NOW THAT I’M RETIRED, I have more time to reflect on the larger shape of my life—a tendency that’s lately been strengthened by the fairly common impulse to ponder what to accomplish in the new year.
The disturbing truth: An objective assessment of my life suggests I’m pretty boring. Of course, I’d long known that most other people were boring. But until recently, I hadn’t realized I was one of them.
I also didn’t realize that my capacity to enjoy what looked from the outside like a boring life is, in fact, my financial superpower. A minor superpower maybe, but it’s mine.
My boring life has been full of boring middle-class acts. I worked. I raised kids. I steadily but unspectacularly saved for my kids’ college education, saved for a vague and distant thing called retirement, saved for nearer-term costs.
Decisions to save sound like they require discipline. But in my case, they involved a few upfront choices, and then a long period where I was too lazy and boring to do anything different. I find it easier to be lazy than disciplined.
My investment decisions were also boring. I would decide how much to save and then dump most of it in diversified mutual funds. Most long-term savings were automatic and tax-advantaged. I didn’t think too much about them on a daily basis.
My theory of long-term investing is also boring. It comes in three parts.
First, everyone who has bet against the capacity of the U.S. economy to grow in the long run has lost that bet. It’s been a losing bet for 250 years. The same is true for long-term global growth. There’s only a small chance that some apocalypse will occur in my lifetime that will change that and, if something that catastrophic does happen, I don’t think my portfolio balance is going to be uppermost in my mind.
Second, long-term growth in the economy is correlated with long-term growth in publicly traded companies. I have no idea which companies will grow the most or which will fail, but a diversified mix of such companies will always get more valuable over long investment time horizons.
Third, I’m too boring to outperform the market, but it seems to me I don’t have to beat the market. In fact, the development of transparency in financial markets in my lifetime, along with easier access to those markets for small investors and innovations such as low-fee index funds, have made my lifetime a very good time to be boring. Bet on a diversified portfolio, hold on for a while and you win. It’s easier than working for a living and you don’t have to be smart or exciting.
One day, after a few decades of being boring—but sooner than I’d imagined—I realized with some surprise that I could retire if I wanted. I wish I could say that all of this was because I had a highly paid skill that earned me a substantially higher-than-average salary. But no, the most I ever earned was about $65,000 a year. My happy financial outcomes have mostly resulted from the accident of enjoying a boring life over a long period of time.
Having enough to retire isn’t just a matter of boring saving and investing; the other side of the coin is spending. Here again, being boring helps. I like to read. I like to write. I like to garden. I like to cook. I like to fish, hike and camp. Most important, I like to hang out with my family.
Anyone watching me do these things would be bored silly, but these activities bring me satisfaction and, at their core, are surprisingly inexpensive. Your list won’t be my list. But you do need to know what your list is. In your quest to be boring, consider the possibility that the purpose of money is not to buy toys, but rather to use money as a lever to make your life and that of others better.
I firmly believe that people should spend as much of their limited time as they can doing what brings them deep satisfaction. Don’t worry about what other people want. Pretend you’re a good person, and look to what you—as well as others you care about—need to lead an even better life.
No, you won’t be able to surrender to hedonism or get rid of all unpleasant tasks. The boring truth is, to do what you want, you have to spend some time doing things you don’t like. Nobody likes going to the dentist, for example, but life is better if your teeth don’t rot and fall out of your head.
To pursue the important, you need to have at least some money. For most of us, that means we have to spend a fair chunk of our life working. Figuring out how to use the money we get from work in service of the important, rather than the trivial, is a critical step. Budgeting, though boring, is vital in this process.
Most of us think budgeting mainly involves staring at unpleasant numbers that tell us we can’t have things we want. There is a bit of that. But a critical part of “doing a budget” should involve making a list of the things, people and actions we most value. Next make a list of how we actually spend not just our money, but also our time. Then see how much of our time is spent on what’s important to us.
If, like the vast majority of us, you find the two lists don’t match up very well, change your life for the boring. And for the better.
David Johnson retired in 2021 from editing hunting and fishing magazines. He spends his time reading, cooking, gardening, fishing, freelancing and hanging out with his family in Oregon. David’s previous article was What Is Retirement?
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Cheers to the boring! Wait, is that a contradiction?
I led a similar, boring life but it led me to early retirement with lots of time on Pickleball courts and beautiful trails. It doesn’t seem so boring now.
Thank you for this beautifully written article. I would argue that you actually live a very successful and exciting life. I just emailed myself this sentence to save as a quote to reference in the future: “Nobody likes going to the dentist, for example, but life is better if your teeth don’t rot and fall out of your head.”
Actually, alot of what many consider to be exciting is not all that expensive, even cheap if done creatively. It is more about getting out of one’s comfort zone than the finances. Especially now a days, there are so many options provided by internet connectivity. Back in “my day” there was no airB&B, house swapping/setting for travel as an example. Many “toys” one can rent now rather than buy.
I am exactly the person you describe. When I give talks on finance I tell my audience this stuff is really boring but when I come across an article that excites me I get excited. Charitable Gift Annuity-my latest find
David thank you for this post! Been retired for just over a year… I’m pretty boring too 🙂 Enjoying being my own boss and the feeling that everyday is a Saturday (kinda) My wife and I traveling when we want and enjoying life. But I under estimated my social life… work was it. My friends and coworkers… Once newness wore off the unwinding of work intensity and habits.. tough for me. I really like your idea about adding analysis of where my time is going… do more of the stuff. Thank you again..
One of my dearest oldest friends was a connoisseur chef, formally trained and cooked the most exquisite dishes of any cuisine. He spoiled me with his delicious meals pared with the perfect wine. That stated, he told me a secret: he said that the most simplest foods were the most delicious. Fresh vegetables and fresh meats- you can make anything taste good with good ingredients- making an easy and tasty meal doesn’t require a culinary degree. I’ll never forget lesson he told me. Same thing goes with your retirement superpowers- they don’t need to be extraordinary in order to be fabulous. Simple superpowers are just fine. I enjoy making and eating simple and delicious meals while enjoying my simple retirement superpowers which includes lots of hiking and appreciating beautiful Mother Nature. Life is good!
Boring might just be a deliciously provocative way of saying typical or average/median, which seems Humble to me. Thanks for the great piece, David, and congratulations on the start of your new phase of life! May you live long and prosper.
good perspective and well-written. you might start a new trend of boring….It has served me well.
Such a wise article. Thank you.
I really enjoyed that post and agree 100%.
I know I’m boring too. But my grandkids think I’m funny. And playing with them allows me to have a second childhood.
It is painful, though, to have to get up off the floor. 🙁
Stay boring and enjoy your life!
Though I suspect “boring” is somewhat tongue in cheek, if you consider your life boring to other people, that’s fine. If your life is boring to you, time for some changes. You make some great points though!
Thank you for saying it!! Boring life is beautiful. Mine is not much different that yours – work, got married, got a degree, work some more then retired as soon as I thought I had enough, at 51 in 2000. Oops! Lost 1/2 of my IRA investment since I didn’t know what I was doing. But all in all this boring life of mine is a good life. No high drama of needs for anything. So luck was on my side also. I think if you can divorce yourself from wanting what was shown to you in commerce/influence/social medias, and find your own path to contentment, you’ll be lucky too.
Boring defined = not interesting, tedious. Synonyms include: dull
humdrum, lifeless, monotonous, mundane, stodgy.
I don’t want to be any of that and I suspect that is not how you are using boring here. Perhaps you mean enjoying life in your way without the fluff and glitz society defines as necessary.
Living a truly boring life seems a waste. I don’t think fishing is boring and I don’t think world travel is extravagant.
You said, “I firmly believe that people should spend as much of their limited time as they can doing what brings them deep satisfaction.” Me too, but I don’t think aiming for boring is not necessarily a part of that.
Meant to say “is necessarily a part of that”
I see your point. Well, I didn’t think I aim for “boring” either. But when I tell my life story it feels ‘boring’ to most who seeks adventures and high life, stylishly embellished.
Contentment is my goal, but I’m not the most exciting characters either. lol.
I love reading your opinions, by the way.
Great article, thanks. Happy to report that I was also boring during my working life, and owe a big debt to Jack Bogle for the creation of index mutual funds. I was able to retire early and embark on extensive travel – but economically, which I actually think is more fun.
Boring people unite! “To do what you want, you have to spend some time doing things you don’t like.” I suspect you didn’t make that up, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard it, and it is classic.
I’m not aware of it as a quote, but I suspect it came up in conversation thousands of years ago as a group of folks was trying to decide who was going to go out in the rain to get the firewood so that they could cook the mammoth. Can’t be a new idea.
In many respects I wish my life had been as boring as yours. Really touched by a wonderfully aware and sensitive piece.
Excellent post. Thanks. You showed that I was also boring in much the same way. (That’s a good thing.)
Thanks for this article. I lead a very boring–but happy–life.
I’m an introvert. For most of my adult life, I struggled with trying to understand why I wasn’t like ‘other’ people. The ‘others’ were those who had active social lives. They had lots of friends. They were constantly on the go, attending parties, eating out and going to concerts and sporting events.
I preferred to stay at home. I loved to read and write and train my dogs to do silly tricks. When I was forced to interact with large groups of people, I’d feel completely overwhelmed and exhausted. The older I get, the less I want to be around other people.
It was in the context of dog training that I was able to realize why I’ve often felt like an outlier.
Dogs who are outgoing are over-represented in our daily lives. They are the dogs who do great at a dog park. They get along with the other dogs and love to romp and play with everyone. They wag their tails constantly and greet strangers without reserve. They are the dogs we see out and about all hours of the day.They are the social butterflies of the canine world.
But an equal number of dogs are not as social. They don’t enjoy interacting with dogs they don’t know. They may react to dogs and humans they don’t know by barking. They often get walked during the wee hours of the morning when other dogs and their owners aren’t likely to be out.
Unlike the social butterflies, we aren’t as likely to see these dogs. They are at home. They run free in forests, or on an isolated stretch of beach, not at the dog park. We aren’t as aware of them because we don’t see them out in public.
Both types of dogs are happy. But it’s easy to believe all the dogs in the world are social and outgoing because those are the ones we see. The quiet ones are happily curled up, asleep, at their humans feet.
Our border/heeler is definitely an introvert. Doesn’t get along with other dogs, calm around people, wants to herd little kids. So we walk early mornings. At 12 y/o still loves a good Frisbee toss though!
We’ve got three introverted dogs and 1 ambivert. All four of them are herding dogs (2 German shepherds, a Dutch shepherd and a corgi). I suspect a lot of herding dogs tend to be more introverted. Most were bred to work alone or with just a couple of other dogs.
I’d bet dogs that were bred to work in large packs (Siberian huskies, sight hounds, etc.) tend to be more accepting of other dogs.
Are you sure you are an introvert, Kristine? Introverts typically value privacy and don’t openly share information about themselves. Based on your writing you seem very open about your life.
I had to stop laughing long enough to answer this. I’m 100% sure I’m an introvert. There is an introvert/extrovert test that measures those traits on a 1-100 scale (1=most introverted as possible and 100=most extroverted as possible). I scored a ‘3’.
I’ve never heard of introverts being unwilling to share their personal stories. They just may choose not to do so at a party :-).
Incorrect definition of introversion. See: https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/extraversion-or-introversion.htm?bhcp=1
Interesting information about dogs. You and I are both introverts and are probably living in the wrong country. Back when Myers-Briggs was popular, I read that America was majority extrovert and Britain majority introvert, both by considerable margins. Suspect that is also true of morning people vs. night owls. When I moved to the US I was horrified by how early work and school started.
I think I would enjoy an article by you about Myer-Briggs chart, from the British perspective. I wasn’t aware of that national difference, for example. And I think that if one takes the time to self-examine via this tool, (s)he will benefit in many ways, including investing.
Writing about how personality and personal finances are linked is on my list of HumbleDollar article topics.
A great testimonial about how one can do well in this wonderful country that offers so many opportunities. Just execute a simple and boring plan while using “laziness” to stay on course!
Great article. Guess I am one of the boring guys too.
Beautifully written. Thank you. Please keep writing for HD. I really enjoy your posts.
Great read. If I could have surrendered completely to a “boring” life my bank account would have had far more funds. As you write, it is a superpower.
“I’d long known that most other people were boring. But until recently, I hadn’t realized I was one of them.” Classic lines! They also got my day started with a good laugh, so thank you.
Well done David! But for some reason I’m now a little sleepy 😴
David, you turned boring into interesting.
Spot on David. It IS a superpower that anyone can possess if they choose. Great article! I look forward to my boring day ahead a little bit more now!