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The Simple Path to Wealth: Your road map to financial independence and a rich, free life Paperback – June 18, 2016
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About the Author
These days, I'm a book author and financial blogger on jlcollinsnh.com, but it wasn’t always so. I started selling flyswatters door-to-door and picking up empty pop bottles from the side of the road for the 2-cent deposit. Gimme a break. I was eight. My first real job was scrubbing out big metal ice cream cans. I was 13. It paid $1.25 per hour. From there: Busboy, dishwasher, order-puller, grocery bagger, stock clerk, produce clerk and gas station pump jockey back in the day when someone pumped your gas, washed your windows and checked your oil (ask your grandparents). Mail clerk, tree-trimmer, landscaper, ad agency founder, account executive, ad space salesman, investment officer, entrepreneur, consultant, sales trainer, speaker, writer, radio talk show host and magazine publisher. Pretty much in that order although I’ve done some more than once. And I may have forgotten one or two. My work has taken me to most U.S. states as well as Canada, Germany and England. One of my few regrets is that I’ve never had an international posting. But I’ve had the good fortune to see a bit of the planet on my own: Mexico, Canada, Ireland, Wales, England, Greece, Crete, Puerto Rico, Tahiti, Venezuela, Curacao, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Spain, Paris, India, Kashmir, Goa, Nepal, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Eleuthera, St. Thomas, St. Martin, Barbados, Antigua, Martinique, Ecuador, Perú, Bolivia, Chile, Prague, Guatemala, Galápagos. Pretty much in that order although I’ve visited some more than once. And I may have forgotten one or two. I’ve traveled by plane, train, bus, boat, subway, taxi, hired car, motorcycle, bicycle, rickshaw, hitch-hiking, foot, horse, donkey and elephant. Not only traveled by elephant, but herded rhinoceroses by elephant back in Nepal. My degree in English Lit is from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. They still send me alumni letters mostly, I think, hoping I’ve become rich and famous. I’m working on it. Here’s my favorite cartoon: The visual is two guys in a corn field, up on racks dressed in shabby clothes. Straw coming out from their shirt cuffs and pant legs. They are serving as scarecrows. One is looking over at the other and saying… “English Major. How about you?” A pal of mine once said I had won the family lottery. He is right. My wife Jane and I have been married for 34 years. Our daughter Jessica graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Rhode Island. She currently serves in the Peace Corp.
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This book is perfect for beginners, and some seasoned investors who are sick and tired of searching for that short-term investment miracle. Collins stuck with Bogle’s purest message from the beginning to the last word. As a Bogle devotee, I appreciate his courage to stand up, write a terrific book and argue effectively for the indexing strategy and against the delusional appeal of day-traders, hedge fund managers, active management strategies, timers, or individuals who claim they can successfully speculate and win big. Far too many normal investors get caught up in those phony, but exciting fantasies and lose. The new guy or gal investor gets the skills to construct a simple portfolio you understand, and then have the courage and the confidence to permanently ignore the media’s seductive financial noise machine.
The Simple Path to Wealth basic message to beginners is well-known in the Do It Yourself (DIY) investing culture:
• think long-term
• live below your means
• plan ahead with a fully diversified portfolio (except international stocks, more on this below)
• invest in Vanguards low-cost index funds
Sooooo, what is not to like? I’ll admit it’s a boring plan, and not all DIYers embrace it. But I love my boring plan and it’s exactly where the power of what we can do lies—after setting up our plan, we must be patient.
Collins writes much about psychology, for good reason. The power lies with us. It's not us versus the big intimidating stock market. With time and experience, we learn to be psychologically tough for long periods of time. In the movie Wizard of OZ, Glenda told Dorothy that she “always had the power to go home again?” It's the same for us investors. All of the features of a constructing a balanced plan remains under our control. It fairly easy to learn. But the hard part is the unfair and counterintuitive psychology. Thinking long-term is the best antidote. Over time the growth will pay enough of a return to meet or beat the inflation rate. Meeting or beating inflation is a simple, realistic goal, and psychological attractive. This book shows you how to like saving with minimal time and effort to discover the investing process.
Patience, psychology, and philosophy are a difficult sell. Many investing aficionados are more interested in the adrenaline rush and chasing the opposite sex than building wealth over time. The market is not something to conquer or control. It is simply made up of wonderful organizations of hardworking people, called publicly traded corporations. The author explains how to harness all of that positive corporate energy, and just flow with it, whether it goes up or down, and over time it goes up. The author addressed the tough sell challenge with elegance and subtle toughness.
The author discusses investment costs, taxes, tax-deferred retirement plans offered by employers, the retirement years and strategies to keep from running out of money. My favorite chapters are “Why I don’t like Investment Advisers” and “Some final thoughts about risk.” Financial advisers are an easy target with hundreds of reasons not to like. Most of us DIYers will never need a financial adviser, for two good reasons: Collins writes “Nobody cares about your money more than you do,” and “you can learn to manage your money yourself with far less cost and better results.” From my personal experience, knowing how to save investment costs alone was enough to pay cash for the Tesla Model S.
On the subject of risk, my favorite part, and I quote as the author was speaking to the zombie apocalyptics among us especially the financial media: “Major Armageddon extinctions events, like the asteroid that took out the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago, have happened about five times. So that’s about one every 10 million years or so. Are we really arrogant enough to think it’s going to happen in the geological eye-blink we’ll be around? That we’ll be the ones to witness it? No likely.” Economic Armageddon ain’t going to happen either.
There are a few minor omissions. The author is not well known, so he needs to talk more about himself about what he did. I felt like he had more to say as examples of his fears of risk and the mistakes he made. All of that would have made the book even more authentic and organic. What was the role of his wife? What exactly did the author and his wife do for a living? He did report that he worked as a financial analyst. So, was he in the financial industry? He did not explain why he had an overly aggressive portfolio for an individual in his 60s. He did not share his diversification plan, except that he doesn’t own international stocks (he explains why).
Consequently, I give him an A for telling us how to set up a portfolio and his rationale, but I give him a B for not showing what exactly he did and for how long. His rationale is spot on, but portfolio construction and asset allocation strategies and information can be found in many books (The Boglehead Guide to Investors, any book written by Jack Bogle or his followers, Ferri, Swedroe, Roth, and Bernstein).
• Some other minor items that I found perplexing. On page 246, he writes, “Save and invest at least 50% of your income.” What? I reread this again and again, and could not comprehend why the author wrote this. In my working career, I could not even contribute the maximum allowed in my 403(b) plan let alone save 50% of my income (No, I never had new car payments because I could not afford car payments and invest too). Yet, I reached financial independence at age 61. 50% of one’s income is overreaching and dangerously discouraging (unless you are a highly elite and talented employee with a 7 figure income). For the rest of us, just start with what you can afford. For example, I started at age 37 with $200 a month in my 403(b), and that was a lot out of my meager income. But I kept it up for 24 more years.
• Back to his strategy about avoid international stocks. The author knows he will get pushback, and he probably has heard my argument for international investing many times. Diversification means investing in all available stocks, worldwide. So, let’s take advantage of these opportunities to invest in just one fund, the Vanguard Total World Stock ETF (VT). The author won’t have it. IMO, the author might be reflecting his age because he says that investing in the United States domestic market is enough diversification because of the worn-out global connections argument. He tries to offer valid reasons, but they are out-of-date, and one about excessive costs is flatly wrong. Vanguard's Global fund charges .14%. I don’t know about you, but that is inexpensive.
Also, I am 69 years old and old enough to remember my elders saying that is too risky to invest in foreign stocks. We are well into the 21st century and the world has changed. Don’t you think that international corporations want to grow and prosper too? Of course. Don’t you think opportunities for diversification have evolved for the better? Yes. I want as much diversification as possible to reduce equity risk, and reduce volatility. I might even get higher returns, but that’s not part of my expectations. The global index funds or ITFs make full diversification in just one investment a synch.
• Another minor objection is his downplaying the Roth IRA. I think he over complicated with trying to predict the tax rate to decide to use or not use the Roth IRA. It’s futile and a waste of time to guess the future. Not having to pay capital gains taxes after investing in the Roth IRA is one of the best strategies for us regular investors (You can run the numbers on a brilliant Excel program created by The Finance Buff). After running the numbers on the Excel program, you will be thoroughly convinced to include the Roth IRA in your plan.
• One last objection. I recommend to readers who don’t have a “lump sum” that is, a bundle of money to invest already, that you ignore the “Why I don’t like dollar cost averaging” chapter. I had to use DCA during my entire working career investing in my 403(b). Because I started from NOTHING and had less than $50,000 for years. If you have a lump sum to invest, follow the author’s advice. But I think I can speak for most investors who have little choice but to use DCA. His opinion about DCA was more discouraging than encouraging.
Collin’s strong opinions about some of his investment ideas represent more of his individuality than sound investment practice. Of course, the author never intended to be discouraging. I am just responding as a reader with a few of my opinions about his outstanding work. That’s perfectly fine for him as his opinions worked for him and they might work for you too. My opinions worked well for me. In the final analyses, he follows the “Boglehead” way. For that, I am delighted he wrote a great self-published book showing once again the work of the legendary investor, advocate, and teacher, Jack Bogle. Outside of these minor differences of opinion, Mr. Collins earned a well-deserved five stars.
In sum, if any author self-publishes a book about investing, I think it is important to readers to know that the message is organic—no other agenda item hangs in secret, other than to explain and lay out a simple plan which will connect with new investors and get them results.
Jim, thanks for helping clarify the state of social security, how it works, where the money is, and future projections. That would be helpful for a person of any age. I've not found a better explanation of it anywhere.
Also, thank you for showing the charts of the Trinity Study. I've understood the study already from all the blogs I've consume, but you are right, people over emphasize a couple data points, while ignoring most of the rest. You gave us EVERYTHING and explained the charts so a non math nerd could understand them. It was really interesting and valuable to see the full results, and how changing asset allocation and withdraw rates effects success rates. Also, it is a great illustration to others on the value of low fee investments. To show a person that going from VTSAX at .05% to a managed account at 2% brings a 96% success rate down into the 60% range...that's a great tangible way to make things real for people.
Another thing I liked was that there was valuable info for people of all ages and stages of financial life. If you were in debt, the start of the book had a lot to offer. If you are already rocking it, the middle or latter stages had a ton of great stuff. If you are financially savvy it still had lots of content, but if you are really new to investing, it was simple enough to understand and grasp it. That's a tough thing to do, and you pulled it off.
Finally, the readability was a lot of fun. I'm a nerdy math guy so I'd have been happy with just the charts and numbers, but the stories make and flow make it easy for me to lend out to others without boring them out of finishing it:)
Thanks again for taking the time to write this, your blog and Mr. Money Mustache are my two favorite personal finance destinations on the internet. Take care. -Pete