Stop and Think

Hello there, investors! (Isn’t that a nice name to be called?) I want to regroup right now and give you a breather. I also want to give you something to think about before we start back up with investment information.

I have two stories to tell you that I think will encourage you in this process of learning how to invest for yourself. One of them is very personal for me, and the other was told to me by a friend about a complete stranger.

Let me tell you about my friend “Sally” (name changed to protect the innocent … and naive … and uninformed). Sally’s first husband died in 1986, leaving her with two teenaged sons. Sally had never written a check, never paid a bill, never knew anything about their financial situation, because her husband handled everything. Sally was, in short, ignorant of financial matters.

When her husband died, the life insurance company mailed Sally a check for $250,000 on an insurance policy he had. For two weeks that check just laid in Sally’s handbag because she honestly didn’t know what to do with it: i.e., how to deposit it into the bank! It wasn’t until Sally mentioned the money to me that we finally got it into a savings account while we decided what to do with it.

Sally was a brilliant middle school teacher, one of the best around. That’s what she starred at. But her fear of the unknown of financial matters paralyzed her. So she asked me to manage the money for her, which I gladly agreed to, because Sally was my friend and desperately in need. That was 20 years ago.

I am still managing Sally’s money.

Sally has remarried, moved to another state, both her sons are married and on their own. She is still teaching middle school, and her life has been turned into a blessing.

But every time I try to “teach” Sally or inform her of her money’s whereabouts, do you know what she says to me? “Don’t die.” Well, I try not to, but we all know that at some point, I will fail. I will die, perhaps before Sally. What then?

The good news for Sally is that I quadrupled her money during the last 20 years, allowing her to pay for three college educations, three new cars, and a bevy of other things, while still growing it to almost $700,000 today.

But it’s still me doing it, not Sally. She’s no further along in terms of financial acumen than she was in 1987.

That’s sad.

Then there’s the lady my friend Betty met at the gas pump at the gas station a while back. This lady was in a panic because she couldn’t get anyone to come out and pump gas into her car. All the pumps were self-serve. As she broke into tears of exasperation, she cried: “My husband always did this! I’ve never pumped gas in my life!”
“I’m so sorry,” Betty said to her. “How long ago did your husband die?”

“Five years ago!” the lady responded.

Wow! Five weeks ago, I could understand. Five days ago, you bet tears would be understood. But five years!!?? She’s had five years to learn the simple art of pumping gas … and has not done so.

That’s sad too.

Makes you wonder what her financial situation must be like, if pumping gas throws her into a weeping frenzy.

All of this is to say to you, dear reader, hang in there. Keep learning. If by now you’re overwhelmed and fraught with anxiety about investing in the stock market — and you well might be because of all the information you’ve gleaned in the last months — be assured that what you’re doing is worth the effort, worth the time, and worth the neurosis of venturing into the unknown.

If none of this applies to you, because you’re finding this stimulating and exciting, then congratulations. You’re doing fine, and life is good. If, however, you have felt periodically while trying to understand the financial world that your head is spinning and your mind is overwhelmed, pause, take a deep breath, and think about my friend Sally. Then think about the lady in the gas station, holding a nozzle and hose in her hand and not knowing what to do with it.

And dig in again.


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