We Can’t Blame Bernie

Well, I’ve painstakingly glanced through the long list of people who lost money with Bernard Madoff.  Even though the print is quite tiny, I think I can definitively state that my husband and I aren’t on the list.  In fact, we are so out of it financially that we don’t even know anyone who lost money with Madoff.  (See full list at: http://www.nypost.com/seven/02042009/news/madoff_victim_list.pdf)

It figures.  When my husband and I lose money, it’s always in embarrassingly small and boring ways.

I’ve always been gun-shy after losing my innocence at the tender age of 20 to a door-to-door salesman peddling magazine subscriptions.  How many months did I anticipate all those great magazines I’d ordered at a bargain rate for the rest of my natural life?  Believe me, it takes a long time till you can trust again.

Oh, but life goes on and you find yourself in the early 1980s, eagerly listening to people who have hot stock tips and are willing to share them at cocktail parties.  You listen because these people have more money than you and an air of certainty and barely concealed greed.  “It’s a sure bet,” my husband said to me later, and we spent the rest of the evening gloating about the untold riches we were going to make from our $2000 investment.

A week later, the stock plummeted to half its original value.  Should we sell?  We asked each other.  No, we agreed.  We were in it for the long run.  So we waited a few months till the company went bankrupt.

So, we learned, in a very specific way.  We learned not to invest money based on hot tips handed out at cocktail parties.  For years, we watched while everybody around us got fabulously wealthy in the stock market, in start-ups, whatever.  We’d been burned.  We’d learned our hard lessons.  If it sounded too good to be true, then it would only work for other people.  Not us.

But time passes, time heals, and you get freshly stupid all over again.  This time, in the late 1990s, it was a sure bet.  Plus, we’d heard the fervent, white-hot tip from someone we knew very well who was investing his own money in the concern.  (I won’t name names.  But it wasn’t a tip from my side of the family.)  We didn’t want to be the parsimonious chumps, the poor relations, who sat on the sidelines and passed up the opportunity for an overnight bonanza.  No, we wanted a piece of the action.

About that particular investment: I will say it didn’t leave us dangling in desperately pathetic hopefulness for months, like the earlier failure.  No, in fact, the company imploded almost immediately.  I doubt the ink was dry on our stock certificates before we started using them in our fireplace.

“Look at it this way,” our CPA said.  “At least you can write it off this year.”

And at least we didn’t find ourselves listed as victims in a headline-grabbing financial scandal of the new millennium.  No, when we go down, it’s such small potatoes that only our CPA notices.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

1 comment… add one
  • Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

    Allen Taylor

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