Thank you so much for bearing with me as I sort out the-meaning-of-life and this whacky blog. This is a long post because, well, it explains everything!
First, The Adventures of Gray Kitty series has a new home here.
I wish it were possible to play a game I would call “And Then What?” before starting off on career or writing or entrepreneurial adventures. This game would let you imagine the future as you reach each step towards your goals, to see the perspective from each point looking forward. But it doesn’t work that way. You jump in and try stuff and some of it works and some of it doesn’t.
I started a financial consulting business a few years ago just before the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. I didn’t mean to start this business in the first place. What happened is that I had to stop working as a software engineer in 2002 due to a severe case of tendonitis in both hands and forearms. My hands needed to rest, for eight years. They are fine now, though I never did regain full use of all fine motor skills and must diligently manage my typing load to avoid flare ups. I am very fortunate in that I had five years of long-term disability from my company, Adobe Systems, and fortunate in that during the 1990s my former husband and I wildly speculated in Adobe stock and it appreciated. Shortly before the tech bust we saw a financial planner who showed us a sector graph and there was the tech sector sticking way, way up there, head and shoulders above the other sectors. We sold most of the stock before the bust. This is why, despite the divorce, I was able to essentially retire early.
However, it didn’t seem smart to fully disengage from the economy at age 49. Portfolios aren’t designed to last for fifty years should I, God forbid, live that long. Initially, I hoped to earn my MS in Computer Science and teach, but after taking three semesters of calculus, linear algebra and physics it was time to take programming classes and after taking just one of these — thousands of lines of code — my hands relapsed so I had to come up with a new plan. I was determined to learn how to manage my own portfolio hence took several graduate level Accounting and Finance courses and in taking these classes the idea dawned on me to try financial consulting. I earned the Series 65 license and am a CA Registered Investment Adviser. I framed the certificate, put out my shingle, then learned one client at a time how real people approach the planning process. In a nutshell, they are completely overwhelmed. Each person’s situation is unique with potentially infinite complexity. A highly organized and self-directed person can work efficiently with a planner. I have a couple clients like this but most people are ill prepared for this process. If I were to work with most people as they are, meaning in a frame of mind in which they want to push a magic button and have a plan appear, I would have to bill A LOT of hours and it doesn’t make sense. If even people are willing to give me carte blanche to work this way I cannot bring myself to work this way.
And I know what this feels like! I was talking to my new friend Donna Artz about financial matters and during this conversation she changed the subject to beauty advice for me — I first met her within a beauty advice context: she is a master at her craft — and I found myself profoundly overwhelmed. Literally reduced to pitching my voice up like a squirrel, tensely writing down suggestions, and saying “Okay, sure” like Marge in the movie Fargo.
Hence, early on I decided to avoid giving specific investment advice as much as possible or to keep it really simple, like a Vanguard target retirement fund. But people have usually already purchased stuff and are attached to what they have or are restricted by employer options and so you find yourself trying to design a complete portfolio out of pieces that don’t tightly fit, don’t make a cohesive whole and the next thing you know you’re not sleeping because you’re worrying about these pieces as the economy changes every single minute. It’s not worth the worry. The business model is broken in another way too in that although I was able to charge a reasonable consulting rate I would more often than not spend 3-4 hours of research per billable hour. I’m a perfectionist and feel highly responsible for my work.
I got the bright idea to give the business an organizing focus, to help individuals and small businesses set up accounting systems in order to track spending, generate budget vs actual reports and to be able to get an picture of net worth. I charged less for accounting if I was doing it for the individual or business but charged the same consulting rate if transferring skills — teaching them what to do and how to do it. This work is far more remunerative because I can bill for all of the time. And I figured this way I would have more time to get to know clients and get their financial picture organized before entering into a financial planning agreement. This has worked beautifully in some cases but most people are so overwhelmed with money matters they can’t get past this first step of getting organized.
Enter the financial crisis. Now people’s situations are even more distressed. Portfolios have been smacked down, jobs have been lost. It’s a nightmare. Glaring issues that were ignored before the crisis have come screaming to light but there are fewer options. I start to feel like the grim reaper. And even in the face of all of this distress people don’t change. They are so overwhelmed by finances they cannot even take baby steps towards a sustainable track.
Sometime last year I started day dreaming about getting the heck out of here. I cut back 50% on my consulting business in 2010 to work on the Gray Kitty Apps. They are SO MUCH fun! Of course trying to make Apps work as an entrepreneurial adventure is dicey given the free model described in the Wired article Free! Why $0.00 is the Future of Business. However, new ideas of using Apps to build brands are emerging and we’ve got ideas of our own I’ll be writing about over at The Adventures of Gray Kitty.
So, drumroll…, we made the monumental decision today to close Tiner Financial Services. Well, I can’t close it 100%. I need to take care of several legacy clients. But I won’t be promoting it or taking on new people. This will give me time to focus on the Apps.
What about the memoir? I’m afraid it’s the end of the memoir. That’s why the gal in picture above is crying goodbye tears.
Well, maybe not 100% the end, but 99.999999999% the end.
I am constrained in what I can write memoir-wise but will say there were forces at work, things brewing, that prompted the series. I began writing it with this attitude: no way am I going to let certain unnamed forces claim my story. MY story. It will be told. I told it and now it’s out there forever, or at least until I’m dead and the hosting bill stops being paid. If you read any of those posts you know I got no validation for my story growing up or during adulthood. It was telling the story here that gave me a feeling of being validated. No, I didn’t just get born like Athena out of Zeus’s head and hit the ground running as a technical professional. I went through some serious shit. This kind of thing goes on in families and I am tired of secrets. But this is the point where I wish I could have played And Then What? because I have no idea what comes next.
Yes, there’s the genealogy angle but I am not prepared to become a genealogist. At first I hit pay dirt with the tools, picked the low hanging fruit, but the rest of it will happen at a grindingly slow pace because this cannot be my life focus. It may take 10 years of me occasionally following up on the next step before I figure out who my father was. Or I may never figure it out. Or the next document arriving in the mail may crack the case.
Childhood reminisces? Sure, I could write those and perhaps will. It did occur to me that the answer to And Then What? is to start waxing philosophical. But philosophical about what? I get being philosophical about life in general, but part of the original point was to connect with the history of American money values. I was digging like a dog for a bone of understanding about our collective money values. Yet, as I read more of our history — I’m an American history nut — I can tell you this. Americans? We are SO royally screwed up about class and have been so from the beginning. It’s part of the overwhelmed issue described above (if you’ve read this far). Money is associated with elites and we — the middling sort — don’t get elites. Which is too bad, because this is part of the reason why they often end up with a bigger pile of money.
In closing, I’m keeping the memoir posts and the history of American money values posts but that’s it. I deleted the archive of financial posts. I’ll add new memoir posts when I’m feeling philosophical. The title is changed to My Life Unscrambled but the goofy financialorganizing.info domain remains, at least for now.
Thanks for reading and listening. It really means a lot to me.