My ride through America’s wealth classes continues. Thirty-one years ago, I retired. (See my book, Dream. Invest. Live. for details.) Ten years ago, my portfolio was about to dramatically recover from the Internet Bubble, a divorce I asked for, and taking money out of the market to buy a house, my first true home. Eight years ago, my finances were hit by a Triple Whammy, or what I described as “two whammies and a flounder.” That began an unraveling my finances that has provided ample material for this blog and a planned sequel to Dream. Invest. Live. The journey isn’t over, but the path has improved from a rutted ditch to something smoother and straighter.
Statistics are hard to imagine as reality. Statistically, someone will somehow manage to always come out on top. Check the lives of many celebrities and public figures. Most include the word luck at some point in their biography, though it is glossed over as a minor details. Americans like to think success is a measure of merit. Statistically, for everyone who can flip heads up ten times in a row, there will be someone who gets the opposite. For thirty years, my investing strategy (Long Term Buy and Hold) was either lucky, skillful, or random; hence the repeated requests for me to write the book. Then the Triple Whammy.
Within a few months, my portfolio fell by 80%. Savings vanished. My portfolio was drained. I began early withdrawals from my IRA, incurring penalties at the very time I needed every dollar. I almost lost my house. (See Mortgage Modification Chronology for details.) All of this happened despite a diversified portfolio, several Lines In The Water, and detailed Backup Plans. Rainy day funds are essential, but there’s little advice available for what to do after they dry up, too. Fortunately, I’m fairly frugal. First that was by choice. Subsequently that was by necessity. Frugality became a skill honed several times a day. Oh yes, and it happened to happen as The Great Recession made it harder to sell a house, get a job, build a business, or move to a more affordable area.
As I wrote above, the journey filled this blog with a chronology I never expected.
The journey continues. Here are how some of my lines in the water and backup plans have produced, or not.
Applying for a job only succeeded at two interviews for full-time employment. One of those was because they simply wanted to see if someone with a resume like mine was real. (After they turned me down they admitted that my resume was legit and my skills were impressive, but I met 22 of their 24 criteria, and the two I missed were considered non-negotiable.) I’ve been told I’m over-qualified, know the wrong people (at least from one group’s perspective), and probably wouldn’t be considered because I was male. (They were open enough to tell me that they weren’t comfortable hiring males, and smart enough not to put that into writing.) If it was tough to get a job at 52, it would surprising to get one at 60.
My portfolio has yet to recover. Companies that became profitable and that would’ve commanded premium stock prices were sold or merged before my portfolio saw the benefit. Of the remaining stocks, AMSC was supposed to rebound from a theft of intellectual property, DNDN was supposed to recover from a missed earnings report, MVIS was supposed to succeed with a product within the next six to nine months – any day now. In August 2011, AMSC was trading at ~$54 down from peak of over $400; now it’s at ~$7. DNDN is harder to track because it was driven into bankruptcy after climbing from ~$3 to over $44. MVIS is now ~$0.60, but back then it was feeling tortured at ~$8 because several investors expected something more like $320. What felt bad then became worse with the years.
My business, Trimbath Creative Enterprises, pulled me through:
- as program manager for an online museum (hcle.org),
- information and social media manager for a now-defunct frugality non-profit (tons of irony there),
- as a photographer (FineArtAmerica.com),
- as a writer (including my books, as well as Seattle.Curbed.com and 360Modern.com),
- and even as a business consultant to inventors, artists, and entrepreneurs (something that is very fulfilling).
My business continues to aid my income; but the biggest boost has been my transition to helping people buy and sell properties on Whidbey Island. (Disclosure: broker at Coldwell Banker Tara Properties) Finally, a job that doesn’t discriminate on gender or age, and then encourages skills and talents and hard work.
Real estate has also benefited my net worth, simply by living in my house. As the market has recovered, there have been months when my house’s appreciation has been much greater than any income I’ve earned. It’s hard money to spend, but it demonstrates the value of letting assets build assets. It’s hard to re-retire based on income alone. Money has to work at making more money.
Riding the roller coaster through America’s wealth classes reveals the view behind our many facades. What it’s like to be independently wealthy, and having to balance compassion and personal preservation. What it’s like to be zero net worth and be treated as if I had negative self-worth. (Poverty is always the person’s fault. Right? Not from what I’ve seen and witnessed.) What it’s like to have a job, work hard, and watch much of the money go to debt, insurance, and maintaining a house and a vehicle and various kinds of health. Vacations and those other things in the ads? Ha! That’s someone else’s world. And to see those with much much more with perspectives and situations otherwise unimaginable. And to see those with much much less with perspectives and situations otherwise unimaginable. When we lost our class-less society, or at least an attempt at a class-less society, we lost our few shared perspectives. Us versus them became much easier.
My path is getting smoother, but I’m not doing all of the work alone. The greatest help has been people who literally invested in my career(s). Thoughts and prayers are appreciated, but loans help until leads lead to income. Being able to appreciate beauty and nature, being able to meditate or exercise, being a good listener or story-teller are valuable for humanity; but the economy requires money for food, water, heat, clothes, transportation, housing, and the rest.
From where I stand, the future looks encouraging. That horizon is only weeks away, not years as before. With a bit of good fortune, the ten year anniversary of My Triple Whammy will be a wake and a remembrance, and maybe an opportunity to celebrate the publication and launch of the sequel to Dream. Invest. Live. Until then, there are clients to talk with, properties to research, and classes to attend – as well as books to write, photos to take, and clients to listen to and work with.
Thanks to everyone who has stayed tuned during this very trippy journey.