Monday, October 6, 2008

Rare Financial Thoughts

Yeah, I know, leaving the kitchen to write about the economy is really leaving one area where I stumble blindly to another.

But two things lately have seemed worth sharing. I'll save one for later this week to boost my posting numbers, but here's the first.

Like most people I know, I have been unwilling to bring myself to check my IRA statements to see where my savings are. In a nice twist of irony, my major savings were in a 503(b) (??? I think that's what they are called when it's a 401K from a non-profit) from my 11 years working at a college. In a good move, I opened the account the second I was eligible (I think the day I was off probation, so six months in to the job). In another good move, I continued to maximize my contributions, well beyond what I needed for full matching funds, for as long as I could (ie, before we had kids). In a dumb move, I had all that money in essentially a glorified money market account, because I was overwhelmed by the sheer voloume of choices of other funds.

This summer, the company that manages my 503(b) said (and I paraphrase), Enough, people. This is your retirement account, not your rainy day fund. We are no longer offering money markets; you NEED to be investing smarter than that. But, you lazy or petrified people, fear not: we've done the work for you. We have a new category of accounts based on the year you intend to retire. So, based on your age, we're putting you in the Retirement 2035 pile, unless we hear from you. We have created that Retirement 2035 fund with the "right" mix of risky and safe investments (I kept thinking of people "banking" money on The We@kest Link as I saw the percentage of bonds, metals, and cash holdings going up as the retirement years got closer). I was relieved they'd done the work for me and let it roll. What else was I going to do? They were eliminating my uber-safe account. So, here I am, with 80% of the money I banked for 11 years, suddenly exposed to stock market volatility for the first time EVER...last month. Sigh.

So. I haven't exactly been rushing to see what the last few weeks did to my holdings (ha! I could retire for, oh, approximately six months right now, so to call them "holdings" seems a little grand). Besides, I knew the quarterly statements would start rolling in at some point.

Here they come. The first came in this weekend, from a teeny-weeny account I opened when I was 22 and too young to participate in my then-employer's program. I looked at the September 27 number and it didn't seem too awful... so I looked across to the June 27 quote. It was conspicuously absent. I kid you not. There was absolutely nothing there at all, just little dashes where numbers should be.

What a brilliant plan! Let's face it; anyone who really, truly wants to know how much they lost will go to the bother of finding that June statement. For the rest of us, why not just be ostriches. Here's what you still have. Look, the account didn't zero out. There's still something. Let's focus on that, and move on, mmmkay? We'll get back to you at the end of the year. Kthxbai.

And you know what? Shameful as this is, I'm almost grateful. Even though I know this money isn't anything I should touch for at least thirty more years, I loathe watching it go up and down. And I do have faith that in 30 years, either it will be up, or I will have figured out that my mattress really was a safer spot for it and pulled it out after all. But it really did seem to fit in the "You know it's bad when..." pile. When the bank is afraid to show you what you used to have? And it's (by the way) a bank that doesn't even technically exist anymore? Suddenly I understand why my aunt and uncle just used 12 different banks for their money. It's too scary in this up and down market. Especially this morning, when we're way down under 10000, whatever that means besides the fact that they don't even want to show me how much I lost.

More on money later.


Anjali said...

This whole thing is so, so terrifying, isn't it?

brandy101 said...

Here are some admissions about my take on the looming/current crisis as it relates to my family situation:

My husbands 401k has lost fully 1/3 of its value this month. He has been contributing the max (incl matching) since 1995. 13 years! He sends me frantic emails and I tell him to STOP looking at his account online! He is just going to make himself sick.

That said, we have begun the process, albeit in a small way, of keeping cash in a fire safe in the house. I am not kidding.

I am also spending normally, if not more, because I am hearing that inflation may go up wildly on consumer goods in the near future - so I got hubby some new shoes, clothes, etc on clearance.

Finally, our extended family put the kibosh on the free-for-all Christmas exchange we do each year. We are only buying for the kids, although I might make cookies or something like that, for the adults.

If any candidates even so much as mention some dumb-ass cultural/character issue tonight at the debates, instead of talking about their PLAN to fix this disaster, then I am going to have a fit.

MemeGRL said...

Brandy, I'd plan on a fit if I were you.
Anjali, Yes. It is.
Brandy, I like your style: buy now, buy cheap.
It's reminding me a bit of the Y2K scare but without a deadline for learning who was right. I did the same kind of thing then: just got about $1000 in cash (more than I usually would but nothing extraordinary) and a pallet of bottled water. Nothing went wrong, and so I put $500 back and just went to the ATM less; and eventually we drank the water, of course.
Thanks for the thoughts. I'm kind of going the other way and trying to empty my cabinets instead of hoarding. Maybe I need to rethink that strategy!