I fear that retirement means I’ll be mopping the bathroom floors in some Wal-Mart until I die. Or maybe I’ll need heart surgery I can’t afford, and I can only stay alive by hooking my femoral artery to an electric pump that I drag behind me on a Radio Flyer wagon until I drop dead. You may have these same fears, if you’re within screaming distance of retirement age like I am.

I also fear that my modest retirement savings won’t be shored up by Social Security payments as I had once hoped. In fact, I now worry that when I retire, the social safety net will consist of Social Security employees creeping around my house at night looking for stuff they can pawn to pay down the national debt. That’s a lot of fear there. It makes people do dumb things. It makes people believe the most ridiculous things.

A lot of generous people out there want to help me overcome my fear. They want to empower me to take control of my retirement destiny. They promise to teach me how to transform my meek, disorganized savings into an army of financial conquest. I’ll need to pay them for this generosity, of course. Nothing worthwhile comes without suffering. Dozens of movie training montages have taught me that.

The thing that makes these teachers so astoundingly generous is that they won’t just help me shoot my retirement fears in the chest like I was Wyatt Earp. They will also teach me how to transform my humble savings into a huge, roaring pile of money, so I can buy opulent houses and Italian sports cars. Not only will I never have to worry about money again, I can make everyone else feel bad because they’re not as rich as me. It’s like these teachers are giving me a horse in a town where everyone rides goats. That’s a lot of greed right there. It makes people do dumb things. It makes people believe the most ridiculous things.

Fear and Greed are two of the four horsemen of bad decision making. Fear kicks you in the stomach, and then Greed punches you in the brain. Together they can make people do and believe almost anything.

For example, there are some dudes on the radio in my town who have been pimping their investment seminars for years. I turn on the radio in the bathroom while I shower, so I hear them on the weekends. They always talk about how much money their students make. Years ago the returns were impressive but theoretically possible. After a while they started talking about bigger returns, which I guess someone could achieve with a lot of luck. Then they began describing returns that you could only reach with a magic lamp or half a dozen senators in your pocket.

While I was shampooing my hair this morning I thought I heard these fellows say that their most effective investment technique is now yielding a 100% return every month. I assumed I was having a stroke, or perhaps hallucinating because a brain-eating amoeba was swimming up my nose. But as I toweled off a few minutes later they said it again.

Bear with me while I illustrate how stupid and outrageous that statement is. Say you took $10,000 and started investing with their technique this month, which is September. At 100% return per month, by Halloween you’re at $40,000, and by New Year’s Eve you’re up to $160,000. By April Fool’s Day next year you’ve passed a cool million, and by Halloween next year you’ve leapt ahead of Bill Gates to become the richest person on the planet.

In a little over two years you’ll own all the personal wealth on planet Earth ($223 trillion). Congratulations. My birthday’s coming up. My Amazon Wish List is updated, and I’d like either Mary Winstead or Allison Janney to pop out of my cake.

Of course this example is carried to a ridiculous extreme. But that doesn’t make it any more ridiculous than what these fellows are saying on the radio. Yes, they include a quick disclaimer that the results discussed aren’t typical and shouldn’t be used to make investment decisions. Their butts are covered. And frankly, I expect low-lifes to be low-lifes. It lends a certain comforting predictability to the world.

I am rather put out with the radio station though. This is an old and reputable organization, and since it operates on the public airwaves I think it bears a little responsibility for what it splashes across those waves. If this is the way it’s going to be, maybe I’ll start teaching people how to double their money every week using my secret, patented method for processing lithium out of cat feces and selling it to battery companies. Sure, it’s just taking advantage of desperate people, but Wal-Mart’s going to need somebody to mop their bathrooms.

Will I be driving this to the country club and the spa for confident straight guys when I retire?
Will I be driving this to the country club and the spa for confident straight guys when I retire?

Photo by Robert Paprstein
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by theFree Software Foundation.

Or will this be the only Lamborghini I can afford to drive to Big Lots and the liquor store?
Or will this be the only Lamborghini I can afford to drive to Big Lots and the liquor store?

Photo by ChiemseeMan (public domain).

I don’t have too much money, and as a result I’m quite fond of the money I do have. I haven’t named every $20 bill in my wallet. I’m not crazy. But I want my money to be happy, and to feel loved and useful. I like my money to think it’s worth important things like air conditioning and shampoo and ice cream sandwiches. If you let money think it’s only worth lottery tickets and cheap booze, then you end up with sad money.

These days everybody wants their money to take care of them after they retire. I’m no exception. But we probably won’t even find family members who’ll take care of us after we retire, so we’re really saying that we want money that loves us more than our family loves us. That’s a challenge, but then I’ve never punished money for obliterating a FedEx drop box with a car full of drunk 16 year olds at 1:00 a.m. In my car, by the way. Money and I do not have that kind of shared history, so we’re able to start fresh and build on mutual respect.

If my money wants to help set me up so I can eat something besides chicken necks and cardboard when I retire, it will have to grow into more money. It will have to grow into a hell of a lot more money. I admit that my money is ambitious, but damn—it has a huge journey ahead of it. So, like a lot of people I try to help out my money by looking for good ways it can grow.

My money and I have discovered something over the years. A pig has no friends in the sausage factory. Likewise, my money and I have no friends in the financial markets. I’m not saying the financial markets are particularly crooked. It’s just that a lot of people work there, and they like money too. The place they get their money from is, well, me. They don’t have much incentive to see my money get friendly with their money, unless my money goes over to play in their backyard.

Here’s an example. I was driving along with my money and heard a radio commercial for some folks who wanted to sell me gold. I thought that sounded pretty interesting. Gold just sounds cool, like a gold-plated pie server or something. I listened to these folks, and they said they expected gold might triple in value over the next couple of years. I thought to myself, damn, why do you want to sell me your gold then? If you just hang onto that gold you’ll triple your money. What can you invest in that’s going to give you a better return than that? Whatever it is, I want to buy some of that shit. Keep your gold.

Those gold guys are part of the gang that isn’t too interested in my money growing fatter. Otherwise, they would say stuff that makes more sense. But there are all kinds of folks in the markets who sound sensible even though they want to stab me in the armpit with a thousand dollar pen and lead my money into Biblical servitude. I read a while back that the stock market averages a 10% or 11% gain every year. My money and I got excited about that. But real people like me only average about a 2% or 3% gain each year. What the hell? Well, people sell when they’re scared and buy when they’re greedy, and they end up doing those things at lousy times.

There are these fellows in the markets called market makers. They sit in the middle of the trading like spiders dressed in Armani, and they make trades happen. They take a little money for their trouble on every trade. I’ve also got a broker who makes money every time I buy or sell some stock with an ignorant sounding name. So far, so good. These folks deserve to make a living. But if I buy stock in Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and hang onto it for five years, my broker isn’t earning dick, and the market makers aren’t doing any better. So they and their financial market friends regularly tell everybody about the catastrophes around the corner and the unbelievable deals to be had, so that I’ll be trading my ass off chasing them. My returns will drop to nothing, and these guys will gather up my money, even though I doubt they respect and appreciate money like I do. Meanwhile, my remaining money and I will sit drinking shitty tequila while we listen to Freddy Fender and weep.

By the way, you can’t buy stock in Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. It’s now owned by the Unilever corporation, makers of other fine products such as Axe Cologne for Men, and Vaseline.

So what are my money and I going to do? Mutual funds? Real estate? Insurance? Cash in a shoebox in the back of my freezer? Maybe throw myself in front of expensive cars and hope for good settlements? It’s a puzzle. I think we’ll have to address this in an off-site strategic planning session for the board of directors of My Money and Me and Screw Everybody Else, Ltd. I hear that Barbados is nice this time of year.

You can find my money and me here next week.