When I started working, I knew very little about personal finance and managing my money.
There were all these acronyms and plans and options. It was a whirlwind.
But I enjoyed learning about it because it was a puzzle. How does a 401(k) fit with a Roth IRA? What is an asset allocation and what should I invest in? What is the difference between a fee-only financial advisor and the guy offering me a free lunch to pitch me life insurance?
Eventually, you learn the basics (much of which fits on an index card) and now it’s a matter of “waiting.” I put waiting in quotes because you’re not sitting idle, you’re simply living your life while time works its magic to compound your returns.
This period of “waiting” is what’s often called The Boring Middle.
The beginning is when you learn everything.
The end is when you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
That area in between – that’s the Boring Middle.
The Myth of the Boring Middle
Read enough about financial independence (early retirement) and you’ll see a few people write about this Boring Middle. It’s a time when your motivation may be at its lowest. Everything is on autopilot and you’re simply waiting for your paychecks to get deposited, invested, and your portfolio to log returns.
The middle is only boring if you let it be boring.
The middle is only boring if you are solely focused on finances.
The middle is only boring if you do nothing else.
Which is a huge mistake!
For decades, the image of traditional retirement looked like someone working for forty years and then finally retiring. With their retirement savings, they could finally enjoy their leisure years in style.
Think back to the last time you had an unexpected day off – what did you do? Did you finally enjoy your leisure day in style? Or did you do a few errands (laundry! it’s always laundry!), pick up around the house, and catch up on TV shows?
Now imagine you have years to spend. What would you do?
If the answer is “I’m not sure,” then you’re in trouble.
If you let the Boring Middle be boring, you’re squandering the greatest opportunity of your life.
How to Win the Boring Middle
The takeaway from the Boring Middle isn’t that it’s boring, it’s that it’s on autopilot. You don’t have to spend more time tinkering and figuring things out, you’ve figured it out. You just need time.
Eventually, you portfolio’s changes will have a greater impact on your net worth than your salary. That is a great thing, but tough to watch when the markets whipsaw (here are tips on how to handle volatile markets).
Your portfolio will generate dividends that will exceed your expenses. That is a great thing, you’ve escaped financial gravity.
This is when you should be focusing on other parts of your life!
You’re winning the game of personal finance, even if the victory celebration won’t be for a few years, so let’s work on winning the game of life.
We all know stories of super wealthy, financially successful people who have miserable lives outside of their bank accounts. Whether it’s bad relationships, poor health, or just simply boring people with no hobbies or interests… you don’t want to be that way.
You have to view your life as a stool with as many legs as you have important parts of your life. Family, friends, health, hobbies, etc. You want those legs to be strong and, relatively, even.
The biggest benefit of this is that you’ll have something to do when you’ve gotten through the Boring Middle and are firmly in your retirement years.
With all this time, you’ll have hobbies you enjoy, people you enjoy spending them with, and the vitality to enjoy them to the fullest now that you have the finances to support it.
Don’t squander the “Boring Middle” by watching your portfolio grow.
Money is often about tradeoffs and it’s the most apparent than when you compare the needs of Present You against those of Future You. Who should prevail? It really depends on the situation… here’s how to decide.
Ten years ago, Professor Harold Pollack created a postcard that listed all the financial advice you’d ever need. We revisit this card and see if it still applies today.
Not all mistakes are the same. learn the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 mistakes as well as how to identify the more dangerous ones, Type 2, and avoid them at all costs.
Golden hours are transition periods in your life when your behavior must change to take advantage. See three key examples (career, wealth building, investing) to help you identify these areas and where else they may exist.
About Jim Wang
Jim Wang is a forty-something father of four who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard’s Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.
Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology – Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.
One of his favorite tools (here’s my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you’re on track to retire when you want. It’s free.
He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn’t want a second job, it’s diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and farms in Illinois, Louisiana, and California through AcreTrader.
Recently, he’s invested in a few pieces of art on Masterworks too.
Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank or financial institution. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.