In our recent interview with ABC World News Tonight we covered a lot of topics that didn’t make it to the final cut. We spent a lot of time talking about investing… how we invest, how much time it takes, my level of investing expertise compared to a layman, and recommendations for the average individual.
The reporter I spoke with was really interested in our lifestyle, and the whole conversation felt very natural and genuine. After I answered all of her questions about safe withdrawal rates, cap gain harvesting, cash flow management, portfolio rebalancing, asset allocation, and all of that other mumbo jumbo buzzwordy stuff, she asked a really powerful question that really struck me…
“What about me? How would I ever be able to do all of that?”
Everything about that question…. intonation, tone of voice…. made me feel as though I had completely failed as a messenger. Sure, I answered the questions she asked… but I didn’t address the heart of the matter. It’s probably the same on this blog. (I’m an engineer, not a politician.)
This is how I (tried to) remedy that.
Investing is Boring
As somebody who has never piloted a commercial airliner, looking at the cockpit is a bit intimidating. Look at all of those dials and buttons! Even after asking an experienced pilot any questions I could think of, I’m certain I would walk away convinced I could never fly a plane. It’s too complicated.
To most people this is what investing looks like.
Fortunately, you don’t need to know how to fly a plane to vacation on a tropical island. And you don’t need to know how to manage a hedge fund to invest and/or become financially independent.
Investing is seriously one of the most boring things I do, which is why I spend as little time on it as possible.
Investing is simple and easy.
Step 1 – Setup an automatic contribution from every paycheck (pay yourself first) into a Vanguard index fund in your 401k or IRA.
There are no other steps.
We can get more complicated that that, sure, but those complications are optional. JL Collins has a wonderful guide to Step 1 and beyond in his book The Simple Path to Wealth. (Note the word “simple”)
The primary goal of an average investor (like me) is to just track the performance of the index. In other words, to be average. The more boring, the better.
90% of the experts on television fail to achieve this goal in any given year, especially after taxes and fees. (They are below average)
Sometimes the experts will beat the index for a year or two, and then build an entire career on that lucky streak. I guess I should become a talking head on all of the news programs now since our portfolio beat the index over the last year (pure luck.)
Here are the answers to the ABC interview questions:
1. How do we invest?
Here is our portfolio: 90% stock (75% US, 25% International), 10% bonds. All index funds.
2. How much time do I spend on managing investments?
I do some tax management in December every year, which takes about 7 minutes. I also track our spending closely, which takes around an hour every month.
3. What is my level of investing expertise?
I’ve read 100s of books on investing and economics, from basic investing 101 type books up to complicated topics like option valuation using the Black–Scholes–Merton model. I don’t use any of it beyond the Investing 101 concept explained above. Reading books doesn’t give me any special investing expertise though… I’ve read books on quantum physics and am just as confused as I was before.
4. What should the average person do?
Setup an automatic contribution from every paycheck (pay yourself first) into a Vanguard index fund in your 401k or IRA.
And here are some questions I’ve received from friends/family/readers:
1. Jeremy, I haven’t done anything with my portfolio in years. I need to do something!
No. No you don’t.
2. Should I Dollar Cost Average or Lump Sum invest this cash balance?
Whichever is most convenient.
3. Do I need to keep some cash on the side as “dry powder”?
4. Why do you say it is good to be average? I want to be above average.
Ironically, if you are an average investor you are above average. (The Investors Paradox)
5. Should I rebalance our portfolio every year?
If you want. It probably doesn’t matter.
6. I have a friend who is really into dividend investing. What do you think?
Not boring enough.
7. Aren’t you worried about (interest worrisome topic here)?
8. Isn’t the market high right now?
I don’t know. Nobody else does either. See Step 1 of the 1 Step Plan.
9. Why did you read so many investing books if they are so boring, smart guy?
Because I thought it was necessary to be an investing expert to retire early. I was wrong. (I’m not that smart.)
10. Why do I feel like you are bored with all of these questions?
Because investing is boring. As it should be.
11. Why aren’t the answers to these questions longer?
Because they don’t need to be.
If I haven’t completely failed as a messenger yet again, then the clear take away should be:
Investing is simple and boring. The simpler, the better. The boring(er), the better. Average is above average.
I’m not interested in flying the next airplane to our holiday destination, and I’m not interested in managing my own hedge fund. Dear portfolio: Just perform as the market does while I live my normal life, and don’t bother me.
99% of investors should just follow my (patent pending) 1 Step Plan:
Setup an automatic contribution from every paycheck (pay yourself first) into a Vanguard index fund in your 401k or IRA. The end.
Are you bored yet?
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