Before I jump into the week’s post I want to give you a quick update about what’s happening at Can I retire yet? My life has been busy. Publishing has been limited and will remain so for the next few weeks.

I am currently preparing to take the CFP exam. Last week, I was able to speak at the Bogleheads conference. COVID spotted me in the middle of all my preparations. It made up for the lost time.

I feel better now and plan to make up the time lost on the blog after the exam. These past few months have been a learning experience for me. Many of these lessons are captured in blog posts, which I haven’t been able to focus on.

But I wanted to share my impressions of my first Bogleheads conference. I’ll share a few key lessons while they are fresh on my mind.

What is a Boglehead?

Before jumping in, it is probably worth explaining what exactly a Boglehead is. Bogleheads are people who follow the investing principles espoused by Vanguard founder John C. Bogle.

Related: The Little Book of Common Sense Investing — Book Review

I’ll also share a little history that I just learned at the conference. Mel Lindauer, one of the original Bogleheads, shared this information. One of the original Bogleheads Mel Lindauer gave it to a group Vanguard/Bogle loyalists as a derogatory name by those who opposed this investment philosophy when internet forums first became popular.

The Bogleheads adopted the term as a term to endear others who share their values. They adopted the term for themselves.

John Bogle himself later learned of a thread of Thanksgiving posts in which they shared things they were grateful for, enabled at least in part by this investing philosophy. They were touched by his generosity and asked to meet in person.

This led to the first “Boglehead” meeting in one of their homes.

Principles vs. Tactics

The most recent Boglehead conference kicked off with an afternoon of “Bogleheads University” as a “pre-conference” event. I estimate that about 90% of those who attended the event were also there. Five current Bogleheads board members presented two investing principles. They were:

  1. Have a plan.
  2. Invest with consistency.
  3. Never bear too much, or too little, risk.
  4. Diversify.
  5. Never try to time the market.
  6. Use index funds when possible.
  7. Keep costs low.
  8. Minimize taxes.
  9. Invest with simplicity.
  10. Stay the course.

During the course of the presentations, Rick Ferri pointed out that these were principles espoused by John Bogle and adopted by all Bogleheads. These principles would be repeated throughout the conference. This broad umbrella covers a wide range of tactics that can be used to meet your specific needs.

I appreciate this nuance. This is similar to how I use disparate stories within the Choose FI book. Then, I organize them into common principles that everyone can use to achieve financial independence.

It was amazing to see how different presenters used the Boglehead principles to their own finances. I also learned how to teach others.

I encourage everyone learn to distinguish between tactics and principles. Doing so leads to asking better questions which in turn will result in better outcomes.

Common Ground on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Investing

There was a wide variety of perspectives and lively debate on most topics discussed at the conference. ESG was the exception.

There was no disagreement or ambiguity in discussions about ESG. It was clear and loud.

bogleheads investing panel

I heard no disagreement or ambiguity in discussions of ESG.

This opinion is one I shared as I wrote about it a few years back.

Boglehead Mike Piper reached a similar conclusion to mine.

But, I was still surprised by the lack of opposition on this subject. This idea continues to attract a lot attention outside of the Bogleheads community. It is also drawing a larger share of investor dollars.

So I found it interesting to hear, and worth pointing out, the unanimity and conviction with which this concept was rejected by every one of these smart people with otherwise diverse opinions.

Vanguard’s “Issues”The relationship between Vanguard, John Bogle, and the Bogleheads is interesting. Bogle’s admiration led to a loyalty to Vanguard in the later years. He maintained an office on Vanguard’s campus from which he continued writing. Sometimes his writings were critical about the direction Vanguard was taking. (Awkward!

)

Bogle passed away early in 2019. Vanguard has been evolving and changing since then. Bogleheads have often been Vanguard’s most vocal critics.

Issues have ranged from a general change of philosophical direction towards private equity investments and promoting advisory services, customer service issues, and a recent class action lawsuit filed against the company for creating large and unexpected capital gains taxes among holders of their target date funds.

These are issues I was curious to hear discussed. Vanguard has always been something I believe in. Vanguard is where my money is invested.

What i can tell you is that the majority of Bogleheads agree with my view that Vanguard issues as do all other companies. Vanguard’s structure aligns more closely with their investors’ interests than any other. They are the most trusted company to do business with.

The Vanguard representatives who spoke at the conference were well aware of these issues and ready to answer any questions. They assured us that the Bogleheads’ voices are heard loud and clear at Vanguard, and that these issues are being addressed internally.

What I can’t tell you is that I had my concerns completely alleviated. This will be an issue I continue to watch and write about.

Enough

A theme I touched on in my talk was the idea of enough. I was pleased to hear this theme touched on by other speakers and panelists throughout the conference.

The most memorable example for me, unfortunately, came as the result of a blunt, but in my opinion correct, answer from a panelist responding to an attendee’s question. An attendee wanted to know what she could do to avoid being pushed into IRMAA’s highest brackets (Medicare’s Income-Related monthly Adjustment Amount). The answer was: Pay a couple hundred dollars per month for extra Medicare premium, and you can live your life to the fullest. You’ve won the game! The game is over!The idea of knowing when you have enough was also discussed in discussions about the appropriate amount of risk in your portfolio. These conversations were particularly relevant given the current market and inflation conditions. Many people wish they could go back in time and hear them at the end 2021.

. The Bogleheads are an amazing community. They are generous with their knowledge and time to help others. This is similar to F.I.R.E.’s organically forming community.

The beauty of either community is the ability to surround yourself with new reference groups. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all ships.

Unfortunately, this is also the worst part of either community. I appreciate the reminder that enough is important, even though it wasn’t discussed as often or as intensely as the other principles. I commit to being a voice pressing this conversation forward.

Related:

Financial Simplicity — What Is Your Time Worth?

A Duty to Give BackOn a related note, I appreciated the emphasis throughout the Bogleheads conference on recognizing our good fortune and finding ways to give back. The conference itself is only one part of the John C. Bogle Center for Financial Literacy, a 501(c),(3) non-profit. Proceeds are used to support other educational tools.

You can find tons of information on the website in any format that you prefer. They will also be posting all of the speaker’s talks and panel discussions from this year’s conference.

One talk you will not have to go find is Michelle Singletary’s closing Keynote conversation with Christine Benz. I promise I will be sharing it as part of one of my monthly “Best of” posts as soon as the video is made available.

This tweet sums it up well:

In the course of a 50 minute talk, Singletary brought tears to my eyes twice. Singletary did this by making me laugh. She did it again later by sharing her personal story with such conviction and emotion.

Her keynote highlighted the importance of each person’s responsibility to use the good fortune that has been bestowed upon them and to make a difference. It was the perfect way to end an outstanding conference.

Boglehead Keynote Singletary Benz

Stay The Course

If you’ve read John Bogle’s books or listened to him speak, you know he has a number of go to catch phrases he loved to use to convey his principles in simple, memorable, and actionable ways. The most well-known phrase of his is “Stay The Course”.

StayThe course was reinforced throughout the conference. Each attendee received a copy of Bogle’s last book, which bears that title. Jim Dahle presented the final principle of Bogleheads University: “Stay the Course”.

Dahle stressed that “staying the course” is the most straightforward principle. It can be difficult to follow in practice. This is where having a community, whether online, in local meet-up groups, or at a conference like the Bogleheads can be especially valuable.

Staying the course is particularly important when times are hard, as it currently is for investors. But this principle doesn’t only apply to investing.

After giving my talk about how FIRE principles work with Bogleheads principles, I had the opportunity to speak with a number of people who thanked me for sharing a message of hope and a path for action.

I tried to take a little bit of extra time with each of them individually. I am able to see how close they are as an objective observer from a distance of 30,000 feet.

We often focus on the next obstacle in front of our eyes, rather than the one in front.

I hope I had even a small impact in helping at least a few of them “stay the course.”

Final Thoughts on the Bogleheads Conference

The Bogleheads is a fabulous organization, committed to spreading financial literacy in a world that desperately needs it. The John C. Bogle Center for Financial Literacy has been redesigned. Their resources are well-curated.

John Bogle’s principles are essential for everyone, including for investing and for living. They are worth exploring and I urge you to do so. It was a great conference. This conference was extremely well run. I have had the privilege of being able to see the inside workings of the organization.

Organizers do their best to present a top-notch program while keeping costs low. The conference is made accessible to as many people possible. Proceeds then go to other aspects of the organization that are not profitable.

As a speaker, I can also tell you that the one ask of me, and all other speakers and panelists, was to make ourselves available and try to provide the most welcoming and beneficial experience possible for attendees.

This was my first Bogleheads conference, but it will not be my last. You won’t regret it, whether you were considering going to this year’s conference or the one before. It will be a great decision.

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[Chris Mamula used principles of traditional retirement planning, combined with creative lifestyle design, to retire from a career as a physical therapist at age 41. After poor experiences with the financial industry early in his professional life, he educated himself on investing and tax planning. Now he draws on his experience to write about wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement, and lifestyle design at Can I Retire Yet? Chris has been featured on MarketWatch, Morningstar, U.S. News & World Report, and Business Insider. He is also the primary author of the book Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. You can reach him at chris@caniretireyet.com.]

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