Auntie Fatcat's

Sit down, have a cookie, and chat for a spell.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Stuff We Don't Talk About: Money

“So, by this time tomorrow,” said my friend and top boss Peter as we were sitting down to lunch, “you’ll be a millionaire.”

I knew, of course, that Wizards of the Coast’s shareholders had voted to sell the company to Hasbro for $325 million. I also knew how many shares that $325 million would be split among, and how many of those I owned. But I’m really not good with math, and until Peter said that, I hadn’t realized that my share would have seven figures in it.

“I guess so,” I said, distracted by attempts to do mental long division.

“What are you going to do with it?” Peter asked. “Promise me you won’t give it all away.”

“Ha ha, of course not,” I replied.

Actually, I thought giving a good part of it away sounded quite nice. I knew I didn’t need that kind of money. Wizards had been growing like mad for several years, and as one of the original employees I had risen with the tide to a significant place in the organization. I was earning a salary roughly twice what I had, at age 21, calculated to be the most I would ever need to make to live comfortably. Since then I had learned to define “comfortably” significantly more comfortably, but I still wasn’t prepared for the idea of being like the little Monopoly guy with the top hat and striped pants.

My mother comes from German Calvinist stock, folk who believe shit happens because you didn’t work hard enough. My father raised me to be a good liberal, firm in the belief that shit happens because greedy rich guys hoard more than they need. I decided to keep working hard, live comfortably off my salary, buy a few cool things, and squirrel the rest of that big check away in the bank until I could figure out what to do with it. Gifts and charitable contributions would figure prominently.

Then two things happened.

First, it turned out that Hasbro had some different ideas about how to run Wizards. My job, once stressful but fun, had become mostly just stressful, and I was getting tired. Though I still loved working with many of the people at Wizards, that alone couldn’t lift my spirits. I came to the conclusion that the joys of my job had meant more to me than the money, and nearly all the joys had left the building. Calvinist ancestors forgive me, I wanted out.

Second, the nice men at the bank had stopped laughing long enough to inform me that you can’t just plop that kind of money in a savings account; you have to invest it in stocks and bonds and financial instruments with a probable rate of return above the inflation rate, or else you effectively lose money. So I let them invest most of my money. Then Bill Clinton left the White House, the stock market crashed, and I found out how you lose money even more effectively.

There’s nothing like needing more and having less than I planned to make me sit down and do serious math. I figured out how much I’d need to keep living at the new “comfortably” level, take care of my extended family, and plan for my own golden years. Then I threw in what I thought was a reasonable cushion against further investment losses, family catastrophes, or other unforeseen expenses. Then I looked at the total.

Gee, being a millionaire ain’t what it used to be in old Monopoly Man’s day.

So my philanthropic dreams will have to wait. I still want to give away a big wad of cash someday, and if my investments do better, my planned-for catastrophes fail to materialize, or I find another job I can love, I’ll be grinning ear to ear as I write the checks. But in the meantime, I can settle for more modest grants: a house for my folks, a college education for my sister-in-law, school clothes for my niece, cheap loans to friends and siblings in need of houses, debt relief, or business startup costs.

Don’t worry, Peter; I’m still going with the new “comfortably.”


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