My boys are on "fall break." Their school starts at the beginning of August, so they add a week off in the fall.
My oldest boy, Chris (15), has been helping Grandpa install new floors in their home. I don't know how Grandpa could do it without him. It's a big job; he got a knee replacement a year ago. Chris is a strong young man doing all the heavy lifting, hauling fifty-pound boxes up the stairs. Every time I check in, he is on the floor working away. I am so proud of him!
My youngest, Jesse, is in Washington, DC, on a school field trip. He is staying in a hotel room with three other twelve-year-olds. He hasn't called or texted a single time. He is having too much fun.
My middle son is having the best break of all. All he does is play pickleball!
Above, you can see what happens when you brush a long-haired Ragdoll cat.
With the following harrowing tale, I am trying to make a point. The last generation, when retired, generally lived off of a guaranteed pension and Social Security. It was a much less stressful way of being retired. You, on the other hand, are in a tough spot. I don't want to sugarcoat this. As you will see, retirement with a 401k and investments is far more complicated and scary.
Couple #1: The year is 1978; Rocky and Adrian Balboa are nearing retirement. Rocky had worked his whole life as a bricklayer in Philadelphia, and Adrian raised their five kids.
Couple #2: The year is 2021, and Tom and Rita Hanks are also nearing retirement. Tom had worked his whole life in middle management at a toothpaste manufacturer.
One day, each couple, in their respective time periods, began to think about investing in the stock market.
Rocky remarked to Adrian, "I have a buddy who said I should invest in a few stocks he likes. I’m not even sure how to do that. Do I go to some sort of broker? My buddy said something about Smith Barney. I think that’s downtown somewhere."
Now let's go to 2021, where Tom told his wife, "I guess we need to invest in the stock market. You see it all over the news. I guess we just go to one of those websites and invest. It seems really easy. I even think some apps let you invest from your phone in minutes."
So, in 1978, Rocky strolled down to his local brokerage house. "How do I do this exactly?" asked Rocky.
The broker told him, "Just tell us what you want to buy, and we’ll make the trade and charge you a commission each time you trade something."
Rocky went back home to Adrian. He told her how he had invested $100 into General Motors.
Adrian responded, "OK, but don’t invest any more than that. I don’t want to mess around with this stuff. You have your union pension and Social Security. We will get those checks as long as we live. We have nothing to worry about."
In 2021, Tom and Rita were sweating with stress. "All we have for retirement is Social Security, which is not nearly enough. We need to take our 401k’s and invest them somewhere to live off of the returns," Tom said nervously.
Rita cried out, "This is crazy! Why must we stake our financial security on something inherently volatile and risky? I guess we have to do something. The bank pays next to nothing, but we can’t afford to lose anything. I feel sick to my stomach."
Tom started looking around the internet for ideas on investing his life savings best. He quickly realized that investing ideas are endless. Everyone has an opinion. He saw hundreds and hundreds of articles and websites. The more he investigated his options, the more confused he became.
Yet he found one common theme to most of what he saw: the market could crash any moment. He slammed his head down on the table.
In 1978, Rocky was exercising in the gym when he heard some guys talk about their investments. "Coca-Cola is up two points this week," one of them commented.
Rocky wondered what they meant. He had no idea how to see how his investment was performing. A few days later, he noticed that the Friday newspaper had a section called "stocks." He asked the two guys what to do. "It’s easy," they said, "just look up your ticker symbol in the paper, and it will tell you if your stock went up or down."
The next time Rocky saw the stock section in the paper, he scanned down the page to find General Motors. When he found it, it showed +1.1.
Is that good? What does that mean? I guess it’s good because it is going up, he thought. Rocky never went through the hassle of finding the stock again. He figured General Motors was a good company and it would be worth more in the future.
The only other time he heard anything about the stock market was on Friday evenings when Walter Cronkite reported what the Dow Jones had done for the week.
All of this wasn’t especially important to Rocky. He had only invested a small portion of his savings. His pension and Social Security were paying the bills.
In 2021, Tom and Rita were in a panic. They had decided to invest their money in a "mutual fund" with which they were vaguely familiar.
"If this crashes, we are done for," bemoaned Rita.
Tom wanted to keep a close eye on this portfolio so that he would be able to protect his savings in case the market started going down. He installed an app on his phone to follow his holdings. He found himself checking it several times a day. He also noticed that the news discussed the stock market an awful lot.
"I guess I’ll need to pay a lot of attention to this," Tom sighed.
Then it happened. The markets dropped 20% in the span of a couple of months. Tom and Rita were frantic. "This is all we have to live on! What do we do!"
After an especially bad day in the markets, Tom relented, sold his portfolio, and put it all in cash. Of course, the market fully recovered in less than a year, but he didn’t know that then.
In 1979, the news for General Motors was bleak as well. After the Ford Pinto failed miserably, the stock price dropped forty percent. Rocky had no idea. Every once in a while, he’d think, "I guess I could go downtown and watch the ticker tape at the brokerage house, but who has time for that?"
Rocky and Adrian Balboa continued into their retired years. They freely spent their monthly "fixed income." It was guaranteed to pay out the rest of their lives, so there wasn’t much to worry about.
But Tom and Rita had a different experience. After realizing that no one could control or predict the stock market, they made a decision.
"Ok. We won’t spend anymore unless we absolutely have to. I refuse to die in the gutter if our investments falter," Rita said.
When Rocky and Adrian passed away, they left their home and some shares of General Motors to their kids. Their pensions stopped, and the world moved on.
When Tom and Rita passed away, they had more money in their accounts than ever before. They had missed out on so much.
"At least we didn’t run out of money," Rita remarked weakly as the beeping from the heart monitor slowly came to a stop.