Rumble Strips, Part III

Link to Part II

For the next week, the watch was silent, and I began to forget about the incident.  I had grown accustomed to its weight and the feel of it on my wrist, and I now put it on each morning when I got out of bed without a second thought.

It was Saturday, and I was heading off to a dreaded but long-overdue appointment with a financial counselor.  I had been putting off getting my finances in order for several years after graduating from college, but it wasn’t until a few days previous that I had realized how behind I was.

At lunch one day at work, I had come into the break room to find my coworkers gossiping, as was usual.  But this time, instead of talking about the latest hookups or screwups in our company, they were talking about retirement.  As I took a seat and began listening in, several men were bragging over the value of their retirement 401ks, a virtual pissing contest to see who had more money.

The longer they talked, the worse I felt as I munched on the pasta salad I had brought.  I didn’t have a retirement account set up at all!  In fact, I only had about six thousand dollars to my name, all in my checking account.  I had been contemplating opening a savings account at all, but hadn’t even pulled the trigger on that small step.

That afternoon, I had resolved to get my money problems squared away.  However, after an hour staring at incomprehensible jargon on the internet, I had placed a call to a local finance firm and gotten an appointment for Saturday with a personal finance counselor.

Now, I was downtown, walking into a tall skyscraper to make my meeting.  I made my way through a maze of cubicles, guided by a pert receptionist in three-inch heels, until I arrived at a large, glassed-in office with a desk inside and a man behind the desk.

Inside the office, fortunately, I found Stan, and Stan managed to immediately defuse my concerns with his firm handshake and easy, self-depreciating nature.  I had brought along my bank statements and explained my situation, and Stan nodded understandingly and listened patiently as I talked, never interrupting or cutting me off.  He congratulated me on the decision to get my money in order, and explained that I had plenty of options.

“First off, we are going to want to get you started on some retirement accounts,” he said brightly after I had finished, pulling out a couple sheets of information and a pad of yellow paper.  He passed the yellow pad over to me, along with a pen, so I could take notes.  He walked me through employer matching for 401k accounts, and a few charts quickly showed me how great this was.  He then talked me through setting up a savings account, and configuring my bank account so that some of my paycheck would automatically be put into savings, removing the temptation for me to spend it at the spa or on a shopping spree.

“And now, on to personal investments,” Stan continued, reaching for another sheet of paper.  “A portion of your paycheck should go to your 401k, a portion should go to your savings, but some should also go into investments.”

“Wait, why?” I asked.  “Isn’t that what the 401k is for?”

Stan smiled.  “Your 401k is an investment, yes, but you can’t use it until you retire.  Personal investments let your money do work for you, but are still available to you for withdrawal at any point, so that you can use them earlier!  They’re great for things like buying a house, big purchases that you can’t always predict.”

I nodded, following along, and Stan passed over a sheet of paper.  “There are a lot of different funds that you can invest your money into, but I’ve been recommending this fund to my clients,” he explained.  “It’s caled Pilco, and it’s been doing exceptionally well for the last few years.  Many of my clients have put all of their investments into Pilco and done very well.  We can set up an account for you here, and just like savings, the money will automatically be invested by us here, without you needing to lift a finger!”

The idea made sense, and I began to open my mouth to ask where I had to sign.  However, I was cut off by my watch, buzzing suddenly on my wrist.  I glanced down at it, and it stopped.  Was it trying to tell me not to invest?

Stan was looking at me expectantly.  Once again, I opened my mouth, and the watch began buzzing again.  “Is there something I sign for that?” I asked, ignoring the vibration coursing up and down my arm.

With a flourish, the financial counselor passed over a legal form.  “Just sign at the bottom,” he said.

I picked up the pen, but the buzzing seemed to intensify, and I couldn’t hold the pen steady enough to sign.  Stan’s expression shifted very slightly as he watched my arm shake.  After a couple of botched attempts, I finally set down the pen.  “You know, I think I’m going to pass on this investing fund thing,” I said.  “Do you have any other ones instead?”

At this news, Stan frowned slightly, but he pulled out a couple of other funds that “were more stable, but weren’t providing nearly as great returns as Pilco.”  I looked them over and found one that seemed to be somewhat reliable, as far as I could tell from the mass of complicated data on the sheets.  My watch didn’t seem to protest at all as I signed for this fund.

The rest of the meeting wrapped up without incident, and I thanked Stan profusely for helping me get my money in order as I left.  He modestly brushed aside my gratitude, but before I left, he mentioned the Pilco fund once more.  “Check it out every now and then for the next week or two,” he encouraged.  “I’m telling you, it’s making a ton of money.”

Over the next week or so, I did watch the fund, searching for it on the internet every few days.  Just as Stan had said, it seemed to be on a steep and steady climb.  Why had I trusted the buzzing of my watch and not invested?

In fact, two weeks later, I was ready to call Stan and have him change my money over.  I decided to look up Pilco once more.  As the web page loaded this time, though, I felt my mouth drop open in surprise.

The fund had just collapsed completely!  News reports were saying that it had been some sort of scheme the entire time, and the investors had lost everything.  I had nearly been one of those poor souls!  I lowered my phone in shock.

Apparently, the watch had been right once again.  I resolved, then and there, not to ignore its buzzing again, even if I didn’t understand why it was warning me.

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