It is harvest time, a little early for harvest festivals, but gardeners are already trying to cook, freeze, can, dry, or give away crops that are coming in faster than they can eat them. That’s a good year. In lean years, harvesting is a reminder that optimism doesn’t always succeed. Good years or bad, harvesting has to happen because people have to eat. I sold stock today. It was an early harvest, but I’ve got bills to pay.
For everyone else on Whidbey, growing veggies seems to be natural. For me, the slugs and bunnies beat me to any harvest. My apple trees were looking good – until the deer cleared the fence and ate all of the leaves they could reach.
Two of the three trees are young and short and lost almost every leaf. From three trees I can find one apple. Fortunately, my friends are better gardeners. Ten months of rain, a delayed start to the growing season, then two months of long, dry days. The corn may not be knee high by the Fourth of July, but there’s a bounty here eventually.
On the south half of Whidbey, which has fewer folks than some neighborhoods in Seattle, there are uncounted U-pic fields, farm stands, CSA‘s, and at least five farmers’ markets. Thursday (Clinton), Friday (Langley), Saturday (Bayview), and double-header Sunday (Tilth and Greenbank Farm) mean lots of fresh produce. The local food bank even has its own garden, and a crew called the Gleeful Gleaners. The Gleaners harvest the fruits from neglected orchards or trees producing more than the owner can handle. The food bank benefits, and so do the gleaners and the land owners. I know their work from their gleaning of the apple trees on the land trust property I steward. Tomorrow night I’ll help them at another site, and get to take some home too.
I’ve seen bountiful harvests in the stock market. The last two years have been lean for my portfolio, even as the market has recovered. The previous years were better for my portfolio, even as the market struggled. My portfolio is a bit of a micro-climate. Stocks in small companies are affected by the market, but the stronger effect is their own progress. That’s at least true in a rational market. As I’ve written before, I think small companies are trying to survive an irrational market even as the big companies drive the indices higher. I suspect the Fed quantitative easing and corporate profits are large sums of money that must find large roosts. Financial institutions make their lives easy by buying chunks of a few large companies instead of managing hundreds of smaller positions. Of course, the money could move around instead of roosting, in which case there would be even more purchasing and hiring going on; but hey, if the corporate finance officers can make more money in the market that’s where they’ll put the money.
Retirement is a concept that is being redefined regardless of how much we treat it as a fixed and necessary goal. For a variety of reasons, primarily strategic investing and frugal living, I was able to semi-retire early at 38. I knew it was a semi-retirement because a lot can happen in the decades of a normal lifespan following the first 38 years. Being the optimist and being frugal, I considered it an acceptable risk to step away from corporate work because the portfolio was large and growing. Being a realist, I also recognized the semi- part of that retirement and consequently worked at various aspects of my business these last 16 years. First karate, then writing, then photography, then teaching, and now my favorite – consulting.
It wasn’t until this year that my business grew enough to pay any of my bills. It has been years of building a foundation of work, connections, inventory, and on-the-job training in being a sole-proprietor and entrepreneur. I effectively was finding fertile ground, clearing it, and planting test crops. Every harvest of profits went back into improving the possibilities. With only a general strategy of providing a backup plan, I investigated opportunities as they volunteered. Even before I was hit by my Triple Whammy I’d started devoting more time to the business. I’ve continued to hope to harvest a healthy portfolio, but the stocks languish far below my estimates of their values. Now, I’m working seven days a week (as per my Rule of 7) with days off by necessity rather than choice. This feels like a version of the end of the Dust Bowl when dust storms and drought are somewhat related, continue to create a challenge, and yet may be about to abate.
My business is up 70% from last year, and last year was a record. At this rate, my business will cover my bills, including the mortgage, sometime in 2015. In the meantime, I’ve got bills to pay and have run into a cash flow squeeze. The only way to get through is to sell some stock (which is unfortunately coming out of my IRA). The good news about individual stocks is that as cash flow turns positive, I’ll be able to buy that stock back again – as long as it hasn’t jumped in the meantime.
Gardeners and farmers are familiar with the race between growing crops, changing weather, and ravening beasts. Grow quick. Hope for good weather. Fight back the hordes. I’m in a race as well. The business is growing and some of my stocks have possible significant near-term catalysts. The investing climate is incredibly uncertain between signs of a recovery and large cash hordes, while systemic failings in macro-economics are causes for concern. In the meantime, the next pre-foreclosure meeting is scheduled for October, followed by its scheduled events that can only be deterred by sufficient funds. Okay magic beans, grow, now!
Retirement planning can appear to be a set of spreadsheets that order a financial life. Retirement realities are that things can go better or worse than expected. I was so close to being debt-free as little as three years ago. Then the perfect storm hit. Storms happen, and that’s why gardeners and investors need to be flexible, have backup plans, and be tending fields and opportunities even if they may never be needed. It isn’t easy to harvest something early; especially, when you think it can grow much more if left alone. But I hope to replant. I hope for better weather. And I hope healthy harvests happen in time. I see it all around me. I know it happens.
Early apples and plums? Hmm, fruits can become desserts. I guess early harvests can actually be tasty.