Bad Boss Good 401k

That Son-Of-A-Bitch Boss Taught Me the Importance of My 401k

It was a Saturday morning and the creative team was huddled in the office of the Executive Creative Director. The night before, he’d scrapped all the work we’d done the previous two weeks. So all ten of us waited there in his office at 8 a.m.

Bob walked in and said, “Well, the creative work for the pitch sucked. I need three new TV campaigns, outdoor and radio by Sunday night for the pitch on Monday at 8 a.m.”

Poof. There Goes the Weekend

Ted, a budding Art Director asked, “Bob, what was wrong with the work we did last week?”

Bob responded, “There’s a toilet in every room, huh?” Insinuating Ted was a bowl of crap…or his work was. I’m not sure.

I knew at that minute there had to be a better job for me. Have you ever felt this way?

This situation I was sitting in wasn’t anything new. Bob would call and tell me to get to the office for the next client pitch on a regular basis — always after hours. And – of course – it was always due yesterday. I’d work nights and weekends. I’d pulled all-nighters. And as a young 22 year old, I took the beatings and berating. And I produced.

As much as I wanted to quit, I also had to put food on the table, pay the bills, and try to keep my head above water. The bills were still coming and I couldn’t afford to leave. Plus, even if I jumped to another job, I could end up with the same or worse problems.

Have you ever felt stuck? You’re not alone. Many people stuck are in “dead-end” jobs. In fact, 52.3% of Americans are unhappy at work.

There Are Solutions to Getting Out. For Most: It’s Your 401k

I wish I could say some bolt of lightning hit me and I knew that my 401k was my path to salvation. But the truth is, I just signed up for it because my dad had always told me “pay yourself first, son.”

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Sir Isaac Newton…astronomer, mathematician, physicist…and super crappy investor.

Newton made a huge impact in the 1700s with his contributions on the Law of Motion, gravitation and by being the inventor of the first reflecting telescope. Stay with us here…he was also a fellow of Trinity College, a member of Parliament, and was knighted by the Queen in 1705.

By all accounts, the man was a freaking genius.

But, Boy Oh Boy, Did He Suck at Investing.

Think about that? How is it even possible that a person this smart could be bad at investing? Simple. And here is the story:

Enter the South Sea Company. This was a company that was established in the early 18th Century. In exchange for assuming England’s war debt, the company was granted a monopoly on trade in the South Seas.

Bingo. Investors loved this. They smelled a huge money making opportunity.

Sir Isaac Newton was no different than any other investor. He too had been charmed into purchasing shares of the South Sea Company and by 1720 after seeing the stock rise rapidly without reason at a fever pitch he rationalized, “I can calculate the movement of stars, but not the madness of men.” So, he cashed out. And profited big time from his investment.

Then he watched as the stock continued to soar THREE times higher than when he sold his shares. We can only imagine the regret he was feeling. As evidence, he went on to repurchase South Sea Company. Only this time he was buying it THREE times higher than when he last sold it.

Briefly, the stock continued to rise. We’re sure Newton was feeling wonderful about his decision. And then things started to go awry. The stock peaked weeks later and then cratered. Newton ended up losing £20,000 (nearly his life savings) which in today’s dollars equates to roughly $3,000,000.

Let That Sink In. Astronomer. Mathematician. Physicist. And….Broke.

Newton, a genius by all accounts, couldn’t pull off investing without letting his emotions get the best of him. Where does this leave you?

Simple. You need to find a professional that can help you navigate the emotional ups and downs of investing. We don’t care where you get help, just get help! Many traditional advisors have $1,000,000 account minimums before they’ll talk to you. Luckily for our clients, we don’t have a minimum and we focus on the ever confusing 401k that you might have set on “auto-pilot”.

Look, this isn’t about your IQ score. 1000s of folks using blooom are super smart people – doctors, teachers, firemen…shoot, we even have financial advisors using blooom for their own accounts! Yes, they are all smart. BUT they’ve come to the realization that it’s best to have someone hold your hand through the inevitable ups and downs you will see as an investor.

Don’t let your investing experience become a history lesson for someone else.

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Hamburger Helper Really Helped Me

For the past 30 years – pretty much all of my adult life – I have been a planner and a worrier.  I am the type of person that starts packing two weeks before a big vacation.  I am the type of person that starts putting a Thanksgiving grocery list together in OCTOBER.  It isn’t that I plan to worry, I just worry if I don’t plan.  These traits are deeply embedded in the genetic code of my family going back multiple generations.  At times it can be a good thing to keep me on track, but often it can be overwhelming and take up too much of my day.  If I get this worked up prior to a beach vacation or family holiday, you can only imagine how I feel when it comes to retirement planning.

One of my biggest fears in life is running out of money in retirement.  The idea of working in my 70s and becoming a burden on my kids has caused me to lie awake at 3AM more than a few times.  I know how hard retirement planning is going to be for today’s youth so I do not want to add taking care of mom and dad to their plate.  Now I am not just worrying about my own retirement, but the retirement of my children 50+ years away.

How have I learned to deal with this and prevent what is left of my hair from falling out?  By identifying which factors I have control over versus the factors I do not.  I have no control what the market is doing, at what age I die (outside of eating less Kansas City BBQ…not happening), or what the federal tax code is going to look like in 20 years.  What I can control is my savings rate, which funds to invest in, and doing my best to eliminate debt.

I was lucky growing up that my dad was also a planner/worrier, and he taught me at a young age to save and then save some more.  He worked for the same large company for 33 years, working long hours, often travelling more than he was home, and missing valuable family time for the good of the company.  At the age of 53 the company decided he was too old and “retired” him.  It was a scary time and had he not saved for a rainy day, our family would have been in the middle of a monsoon.  Thankfully he was a third generation planner and was prepared by saving, living below his means, and reducing debt.  I’ve always admired him for taking control of his financial situation and not leaving his later years to chance.  He has been retired now for 23 years and is still going strong.

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Something about Mary…

When the 60-something woman walked into the office I could see her fighting back the tears.

From time to time this happened to me as a financial advisor. After all, once you’ve counseled 500+ families about retirement, you’re bound to see some tough situations.

But on that day in April of 2009, it turned into a situation I’d never forget. The kind of situation that would make me sick to my stomach.

As I came out to introduce myself to her (let’s call her Mary), she thanked me for my time. I’d never met Mary before. She’d been referred to us by her husband’s co-worker.

We made our way to the conference room and as I always started off meetings, I asked her, “What can we do to help you today?”

Mary replied, “I’m in trouble. And I don’t know what to do.”

“Okay, what’s the situation?”

“Up until last Friday, I worked at a small regional bank for 32 years. On Friday, the Federal Government came in and seized the bank. They locked the doors. We are officially out of business. Which means I lost my job.”

“I’m really sorry to hear about that. That’s definitely not an easy thing to digest…”

“Yeah, well my job is my last concern. The problem is that I had my entire retirement account invested in the private stock of the bank. The valuation last year said it was worth $750,000. Is there anything I can do?”

I already knew the answer and I suppose deep down she did too…the simple answer was there’s nothing she could do. And the stock was virtually worthless. 

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Don’t Call Me Lazy

I am always intrigued by the comments we get on blooom’s Facebook page. Some are wonderful and uplifting, some are hilarious, and others. . . well let’s just call them “interesting.” But the ones that really catch my attention are those that are critical. And it’s why they are critical that concerns me. These comments criticize our clients for using blooom’s service. They are critical because these people believe that personal finance should remain personal—handled solely by that individual.

More specifically, the comments call out the blooom clients for being lazy or dumb. I came across one this past week and for some reason the following comment hit me hard and prompted me to write this blog:

Why pay someone to look over your money when you should be the one doing it[?] And you wonder why so many Americans are in debt, cause they are lazy with their finances. Sorry not paying someone to make money off of me cause I’m [too] lazy to watch over my own 401k.

When I read this, I didn’t get upset because I am an employee of blooom. I got upset because I am a client of blooom. According to this person, that makes me lazy and to some others who have commented, it also makes me dumb. So not on behalf of blooom, but rather on behalf of blooom clients, I feel compelled to provide a more expansive response to these types of Facebook comments.

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