‘Hi, It’s Amazon Calling. Here’s What We Don’t Like in Your City,’ in the Wall Street Journal last week featured Cincinnati as one of the cities that lost out on becoming Amazon’s second headquarters. While being eliminated was a disappointment, it served as a wake-up call for the region’s economic development initiatives around technology talent, including apprenticeships for public high-school students at technology firms. Actions being taken as a result of the loss will put our city in a better position for other opportunities.
If a loss inspires you to get better, it might not be such a loss. It can be true in our personal finances too.
To pay for college my junior year I tutored accounting students at Ohio State, and sewed monograms on preppy sweaters at the Limited headquarters northeast of campus. Spring quarter I realized I had money left over after my books were purchased and tuition was paid, so I decided to do something responsible – open my first IRA account.
After a whirlwind meeting with a financial advisor (who happened to be the mother of a college friend), I owned a $2,000 real estate limited partnership sold by Integrated Resources, who defaulted on its debt a few years later, shortly after I learned my investment was worthless.
To say I was upset is an understatement. That was an enormous amount of money to me, and I couldn’t get over the hours of work I’d wasted. I never again let my concern about being polite, or not wanting to look stupid, keep me from asking questions when it came to my personal finances. It set me on my path to becoming a Certified Financial Planner and was an inexpensive lesson given all the losses I’ve avoided, and helped our clients avoid, since then.
Talking with people over the years, I’ve learned that many of us share these bad financial experiences. It may not be as blatant as my limited partnership, but we’ve seen lots of financial damage. Expensive annuities that locked buyers in for 14 years, illiquid investments with values suspiciously typed on a sheet of paper from the advisor’s office, and brokerage accounts charging nearly 5.5% per year are just a few examples.
When someone realizes what they’ve gotten into, the typical reaction is anger, followed by embarrassment. We all feel we should be smarter. We think we’re supposed to know better or shouldn’t be taken in by someone pretending to be our friend.
It’s OK to be angry about a loss, but embarrassment can get in the way of moving forward.
When you discover you’ve been taken in by someone, or simply made a bad financial decision, it’s easy to want to bury the evidence or pretend it didn’t happen. Years ago, a client told me he had been throwing all the mail he’d received from a bad investment in a drawer, unopened, so he wouldn’t have to acknowledge the reality of the situation.
A loss ignored remains a loss, but if we take a loss and turn it into an incentive for positive change, we win.
Facing the statement hidden in your desk drawer or taking an honest look at your overall financial picture can be a great way to eliminate the floating anxiety and frustration you feel about an investment gone bad or your overall financial situation.
Cincinnati lost the Amazon opportunity, and I lost $2,000 as a poor college student, but we both used it as a catalyst for making changes. If you’re unhappy about your financial situation, don’t let it remain a loss – make a change.