Going in Big

Get ready for a tale of woe, a tale of first-world problems similar to “my latt√© is too cold,” or “the golf course is too crowded on sunny Tuesday afternoons.”

I have been hemorrhaging money lately (fortunately not blood). No, I don’t buy bag of coke or fast cars. Counselor Doctor Clinton costs $165 every week, those classes at the Crucible run $400 for a weekend, plane tickets are often $1000, ninety minutes of back massage spends $130, dental fillings emptied me of $250 – it adds up. My checking account mysteriously dropped over four months from $15,000 to $9000, not so mysterious if I account for all of the above expenses.

Nonetheless, I do find value in all this physical and mental care, even if at the end of the day I don’t go home with a shiny new material good or travel to a far flung destination. At least I’m not buying gem-encrusted tiaras. Instead of amassing iPhones, I do feel healthier, more grounded, and happier (I hope) than perhaps I have ever felt. That happiness may be due to money well spent.

My savings do not last forever, and eventually my financial well runs dry. To staunch the monetary hemorrhaging (I hate these blood metaphors), I plan to close out counseling and biweekly massage by the end of July, although I hear it can be impossible to sever ties with a therapist. Likewise, my last Crucible class – Fire Sculpture – occurs at the end of July.

From August onward, I can save, save, and save for this possible 2014 sabbatical from work. Yet, more expenses are on the horizon: September brings Burning Man, I may fly to Istanbul in October, and I would like to start soon chiropractic care. Perhaps I’m changing one set of bills for another.

Here comes another first-world problem: I do have money. I’m a saver. I grew up in a family where money was occasionally tight. When never did without, but with four sons, my parents fretted over bills and bought things only when they must. For years as a child, I delivered morning newspapers (year-round newspaper delivery in New England: sucked!). I earned the princely sum of one dollar per day. I had summer jobs but little income during the school year throughout college. For a long time, I became acutely aware how savings dwindled chiefly in one direction: down.

These days, I rarely eat out. I chose carefully monthly bills like phone plans and internet services. I avoid taxis. I buy in advance, in bulk, and on sale. I don’t have kids. I don’t have a wife at home. I just got a credit card with a dinosaur on it that will pay me back 2% of my purchases. Until recently, the money piled up.

I have a lot of savings: a lot. Although my bank advertises a fantastic savings account, I currently earn no interest on my pile of cash as the prime rate has dropped so much. Months went by and I got troubled by all this money doing nothing. I talked to my 80-year old father for conservative investment advice. He recommended safe stocks with high dividends from large, stable companies like Exxon or Intel.

This week, I went in big. Perhaps rashly, I push $50,000 of my savings into the stock market. I picked five stocks, most of them on the Dow 30. All five companies have annual dividend returns of 2-3%. I bought $10,000 of stock from each of these magic five: GE, Merck, Chevron, Apple, and 3M.

I hope that the companies are diverse and different enough that if one economic sector tanks – like Healthcare – not all five stocks will drop. Furthermore, all five companies are not likely to go out of business soon. I plan to hold on to the stocks, earn a little money from the dividends, and spend the winnings. I may pick up an extra $1000 each year, although I’ll have to figure out how to report these earnings to the government.

I feel like such an entitled fat cat. My stock purchases triggered a flag that caused the bank to call me; no, I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but the bank wanted to sell me bonds and financial advice. I’m a 1%er. Dear, stock the yacht with more gin, and not that terrible Seagram’s.

Yet, the market may crash, the country may go to war, and my lifetime savings may disappear. It is just money. Sometimes good things happen to those that take risks. Despite all the justifications I just enumerated on my financial savvy, I don’t know what I’m doing. I got tired of looking at all this money sitting around.