MY INTEREST IN personal finance began during a road trip five years ago. Driving alone, in a desolate part of the state, my choice of radio stations was limited. Desperate to find something other than static to listen to, I punched the “seek” button and came across Dave Ramsey’s radio show.
As someone who has always tried to live within or below my means, I appreciated his “beans and rice, rice and beans” philosophy. Ramsey’s advice was straightforward and easy to understand, even for someone like me, who didn’t have a clue how mutual funds differed from municipal bonds.
When I returned home, I checked out a variety of investing books from my local library. Many were too advanced for me to understand completely the first time through but, with time, I slowly began to decipher the language of personal finance and investing. I also began to investigate several personal finance websites, seeking advice on subjects ranging from early retirement strategies to how to maximize Social Security benefits.
Last year, I came across the Bogleheads forum. The tagline on the forum homepage is, “Investing Advice Inspired by John Bogle.” During my quest to educate myself about various financial subjects, I’d frequently come across references to Bogle, primarily related to his role in founding Vanguard Group. The forum homepage includes links to several webpages describing the basic Boglehead philosophy of investing. I quickly became intrigued.
When I started browsing the forum, I was intimidated by what I saw. The list of abbreviations alone was, no pun intended, mindboggling. ETF, REIT and TSP were just a few of the cryptic abbreviations I’d see while browsing topics. I vowed to keep reading and deciphering. Now, nearly a year later, I feel like the forum has helped me to become significantly more financially literate.
The Bogleheads forum is divided into six main categories, the most popular being “Investing—Help with Personal Investments.” People who post in this category share all the details of their financial life—salary, savings and investments. They seek advice from other forum members about potential investments, asset allocation and what percentage of their salary to dedicate to various financial goals.
FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) is a subject that shows up frequently on the forum. Recently, one post focused on the question of early retirement withdrawal rates. Forum members quickly weighed in on the subject, offering links to blogs about early retirement, debating the logic of various withdrawal strategies and sharing their personal experiences.
Another forum user wanted to know how much money someone would need to stop worrying. Responders to the post offered formulas (25 to 50 times your current annual expenditures) and absolute amounts ($4 million), as well as the more straightforward answer, “Worries never go away.”
A recent addition to the forum is the Post Your Financial Milestone Announcements page. It can be both intimidating and inspiring to read stories of people who, at relatively young ages, already have six-figure incomes and seven-figure retirement nest eggs. Forum members use the page to boast about retirement account balances, as well as to brag about other financial life milestones, such as paying off their mortgages.
Kristine Hayes is a departmental manager at a small, liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon. Her previous articles include USAFacts.org, Perking Up and Aiming High.
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