Backup Plans


A friend’s blog inspired a paragraph in Tuesday’s post which inspired today’s post. Normally I post on Wednesdays and Saturdays but it is good to break patterns occasionally. She wrote about her Plan B. Now I recognize that I’ve had to add my own Plans C and D, and I’m wondering about E. So today I decided to write them all down for my own benefit. Who knows? Maybe someone else will benefit too.

Angela’s Plan B is to move into the home she built. It’s an 8 foot by 16 foot house on wheels. It’s small, which meant she was able to spend more time making sure the details were done right. Her Plan A was to sell it. Prior to Plan A was another life which she left behind when she moved to the island. That’s a common theme on Whidbey.

I moved to Whidbey over seven years ago to live the life of a frugal-minded semi-retired middle-aged guy. I retired early (for details read my book Dream. Invest. Live.) and looked forward to actively relaxing, living an unstructured, productive life healing from decades of stress while helping build community, or at least dancing a lot. That looked like a reasonable plan until the summer of 2011, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to introduce my plans, which I document here so I can see them, have them available for reference, and because it intuitively seems like the thing to do.

Pre-Plan A – A “Normal” Life
For those who haven’t been following my life story, and why would you, my original plan was to help the human race colonize space. I got a masters in Aerospace and Ocean Engineering so I could be in the right place at the right time to help design and build the space shuttles that would give our species more than one place to live. Leaving everyone on one planet is incredibly risky. Yes, I am a space cadet. I guessed that any such venture would only work if it made money and was handled by a big company, so I was happy to get hired by Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Eventually, there’d be a Boeing Commercial Space Company, right? Well, yes, eventually there was and I got a job there.

After I got the job I got the impression that nothing significant was going to happen for a long time. About the same time frugal living and a diversified portfolio let me claim the title of millionaire. I was stressed out. I could retire. I did. It’s more complicated than that, including the bit about the end of the marriage, but describing more would be a major digression.

Plan A – Investing
I’ve been investing since 1977. The first few years were mixed successes, but after a while I developed a style that was based on Long Term Buy and Hold (LTBH), of small local companies that were possibly going to disrupt their industries. (Again, for more details read, and maybe even buy, my book Dream. Invest. Live.) I had data to bolster my confidence, and even with only half a portfolio and no longer millionaire status, I had good reason to believe it would work. If one of the stocks succeeded I’d be able to live frugally though extra revenue would be appreciated. If two of them succeeded I’d be able to live frugally with a comfortable cushion. If three or more succeeded I’d be able to relax and enjoy and dive into philanthropy and entrepreneurship.

It almost worked. But in the summer of 2011, MicroVision’s (MVIS) products were delayed, American Superconductor’s (AMSC) main customer apparently stole their critical intellectual property and cancelled their orders, and Dendreon (DNDN) didn’t grow as fast as predicted. Geron’s (GERN) clinical trials weren’t doing well. Real Goods Solar (RSOL) seemed to be besmirched by being in the same industry as Solyndra. Successes were discounted and failures were amplified. Even spunky little GigOptix (GIG), which was making good money, had an overlooked stock. The portfolio dropped by over 80%. (Triple Whammy)

Subsequently, the stock sales that had been paying my bills involved greater numbers of shares for the same frugal lifestyle. My portfolio is now down over 95% from attrition. Tuesday I sold the last of my DNDN. I’d hoped by now that one of the others would’ve stepped up to bolster it, but it doesn’t look that way.

The plan continues though. Until I sell those shares, they have time to pleasantly surprise me. MicroVision alone could return me to a comfortable, though frugal, lifestyle; but, MVIS would have to rise like a rocket to the valuations we shareholders estimated years ago. Hey, it could happen.

Plan B – Trimbath Creative Enterprises
It’s a good thing I had a Plan B in operation.

Even before I retired from Boeing I started a business on the side. First I taught karate. (I’m now a fourth degree black belt in Shobayashi Shonrinryu Karate.) I’ll still teach, but prefer private lessons to running a dojo. I also started writing. (That story’s on my amazon author page.) The writing led to photography. (Visit my smugmug gallery.) And the experiences I’ve had along the way became valuable enough to teach. (Modern Self-Publishing, Saturday October 20!) Couple my corporate and investing background with my life as an entrepreneur and artist and it turns out that I have a knack for consulting. Hello fellow artists and entrepreneurs, call me, I enjoy helping. Strategic planning, life choices, social media, web site development, publishing, I enjoy doing it all particularly because my passion is for people and ideas.

When I started I didn’t need the money and decided to let the company grow organically. I didn’t continue to throw money at it because it is too easy for a business to become a money sink. I wasn’t looking for much from my efforts. Each of the aspects of my business could provide more than enough income, but if they only each made about $10,000 a year, well, that’d be very nice. Unfortunately, trusting to organic growth also meant that each aspect was undercapitalized. Now, when I could definitely benefit from them, I have no extra capital to invest in my own business. What is encouraging is the wealth of compliments. Humility restrains me from listing the comparisons to award winning authors and photographers. Maybe that’s one of my hurdles, shameless self-promotion. I will, however, point out the testimonials on my consulting page. Those are their words.

The plan continues though. The books and photos can become passive income, and could even go viral, because they are available online. Sales can happen without my interaction. Go take a look. Buy something you like. Maybe you’ll start the trend, Maybe you can take credit for getting me on The Daily Show. The teaching and consulting require trading my time, but they are an enjoyable way to spend a bit of my life. The potential of my business is impressive and gives me hope, but it now must grow quickly. (Next book due out by Christmas: Scotland – and internal and external journey across a country, or some title like that.)

Plan C – Get A Job
I’ve always been receptive to the right job. In the fourteen years since I left Boeing I always kept my ears and eyes open, and even applied a few times, but that was the Dismal Decade and nothing presented itself.

Then The Triple Whammy hit in August 2011. In one day my portfolio dropped by years’ worth of living expenses. After I spent a few days recovering emotionally, I fired up the resumes and started checking job sites. I had a few years of living expenses left, but I didn’t want that to drain away. I knew that finding a job could take months. Unemployment was high, and I’d been out of the workplace for years. Months went by. (My Jobs Report Month 13) In those months, DNDN and my portfolio dropped another 50%. I was down to about a year’s living expenses. It has been a painful experience, yet a continual task. Every day I look for jobs. In over a year I’ve only had one interview that was for a full time job. It is hard being optimistic when I launch into my searches, yet it is something I must do.

And yes, I am optimistic, usually. As I type this I am a bit down, because this review has been a reliving of my months of denied anticipation. My optimism persists because I know my skills are in demand and I know that the going rate for those skills would quickly negate my debt, and produce a rapid financial recovery. Any phone call or email or hello on the street could be the turning point.

Plan D – Sell My Home
After nine months of job hunting and a dwindling portfolio (even as the companies grew) I knew that I had to put my house, my home, on the market. The market assessments were high enough that I could get a year’s living expenses out of a sale and even be debt-free. I love my home, but it was fiscally responsible to sell my home instead of more stock. There was a spurt in sales in the spring and I had mixed emotions as I watched the For Sale sign go up.

The house has been on the market for five months without an offer. Yesterday I dropped the price by $15,000. A sale at that price would leave me debt-free and with many months of living expenses, which is a much better situation than I have now. Any phone call or email could be the full price, cash offer.

Oh yes, and many have suggested that I get a roommate. That could work, but the living arrangements would only work best with the sort of arrangements made through eHarmony.

Plan E – ?
Plan E? Why a Plan E? Is there enough to keep track of? (Too Many IFs) Because as I sit here, Plans A, B, C, & D have not succeeded. Why the question mark? Because the world is an amazing place and unexpectedly wonderfully good things happen. Maybe I receive a windfall. I won an iPad. I was given a free fridge. Maybe I win the lottery. Maybe someone decides that something I did for them is worth so much that they mail me a check or make a deposit for something I can’t recall doing. One friend even pitched my life story to a VP in Hollywood. I don’t know if they expected it to be a reality show or a movie. Incredible things happen, and I make sure that door is unlocked and easily opened. That’s one reason I blog. It’s the electronic equivalent of poking my head outside and saying, “Hello world, the door’s open. Opportunity doesn’t even have to knock.” I know incredible things happen. Look back at all of these plans. What were the odds that none of them would succeed? Those odds seem on a par with the odds of winning the lottery jackpot. It could happen. (And wouldn’t that be an interesting new series of blog posts.)

I’ve heard assurances from business types (variations on “wow…how could you not find a job based on your resume?!”), artists (“You should be exhibiting and selling your art in Seattle, Miami, San Diego, New York.” “Why aren’t you writing and photographing for National Geographic?”), consultants (“With your skills, style, and experience you should be charging a lot more and should be a lot busier.”), and intuitives (“Your karmic bank account is overflowing.”). One known internationally for more spiritual perceptions said, “You have a wonderful light about you, but something is blocking it.”  Maybe that’s it. I’ve taken her advice at how to unblock the light. Stay tuned.

I’ve also been told that I’ve already done what needs to be done; I just have to wait for the delivery. Many people have told me that it will all work out and that I shouldn’t worry.

One person told me that I will succeed in ways I can’t imagine, and because of something I can’t predict. I’m a very imaginative fellow. If they are right and because I’ve already imagined and actually implemented Plans A, B, C, D, and part of E (I buy lottery tickets), then maybe I should be aware of but do nothing about Plan F.

About Tom Trimbath

real estate broker / consultant / entrepreneur / writer / photographer / speaker / aerospace engineer / semi-semi-retired More info at: and at my amazon author page:
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1 Response to Backup Plans

  1. Addendum:
    I forgot to list another set of backup plans: my collaborations. Maybe they are part of my business (Plan B), or part of finding a good job (Plan C) by creating one, or an entirely new Plan (Plan G?). However they’re listed, they’re as engaging and encouraging as the other plans. Which one or ones will succeed? Stay tuned to find out.

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