Do that triggered the bright idea to have one of the listeners to the podcast email me. I mentioned one day on a podcast, and sure enough, a number of volunteers responded. A listener named Robert responded first, so he won the “prize.”
Rather than list topics we discussed during the interview, let’s get right to it. Below is both an audio of the interview as well as a written transcript.
Robert: Hi Rob. Thank you for having me.
Rob Berger: I appreciate your willingness to do this. I got a number of responses back from folks who were willing to interview me. I know it’s sort of turning the tables on me but you were the first and as I had asked, you had given me three sample questions and they all seemed good. I thought what might be good before you start pummeling me with questions is to tell folks a little bit about you, then you can start firing away with questions?
Robert: Okay, that sounds good Rob. As I indicated to you, my name is Robert also. I’m 49 years old. I’m a radiologist and I live in the mid-west. I think that our age range and investing experience has been fairly similar throughout the years, basically, from what I’ve learned about you. I would also add, I know throughout the course of your podcast, that I’ve been listening to since January of this year, you have given part of your story—or at least bits and pieces along the way so some of these questions might be somewhat repetitive from what you’ve offered us before. But, I don’t think they’re all in one place so hopefully this will give people who just want to learn about you, an opportunity to learn about you.
Rob Berger: Yeah. And it’ll have all the questions in one show. So that will be great.
Robert: Exactly. And also, I indicated to you in the email that I sort of have a general plan for this in case we go off in another direction I’ll probably take notes along the way. But first I think we’ll talk about some basic demographic questions and about your life more generally. Then we’ll talk more about your financial life and your experience. And maybe I’ll ask a few questions about where you see things going in your future. Then in the last section which I think will be the most fun, will be a series of— I’m going to offer you A, B or C and you’re going to tell me which you prefer. Or maybe you’ll say, pass because you don’t like any of that…
Rob Berger: And I don’t know any of questions ahead of time—
Robert: That’s right. I have not given you any questions so you may have to take a break. We’ll see how things go.
Rob Berger: I’ll have to take a few of them under advisement, as judges like to say.
Robert: I guess some very basic things people would want to know is, how old are you? Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
Rob Berger: Well, I’m 48 so I’m one year behind you. I grew up in Ohio. I’m a crazy Ohio State Buckeye fan. I live in northern Virginia now with my family but I went to the Ohio State, Maryland game which was here in College Park. So the fact that Maryland joined the big 10 was a huge bonus for us because now every other year we get to see an Ohio State football game without going very far away. And of course, I watched them beat Penn State in overtime so if there are any Penn State fans out there, feel free to email me and say whatever you would like. So yeah, I grew up in Columbus. Both my parents went to Ohio State. I have fond memories of going to the games with my dad and watching Archie Griffin play. My father passed away when I was very young but I have those fond memories. So yeah, I grew up in the mid-west.
Robert: Well, I’m glad to learn you’re a football fan because this theme will come up again later.
Rob Berger: Okay, fair enough.
Robert: And your educational background, Rob?
Rob Berger: I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I made that decision in the eighth grade oddly enough. When I went to college, my first thought was I wanted to get a degree in accounting. I’d taken three years of accounting in high school—for no particular reason. I look back on it and it seemed like an interesting class to take. So I started out as an accounting major knowing I was going to go to law school. I was never going to practice as an accountant or CPA. For reasons I kind of regret now, I would have probably done this different if I could do it over, but I switched to English. My thinking at the time was, English was never my strong suit. Writing, vocabulary— that just crippled my SAT score.
Robert: How so?
Rob Berger: I was always a numbers guy.
Robert: I’m surprised to learn that actually because you seem to communicate very well.
Rob Berger: Well, talking is one thing. Over time you learn to write, I guess. Some lawyers don’t learn to write. But that was the thinking. As a lawyer I was going to have to write a lot and communicate so I should switch to an English degree. That’s probably not the best way to go about it, but that’s what I did. Then I went to law school and graduated in 1992.
Robert: What was your first job out of school?
Rob Berger: Big law firm.
Rob Berger: Yeah. I was there for 10 years then I went in-house for a consulting firm. I was in-house counsel. Then I went to a regulator in the securities industry and then a few years ago I went back to my very first law firm.
Robert: Is that right?
Rob Berger: Yes. I’ve gone full circle.
Robert: And what is your specialty in the law field?
Rob Berger: As I tell people, what I do is virtually useless to 99.9 percent of the free world. I defend auditors of publicly traded companies in regulatory proceedings.
Rob Berger: Yeah. So, a lot of spreadsheets— Actually, it’s back to numbers. It’s funny. I started out as an accounting major and now I spend my day reading audit work papers and 10ks, Qs and financial statements.
Robert: Well, I can see how that would sort of transition to an interest in personal finance and investing. That’s one of the questions I was going to ask you. Getting away from the work and professional environment, tell us about some of the interests or hobbies you have outside work and outside of your growing personal finance empire?
Rob Berger: Empire, yeah! As I sit here in my basement… Well, chess has always been a big hobby of mine. I started playing chess in college. A good friend of mine taught me how to play and we started to play in tournaments. I continued to do that in law school and I did pretty well. Then I took a good 20 years off and just recently (in the last year or so) got back into it and realize just how old I’ve gotten as I struggle against 10-year-olds sitting across the table who are much faster and better than I am. I try to play the game of chess. Chess is a big hobby of mine. I like to read. I like computers. I play some golf, not a lot. I’m not really the stereotypical lawyer in that regard. I’m not on the links every weekend but I play some. I try to stay in shape, so I work out some. My wife and I work out together several times a week. I don’t know… I sound really boring. As I give you this answer, it seems like I’ve got to come up with something new. This is—
Robert: I think it’s pretty interesting, actually. And I think it’s probably fairly typical for a mid-career professional to be honest. You did mention your wife and I know you have mentioned in the past that you’re married. Can you tell us a little bit about your nuclear family and where people are at this point?
Rob Berger: My wife and I have been married 26 years now. Yes, 26 years. I had to make sure I got that right. We have two children. Our son, as I’ve mentioned, is in boot camp with the Marines. He’s at Parris Island. That’s a really interesting experience. I mean, you really don’t know what’s going on. Eventually you can start writing letters but when someone arrives at Parris Island they get— I think I mentioned this in a previous podcast but you get a phone call. Ours was at 1:00 in the morning on the day he got there. Well, the next early morning he got there which we were expecting. It was an 8-second phone call. He was reading a script and you could hear 20, 30 or 40 other recruits all lined up on a wall with a bank of phones who were all reading the same script to their family. Then it was— he finished it then hung up. There was no conversation.
Robert: And how old is he?
Rob Berger: He’s 20. And our daughter is 19 and she’s in college. She’s studying criminal justice. She may change her major.
Robert: Is she headed for a law career as well?
Rob Berger: Not as a lawyer, I don’t think. I don’t think that interests her which I can understand. I know this is off topic a little bit but the a law career today is really tough and for people that want to pursue a degree— that want to become a lawyer really need to understand what it is they want to do because there’s a huge difference… I mean, there are a lot of different jobs, even as a practicing lawyer and a lot of different ranges of salary, earnings potential. It’s also very expensive. But, in any event, I don’t think she’s going to law school.
Robert: I have a special interest in the law career as well. My wife is an attorney who works as in-house counsel in employment and labor law so I get a little bit of flavor for that.
Rob Berger: Right.
Robert: I understand the field has probably changed a lot. And it’s very hard to find a job in law, just coming out of law school.
Rob Berger: Yes. It’s certainly gotten harder since about 2008. There was a big seismic shift, particularly at the big firms.
Robert: Okay. So, let’s talk a little bit more about your investment and personal finance experience. And I would like if maybe you could recount your first investment experience? The first investment you made?
Rob Berger: The first investment I made that I remember… Let me think back. At some point I started investing in a 401k at work. As I recall, we had to be there a year before we could invest in the 401k. I don’t actually remember that first investment. I do remember though, the first investment I made outside of the 401k which was right about the same time. I invested through a bank. It was First Union, I think, which has since been bought up by somebody. I remember it was an A-share which meant that I had to pay 5 3/4 percent commission upfront. That really bothered me although I had no real concept of fees and their impact. And, I knew there were other classes of shares where I didn’t pay anything upfront but I might pay a little more each year in expenses. Or I might pay more— or some amount of money if I sell within so many years. I kind of found that unnerving but I made the investment. It was a mutual fund. I don’t remember which one. I decided that was a mistake so I actually sold it pretty quickly and invested in Legg Mason Value Trust which was a mutual fund, run at the time by Bill Miller. The legendary Bill Miller of Legg Mason, yes. And I was able to invest starting out at $100 a month to avoid the minimum—I don’t remember what the minimum investment was, but if you automated out of your checking account you could do it for $100 month, so that’s what I did. That’s what I would consider my first, real investment was that $100 a month in Legg Mason Value Trust.
Robert: Okay. Along those lines, could you talk about the biggest investing mistake you’ve made in your investing career and perhaps what you’ve learned from it? Maybe you just gave it to us, but, if you’ve made any other mistakes that were larger or had a good lesson attached?
Rob Berger: Can I answer a slightly different question?
Rob Berger: Because on the investment side, honestly, as I look back on it, I don’t think I’ve made what I would consider major mistakes. I mean, at one point I did invest $4,000 in Block Buster when they were on the ropes. So it was basically a crap shoot. Either they were going to survive and I’d make money or they were going to fail and I’d lose money. Of course, it was the latter half and I lost $2,000. That taught me a lot. It taught me a lot about myself and the limits of my knowledge as it relates to turnarounds. So I tend to avoid that kind of investing because I just don’t believe I’m knowledgeable enough. For example, turnaround options today might be Sears or JC Penny, right?
Rob Berger: I looked at those. I looked at both and read their K’s. I find it interesting to follow but I don’t invest in either because I just don’t think I’m equipped to do that. I guess I learned something from that. It was a $2,000 which is no fun, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t call that a major investing mistake.
Rob Berger: The biggest personal finance mistake I made— and I’ve made a few. But this isn’t the only one but it’s the biggest one. I was not good with money in high school, college, law school or even the first few years out of law school. I didn’t go into enormous amounts of debt but I did spend everything I made. When I finished high school— I worked all through high school and had no money saved. I worked through college. I worked for UPS for awhile and at the cafeteria on campus. I worked the third shift at a hotel from 11:00 to 7:00 in the morning and I spent everything I made. I worked while I was in law school. I taught the LSAT for Kaplan and clerked for a Federal judge. I did what are called, summer clerkships at law firms and spent all the money. By then I was married and so some of that (money) went to things like rent which if fine, but I really wasn’t good with money. The result was, I finished law school with about $55,000 in debt which in 1992— well, it’s a lot of money now, but back in 1992 it was probably the equivalent today of about $150,000. That would be my guess.
Rob Berger: I should have been able to finish law school with no debt. The reason that’s the biggest mistake I’ve made is that it really affected my career because what I wanted to do was be a trial lawyer. At some point I wanted to be in the AUSA, Assistant United States Attorney. The problem is, AUSA’s don’t make a lot of money and when you’ve got that kind of debt, you need some income to pay it.
Robert: That played with your career choice.
Rob Berger: It really did. My career has been fine. I don’t say this as a way of complaining. Part of it is saying that finances really have an effect on the course of our lives. In that case, it forced me… I don’t know. Maybe I could have even overcome that debt and still pursued my career in a different way but I didn’t. So I think that was probably my biggest personal finance mistake. I guess it lasted through high school, college, law school and a few years after law school. I mean, that was 15 years which is a pretty long time. But that was probably the biggest personal finance mistake I’ve made.
Robert: So the lesson would be, if you had maybe been a little bit more frugal or perhaps handled your money a little more prudently, you’d have had greater options— your career trajectory may have been different as a result?
Rob Berger: Absolutely. I kind of look at money that way now. That’s the theme of my show, the best thing money can buy is financial freedom. But you say, for what end? What freedom? I think it gives us choices. Even if people want to work. I don’t want to stop work altogether. I know some do. Like Mr. Money Moustache. And that’s fine, it’s his choice. It’s not that I want to stop working, it’s that I want to do the work that I love to do and in a way that I enjoy doing it.
Robert: I wanted to ask you, Rob, did you have any personal finance or investing mentors? Somebody who was really in your life that was influential in teaching you how to handle your finances?
Rob Berger: No. I had a good role model. My grandmother was— I didn’t appreciate this as a kid, but later I came to learn she was very good with money. Paid cash for a home. Didn’t have any debt. Saved for retirement. But she didn’t talk to me about money. Neither did my parents. My father was very good at making money but not so good at saving it. Kind of like I was in school, he spent everything he made. No, I didn’t really have anyone to talk to me about personal finance or investing.
Robert: Okay. What individuals in the more national scene, people you don’t know, do you look up to as leaders that shape your opinion on personal finance?
Rob Berger: That’s a great question. I certainly look to Warren Buffet. And I look to Warren Buffet for a lot more than just the stock market. If I could only read one thing a year it would be the letter he writes to the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. There’s so much packed into that. He would certainly be high up there. I’m trying to think of who else. There are a lot of people I think offer pretty sound advice when it comes to personal finance or investing. Usually they’re the folks that preach the low-cost, primarily passive investing. Although, again, I own individual stock so I’m not dogmatic about that.
Rob Berger: But folks like Rick Ferri is a solid guy. I’ve had him on the show and I respect what he has to say quite a lot.
Robert: That was actually one of my next questions. You’ve had a lot of excellent guests on your show. In fact, that’s originally how I found your show because I sort of follow Larry Swedroe and you interview him almost a year ago and that’s how I found your podcast. Who are your favorite guests? And did anything happen, perhaps off air per se that—you don’t have to be specific about it, but anything interesting happening with interactions that your listeners might be interested in?
Rob Berger: I’m trying to think of interactions. Not that come to mind. Some of these guests I’ve known for some time. I’ve known Rick Ferri for a number of years. I actually did an interview with him via email that I published on my blog about ETFs about 5 years ago. But I’ve met up with Rick at conferences. He and I have had dinner together so I know him a lot better— like Larry for example. I’ve never met him.
Robert: I’ve had lunch with him actually.
Rob Berger: Oh, have you? So, yeah, it varies. I’ve enjoyed all the guests. The interviews that I like the most are the ones I believe are most useful to folks listening. For example, I just had Marc Kiner on the show, who most people probably wouldn’t know but he’s a social security benefits expert. I learned a ton from that interview. I know it doesn’t apply to everyone. It doesn’t even apply to me yet. I’m only 48. And who knows what will change between now and then. But, particularly for those nearing retirement, it was just a wealth of information.
Robert: That’s one that I filed in the, “I’ll listen to it later file,” because it’s not of interest to me right now. But I could see if a family member or friend had issues or questions, it could become relevant very quickly.
Rob Berger: Yes. Absolutely. Excuse me. I was battling a cold about a month ago and I’ve got another one so I’m sorry if I keep coughing in your ear.
Robert: That’s okay. We’re good.
Rob Berger: Those are the ones I like the most. I keep a spreadsheet in Google Docs of all of my episodes so I can quickly reference them. Brandon Turner was a lot of fun. He was podcast 30. He talked about how he built a pretty sizable portfolio of real estate going from basically a minimum wage job to—
Robert: Yeah, I remember that one.
Rob Berger: Mr. Money Moustache. That’s always been a very popular one.
Robert: Very entertaining.
Rob Berger: He’s a very interesting guy. I’ve met him before at conferences. A very humble guy. Very down-to-earth. That was a fun interview. I would say that was one of the most popular episodes so far to date.
Robert: Do you measure your downloads or do you have access to the ones that get downloaded and listened to the most?
Rob Berger: I do have that data although I rarely look at it. I could go and figure out which ones have been downloaded the most but I don’t know that I’ve ever done that. At least, I haven’t done it recently.
Robert: From my standpoint, one of the other questions I had was, it seems when I find a good blog or podcaster like yourself, it leads me to others. Perhaps you could talk about some of them? You mentioned a couple already, some of the bloggers or podcasters you listen to and, or share some philosophy with?
Rob Berger: Let me think. I’ve had Mike Piper on the show. He blogs at Oblivious Investor. He’s also written some very good books that are on Amazon. He’s a CPA and I think his content is very, very good. I like My Money blog. Jonathan runs My Money Blog. I enjoy his work. I enjoy the Kitces blog. I don’t know if you know Kitces?
Robert: No, I don’t.
Rob Berger: K-I-T-C-E-S. He is a financial planner and his blog is directed at financial planners. Not consumers like you and I, but financial planners. A lot of what he writes though, would be relevant and interesting to anyone saving for retirement or anything like that. I find his blog very good. I like Abnormal Returns which is typically just a blog with links in it to other content. It tends to be on the more technical side of investing and economics but I enjoy that blog. You know, I have a lot of blogger friends like the folks at Wise Bread. That’s probably not really an investing blog but more of a down-to-earth personal finance site. They do a great job over there. I’m trying to think who else.
Robert: That’s a pretty good list there. How many hours a month would you say you spend directly or indirectly working on your blog, website and podcast? It probably varies from week-to-week but on a monthly basis you probably have an idea.
Rob Berger: It does vary. I would say I spend 2 or 3 days a week of time.
Robert: Really? Wow.
Rob Berger: By the way, I could easily spend 7 days a week. I choose not to for a number of reasons. But I’d say I spend 2 or 3 days a week. Preparing the podcast is a big part of it because it’s a lot more than just recording the show. You have to prepare the show notes and do some processing to the audio. And, I also write content beyond that. I write for Forbes, US News.
Robert: If you had to recommend a book or similar resource on personal finance and, or investing topics—but sticking with personal finance more generally, for a novice? Maybe somebody coming out of college or professional school or starting their first job? Or maybe an intermediate or mid-life person with a little bit of experience by not a whole lot? And maybe someone who is more experienced or advanced, who really likes to dig into the details? Could you make some recommendations along those lines?
Rob Berger: Sure. For someone just starting out, I think this is a good book for anybody, it’s, Your Money or Your Life. The sections in that book on investing, I think are terrible so I would ignore the investing stuff. But what the book does is really put into prospective and forces you to ask questions as to what really matters to you in life? And are you really willing to accept a life of jobs that you don’t like, commutes that you don’t like, so that you can live a life you think you’re supposed to live. It’s not to say everyone reading the book should quit their job and travel the world. There’s got to be some reality here. But, the book walks you through, in a way others don’t, on how money and your life intersect and how one affects the other. I think it’s a must-read. I would recommend that at any age, if you haven’t read it. Particularly if you’re struggling with your finances. Beyond that, it kind of depends, not so much on someone’s age but what their issues are. If you’re struggling with debt, I like Dave Ramsey. Again, I don’t agree with his investing approach or his dogmatic approach to finances but I do agree with his overall view of debt and I certainly think his plan is a good one. It’s not the only one but it’s a good one and I think a lot of people who are really struggling and frustrated, really need someone to tell them what to do.
Robert: He’s helped a lot of people from what I’ve seen and heard.
Rob Berger: He has. Yeah, he has. If you’re struggling, I think is book, Total Money Makeover, is a good book. Another good book is The Millionaire Next Door. The reason I like it is because it’ll really change your perception of who and what millionaires are and how they became millionaires. It’s funny, when you read that book you look at people differently. The people that you know who live in a nice house and drive the expensive cars could be doing really well, then again, maybe they aren’t. By the way, in your profession there are plenty of doctors.
Robert: That book, for me personally, was transformational. I read it right out of residency and it was probably one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever had. I can’t recommend the book highly enough. I’ve read the subsequent books. I’ve even read the original book a second time. I think it’s terrific. I’ve given it as gifts to people. Sorry to talk about myself, but I can’t say enough about that book.
Rob Berger: The thing about doctors is—how long were you in school through residency and all that? How long did that take?
Robert: College and med school was 8 years. Residency and fellowship was 5 years. So, 13 years. I finished in my early 30’s. I was 33.
Rob Berger: And you don’t make a lot of money going through all of that.
Robert: No, you don’t.
Rob Berger: What a lot of doctors do when they start making a lot of money is spend it. They’ve had to sacrifice for so long that when they start making a lot of money, they start spending it. And they can end up in not the best financial shape.
Robert: I will tell you a funny thing that I did. Right before I read the book—I’d just finished residency and I decided—I didn’t even have my first paycheck and I wanted to buy my ‘doctor car.’ I didn’t have any debt from medical school. My parents paid for all that which I was very fortunate. I don’t think they could have in this day and age. Anyway, I went and tried all the ‘doctor cars’ out and I ended up with a Volvo which is not a super fancy ‘doctor car’ but it was a pretty expensive car. So in this bright red Volvo, I go to the very first meeting with my partners in my group and wouldn’t you know it? I had the nicest car in the group. It was almost embarrassing. We go into the meeting and I kind of try to saunter out a little later than everybody else so they didn’t see me get in my new car. Between that and reading The Millionaire Next Door and having mentors in my profession that were not all about spending a lot of money, I think that was very helpful for me.
Rob Berger: Yeah, so The Millionaire Next Door. And on investing, I think a good beginner level is Rick Ferri’s, All About Asset Allocation. It’s a good book to help you understand asset allocation and how to build a portfolio, funds that you could use to implement an asset allocation plan. There are certainly more complicated books on investing. And it’s fine if you want to read them. I do. But you don’t need them.
Robert: Right. Larry Swedroe put a book recently that’s fairly deep. Bill Bernstein’s books are think are terrific too. Have you read any?
Robert: Four Pillars is a great book.
Rob Berger: Those are both great books. I thought he just came out with one but I don’t see it on Amazon…
Robert: I think it’s, Deep Risk, or something along those lines. I’ve read it, but I’ll tell you—you have to read three pages then stop to think about what he said. It’s very dense but I recommend it highly if you really want to deep dive into investing.
Rob Berger: Here’s the one… Rational Expectations – Asset Allocation for Investing Adults. That’s the one I was thinking about that came out this year. It came out in May.
Robert: Right. Okay. Looking ahead, where do you see your blog and podcast empire (I used that word again) in the future?
Rob Berger: That’s a good question. A lot of it depends on a number of factors that I don’t yet know which way they’ll go for me as to what I want to do. One of the things I wanted to do that I’ve just not made the time to do— I’m not saying I don’t have the time, I just haven’t made the time to do it, is to write books. I have a number of books that I’d like to write speaking in terms of personal finance and investing. Although, there are also some books of fiction in me too that I’d like to get out too. That’s probably the biggest thing that I’d like to do that I haven’t done to date. In terms of the blog? Right now I kind of just want to keep it going the way it’s going. The podcast seems to be well received. I get a ton of email from people. I have a newsletter that goes out and last week I asked a question— I thought, why not benefit from the 18,000 people that subscribe to this thing? So the question was, “What budgeting software or tool do you use?” I just got a flood of email. Far more than I ever imagined. It’s taken me hours not to compile all the responses so I can put them into an article that people can read to see what others are doing— what tools they’re using. And that was just the first question. I can ask questions like, “Where do you keep your IRA?” The questions could go on, “What’s your best rewards credit card?” Or, ” Where do you keep your emergency fund?” The thinking was, you can see what other people are doing and you may learn about new tools or new approaches. In the case of the budgeting, people came up with answers of tools I’ve never heard of. And I spend my day reading about this stuff. I think that’s what I’ll probably what I’ll continue to do for the time being. If I were going to make any big changes it would be writing a book.
Robert: Are they any things that you would like to see change in the personal finance and investing space either philosophically or technically or how things are done? Obviously, you’d probably want to get rid of the 8.75 percent loads on some of those mutual funds. Obviously that trend is place, but is there anything the personal finance and investing space needs that isn’t there?
Rob Berger: Yes and no. I don’t look at the landscape of personal finance and investing and think, this needs to change or that needs to change. What needs to change are you and I, the people. Individuals. That’s what needs to change. And maybe that’s in part a recognition that there’s always going to be expensive investment products. That’s not going to change. But I think education can help people select those products with a little more knowledge and insight which is what I’m trying to do. It’s tough because I have very strong opinions, as I think a lot of people do, but I try not to convey it that way because I don’t think it’s the right way to do it. But the goal is to educate people so they can make sound decisions for themselves and their family. I think there are a lot of folks out there doing that. I’m certainly not alone. As I read the financial press—and I read it every day—there’s a lot of crap out there. Even from well known, solid publications where they’ll talk about things in a way that either portrays us as victims, (which I don’t think we are) victims of the system. I think that’s nonsense. Or they talk about the stock market in a way that suggests it’s more of a game than real live companies and I think it causes people reading it to take an unhealthy approach to personal finance and investing. I don’t know how good of an answer that is to your question, Robert—
Robert: That’s a pretty good answer. I would amplify that. I see presumably respectable people refer to investing in the stock market as gambling, akin to Black Jack. They don’t mention Black Jack but when I think of gambling, I think of Poker or Black Jack, a roulette wheel or horse races. And with the stock market, as you said, it’s real companies. Certainly whether the stock goes up or down today is a gamble, but in the long run it’s somewhat tied to the fortunes of a company with real people and real products and a real life cycle.
Rob Berger: Absolutely. It’s hard to see that if you’re focused just on the daily changes in the stock market. It’s easy to forget about the fact that there is a real live business underneath that stock price trying to manufacture and sell good products, services or whatever. That’s just one example.
Robert: We’ve gone on for quite awhile and I’d like to get to the last section. Here’s what I’d like to do. I’m going to present you with a couple choices, two or three choices and whatever one is more favorable, you like better or you have a better vibe about, I’d like you to pick that one. And if you want to add a sentence or so, that’s great. If not, we’ll just move on to the next one. I think it might be kind of fun and interesting.
Rob Berger: I hope there are no trick questions.
Robert: No trick questions.
Rob Berger: Fire away.
Robert: There are some companies mentioned but I’m not asking you in terms of your investment advice. That’s a disclosure for you in advance. It’s just which one you think is more favorable as a consumer or business that you have a higher opinion of. I don’t want this to be construed as investing advice for anyone.
Rob Berger: Okay. Fair enough.
Robert: How’s that for the doctor giving the lawyer some legal disclosure?
Rob Berger: That’s pretty good. You know, you’re not too old to go to law school.
Robert: Yeah, I think I am.
Rob Berger: I once told my wife after I graduated from law school that I was thinking about going to medical school. She looked at me, and without missing a beat said, “You can do that with your second wife.”
Robert: Ah, that’s a good one.
Rob Berger: No medical school for me.
Robert: Okay. We’ll start out in the investing area. Question 1. Fidelity or Schwab?
Rob Berger: I would say Fidelity just because I have experience there. I know more about their products because that’s where my 401k is. But I couldn’t tell you which one has better mutual funds off the top of my head.
Robert: Okay. Question 2 . Total stock market index versus S&P 500?
Rob Berger: That’s a good one. I’ll say total stock market index although I’ll quickly add that at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter.
Rob Berger: That’s my opinion.
Robert: Number 3. Which animal, bull or bear?
Rob Berger: Well, you love the bulls but you make more money with the bears.
Robert: So your selection is bear?
Rob Berger: I would say so. Because it’s not a reflection of my view of the stock market but when stock prices go down, the money you invest each month and the dividends you reinvest and the buybacks the companies undertake, all get you more shares.
Robert: Okay. Number 4. Gold or silver?
Rob Berger: Silver.
Rob Berger: More industrial uses. Although I’m not a big fan of investing in metals.
Robert: Number 5. Honda or Toyota?
Rob Berger: Honda.
Rob Berger: By the way, I own one of each I should say, in full disclosure.
Rob Berger: It’s easier to buy a Honda. Toyota gives you a zillion different options. With Honda, you get something like four.
Robert: Right. We have one of each also. Number 6. Ginger or Mary Anne?
Rob Berger: You know, it’s funny you asked that because when you first started this I was going to say, “I’ll answer any questions but I hope Ginger or Mary Anne are not an option.” I kid you not! So to your question, my answer is simple… my wife.
Robert: Very good. I like that. She could be listening to this too.
Rob Berger: Actually, she doesn’t listen to any of my podcasts.
Robert: Oh, okay. Number 7. Europe or Asia?
Rob Berger: In what context?
Robert: Whatever you want.
Rob Berger: Well, I’ll say Europe then because Paris is my favorite city.
Robert: Mine too. Number 8. Pizza or pasta?
Rob Berger: Well, my wife’s Italian. I’ve got to go with her pasta.
Robert: Okay, very good. Number 9. Running, biking or swimming?
Rob Berger: Swimming.
Robert: Okay. Number 10. Health, wealth or wisdom?
Rob Berger: Health. Without that the other two don’t matter.
Robert: I tend to agree. Number 11. Steelers or Ravens?
Rob Berger: Now that’s an easy one. Steelers.
Robert: Good. I’m from Pittsburg originally so I had to throw that one in there.
Rob Berger: Yes, the Steelers.
Robert: Okay. Number 12. Beach or mountain?
Rob Berger: Mountain.
Robert: Number 13. Credit card or debit card?
Rob Berger: Credit card. That one can be controversial for some folks.
Robert: I agree.
Rob Berger: To me it’s not even a close call.
Robert: I agree. Debit cards have become very popular and so—
Rob Berger: Yeah, they have.
Robert: Okay. Number 14. Point one percent or 10 basis point?
Rob Berger: They’re equal. I would say 10 basis points because it’s much easier to pronounce.
Robert: Okay. Next question. This is in the context of retirement. Single premium immediate annuity versus tips ladder?
Rob Berger: I would say neither.
Robert: Okay. Good. Number 16. Small cap value or small cap blend?
Rob Berger: I tend to lean toward value.
Robert: Okay. Number 17. This is assuming you don’t have to pay any additional fees for it.
Rob Berger: These are getting harder. The Steelers or Ravens was easy. This is tough.
Robert: It’s a variety of stuff. And it’s all jumbled together.
Rob Berger: Okay.
Robert: DFA versus Vanguard?
Rob Berger: That’s a great question. The answer for me would have to be Vanguard because, with DFA (Dimensional Fund Advisors) you have to buy through an advisor.
Robert: Okay, so no advisor though.
Rob Berger: Well then I would have a mix. There are definitely some DFA funds—and I couldn’t name them now, but there are definitely some funds there that I would love to invest in. That being said, at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter. If you do everything else right you’re going to do just fine in either one.
Robert: Yes. If that’s the biggest issue you have, you’re doing very well.
Rob Berger: Right.
Robert: Okay. Blogging versus podcasting?
Rob Berger: They’re kind of related because with every podcast there is a blog article. But if I understand your question, I’d have to say podcasting. It’s a lot of fun.
Robert: Okay. iPhone versus Android?
Rob Berger: iPhone. That’s an easy one.
Robert: Coke or Pepsi?
Rob Berger: Pepsi. And I guess I should disclose that I own shares of Pepsi but it tastes better than Coke. I tried to tell Warren Buffet that but I haven’t been able to get through to him.
Robert: Next. Dogs or cats?
Rob Berger: Well, we have a dog and she’s adorable. But I’m a cat person, actually. My mother-in-law has a fear that goes beyond description, of cats. So one would think then, that I might want to get a cat but I actually adore my mother-in-law so, no cats.
Robert: Okay. Target or Walmart?
Rob Berger: Well, on a Saturday the answer would be neither. But Walmart is probably the better bargain.
Robert: San Francisco or Los Angeles?
Rob Berger: San Francisco.
Robert: Here’s one that’s kind of technical. Vanguard Life Strategy Moderate Growth or Vanguard Balanced Index?
Rob Berger: I’d have to look them up.
Robert: Okay. That’s probably the right answer. I had to look it up to come up with it. The difference really, is they’re both 60, 40 funds. Their moderate growth has the asset allocations to the equity and bond funds. The balance is all US.
Rob Berger: Then I would not go with all US. By the way, Warren Buffet, in his last letter told the trustees, recommended they put 90 percent of his wife’s money when he dies into an S&P 500 and 10 percent into US bonds. So he’s all in for US companies. But I don’t think for most investors—I don’t know how much money she’s going to inherit but I’ll guess it’s more than a little bit. Maybe it doesn’t really matter for her but I think for my—
Robert: I think it really doesn’t matter. That’s my interpretation, it doesn’t really matter. I think for some of us it might matter a little bit.
Rob Berger: I think international exposure is important for most investors.
Robert: And that’s all I have for you Rob.
Rob Berger: Well that was fantastic! You really put a lot of work into this.
Robert: I did. I—
Rob Berger: You put more work into this than I put into the podcast at all. Maybe you should take over this show.
Robert: No, I don’t think so. I actually had to come up with some questions and I have 3 sheets on a legal pad all filled up and while you were talking I was also taking notes and trying to scribble some things down. I sort of got a feel for what you probably do when you’re preparing for an interview when you have a guest too. And it’s a fair amount of work to get—
Rob Berger: I’ll be honest with you, sometimes I wing it.
Robert: Is that right?
Rob Berger: Yeah, sometimes I wing it. Maybe that’s from cross examining witnesses after so many years. You just figure you can come up with questions on the fly. I don’t know. But you did fantastic.
Rob Berger: That was great. I really appreciate the effort. What I’m going to do… I do this with all the interview, but I’m going to have this transcribed so when it goes live, folks can not only listen to it but they can go to the site of the show notes if they want to and actual read the transcript if they prefer. So I’ll have that. Listen, this has been great. Thanks so much for—
Robert: I’ve enjoyed it. Thank you. And thank you for all you do. I enjoy you podcasts a lot. I’ve learned a lot. Sometimes a topic comes up I’m interested in and sometimes if it’s something I obviously have no interest in, I skip it. But I really have enjoyed it a lot and learned a lot. You’re doing a great job.
Rob Berger: I appreciate it Robert. Again, thank you so much for taking the time to interview me.
Robert: It was a blast. It really was.
Rob Berger: Hey, take care.
Robert: Take care. Bye-bye.