HOLY CRAP! I MEAN SWEET MOTHER OF BETTY AND HER MORE FISCALLY CONSERVATIVE SISTER WHO LORDS OVER ALL THAT FURNISHES MY HOME AND IS PART OF A WELL-BALANCED BREAKFAST AND HOLY CRIPPITY CRAP!
There. I did it. I opened all my 401K statements.
People come to me all the time for advisement in one discipline or another. I find this ironic, what with my attitude, my track record, and my haircut, but nonetheless I'm here for you. Call it losing a philosophical life-bet. Plus I'm pretty good at a lot of shit.
Writing? Yes, I can get you from the point A blank sheet of paper to point B having your name on the glossy front cover that binds together some pretty interesting prose.
Management? I know who moved your cheese, the eighth habit, who to apologize to after breaking all the rules, and I can get it done in fifty-nine seconds.
Startups? I can drop the names of investors, entrepreneurs, and wunderkinds for whom I have the "special" email address that they actually read.
Technology? I can talk cloud, 2.0, social networking, networked socializing, virtualizing, open-source, and Android - all in the same sentence. And since I know so much about writing, that sentence won't even be a run-on.
But finance? Matters of money? Where to put your chunk of change?
Believe it or not, I've been approached on more than one occasion, even more frequently since the downturn, concerning the possibility of advice on the stock market, investing, and dollars and cents in general. I'm always shocked when the question is put forth. I mean, if I was rich, would I dress like this? It's certainly not for lack of knowledge, I've proven that I can walk amongst the ranks of the metrosexual. It's the fact that I don't, won't, and can't see the benefit of consumption to the nth, let alone be the kind of person that measures their worth by net worth. My definition of success would make a critically panned box office blockbuster of a Christmas movie. Like Miracle on 34th Street or Fred Claus. If everybody's happy, and I can pay the bills and sleep at night, then I win.
But yeah, I do know Wall Street. I know how it works and the difference between fundamentals and bubbles. This comes from a boyhood fascination with Alex P. Keaton, an economics minor, and the ability to get the joke that is Jim Cramer. So you can see where this isn't really "rooted" in anything sound. But I did call the tech bubble, loudly, and I called this one, shrilly, and I damned the bailout package, arrogantly. So people get the impression that I know what I'm doing with my money.
Here's the dirty little secret: NO ONE knows what they're doing with their money, let alone your money. Fundamentals have been replaced by emotion and whizbang since they invented the interweb. You might as well throw darts at your banker. Just lay off the tellers because they're usually pretty cool.
But my point is my point -- it's all a shell game, and I don't know how many Pets.coms and Enrons and Worldcoms and AIGs and Lehman Brotherses have to happen before we all go "OH!" and start putting our money in our collective mattresses. However, after witnessing the tumult of the last few months and watching the Zillow on my house go from $1.5 million to $23.95, both of which are astronomically off, I think we might now be figuring out the X + Y = 0 equation.
Do I play the market? You bet your Sarbox, I do. But be advised that I also play blackjack, the sports book, the ponies, and every once in a while if I'm drunk and it's 4:00 a.m. and I'm not sleepy but I can't think straight, I can be caught at the roulette table.
The thing is, I approach the stock market with the same strategy I use for gambling. I have a stake, a smallish stake, that I have for each session. This money is losable - and by losable I mean in this economic environment, I have no losable funds. So if I plop my stake down on the felt and I build it up a by couple hundred bucks and I get free drinks and get a couple strangers to laugh at my histrionics, fantastic. However, if I lose it all in fifteen minutes, usually by doubling several tens converted from split eights on the dealers deuce (and this is the equivalent of a market short call), then I either hit the nickel slots, shop for the wife, or go see something excellently stupid like "Purple Reign," the Prince tribute show at Mandalay.
I also do the standard retirement deal. I have a 401K, an IRA, and a Roth, and I put as much money as I can into them. Sometimes it's 6%, sometimes it's 15% - and I let it fester. I do not under any circumstances touch it, so while my best friend tells me his advisor had him convert 30% of his holdings to cash about a year ago, it feels like a sucker punch to the kidney, but I know, I KNOW, that if I had an advisor who had told me to do the same thing, I would have called him a sissy.
Here's the big question: Is any of this strategy going to make me rich? And here's the big answer: Probably not.
The stock market thing is fun, it's a way to do Vegas without being in Vegas and everything is nice and legal. The retirement thing is a way for me to be able to buy an RV and a collection of ugly hats without having to send the kids to JuCo.
But I am getting rich.
Go back to what I said about my definition of success. If we've learned anything over the last 3 months, it's that the definition of success that is built on designer labels and pricey cars and vacation homes in exotic places is probably only there to keep rich people from feeling guilty and/or bored. That's not to say the rest of us should all shun money and become pseudo-new-agey or monkish. Money is a means to an end, and you should get your hands on as much as you can. It may not need to be your scorecard, but it is A SCORECARD.
Don't let the hippies fool you. Ever walk into a Trader Joe's? It's pretty friggin' expensive.
So here, if you want it, and remember, I cautioned you against this from the get-go, is my bulletproof strategy for getting rich:
1. Find whatever it is you do well that makes the most money.
2. Throw most of your time and money at said thing.
3. Do several other things that don't make you money but keep you from losing your mind and/or slipping over to the dark side.
There's my advice. No penny stocks, no flipping, no buying fear, no selling greed. If you're looking for an investment, look in the mirror. You'll find the fundamentals are tempting and the upside looks quite positive. And sure, you may go broke, but if you do, your review will end up much like Fred Claus.
"Sure, it was terrible, but it had a lot of heart and connected with a lot of people."
I don't know. That, to me, sounds like a solid definition of success.
Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
12.1.08 @ 11:20a
I agree that there is nothing worth more investment of your time and energy than yourself and family. Contrary to some people's belief, the goal of life isn't "whoever dies with the most toys, wins".
That being said, playing the market can be fun and lucurative. We've turned $1,000 into $1,200 in three weeks. I'm not trying to be Warren Buffett. A $200 gain is better that I would have made letting it rot in my savings account for 3% interest.
12.2.08 @ 10:36p
"Find whatever it is you do well that makes the most money."
Damn. So THAT'S it.
12.8.08 @ 4:31p
I understand that "Who Moved the Cheese" has sold 22 million copies. I've decided to buy it for all my grandchildren, even though it's not, theoretically, a children's book. One of my grandgeeks is 32. So why not? Both of my daughters have lost more than a third of their 401Ks, and they are royally pissed off. Although I used to be a stockbroker back when I was struggling through grad school, I have no money whatsoever in equities. I still advise putting money into real estate. As John Birch's father said to John Birch: "The good lord ain't makin' no more land but he sure is makin' people." (That's not easy for an atheist to say!) My real estate has only lost about 15 percent of its value. It may yet go lower but land doesn't go bankupt, does it now? What we're trying to figure out here in Florida is: when do we sell out and move to Missouri before the ocean floods everything down here? If anybody's interested I've got some nice property which is not yet waterfront. (I'm just kidding. I wouldn't sell in this market.)
Dum de dum dum....