Back in February Mr. 1500 Days invited me to participate in his 10 Questions and a Pizza Place interview series. It was fun to do, readers seemed to enjoy it and the 1500 Days are cool folks. So of course I’ve been planning to steal the idea ever since.
When I came across Todd Froemling and his newly created Stockchoker.com, I knew the time had come.
I love simple and this tool couldn’t be more simple. Enter three data points — a stock or fund, a date and the amount invested — and it spits out how you would have done. Along with a snarky comment.
The next time your broker, advisor, brother-in-law (not all the same person, I trust) or your drunk and bankrupt…
Uncle Dick tells you:
“Index Funds? Those are for weenies. Put your money in XYZ stock or my secret high-fee star manager fund. That’s what all the smart money does!”
…you’ll be able to pull out your (Stockchoker) tool and see just how many used Honda Civics you could have bought with your losses.
My thanks to my pal Kathryn who brought Stockchoker to my attention when she profiled Todd on her wonderful MSB Cheatsheet. You’ll find a link to it in the interview.
But now, let’s put Todd under the bright light and interrogate him…
First, let’s talk about Stockchoker:
What is Stockchoker?
Stockchoker is a simple new web tool that answers a fundamental question: What would a past investment be worth today?
You get to pick the company or fund, the investment date and the investment amount. Once you’ve done that, Stockchoker tells you how much the investment would be worth today and provides some other useful information, such as the annual rate of return, the net gain (or loss) and the number of tacos you could order at Jack in the Box with that much money.
Where did the cool name come from and what’s the meaning of the “choker” part?
I love puns and I wanted the site to have an easy-to-remember name. There isn’t really another word I can think of that rhymes with “broker” and makes sense given the content of the site.
Joker was already taken, plus it might’ve cast doubt on the accuracy of the data. So that leaves croaker, poker, soaker, toker…
…toker would’ve been kind of funny, now that I think about it.
What prompted you to create the site?
I was discussing investment strategies with my parents several months ago. They compete against each other with their respective Roth IRAs to see who can do better, which seems like amazing fun (even though it’s probably a bit dangerous if you’re over-competitive).
At one point, the topic turned to Apple stock. If their Roth IRA competition is a game, Apple stock is my dad’s cheat code. He mentioned a friend who’d sold several hundred shares in the early 2000s and then started trying to calculate the size of the fortune that was lost.
I hopped online, assuming there was a popular tool that answers these sorts of questions. As it turns out, there wasn’t. That’s when I decided to build Stockchoker.
What makes it great?
Its simplicity. On most financial sites, you’re bombarded with charts, graphs and other statistics that are tough for non-finance people to comprehend. Stockchoker’s data should make sense to anyone with a fourth-grade education, but it’s also sophisticated enough to use as a legitimate comparison tool.
…the mastermind behind the MSB Cheat Sheet, suggested using the site as a quick and easy way to evaluate funds that a financial advisor might try to sell you. Using Stockchoker, it’s incredibly easy to compare the funds they peddle to lower-cost index funds over any period of time. If the index funds have a better return, you’d probably be better off going that route.
Where does the data come from?
Yahoo! Finance is kind enough to provide current and historic stock data to programmers.
Do the results include stock splits and dividends reinvested?
Yup. To quote Yahoo! Finance:
“Data is adjusted using appropriate split and dividend multipliers, adhering to Center for Research in Security Prices (CRSP) standards.”
How are ERs (expense ratios) accounted for in the results?
These are baked into the data Yahoo! provides. As an example, compare VTSMX and VTSAX. Those funds have identical holdings, but VTSAX has a slightly lower ER (because it requires a larger minimum investment). You’ll notice VTSAX always comes out a little ahead thanks to the lower ER.
How about fees paid to advisors and sales loads (commissions)?
You’ll have to account for these yourself. It’s not possible to factor in any financial advisor fees since those would vary from person to person. Don’t overlook these; they can add up fast.
I love the gratuitous, free smart-ass comments that come with each result. What’s up with those?
I wanted to soften the blow for users when they see how much they could’ve made on an investment by converting the dollar amount to something goofy. For instance, losing out on a private Toto concert doesn’t sound nearly as bad as losing out on a couple hundred thousand dollars. Well, that’s just my opinion.
I got lazy and ended up using a lot of items I’ve purchased throughout my life so I didn’t have to spend too much time looking up prices. So there’s a lot of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Nintendo references. I’m super cool, BTW.
Your site doesn’t provide much data – can you rely on it to make smart decisions?
It’s great for comparing long-term investments – particularly when looking at mutual funds. Just make sure you go back far enough.
Looking at short-term returns can be extremely misleading. Take Nintendo stock (NTDOY); It’s up 50 percent from a year ago. Must be a great stock, huh? Well, not if you back up five years. It’s down nearly 40 percent.
I wouldn’t base a major financial decision only off of Stockchoker, but it’s an excellent place to start.
Are you planning to add to the site?
There are several improvements I’m planning to make when time allows. For instance, right now you can only go back 20 years. I’d like to extend that for companies and funds that have a longer history.
A blog is also in the works. I’d like to think I’m a reasonably smart dude, but in spite of that, I’ve made some really dumb investing mistakes in the past year. Luckily, it’s kind of balanced out with a handful of good moves (thanks, Under Armour).
It might be helpful for newer investors to read about the missteps and why I thought they seemed like smart moves at the time. Hopefully, they avoid similar mistakes.
Personally, I’d love to be able to compare stocks/funds side-by-side. Any plans to make that possible?
I’ll add it to the to-do list. Thanks for the suggestion!
OK, now tell us about Todd!
Most readers of my blog are at or are pursuing FI (financial independence). Is this a goal of yours?
I always think of a line from Forrest Gump when I hear this sort of question. It’s when Forrest finds out part of his shrimpin’ fortune was used to start Apple Computer, Inc:
“Lieutenant Dan got me invested in some kind of fruit company. So then I got a call from him, saying we don’t have to worry about money no more. And I said, that’s good! One less thing.”
That last part sort of sums up my feelings perfectly. My desire to invest well isn’t motivated by extravagant things I want to purchase down the road. As a person who craves simplicity, my goal is to reach a point (in a couple decades) where I never have to think about finances again.
Do you have an investing background?
No, not at all. My wife and I bought a house recently, so we transitioned from saving-for-a-house mode to saving-for-retirement mode. I’ve always had a strange obsession with stats and numbers, so stocks and investing naturally became my favorite thing to read about.
So you own rather than rent? Explain yourself!
Yeah. For one, my wife and I both hate moving, so a sense of permanence was very appealing. Throw in super-low interest rates and a housing market that’s still not fully recovered from the Great Recession and it seemed like an ideal time to buy.
How have you learned what you’ve learned about investing?
Lots of reading and, unfortunately, a little bit of trial and error. The tricky part is you can’t trust a lot of what you read.
For instance, you could hop online right now and find five articles that explain why the energy sector is going to continue its crash. Then you could find some other articles explaining why it’s set to make a huge rebound at any moment. Who’s right?
Most of my mess-ups have occurred when when I try to time the market based on something I’ve read. When Carl Icahn insisted back in May that Apple shares were worth nearly double what they were selling for, it seemed like a great time to buy. Since that point, Apple stock is down double digits. Whoops.
My advice today would be this: automate, diversify and self-regulate. My wife and I set up our Vanguard accounts to automatically invest in our Roth IRAs each week as well as Vanguard’s most diversified index fund. That’s a much better and healthier approach than what I was doing initially – trying to manually buy at low points in the hope that I was catching the bottom.
I’ve done well with the handful of individual stocks I’ve purchased, but it’s a dangerous game to play (imagine the poor people who bought Volkswagen stock last week). That’s where the self-regulation comes in. I won’t ever be more invested in individual stocks than index funds, as tempting as it might be at times.
What’s been your worst mistake?
That time last fall when I thought energy was about to rebound so I bought some VGENX (Vanguard’s energy fund).
If a magic genie gave you 1,000,000 tax free dollars, what would you do?
I’d add a zero to the weekly amount my wife and I auto-deposit into Vanguard’s total stock market index fund (VTSAX). I’d also go to Chipotle a lot more.
What’s your day job?
I’m a software engineer at Motorola Solutions. I specialize in web-based user interfaces.
What’s your all-time favorite job?
I lived with my brother in San Francisco for a couple summers. One of those summers, I worked at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. as a host (that’s probably why I have every line of the movie memorized).
My job a lot of days was to talk to visitors during the minute or two before they were seated. There were a ton of international visitors, so I’d try to guess what country they were from. I was always blown away by how nice everyone was, even when my guesses were completely wrong.
The biggest perk, though – shrimp meals every day. It might’ve gotten old, but it was glorious for the two months I was there.
I’m a little all over the place. The Beatles are at the top of my list. My other favorites, in no particular order, are David Bowie, Elton John, Lady Gaga and Billy Joel. Since I grew up in a St. Louis suburb, Nelly has to be on the list, too.
When I’m coding, I can’t do music with words; it’s too distracting. In those cases, I’m all about Lord of the Rings music and the Interstellar soundtrack. I think I inherited that behavior from my brother, who’s the most brilliant programmer I know.
In what region of the country do you live?
I’m in the Midwest, about an hour west of Chicago. On a related note, I’ve heard that Midwesterners are the only people who use minutes rather than miles to explain distances between two places. I’m not sure if that’s true or not.
If I could live anywhere in the world I’d be in…
The Caribbean, on a small tropical island with high-speed internet and a Chipotle. It would also need to have an airport with direct flights to and from Chicago, St. Louis and San Francisco. Could I buy that with $1 million? I might need to change my earlier answer.
What kind of car do you drive?
A nine-year-old Honda Civic (if you were wondering – yes, that’s one of the “you could’ve bought” items that appear on Stockchoker periodically). My beloved 1998 Toyota Camry died last year. #neverforget
If I could meet anyone in history, I’d be sitting down with…
And the first question I’d ask would be…
How close was Daniel Day-Lewis? Did he deserve the Oscar?
In 50 years (maybe tomorrow we’ll all look back and ask: What the hell were we thinking when we…
Let the Kardashians have TV shows. They’re useless.
The biggest threat to the human race is…
The Interview 2, if someone ever decides to make that movie.
Who inspires you?
(JL: Here he clearly misses the opportunity to herald jlcollinsnh.com)
So those are the questions I wanted answered. Got some of your own? Ask in the comments and we’ll keep Todd under the bright lights till he responds.
Update January 20, 2016:
Todd just added two cool new features:
- Stock Wars: A tool that allows you to compare the performance of two stocks and/or funds.
- Quizzes: I took both. I’m a “goat” in the first and a “coyote” in the second. You can do better. I dare ya!
Want more? Here’s Kathryn’s video interview with Todd
- Vanguard.com (unfortunately Vanguard doesn’t have an affiliate program)
- Empower* is a free tool to manage and evaluate your investments. With great visuals you can track your net worth, asset allocation, and portfolio performance, including costs. At a glance you’ll see what’s working and what you might want to change. Here’s my full review.
- Betterment* is my recommendation for hands-off investors who prefer a DIFM (Do It For Me) approach. It is also a great tool for reaching short-term savings goals. Here is my Betterment Review
- Tuft & Needle helps me sleep at night. Unfortunately they are no longer an affiliate, but still a very cool company and a great product.
*These are affiliate links and should you chose to do business with them, this blog will earn a small commission.
Unrelated, but here’s what I’m currently or have just finished reading and enjoyed:
If you are interested in income inequality, this poorly titled (should have been Unfettered Capitalism – more accurate and more descriptive) is a great discussion of the pros and cons of our current system. Luttwak clearly has his own biases, but is remarkable evenhanded in presenting both sides.
Written in the late 1990s, it is a bit of a time capsule and fun to see how the past 20 years have actually unfolded.
Leave it to Psmith
“Crime not objected to.”
One of my favorite characters from a favorite author. If you like it, here are two more:
Jack Reacher roams around the country carrying only a folding toothbrush. When his clothes get dirty he buys new ones. Oh, and he kills lots of bad guys. “Make Me” is the most recent in the series, but not the best. That might be this one:
First line: “People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day.”
Last Line: “This ends my true account of how I avenged Frank Ross’s blood over in the Choctaw Nation when snow was on the ground.”
How we came to be what we are, behave the way we do and believe what we believe. My favorite in this group.
Where people who live to be 100+ live, how they live and what they eat.
Bad monkeys are Sapiens that need killing, and Jane is on the job. If you are already paranoid, you might want to skip chapter: white room (iv)
Why the future might be incredibly good. Unless the grey goo gets us.
This might be the most enlightening and entertaining take on American history I’ve yet to read.
And here are some of my all time favorites:
The book that has most influenced how I live my life.
“The Fall of Edward Barnard” is very possibly my all-time favorite short story.
Perfect for the readers of this blog.
“Bartleby the Scrivener” is very possibly my all-time favorite novella. Don’t be put off if you struggled with Melville’s “Moby Dick.” This is a much better and easier read. Plus it will teach you the most important phrase in the English language:
“I would prefer not to.”
*If you click on the books you’ll go to Amazon, an affiliate partner. Should you choose buy them, or anything else while you there, this blog will receive a small commission. This doesn’t affect what you pay.