I once was casual friends through our kid’s school with an executive of a large manufacturing company who had been so busy climbing the corporate ladder that in his mind there was no time left to mind his money and investments. He was a great businessman, a good father and husband and from the few opportunities that I had to interact with him, a fun guy to be around. On occasion, he had lamented to me that he needed to come in and see me sometime because in his mind his investments needed some time and attention. The years rolled by and he never came in to see me.
I had invited him on many occasions to come out to our education events, but he always had a reason for not coming; he was too busy he would say, and that he would make the next one. Over time I stopped inviting him because to me it did not seem that he really was interested, and I didn’t want to come across as pushy. Well, age 60 rolled around for him and during this time his company was in a major downturn. On top of it all, he had suffered a mild heart attack that the doctor said was stress-induced. During his recovery, he had time to look at his investment statements and asked me to look at them too.
What had happened was that his account had gone down over 50% in 2008 due to very poor diversification. During this time, he was so panicked that he moved all his retirement funds to cash and had missed the HUGE market recovery of 2009 when the markets roared back. His investment account was wrecked. He had been sitting in cash at this point for several years and now he was afraid to invest as he reasoned that he might experience another downturn again. His doctor had told him he needed to reduce his hours and pull back from work but there was no way he was even close now to having enough money to retire and his job had no “work-life balance” or flex options that would allow him to stay home more or work less.
I asked him what he was going to do, and he told me that for his family’s sake that he would go back to work full time and that if he dropped dead from the stress then at least his wife would get the life insurance that was available to him as a full-time employee. He said this to me with tears in his eyes while his wife wept also. In this moment I was overcome with sadness also with this family. It was a surreal and somber moment when the unvarnished truth of their circumstances came into full light.
He realized without me telling him that his financial calamity could have been avoided had he made time years ago for prudent focus of his time and attention on his money. I felt guilty and ashamed that I had not been more insistent with him by encouraging him to get a handle on his financial affairs. I had been more concerned about myself it seemed; about not looking pushy by being more insistent. I clearly failed him and his family in my mind…. I never want to let anyone down again like I let down this family.
Sometimes our money really can mean life or death. Victims of Ponzi schemes sometimes take their own lives when they fall into despair and depression over losing all their money to schemes where they reason they should have known better. Studies show that Americans are more afraid of running out of money in old age than they are of death. Yes, our money really can mean life or death in some cases.
My resolve from this tragic life experience was to be more resolute and assertive in doing everything I can to help everyone in my path practice prudent and disciplined investing so that they can realize the financial security that the quality of their lives depends upon. Get in the game today and make that call you need to make, your American Dream is what’s at stake.