flying moneyI had a discussion recently with a guy I know, fairly well off in the financial sense, a sense I’ve never had my six decades on the great cash globe known as Earth.

“So what’s your portfolio like?” he asked in all earnestness.

I’m a writer, so I figured he meant my writing portfolio, a sampling of my work over the past 33 years. Artists have them, big leather things stuffed with art, maybe that’s what he meant. I asked for clarification.

“You know, your holdings, your investments, stocks, that sort of thing,” he said even more earnestly.

Ah, that portfolio. He was going to listen to my holdings, investments, stocks, that sort of thing, and then in hushed tones reveal to me the secret of enhancing my portfolio.

“Well, my money’s tied up mostly in coffee, gas and real estate,” I said.

“Commodities are always a good bet and you can’t go wrong with land,” he said approvingly. “What sort of ratio do you have, what’s tied up in each?”

“Simple,” I said. “About two bucks a day for coffee, maybe $50 a week for gas and $800 in real estate each month. For rent.”

His smile faded. He knew he was being mocked. People with keen financial sense don’t like being mocked. The discussion of my portfolio was over before it gained ground.

I’m 60. I see ads on TV with good-looking, gray-haired people in great shape sitting on a beach, looking out over the ocean, pondering their retirement options, wondering if they’ll have enough to maintain their lifestyle.

I do that. I sit on the beach, a reasonably good-looking, gray-haired balding sort in pretty decent shape, and wonder if I’ll hit Starbucks later or Dunkin’ Donuts, maybe stop at Cumberland Farms for gas where my Cumby’s debit card gets me 10 cents off per gallon, after which I’ll worry about the rent. This is my lifestyle. Suits me just fine.

I’m not sure who to blame. My grandfather on my dad’s side was a frugal man, an accountant who knew the value of money and was always there to lend us some when we needed it. I say “lend” as if we paid him back. We never did. That’s one of many things that made him a wonderful grandfather.

My dad had limited financial sense. He did well, we lived comfortably and never wanted for anything, but he never managed to save much nor invest wisely. He bought real estate and sold it – just before real estate prices soared. He bought gold low and sold it – just before gold prices soared. He owned a restaurant specializing in chicken and sold it – just before Kentucky Fried Chicken soared, always lamenting he’d have been Col. Sanders had he stuck it out.

Some people get into careers because they’re told they should, because it’s wise and safe, because they listened to hearts other than their own. If a young person asks me about getting into writing for a living, I make them define “living.” If they mean getting rich and famous, owning multiple homes, driving fancy cars, bulking up a portfolio, I say forget it. Play the lottery. It has a better return on investment.

But if you want to lead a life worth living and not dread going to a high-paying job you hate and instead doing something you truly love and your heart is invested in, do it, do whatever it takes, go wherever the passion leads. Just don’t expect to get rich. You may, of course, and more power to you if it does. Just don’t count on it. Count on yourself.

I worry about money, we all do. But it doesn’t fuel my life’s engine. Fulfillment does. Some people collect things. Some collect experiences. I travel the world writing about it for very little money, I act on stage and film for no money, I get up not knowing what the day will bring and embracing the blessed uncertainty.

And with nary a dollar to my name, I’d say my life’s portfolio is pretty damned rich.



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