The Loh Life

The Heat, Part Three: Breaking A Bad Retirement Portfolio

Sandra Tsing Loh doesn't know what to do with her retirement fund.

'Scuse me.  I've been watching way too many episodes of "Breaking Bad."  Not the current ones.  Season Two.  I Google during the day to catch up.  Found the "I hate Skylar White page" on Facebook.  She's the wife of our high school chemistry teacher turned meth lab cooker "protagonist."  Her picture has the caption "Who's holding the Talking Pillow?  I am - all the time."

For all of the responsible, middle-class suburban people -  And I note this because the nicest, you might say, most milk toast people I know are die-hard "Breaking Bad" fans - management consultants, university administrators, a school teacher mom with two preschool-aged children - !  I think it's telling that the show's Facebook fans seem to hate everyone ON the show EXCEPT Walter White, described as "Mr. Chips becomes Scarface."

Because Walter, who turns 50 at the top of the series, is in some way all of us -

Example: recently, I tried to start a retirement fund, or at least a new one.  I've HAD one for 20 years, a small one, at Wells Fargo, that has not changed size.  FOR 20 YEARS.  I know very little about retirement accounts, but I know something is off -  But, I also sense it can't be moved anywhere!  It's something you just kind of live with, like a carbuncle or a bunion.

But now, via a new employee institution, I would be able to start a NEW retirement fund... plan... thing.  After clicking through various portals on the website, I see that to understand my various retirement options, I can read a 75-page booklet, schedule a one-on-one meeting with a benefits expert, or enroll in a COURSE lasting several weeks.  A retirement benefits course!  I've aged seven years just reading the website - although, according to one of its charts, bringing me ever closer to 59 ½, that is GOOD news, I think.

In the meantime, the computer asks me to pick out "where I want my funds to be allocated."  Having no clue at all, I put 100% into a Vanguard "small cap," which seems fairly conservative, as its cap seems small.  It's not a big cap, like an Easter Bonnet, where you can get things like hornets caught in it - !  I don't know!  The next day I get a call and the guy on the phone says, "Vanguard small cap-whoa!"

He informs me a small cap is like betting on the lottery, that for stability, you want a huge cap.

"Let me look at Morningstar," he says.  To which I ask myself, why is he consulting a delicious pork-like vegetarian breakfast patty - ?

As he tells me about Morningstar, I find myself thinking: "Fat stacks!  Maybe I should just start a meth lab in an RV in the desert!"  Much simpler!

Next week: the final Shoot-Out.


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