Making my peace with money


In this month when Good Age is highlighting the topic of finance, I’m clearly out of touch and in need of help. I’ve changed jobs twice in my life, once cutting my salary in half. I’ve tried to pay cash for everything except my house. Once I buy a stock, I tend to hold it forever.

This isn’t exactly a formula for wealth enhancement.

But, like most everyone who reads this magazine, financial concerns are always looming. Do I have enough money to last as long as I do? Are there some changes I should make to my investing and spending strategies? I don’t have the answers, but I have come up with some comforting conclusions in the light of uncertainty.

I will not obsess over the stock market — and its hundreds-of-points fluctuations. It’s beyond my control. With micro-second trading, buying and selling, I can’t predict what will happen. I can’t worry myself sick over it. Some of my retirement assets must be in the market if I want to keep pace with the cost of living.

I’ve tried to diversify. I’ve tried to be cautious. Now I must try to be serene in the face of some uncertainty. Long-term experience indicates that what goes down comes back up — usually a little higher. That’s good enough for me right now.

I will, and should, continue to give away some of my money to charities and nonprofits. No, I’m not a Mother Theresa wannabe; I’m a guy who realizes some obligation to help my less-fortunate sisters and brothers.

That means giving to my church, to the Visitation Sisters, the Salvation Army, the American Cancer Society, the Nature Conservancy and, yes, the Minnesota Orchestra. Their music is at least as valuable a civic commodity as the football of the Minnesota Vikings. I ought to spend some of my money supporting the arts and the music that stirs my soul.

I will not allow myself to second-guess choices I made years ago — stock I didn’t buy, a raise I didn’t ask for, a loan to a friend that I always knew would be a gift. On one occasion, I told my wife that I should’ve paid more attention to making money.

“David,” she said. “That’s so silly. You had no interest in making money. That wasn’t what turned you on.”

She was right. I wanted to have a byline on Page 1, uncover a scandal, write a graceful profile, tell a gentle story. And, in my last working decade, be a memorable teacher.

I will continue to spend some of my money on spur-of-the-moment opportunities. When Asleep at the Wheel (a Texas country band) is at The Dakota, I’ll buy the last tickets in the house even if I have to sit at the bar. I’ll buy Honeycrisp apples at $3 a pound, a buck more than the others, since I really do believe they’re crisper and sweeter. And I’m going to buy that lightweight, bait-casting rod at Cabela’s this spring because it will be easier to cast with my arthritic wrist.

Finally, I will, when I’m in need of financial comfort, think of my Aunt Orma. Dying at the age of 101, she truly did outlive her money. For her last three years, she was a Medicaid patient in a nursing home. She’d spent every penny on her care, but had lived her life with great energy, enthusiasm and empathy.

Even though she was, in effect, a ward of the state, she was treated with devotion and dignity. The staff loved her. Old friends remembered her. And I visited her weekly. It was an honor.

Dave Nimmer had a long career as a reporter, editor and professor. Now retired, he has no business card, but plenty to do. Send comments or questions to [email protected].