I’ve been rereading some of my posts to see how closely my project is aligning with my mission. It seems that I talk very little about this “schugar” I claim as my own. Money is a funny thing in my world. It is very personal and usually painful to discuss. Some of this is residual inheritance that I haven’t cured and some of this is my own wackadoo creation.
This past week I finished Michael Lewis’ The Big Short and watched Too Big To Fail on HBO. If you’ve a strong stomach and enough mistrust for rich people to want to study them like lab rats, I recommend both. The WSJ reviewed the latter as more aptly titled “Too Boring To Watch” but if you approach it as documentary-like viewing, you’ll be fine.
I do agree with Mark Gongloff (the reviewer) on two things – I wish the characters had been more developed and more “real” people had been included. Don’t misunderstand me, the characters were all actual people – but I hardly count the ex-Chairman of Goldman-Sachs as representative of the rest of us, even if he tries masking his shady background with a bit of public service.
Now here’s where I endure a little painful confession: Before I read the incredibly compelling Lewis book, I really didn’t understand that Wall Street was like Vegas without the strippers.
A couple of important things to note:
- everything I know about Vegas is 2nd hand or from the movies
- I’ve had a 401K and separate stock portfolio since my late 20s
- investing, saving, and money management were not among the lessons taught in my childhood home
One thing at a time.
The third bullet, my financial upbringing, warrants its very own post. I just have to consider how to tactfully discuss in print.
I’ve never been to Vegas because it appeals to me the same way that a Pride parade, Jersey Shore, or the actual Mardi Gras do – not at all. I support others’ right to enjoy them but I find them vulgar and tacky. I actually enjoy gambling. I like to play cards – blackjack and hold ’em. I usually play the pokies when in Oz. I’ve even won a bit of money at cruise ship gambling which purchased a pair of diamond earrings. It’s a pasttime, a source of entertainment, and I can’t possible imagine throwing money on a felt table expecting to “hit the jackpot.” That, my friends, is sucker behavior in my world. Nothing comes for nothing. At least, not for real people like us.
Yet, I have regularly invested my little pennies in a retirement fund because “it is the responsible thing to do.” I thought that my investments into individual stocks (companies I support directly or believe in conceptually) and in mutual funds were my “vote” (put your money where your mouth is) for their success. By supporting their stock I was saying to the company, I think you’re worth saving please keep up the good work. Except, that’s just a teeny weeny part of investing. There are masses of jackholes who are betting – literally gambling – with their own and other’s money AGAINST companies. So instead, they are saying – and usually with much more significant sums than my 15% – ‘we bet you suck it big time. ‘
The book(s) and the movie that startled me out of my naive investment cloud told the story of how massive deregulation, minimal oversight, bribes, incompetence, greed, marketing, and widespread sucker behavior allowed a whole lot of people and companies to bet that we’d all ‘suck it big time.’ And anyone who didn’t bet that, lost their asses.
The thing about the financial industry that blows my mind – no matter what happens in the market, someone is making money. It just isn’t usually you or me.
So what is our alternative to investing? Pensions are all but dead. Social Security will be insolvent when I’m 52. My parents, your parents, and pretty much everyone over the age of 60 will bankrupt us when they run out of retirement funds and have no healthcare. At 38, and the bread-winner for my family, I’m pacing so far behind my personal savings that I will work until I’m dead. And I’m way ahead of the average woman.
Do you know the financial statistics for women? They ain’t good, honey. Pretend for a minute that women make as much as men for the same work (they generally don’t) and that earning less over a career equates to a smaller pension/social security payout. About half of us are out of the workforce at least part of our foundation or earning years because of children. Even if we work full-time throughout, our earning power is impacted by our breeder status through job-changes, missed promotions, under-utilization/employment.
Now consider this – 50% of marriages end in divorce in this country and 70% of married women are widowed at some point. Please TELL me you aren’t counting on a man to take care of you. Even if he is the most kick-arse, generous and loving man… you are responsible for your own financial health. To believe otherwise is sucker behavior, my friends.
Try these statistics on for size:
- women live seven years longer than men, on average
- over 70% of the US elderly poor are women
- one year after divorce, the average mid-life woman remains single with an average income of $11,300
- women have higher healthcare expenses
- over 58% of boomer women have less than $10K saved in some form of retirement
(Some of these statistics come from the slightly outdated and heavily dog-eared WOW! Quick Facts on Women 2007 edition I keep by my desk.)
Now think about the absurdly insulated jackholes in charge of our stock market who make money whether your stocks go up or go down – who are betting against your mortgage, your life insurance, and your employer. Who are handing over big campaign contributions to other jackholes to make sure they don’t get hampered by any pesky rules of engagement.
I change my mind – Wall Street is like Vegas meets UFC, without the strippers or the blood.
And these people have my money.