The Simple Path to Wealth – by JL Collins

I try to read as regularly as I can, but it usually comes in spurts. The more I learn about finance, the more I am drawn to a simple approach. That is what I got in the JL Collins’ book: The Simple Path to Wealth.

Collins takes a lot of inspiration from one of my other favorite finance guys, Jack Bogle. In a world that tries so hard to convince us that investing and retirement savings are too difficult and complex to grasp for the average person, both Collins and Bogle point out that index funds are the vehicle with which you can bypass the BS and wisely save.

A lot of what Collins has to say in his book appeals to me, so I will share a few highlights that I enjoyed.

Take this as no offense if you are a financial advisor, stockbroker, or anything of the sort. But I despise fees. I can’t stand them. Money is hard enough to come by as it is. The last thing I want to do is give a chunk of my savings to someone else for “managing” it. One of the awesome things that Collins points out in his writing is that picking winning stocks is difficult. What is even more difficult is continuing to pick winning stocks. Over and over and over again. It is nearly impossible. The better choice, then, is simply to not try and pick winning stocks, but rather to buy all of them. It sounds funny, but that is basically what buying an index fund means. An index fund is essentially a wide swath of a given market. So if you buy a total market index fund, you are buying small pieces of hundreds or possibly even over a thousand different companies. By default, this approach helps you diversify, since you are investing in a bunch of companies instead of a handful. One company could tank, but in the meantime, you could have ten other companies that are holding steady or even making gains. It helps to balance things out.

Over the course of time, if you zoom out on a graph of the stock market over time, the trend is generally upward. The US economy, in particular, has an amazing track record of steady growth and expansion. By owning small amounts of a bunch of these different companies, you have the opportunity to take advantage of the growth they experience.

Another thing from this book that rang true for me, is Collins’ love for Vanguard as a good institution in which to buy, sell and trade for retirement and other account purposes. I have all of our investments in Vanguard, and the extremely low fees, high transparency, and the fact that they are owned by the people (like us!) that invest within their funds make it easy to love them. Fees over time erode wealth, so it is essential to pick investment vehicles and platforms that keep the drag of these fees to a minimum. Vanguard does a great job of doing just that.

Over the past few months, I have been drawn to the idea of simplicity. There is something beautiful about removing options, choices to be made, and complexity. Life is already complicated. If there are areas of our life that can be automated, it is worth looking at. The rich combination of automated contributions, Vanguard-held funds, and index funds (specifically target-date retirement funds, in my case) makes for a great way to simplify. There is beauty in simplicity. I am going to continue working on ways to make money easier to manage, maybe to a point where it manages itself! Here’s to hopeful thinking.