Who Needs A 401(k)? Not Me!


“Yep, that looks about right. We’ve lost half our net worth in the last three years. Time to switch to Plan B, or C. One of those. . . . “

 I’ll be the first one to admit I’m no financial genius.  I’m not a multi-millionaire, though I think I could handle the pressure.  Still, hope springs eternal in this household, and we religiously play MegaMillions.  I’m not sure about the odds for winning at our measly investment level, but I know you can’t win if you don’t play. 

So we play; I mean invest; I mean waste our spare cash on lottery tickets. 

I’m also sure we spend more on foo-foo coffee annually than we do on lotto, but I’m not sure how significant either statistic might be.  Neither one would reflect very positively, I’m sure, with most financial advisors.   

Still . . . to give you an idea of the great financial moves I’ve made over the last five years:  I did not buy any Ford stock when it was trading at $1.50 a share, though I meant to for days and days on end.  I didn’t completely miss that F wave in the end, but I caught it very near the shoreline when it wasn’t much of a wave anymore anyway.  I also did not buy Facebook when it was trading at $18 or $19 a share several months ago, even though it seems everyone I know (I literally mean everyone) spends the greater portion of their waking lives using the site (except for me, of course). 

I can go on at great length, not so much about the money I’ve lost (or, rather, haven’t made), but about being prescient enough to recognize when to jump into the “Next Big Thing.” For me, the Next Big Thing usually translates into a swollen body part (mainly ankle-related), that then deteriorates into a debate about why I continue to play basketball at my age. 

Some folks (spouses) just don’t get it, I suppose. 

I am somewhat excited that Daughter possesses a bit of entrepreneurial spirit, but I fear her FaceHelmet (tm) represents misdirected zeal on her part.  On my end, I continually misremember her invention as HeadHelmet or FaceTent (sounds better anyway), but I don’t think Daughter will be making an appearance on Shark Tank any time soon. 

Come on, Daughter, you can come up with something better!  Keep working it.

My greatest money-making idea has been the t-shirt, “I Love Soccer Moms” ™.  Unfortunately, it has a very, very limited audience, and half the potential buying public (Soccer Dads) aren’t necessarily enamored with the idea, especially when the garment is worn by other men. 

Oh, well.  I do have an Ace in the Investment Hole:  DandyDog.

On those rare occasions when I am a solo visitor at our local foo-foo coffee establishment, I sometimes bring Dandy with me out of some sense of pity for him.  You see, I only contemplate him as a semi-willing companion if his Goddess-Mother is not at home, for some reason.  Perhaps he thinks by jumping in the car with me, Mom might be waiting on the other end.  I cannot imagine the kind of Dog Thoughts that permeate his brain, but I’m fairly sure that is one of them in this particular scenario. 

The real magic only begins to happen, however, when we sit outside together on the foo-foo coffee patio.  It turns out that DandyDog is a veritable Babe Magnet Soccer Mom Magnet People Magnet. 

“Oh, can I pet your dog?  He’s so sweet.”

“Oh, he’s so soft.”

“Oh, he looks so sad.”

To which I reply, “He misses his Mom since she passed away she’s at school today.” 

Son has accompanied the broader family on a few of these foo-f00 coffee outings.  His observation:  “So this is what happens in middle-class suburbia on the weekends?  Pretty sad,” as he takes another hit on his $4.50 latte that I just bought for him.

I figure my Plan G or K, or whatever, for the future should I ever be alone (sniff, sniff), will be to sit outside of the local foo-foo caffeine place with Dandy, and watch the potential high-rollers file in.  Hanging there with him is probably better than eHarmony.com and OurTime.com combined, as well as any potential return on MegaMillions ticket purchases and whatever minimal balance I have in my 401(k) by then. 

Then, again, after Mom reads this, my days of coffee visits with Dandy might well be over for good.

Back to the investment drawing board, I guess. 

- Dad


“Do I look sad? I feel sad, and I don’t like being used as a tool. Where’s Mom?”



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Taxes? I Know What Lord Grantham Feels Like.


“Well, this sucks. . . . Again.”

This week, in between surgery (“This hospital jello is well-known throughout the entire VA system.”  “Really?”  “No, not really.”) and refereeing (“Great job.  You just cost us the game.  You suck.”), I found time to actually complete our taxes for 2012. 

My week just went from bad to worse. 

To quote myself, “I might be dumb, but I’m not stupid.” 

Well, I suppose that’s true most of the time, except when it comes to figuring out our taxes or, more appropriately, how much in taxes we should be deducting from paychecks throughout the year.  No matter how hard I try, I seem to screw it up.  For the past several years, we’ve consistently been required to write the IRS a check by April 15th. 

Not a lot of fun. 

And to make matters worse, I have had to write the State of California a check for the past few years, as well. 

It’s known as “The Full Monty” of taxation in our house. 

Now I’m not about to launch into a rant regarding taxes in this country, government inefficiencies, and the looming Sequestration. 

Far from it. 

I have travelled to many countries around the world, and in my very simple way of looking at things, I believe we take an awful lot for granted here, much of which is (I think) paid for through taxes. 

Maybe not, but that’s how I rationalize it all.

I suspect I have a relatively complicated tax situation compared to many.  But to be honest, I’ve been using TurboTax for longer than a decade, and it makes everything relatively painless; except the bottom line, of course. 

Figuring out taxes online is almost too easy, I suspect.  Audit defense?  Sure.  It’s only another thirty bucks.  Convenience fee for using a credit card to pay my tax bill?  Why not?  I’m already getting screwed here anyway — I might as well get some airline miles out of the deal, right? 

And so it goes. 

It doesn’t seem all that long ago when I was able to use a 1040EZ to file.  In reality, it was a long time ago, back when I used to complete my taxes using an actual pencil and paper. 

And the more I think about it, the more I realize I don’t do much figuring on paper at all anymore.  For instance, I used to spend literally hours and hours trying to balance the checkbook.  It was a task made much more difficult because my wife and I shared the same register.  It was primarily a painful effort, but I always fervently hoped for the Monopoly-inspired “Bank Error in Your Favor” — wishful thinking that we made some kind of mathematical mistake that would result in hundreds of dollars of “found money.”

More typically I would discover we had forty or so dollars less than what we thought.


If I follow my own steps back to college when I was really, really poor, not being able to balance my checking account became a matter of life and, well, eating on the weekends.  I used to drive myself nuts trying to figure out why I couldn’t reconcile the numbers.  And having two or three “extra” dollars meant at least one meal at McDonald’s — quite a treat for me then.  The dining hall was closed on Saturday and Sunday, so my options were limited and mainly hotplate driven.   

Meanwhile, jumping out of the “Way-Back Machine” and focusing on today, I recognize it has now been years — yes, years, since I’ve even tried to balance our checking account.  When our monthly statement arrives in the mail (we don’t have electronic delivery, it seems), I simply hand it to my wife, as I do with all of our bills these days.  You see, I turned this crap over to her many moons ago.

Quite frankly, I don’t know if she takes the time to balance it, and I guess I don’t care.  I feel like we have spent much of our adult lives pinching pennies at every opportunity, and as long as we pay the mortgage, invest in the future, contribute to charity, and take care of our other recurring costs, I don’t know how figuring out the bank account to the last penny makes much of a difference in the quality of our lives now.

That might change, however, if I lose my job and we find ourselves retracing our steps from thirty years ago.  But at least I can take some consolation that recycling bottles pays better these days than it did in 1980. 

I can also dream really big and hope that Daughter will become an internationally famous author, making millions of dollars, and remembering to support Mom and Dad once she makes it into Oprah’s Book Club. 

Then, again, I think the focus on cats severely limits her potential audience.  I suppose we’ll have to wait and see. 

And so, at the end of the day, we will continue to exercise Plan C — lottery tickets. 

Filling in those little ovals on the pick sheet sure beats balancing the checkbook any day!

- Dad


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