I started Vanguarding in 1997. Since then, I’ve developed better financial behaviors. I pay myself first, automatically directing cash from my paycheck to investment accounts before it can burn a hole in my pocket. I diversify widely, limiting my exposure to unnecessary risk. I keep investment costs razor-thin.

In short, I’ve embraced principles that haven’t changed all that much in the millennia between Aesop and Bogle.

Vanguarding has changed more than my behavior, though. It’s changed the way I read, watch movies, and (maybe) see the world. I came to this surprising conclusion in a conversation with a colleague about the personal finances of different literary characters. Weird.

The Vanguard reader

Dickens is practically a study guide for the Certified Financial Planner® exams, from budgeting in David Copperfield to estate planning in Bleak House. In David Copperfield, the Vanguarding reader sees the melodramatic Mr. Micawber, not as a comic figure, but as a towering genius of personal finance, forever immortalized in his words to Vanguard by:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”*

I’ve started to read mysteries and crime fiction as parables about risk and return. In The Maltese Falcon, I see shades of the tech bubble in the single-minded pursuit of an undiversified asset. I shake my head in sorrow, shouting at Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet to forget the jewel-encrusted falcon and instead construct a mean-variance-optimal portfolio of stocks and bonds. Better returns, less jail time.

How about you? As you learned more about managing your personal finances, did you start to see life beyond your investment portfolio in a different way?

*p. 166 Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (New York: Modern Library Paperback Edition, 2000).