A Quiet Fortune: Enough of the right stuff?
August 6, 2017
I'm sitting at an old table under the Lions Club picnic shelter in tiny St. Francis, Kansas. It's 86 degrees in the shade, and an old man is cruising along in his umbrella-topped golf cart on Benton Street. I've come here to bury my favorite aunt, Rachel. This is going to be a tough trip.
Aunt Rachel was a walking, talking contradiction. An award-winning artist, she never thought very highly of her paintings. Congenial to everyone, she could also get upset in a heartbeat. While treasuring the Mayberry-like town she lived in, I suspect that she often wished she lived elsewhere.
One thing Rachel was not, however, was a fool.
For quite a few years Aunt Rachel and her husband, Ray, (my favorite uncle, of course) ran the local swimming pool. It was a seasonal job and brought in additional income for the two, who had been living on his salary as a high school teacher. They certainly could have upped their living style if they had used the money for newer cars and a bigger house. But they didn't.
Instead, they followed some sage advice: Live below your means and invest the rest. Rachel asked her husband if he cared what she did with their summer salary. "Whatever you want," he said, so she started tucking that money into an Edward Jones account.
Why did she pick Edward Jones? It turned out to be a good choice, but at the time she simply didn't know of another place to put it. This was the 1960s, and investments were not something most people discussed. An old college friend had started an Edward Jones office; they trusted him; he explained the philosophy of investing, as well as the fees and the risks; and they felt OK. End of story.
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Well, not quite the end. My aunt and uncle invested until they quit the swimming pool job, then let the money remain with their financial adviser. That had been supplementary income, and since it was no longer coming in, they had to stop saving. But their investment kept growing.
In the meantime, Rach and Ray enjoyed a quiet life in their small town.
I'm telling you this because my aunt recently told me that she felt badly about not having paid much attention to money. She had always found more joy in the intangibles of life than in things like a solid investment portfolio. But they had put aside what they could while they were still relatively young. Their little bit had time to grow; that was the key. If we start as soon as we can, we might be surprised with the result.
Because they had followed advice that could apply to most of us, my aunt had enough to live comfortably for many years after Ray died, even as her health declined and living expenses increased.
Today I cleaned out Rachel's cabinets and I found a newspaper clipping taped to the inside. It talks about the things she thought were most important in life:
I wish you enough:
… Sun to keep your attitude bright,
… Rain to appreciate the sun more,
… Happiness to keep your spirit alive,
… Pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger,
… Gain to satisfy your wanting,
… Loss to appreciate all that you possess, and
Enough hellos to get you through the final goodbye.
A good life isn't about having more money. True success isn't guaranteed by choosing a career that pays six figures. Wealth isn't defined by what's in our bank accounts. I think almost everyone knows that. And I hope that when I write about saving and investing, you don't think that's all I care about. But it helped Rachel worry less as she got older, and I think it would help most of us, at least a little.
To all of you, on behalf of Aunt Rachel, I wish you enough.
Terrie Drake is a grandmother, the author of the book "A Quiet Fortune," and a retired teacher and librarian. She and her husband have lived in Glenwood Springs since 1974. She is not a financial adviser; consult a competent professional for your personal financial solutions. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.