I’ve been out of the work force for over three years now. Technically I’m still in the working world, but in terms of having health insurance, giving quarterly reviews, and pretending to smoke just to get breaks, I’m out of that game. The 9-to-5 environment just wasn’t for me, especially the 9 part.
The office world I lived in wasn’t as bad as Dilbert’s, but I still had my fair share of headaches to endure. One time, I shared a cubicle with a guy I nicknamed WESS. His real name was Will. He was allergic to anything that contained molecules, and he let you know it by clearing his sinuses with snorting sounds so loud they would make a monk question God. To me, he became Will the Eternal Sinus Sufferer…a.k.a. WESS. I honestly felt bad for the man because he weighed 250 pounds, 60 of which was mucus.
I can relate to allergy victims because I have asthma. My condition is better now, no doubt because of education. Five years ago, my doctor informed me that dust mites may be the root of the issue. He went on to explain that they’re so small, 7,000 can fit on a dime, so I went home and threw away all my change. Then I cursed meter maids and tooth fairies for exacerbating the problem.
Okay, so throwing away change was stupid, but money management was never a strong suit of mine. I always figured if I could just ignore it, I could avoid it…like I try to do with rap music. But pop culture and retirement plans, annoying as they can be, are like the elephant in the room. Sooner or later, you have to pay attention. With an office job, retirement funds were automatic and effortless. Nowadays, they’re nonexistent. Unless the Saturn grows a flux capacitor and can generate 1.21 jigawatts, I won’t be able to come back from the future and alter my life. I decided to set up some investments before it was too late.
My chief concern was going into this blind. In case you haven’t picked up on it, I don’t know crap when it comes to long-term finances. The first time I heard the term “401 K”, I thought it was a really long race. My ignorance on the subject has always kept me away from it. But after someone explained to me that setting up mutual funds was like gambling, it became more appealing. (Side note: If retirement age is 65, I’ll take the over. That is so money in the bank.)
So I called a former classmate who works in the investment field. In school, he was a mathematical genius. He even called himself Johnny X because he could solve for any variable, but he was forced to become Johnny Y after receiving calls from confused militant Black Panthers. As luck would have it, he’s so damn good that he’s already retired and living in Fiji. So I spoke with another rep in the firm…some guy named Fred. If you’ve never met an official financial planner before, you will. You can’t mistake them. They’re the people who make you feel like a moron because you haven’t been saving money since you were a fetus.
Apparently, the weapon of choice for financial planners is the fluctuation chart, a comparison graph of peaks and valleys that indicate how bad your future life sucks. Because that was not visible over the phone, we decided to meet for lunch. Here’s a brief synopsis of our conversation, along with narration to make it sound more like National Geographic:
(First, we see the planner show an overzealous trait quite similar to panic.)
“Keith, let’s get down to the numbers at hand. If you want to retire by the time you’re 65, you’ll need to save about 16 billion dollars between now and then. How much do you have now?”
“Well, um, if I’m picking up this lunch bill, then…12.”
“Yeah, Fred…twelve billion. That’s why I suggested we meet at Denny’s. No…12 dollars, you dumbass. I have 12 dollars in savings…sans interest thank you very much. Pretty sweet, eh?”
(This is when the planner turns on the fire and brimstone, making him sound like a cross between an economics professor and a preacher from a tent revival.)
“This is no laughing matter, Mr. Allbersnack. If you don’t save enough money, you’ll be bagging groceries when you’re 90 just to make ends meet.”
“Well, at least with a job at that age I’ll be getting out of the house.”
(Good silver-lining approach, eh? I thought so too, but apparently humor and logic only frustrate the planner, and he then becomes a prophesying oracle.)
“Out of the house?! You won’t even have a house! You’ll be living in a boiler room with no windows and your 2.5 kids will hate you! Just ask our actuaries and their color charts.”
“Who saved room for dessert? Some cherry cobbler, maybe a chocolate shake?”
(Sorry, I accidentally included the waitress in the story.)
“You need to set up some security with a few mutual funds, Mr. Albertsteinenbaum.”
“Okay, funds. Here we go…let’s go with this fund here. And this one. And how about…oh, I don’t know…this one.”
“That’s a racing form, Keith.”
“Better box those picks, then.”
“I took the liberty of choosing some large cap growth stocks for you.”
“I love those!”
“Do you know what they are?”
“…That cherry cobbler sounds good, huh?”
(This is when the planner’s pupils not only dilate, but transform into dollar signs. I wonder if he knows my mechanic, because his eyes do that same thing.)
“Mr. Atkinsdietsucks…I assure you that with these funds, you’ll feel much better about your retirement.”
That’s when Fred grabbed his prospectus, or what I like to call “Tarot cards for bankers”, and left, leaving me to ponder a reality that bothered me all day…16 billion dollars would be a shitload of dust mites.