We aren’t Vulcans, I suspect. (If any true Vulcans are reading this blog, WOW!) Facts, data, and logic may rule bank accounts and portfolio totals; but people are inspired by stories. I’ve heard a few stories about plans for careers and retirements lately. It sounds like folks are seeing change coming and deciding to control as much of their future as possible. Rarely do those plans get described as numbers. They’re more likely to be told as stories, even the ones with lots of blank pages.
Maybe it’s a sign that people are assuming that any change in government won’t happen soon enough or reach them. They’re making their plans based on getting no help from their government. Since the election, local entrepreneurs are getting busy. I call them entrepreneurs because they don’t expect any help from any businesses, either.
A Virtual Reality arcade seems to be making progress. The business plan looks encouraging; but at a presentation to a local lending network, the greatest audience response was from the vision of a place for teenagers to play that is innovative, safe, and doesn’t revolve around eating and drinking. Ethan Worthington, entrepreneur described what it was like to be a teenager in a tourist town. South Whidbey is know for being a quiet place for a vacation. It can also be expensive, designed for people with lots of discretionary money, and restricted to people over 21. Younger people need a place to hang out, too; regardless of whether they’re residents or visitors.
Imagine a cookbook written by a bagpipe playing biscotti baker, Don Scobie. That business model may sound like it is targeted at a niche within a niche within a niche, generally not a large market. The numbers aren’t there. Take each piece though, and see that one book can be known for its novelty, and a nexus for tendrils that reach much further than a single book. Cookbooks are common, and can be profitable. Cookbooks with attitude get a chance to stand out. Cookbooks written by a cook in a kilt, well, that will appeal to someone for sure. Take the attitude necessary to proudly perform with an old Scottish squeezebox, and clear one of the greatest marketing hurdles – an entrepreneur who is comfortable entertaining a crowd. Writing, speaking, playing, teaching, and even things like songs and videos can gather to create a large enough business (and potentially messy bookkeeping), but the story will be the driver.
Skip ahead a few decades to people getting ready for retirement.
A couple in the neighborhood told me their plan for retirement. They’re almost there. Sell their first house, try to figure out how to make their second house their only house, and take the jump. They understand the math because their other house is swept up in Seattle’s ridiculously busy real estate market. As they put it, “Even hovels are going for $650,000.” Sell now, and retire now. The fascinating part wasn’t the math. It was their very active editing of what their new life will be like. They won’t be rich, but they know the money isn’t as important as discovering how and where they’ll live. They are several iterations of He said, She said from finding one answer; but they’re trading the stories first. Detailed money issues can come later, just to make sure.
Another couple finally found a home at the beach. Well, not at the beach. That would require millions in their neighborhood. But, a ten minute trip from the house to the water isn’t bad and saves them hundreds of thousands of dollars. Listen to them and hear what they will do rather than how they will afford it.
About those blank pages…
Several people have found themselves deciding to be entrepreneurs without knowing their full story of what they want to be. They know that what they have isn’t enough, and that they need, not just want, something better. They’re the brave ones, letting go of their insufficient stability and having faith that they’ll swim, float, and be swept to a better life. They know how much they need, and that is a basic inspiration, but the optimism comes from hoping they can reach and exercise their potential.
The retirement stories have blank pages, too. People who worked for corporations for decades have a reasonable chance to relax. People who worked for small businesses, or who owned businesses that were subsistence operations can find themselves with too little to retire in their homes. Their house has become their retirement, and the only way that works is to sell it. I know too many friends who have one option: sell the house when they can and move somewhere cheaper. Cheaper no longer describes Seattle. Cheaper is becoming less likely in the counties around it. This area is becoming like many areas with large inequalities in wealth and income. The poor progressively move farther out, sometimes taking the core culture with them. For some of my friends, that story is one of concession and compromise – and giving up what they’ve built for most of their lives.
Personal finance is personal. Finance is about facts, data, and logic. All of the people I talked to know that. Some have detailed spreadsheets. Some have rough calculations. They all have stories. The stories are their motivations.
My story is a collection of drafts, each based on a different scenario. I’m a writer and an engineer. Both disciplines work best when an open mind considers a wide variety of options. Any one of the threads in My Backup Plan and My Litany of Optimism can lead to a different story. I understand the arithmetic for most of them. When I sit on the deck and think about them, it is their stories that come to mind. Stay tuned to see which (or something completely) comes true. In any case, live long and prosper.