This article was posted November 1, 2007, updated April 01, 2008
The making of an author and Internet "investment advisor"
Bennett first became known in the year 2000, during the height of the dot.com boom, when his 23-page report "The Secrets of Retiring Early" was favorably reviewed by Motley Fool co-founder Tom Gardner. The report was the best selling product on Motley Fool's Soapbox marketplace and Bennett earned some $15,000 in royalties. This limited success convinced Rob that he had a future as a bestselling author and he quit his six-figure job with accounting firm Ernst & Young -- a rather reckless move since Bennett was 43 years of age at the time, had only $400,000 in savings, and headed a household with two small boys and a stay-at-home Mom.
Unfortunately, Motley Fool's Soapbox was discontinued the following year and Bennett's income as a published author ended as well. He spent the next four years working on Passion Saving, but was unable to find a legitimate publisher for his poorly-written manuscript. Undeterred, Bennett spent thousands of dollars of his family's dwindling financial resources to vanity publish Passion Saving in April 2005. The book was met with poor reviews and limited appeal. An Amazon sales rank in the 3 million range indicates that Passion Saving only sells 1 or 2 copies annually.
To be fair to Mr. Bennett, his prolific posting on the various Internet discussion boards devoted to investing and retirement planning slowed his work on Passion Saving. Over the past six years, Rob has developed an international reputation for his long, delusional posts critical of respected financial authors such as Vanguard Group founder Jack Bogle, syndicated financial columnist Scott Burns, the Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Clements, and most recently, Bogleheads Guide to Investing co-author Mel Lindauer. Bennett was banned from attending the June 2007 Vanguard Diehards meeting in Washington, DC when he revealed his plans to conduct an interrogation of featured speaker Jack Bogle.
Bennett's most disturbing delusional post was perhaps this October 2005 raving on the Retire Early Home Page discussion board where he threatens the life of the grandchild of FIRECalc developer Bill Sholar (aka Dory36.) A portion of the post is reproduced below with a link to the entire message to provide context.
Bennett's criticism of SWR studies
One staple of Rob Bennett's mania over the past five years is that he's found some grave flaw in the historical safe retirement withdrawal studies done by William P. Bengen, Trinity University Professors Cooley, Hubbard and Walz, the FireCalc website developed by Bill Sholar, and the REHP study that appears on this site. Unfortunately, when challenged, Mr. Bennett cannot point to any error in either the data set or computations that these studies are based on. Indeed, Bennett admits that he has trouble balancing a checkbook and, thus, seems to lack the mathematical background required to offer any substantive critique of this research.
Bennett also complains about some great conspiracy to keep the truth about retirement withdrawals from "middle-class investors", and takes respected financial journalists like Scott Burns and Jonathan Clements to task for being afraid to write the truth about the subject in their columns.
The "Founder of the Financial Freedom Community" ???
One oft-repeated claim made by Rob (hocus) Bennett is that he is the Founder of the Financial Freedom Community, "a group of 10 Internet discussion boards." Unfortunately, he's been banned from most of the financial discussion forums he's claimed to have founded. Bennett's claim itself is also demonstrably untrue. So great is the demand for hocus-free discussion on retirement planning that Bennett was banned at startup from several forums.
The AssetBuilder.com banning generated this exchanged of e-mails between Scott Burns and Bennett, including a 50+ paragraph, 4,500 word e-mail from Bennett to Burns that's some of the best Hocomania we've seen to date. Here's an excerpt:
Today Bennett is pretty much restricted to his own blog (which gets very little traffic) and the Best of Hocomania Discussion Forum where he is by far the most prolific poster. Many of Bennett's most delusional rants are archived on that forum.
Bennett has continued his manic posting through 2009. On his blog he revealed that he's filed a complaint with the Virginia State Police charging that Internet Goons are preventing him from earning a living. He's also asked his Congressman to sponsor legislation on Internet harassment. And to add insult to injury, his invitation to the Bogelheads reunion has been "lost in the mail" again this year.
The Hocus Retirement plan
Bennett outlined his retirement plan in a long post on the Motley Fool in May 2002. He quit his high-paying job with accounting firm Ernst & Young in August 2000 to retire on a $400,000 nest egg invested entirely in fixed income securities. The fact that Rob was only 43 years of age at the time, lives in the Washington D.C. area, and heads a household with a stay-at-home Mom and two small boys made the decision all the more baffling to those who understand the risks and perils of an early retirement plan that might require funding 50 or 60 years of living expenses. Indeed, a recent poll reveals that over 90% of the readers who have reviewed the Bennett plan believe that it is irresponsible and selfish for a father of 2 small boys to retire in his mid-40's on only $400,000 in savings.
The last six years haven't been kind to the Bennett household. Their annual living expenses have increased at a rate far higher than inflation (as measured by the CPI.) In 2005, they had annual expenses of $38,000 which amounted to almost a 10% withdrawal from their $400,000 nest egg -- a clearly unsustainable rate. Indeed, Bennett recently lamented that he lacks the money to take his two small boys to Disney World. and has begun rationing their candy bars.
The promotion and marketing of Rob Bennett, "author, investment advisor and career development counselor"
Even though Rob is rationing his kid's candy bars, he has found room in his increasingly tight family budget for a variety of paid promotional schemes and vanity-produced publications.
Vanity publishing Passion Saving probably cost $10,000 to $30,000 depending on how many unsold copies Bennett is currently warehousing. He spent $2,000 on a professional book cover design, hired a marketing consultant, and went to the expense of printing and binding a hardcover edition rather than the more common (and cheaper) trade paperback.
To promote Passion Saving, Bennett is currently paying $99/month to public realtions firm PR Leads.
Do you ever wonder where reporters find the financial "experts" quoted in their articles? While most respected mainstream publications make an attempt to verify the story and credentials of the people they quote, some do a better job than others. It's even possible to outsource this necessary and sometimes burdensome task of checking credentials to a firm like PR Leads which provide reporters with pre-screened "experts" available to be quoted for the articles and columns they're working on.
PR Leads is a marketing service that offers authors, speakers and consultants a way to get quoted in newspaper and magazine articles. PR Leads says that "You can sign up for any topic AS LONG AS YOU ARE AN EXPERT IN THOSE AREAS", but they don't say how they screen applicants for their expertise -- beyond making sure that the $99/month payment clears. Rob Bennett is one of PR Leads satisfied customers.
The rise of Passion Saving author Rob Bennett's Hocomania
Hocomania is the general term used by the Retire Early community to describe Rob Bennett's five-year long jihad against arithmetic and generally-accepted financial planning principles. Some observers even think Bennett may be suffering from some kind of mental illness or personality disorder. Bipolar disease and schizophrenia are often mentioned as possibilities, but many people now think Bennett may be suffering from narcissistic personality disorder given the similarites between his case and that of Felicity Jane Lowde, the British Internet stalker who was recently jailed.
Rob Bennett's story is a testament to what can go wrong with an early retirement plan. It's a cautionary tale for anyone attempting retirement with insufficient savings, a limited understanding of arithmetic, and a half-a$$ed financial plan.