"I could tell you stories you wouldn't believe," said Will, the young banker helping us set up a new account at our local bank. And so he proceeded to tell us about a client who inherited a half million dollars from her sister, a woman with whom she had been feuding for the best part of their adult lives. "That's blood money, and I don't want it," the woman told Will. "I just want you to give it all to charity."
What would it be like to have such a total disregard for money? I wondered, imagining the difference $500,000 would make in my life right about now. And when did my thoughts become so consumed with money, anyway? When did I start filtering every price tag, every purchase, every event, through the running expense account that tabulates daily in my brain?
Certainly the fluctuating fortunes of the economy over the past decade have contributed to my increasing paranoia about money. Watching my retirement accounts plummet faster than the log ride at Disney World's Splash Mountain has had a sobering effect on my feelings about investments. Our venture into real estate investing has taken a similar nose dive into oblivion. After years of playing it safe in terms of money, our only forays into the market have not met with unqualified success.
But of course, the penultimate factor in my monetary obsession occurred three weeks ago when my husband lost his job. Like most every person involved in automotive industry related manufacturing, we've been walking a tightrope for at least a year. And on July 1, we lost our safety net.
Granted, we're luckier than many of the thousands of others in Michigan who are in the same boat. We have some savings, my husband got a severance package, and, they've hired him to continue working as an independent contractor. But we lost a lot of rather sizeable "perks," not the least of which was excellent health care coverage, along with company car, cell phone, and computer.
The day after we got our sad news, one of my co-workers learned her husband was also jobless. He's an industrial engineeer, and they too are in their mid-fifties. However, they went through this situation two years ago when he was unemployed for more than 18 months, during which time they used up most of their savings. She dissolved in tears, telling me she was fearful they would lose their house. Meanwhile, two other co-workers looked on teary eyed themselves, their husbands both hanging on by a thread to their jobs with General Motors, expecting each day they go to work to be their last.
Life in Michigan is tenuous at best these days. It's hard to find glimmers of hope, even though we hear murmurings of new battery plants, and a burgeoning film industry, and re-tooling of auto plants. My husband's (former) employer is busily venturing into "green" initiatives, and Jim had been concentrating his efforts on research and development of solar installations (to the point that the day after he was laid off, his boss begged him to attend a meeting with their solar client because he was the one who had all the information about the project!)
So with so many peoples financial future in limbo these days (including my own!), it's hard to imagine being as cavalier about an inheritance as the woman our banker described. I wish I could say money didn't matter to me, wish I could turn my back on half a million dollars simply to satisfy some personal principal. I wish I didn't feel so shallow knowing that I couldn't.
But at least I'm in a better position than another client Will told us about.
"The other day, a woman came into the bank and told me she had to make a $6000 payment on her Escalade, because she had received a phone call from the bank that morning telling her they would be in her driveway to pick it up if she didn't make the payment by noon. When I checked her account," Will went on with a sly grin, "she not only did not have $6000, she had accumulated $4,700 in overdraft fees."
Amazing. How in the world did you accumulate almost $5000 worth of overdraft fees??
"You should have seen her account," Will said. "She did not deny herself anything...restaurants, stores, smoke shops, movies, anything and everything...hundreds of dollars every day."
Talk about a total disregard for money...