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The Bogleheads celebrate 20 years of low-cost index funds with patron 'Saint Jack' Bogle

Erin Arvedlund, Inquirer Staff Writer

Updated: Friday, February 16, 2018, 8:29 AM

The Bogleheads, a national movement of low-cost investors, named after Vanguard founder John Bogle, meets through chapters in different cities. Here, the Philly chapter meets at Champps restaurant in King of Prussia (Credit: Erin Arvedlund).

This year, the Bogleheads movement turns 20. These folk follow the thrifty advice of Vanguard founder John Bogle, known in their circles as “Saint Jack,” and they meet regularly around the country, sharing investment knowledge, flinty bargains on everything from coffeemakers to long-term care policies, and functioning as a support group for the low-cost investor.

So just who are the Bogleheads of Philadelphia?

It all starts with their inspiration and patron. Bogle still speaks every year to the Bogleheads at their annual conference here, which is closed to the media and non-members. Legions of investors and financial advisers call Bogle their “hero” because his ideas about low investment fees have saved investors mountains of money over time.

Befitting its namesake, membership in the Bogleheads chapter in Philly is free, but you do have to log on to their online forum, Bogleheads.org. It’s an old-fashioned-looking website, but delivers on themes steeped in Bogle lore: the importance of low-cost investments and diversification, the power of index funds, and permission to give up timing the market. (Another way in: the Bogleheads.org Facebook page).

The local chapter meets roughly four times a year, attracting Bogleheads from all over Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. The next one is on May 12 at Champps, next to the King of Prussia mall.

Jim Boxmeyer, 64, joined the local Bogleheads chapter recently, has come to a few meetings, but considers himself a “newbie. We’re very frugal and believe in living below our means.”

On Feb. 10, he took his wife for the first time to the Bogleheads’ meeting at Champp’s, where roughly 30 people ordered lunch (separate checks!) and heard presentations on topics such as Roth IRA conversions, Medicare supplemental insurance, and the wisdom and perils of long-term care policies. All materials are then posted to the Bogleheads.org website. Members do research for the group and aren’t experts; there are no sales pitches allowed.

“I’m getting ready to retire in a year or so, and I want my wife to understand more, too,” said Boxmeyer, who lives in Mayfair. “She’ll question me about buying tomato soup, but says ‘oh, I guess that makes sense’ when I move $60,000 from one fund to another. She got a lot out of the Bogleheads, too; she sees other people like ourselves.”

Their namesake is thrilled that his original idea of low-cost investing has overtaken Wall Street. Vanguard, the mutual fund firm based in Malvern that became a beacon for his ideas, attracts $1 billion a day and is closing in on $5 trillion in investor assets.

After the financial crisis of 2008, active management — where a portfolio manager oversees your assets in exchange for a fee — took a hit, and American investors switched in droves to low-cost index funds, which save investors money and cut risk by mimicking a broad basket of stocks.

Vanguard’s new CEO, Mortimer “Tim” Buckley, has hinted in public appearances that the burgeoning advice business, known as Personal Advisory Service, could drop below its current price of 0.30 percent a year of assets, doing to the investment advice business what Vanguard has already done to index funds.

“The whole idea of the Bogleheads started kind of informally in Florida,” Bogle recalled. The original Bogleheads forum member, Taylor Larimore, now 94, invited Bogle to a get-together after an investment conference. Larimore lived full time in south Florida, where Bogle was speaking at a mutual fund conference. At the time, in early 1998, Larimore called his group the “Vanguard Diehards.”

“We got together in his apartment in Biscayne Bay. There were 12 Bogleheads, Taylor and his wife. We sent out a memo to those who couldn’t be there. That turned into a regular thing. That was Bogleheads One, like Super Bowl I. Now it’s 20 years later.”

Beside chapters in cities around the country, the Bogleheads hold an annual meeting for the national chapters. Every year, it sells out in a few minutes because it features the man himself.

Bogle schedules his appearances around his travel; sometimes when he planned to be in Denver, or Chicago, the group would hold a meeting there. “One year, a decade ago, I had to give my talk by phone from the intensive-care unit of Bryn Mawr Hospital!” recalled Bogle, who had a heart transplant in 1996.

But since 2009, the Bogleheads hold their annual meeting here in Philadelphia to accommodate the 88-year-old founder. The last one took place in October 2017.

“I give a presentation of some length. The first day, I do an annual review, an update on data, I showed some of the stuff in the press this year, and on the markets. And then I talk about what I’ve been writing and speaking about, and some of it is very personal and braggy,” Bogle said with a laugh.

After that, he does a Q&A, answering everything from his recollections about founding the first index fund to signing copies of his books, such as an updated edition of The Little Book of Common Sense Investing. This bible for low-cost investors posits that outperforming the stock market is an illusion, and indexing delivers the greatest returns.

Vanguard founder John "Jack" Bogle signs copies of his book at the 2017 Bogleheads conference, Desmond Hotel, Philadelphia (Credit: Bogleheads.org).

If you can’t attend the local Philadelphia chapter meetings, there’s always the website. It’s still a popular investing site, despite its clunky bulletin-board menu, with about 1.5 million views a month.

The Bogleheads forum online is a collaborative enterprise run by volunteer members of the Bogleheads Forum, such as “LadyGeek,” a Boglehead who declined to give her name.

“I’m one of the administrators for the website, and I value my privacy,” she said at the Champps meeting. “I started out knowing nothing about investing, and this forum really helped me. My advisor meant well, but he wasn’t paying attention to my accounts and my husband’s accounts. Then I found Bogleheads.”

The website has a Wiki, an online encyclopedia for Boglehead Forum members and readers—with the usual disclaimers: “Although every effort has been made by the contributors, we cannot guarantee the validity of the information found here. If you find any information to be inaccurate, help us in correcting the page by bringing it to our attention at the Bogleheads forum.” It’s modeled after Wikipedia.

And of course, diehards.org, bogleheads.org and the Bogleheads Wiki are not affiliated with Vanguard or Morningstar, although some of the annual meeting content does show up on Morningstar’s website.

Everything the Bogleheads do is “a 100 percent volunteer effort,” said Mel Lindauer, one of the Boglehead leaders; his Twitter handle is @bogleheads. There is no paid staff.

For online resources, visit Bogleheads.org. For discussion threads, it’s sometimes useful to start at the last page, which is the most recent post.

The site homepage: Bogleheads Investing Advice and Info. Overview: The Bogleheads contains a site breakdown and history (the group started in 1998 on the Morningstar forum, then moved to the current site in 2007). The forum (“bulletin board”): Index page. The wiki, the Bogleheads® wiki , was created by, and is maintained by, the Bogleheads forum members. (The wiki is modeled after Wikipedia). New investors are encouraged to start here: Getting started. The Bogleheads® investment philosophy is not just for the U.S., as the principles can be applied anywhere. You can find forum posts from many countries. Annual conferences: Bogleheads Conferences. The ongoing forum discussion on the volatility of the stock market: U.S. stocks in freefall started in 2011 (there are 5,500 or so replies and 1.2 million all-time views). An outline of the latest 2017 U.S. tax law changes: Outline of tax law changes.

Erin Arvedlund, Inquirer Staff Writer

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