategy, the income approach simply comes up short.

It’s not a popular Tweet, but I have suggested that no investor with a viable and sensible financial plan would live off the dividends. Add this to the points made in the opening paragraph; it might not be tax-efficient. Also, the dividend would have no idea of what is a financial plan and what is the most optimal order of account type spending. Check in with the our friends at Cashflows&Portfolios and they can show you a very efficient order of asset harvesting.

On Seeking Alpha, I recently offered this post:

Living off dividends in retirement; don’t sell yourself short.

Thanks to Mark at My Own Advisor for including that post in the well-read Weekend Reads.

Financial Planner: It may be a bad idea

From financial planner Jason Heath, in the Financial Post.

Why living off your dividends in retirement may be a mistake.

Retirement planning is a personal decision, but you might be making a big mistake if you go out of your way to ensure you can live off your dividends, since you will be leaving a great deal of money when you die. In the process, you may have worked too hard at the expense of family time or spent too little at the expense of treating yourself.

In that Seeking Alpha post, I used BlackRock as the poster child for a lower-yielding dividend growth stock. The yield is lower but the dividend growth is impressive. That can often be a sign of underlying earnings growth and financial health.

2022 update: BlackRock is falling with the market (and then some); the yield is now above 3%.

Making homemade dividends

In that Seeking Alpha post, I demonstrated the benefit of selling a few shares to boost the total retirement take from BlackRock. The retiree gets an impressive income boost, and only had to sell 2.8% of the initial share count. The risk is managed.

Starting with a hypothetical $1 million portfolio, $50,000 in annual income represents an initial 5% spend rate. That is, we are spending 5% of the total portfolio value. Without share sales the retiree would have been spending at an initial 3.3%.

Share Sales (in the table) represents the income available thanks to the selling of shares: creating that homemade dividend.

The retiree who has the ability to press that sell button to create income enjoyed much higher income. In fact, the retiree would have been able to sell significantly more shares (compared to the example above) to create even more additional income.

Plus the dividend growth is so strong, it quickly eliminated the need to sell shares.

BlackRock Dividend Growth – Seeking Alpha

In fact, the BlackRock dividend quickly surpasses the income level of the Canadian bank index. It can be a win, win, win. Even for the dividend-loving Canadian accumulator, BlackRock is superior on the dividend flow.

But of course, the aware retiree will keep selling shares and making hay when the sun shines. They might cut back any share sales in a market correction: also known as a variable withdrawal strategy.

It’s a simple truth. Don’t let the income drive the bus. It doesn’t know where you need to go. This is not advice, but consider growth and total return and share harvesting.

Don’t sell yourself short.

In the Seeking Alpha post, I also offered:

The optimal mix of income and growth for retirement

I am a big fan of generous dividends. They bring joy and warmth when they arrive. A big dividend payment is like a financial hug.

And I like the idea of the ‘best of both worlds.’ I enjoy some very generous dividends from our (for my wife and my own accounts) Canadian Wide Moat Stocks. Our U.S. stock portfolio holds more of the BlackRocks. It’s a most advantageous mix. And as per the all-weather posts on Cut The Crap Investing I pay attention to sector arrangement and weights.

For inflation protection we hold commodities (PRA.TO) and Canadian energy stocks. We hold bonds and cash in the area of 10% to 25% in accounts. We have modest amounts of gold and new gold: bitcoin.

I am prepared for the uncertain times. We are in a period of economic transition. And we don’t know where we will land.

Sector performance

Value stocks continue to suck a lot less. That likelihood was put on the table (on this blog and on MoneySense) from almost a year ago.

My goodness friends, keep investing. This is why we invest. Assets are getting cheaper. The more they get beat up, the less risk there is over the longer term, and even near term (think 1-5 years out). Remember, dollar cost averaging even worked during the Depression: the worst market conditions, ever.

I can’t tell you where markets are going (of course). More rough weeks and months and years may be ahead. Corrections are wonderful wealth building opportunities.

Retirees need to protect enough of their wealth.

Recession in Canada?

Who knows, but as always, be prepared. Recessions are known to happen. 🙂

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you in the comment section. You can follow this blog (it’s free) by entering your email address in the Subscribe area.

Dale Roberts is the owner operator of the Cut The Crap Investing blog,  and a columnist for MoneySense. This blog originally appeared on Cut the Crap Investing on Sept. 17, 2022 and is republished on the Hub with permission. 

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