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 Texas : Features : Columns : "The Girl Detective's Theory of Everything"

Impeccable Timing

by Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
Really, sometimes I make myself crazy. It is almost like I live in my own special place where as long as there are plenty of cookies and the internet and some good books and bubble bath I am a happy, happy girl and nothing else matters. Take my 401K for example. Because that is what is on my mind. When I graduated and got my first job as a real live nurse I was given a packet of information on the 401K plan. It seemed complicated to me. I'd never had one before. I knew in theory what it was, but I was overwhelmed and decided I would think about it later. Me and Scarlet, "Ah'll think about that tomarrah."

Well it took me about seven years of "tomarrahs" before I finally got around to enrolling. As they said when I was a child, "Owhat Agoo Siam." But I did eventually enroll and just tried not to think about all the thousands of pre-tax dollars I might have saved but didn't. Easy come, easy go. What. Ever.

Once I did enroll however, I took to it like the goose I am to water. I had so much fun with it. Every few months I would redistribute all my money here and there, adjust my investment percentages, feeling like a Rockefeller. I did pretty well too and the money began to accumulate. Isn't it funny that when you don't have much money you can't save a bit, and when you do start to accumulate some it seems to grow at a rate you wouldn't have believed in your no-money days?

Then I changed jobs. The place I work now has an actual human being who comes in once a week to give people help with their 401Ks and to educate them to make good decisions. He recommended that I put part of my old 401K into an IRA and part of it into the new 401K so I did. I just called one company on the list of a few that he gave me and transferred a whole bunch of money to them. Done and done.

Now, I do listen to and read the news. I almost never like it, but I try to stay a little bit informed. So, I was aware of the situation with the mortgage companies and Wall Street and all of that. I was aware of it in between eating cookies and reading good books and taking bubble baths. But it really didn't seem very pertinent to me. I just chugged along each day doing my thing, getting up every morning and making my to-do list. Last week one of the things on my to-do list was to call the investment company and make sure that they had my new address. I mean, since we moved about nine months ago, I thought it might be time to do that.

I called and gave them all the information and the guy says to me, "I see you have all your money in a cash account and you might be able to earn more interest if you were to put it in a different kind of account. Would you like to talk to an advisor." Why, yes sir indeed I would, sir. Thank you kindly. Since I am on this crazy efficiency kick, changing my address and all, I might as well just change every little thing I can change and make gazillions of dollars of free money. My, my, sir, that sounds fine sir.

Okay. If you spend 45 minutes on the phone with a real, real nice financial advisor who explains everything to you very clearly and guides you through the decision making process about what to do with the money that will keep you from starving to death when you are old and sickly and the last thing that advisor says to you is, "Now, if you check your account online tomorrow and notice any little changes, don't freak out," take my advise and freak out. I'm not sure she used the actual phrase, "freak out," because up to that point she was completely professional. But she might as well have said it. So, if you find yourself in this type of situation and you hear any type of professional expression which might translate, loosely, as "don't freak out," you should immediately say, "Time out! Cancel that! Put it all back in the cash account."

Because if you are like me, you will have been doing all this the day before, one single day before the stock market plummets 770 points and you LOSE a huge wad of money. Money which, while it was languishing in the cash account was actually earning interest, albeit at a very low rate. A very low rate of interest is like that old bird in the hand. And all of this because I felt the compulsive need to get my ducks in a row for once in my life, to be a grown up for goodness sake. Well, forget that. No more responsible behavior for me. I'm back to cookies and bubble baths and the stock market can just struggle along without me. And when I am ninety I am going to buy a pup tent and a sleeping bag and just live on the steps of the Stock Exchange. I'll starve and freeze to death right where they can see me and if they tell me to move on, boy are they in for an earful!

Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
"The Girl Detective's Theory of Everything" October 22, 2008 Column
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