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Old 11-16-2014, 03:15 PM   #41
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I note he gives no actual figures, I assume because facts would diminish the impact of his article by people who do well with quite a bit less, I am going to guess the pension is around 12,000 per year, it could be more and his Social Security is probably now at least 21 K per year for a total of 33K per year.

Of course his decision to live in the most expensive city in the US is another of a long string of bad financial decisions which he deflects responsibility for in a long stated expose of his stupidity framed as being a result of a need for his observations on the important changes on the world he is able to observe and put down on paper for the rest of us. Washington DC then a needed location for the advancement of the recognition of his writing along with his cherised Iphone and Macbook. Indeed I think he is proud of what he did, as he states " In my opinion, I didn’t squander the money, either; I just spent it a little too enthusiastically—not on Caribbean cruises but on exploring the aftermath of the fall of Communism in eastern Europe. I don’t regret it. "


He knows he has superior writing talent and the impression I get from the article and his spartan blog postings is that he feels this should be all he should have to do, humbled and all that he is of course by his lack of money. But what he craves is recognition and the story that I gave up all my money to write these important pieces is how he is trying to frame his Eulogy
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Old 11-16-2014, 03:35 PM   #42
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Originally Posted by Sunset View Post
The most wasteful thing I know of is traveling to another city to go drinking at bars.
To each his/her own! I'm not big on spending money drinking in bars but our travel budget is a huge priority. We've been careful, though- alternate splurge trips in one year with more modest trips the next and making careful use of frequent flyer and hotel miles/points.

I agree with you, though, that you need to spend with an eye to the future and clearly this guy didn't. DH and I have a pile of wonderful travel memories and the pictures to prove it, but we can still afford health insurance and dental implants. For that I'm grateful.
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Old 11-16-2014, 04:06 PM   #43
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We periodically see stories like Mr. McPherson’s. In fact, there was one on the front page of the paper today about a local “working poor” family of 5 who can’t make ends meet and are being foreclosed, notwithstanding that the husband has a $40k per year full-time job. My visceral reaction is usually to point out all the poor decisions they have made along the way – Why did McPherson live it up in Eastern Europe without an income and trade stocks on margin? Why did that family have 3 children in the first place? Why did they take a cash-out mortgage and go to Disneyworld? “Boy, that was stupid,” says the officious voice in my head. “Here’s what they should be doing.” Most of my unspoken suggestions involve making better decisions, working harder, and doing things that are necessary even if they are unpleasant and difficult. If only they would have done what I would have done in the circumstances, I tell myself, all would be well.

However, after reading Mr. McPherson’s story and having the same reaction I usually do, I started to wonder why it is that I should be so critical of people like this. And it occurs to me that it is a manifestation of my own fears. I like to be in control of my own destiny. I make plans and spreadsheets for all my investments. I rigorously track and analyze my spending. I run retirement calculators and read this board endlessly to glean new ideas that might nail down the last uncertainties, increase that margin for error and give me comfort. And yet, I know that Robbie Burns was right when he said

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!


And that knowledge scares me. The possibility that despite all my best laid plans, something will happen beyond my control – a catastrophic illness, embezzlement, market crash, fire, flooding, war, famine – and I will be cast into poverty and despair. So, I attribute the unfortunate lot of the people in these stories to some action or inaction on their part, to some defect or disability in their thinking, some lack of foresight or some weakness of purpose or determination. I tell myself that I would never do those things or have that problem, and I half convince myself that everything will be fine. But I am just whistling past the graveyard, and in doing so, I am ignoring the fact that these are real people with real problems, not all of them self-inflicted. They need my help, or at least my understanding, not my derision.
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Old 11-16-2014, 04:29 PM   #44
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The article annoyed me....and I'm a bleeding heart liberal. Mr. Mcpherson takes care to say that he isn't as poor as a lot of people and that he's made some very dumb decisions so it's hard for me to feel a lot of compassion for him when there are lots of hardworking people trying to raise families working multiple low wage jobs. Statements like

"In my opinion, I didn’t squander the money, either; I just spent it a little too enthusiastically—not on Caribbean cruises but on exploring the aftermath of the fall of Communism in eastern Europe. I don’t regret it."

Of course he regrets it....that's the whole premise of his article.

It amazes me that a presumably intelligent person can make such bad decisions.......oh and if my attempt at ER fails I take it all back
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Old 11-16-2014, 04:46 PM   #45
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We periodically see stories like Mr. McPherson’s. In fact, there was one on the front page of the paper today about a local “working poor” family of 5 who can’t make ends meet and are being foreclosed, notwithstanding that the husband has a $40k per year full-time job.
One of the more interesting neighbors I had at one time was a working psychologist, and we had a lot of interesting conversations over the backyard fence. Being ever-curious at the weird things I saw people do at work I had a seemingly endless supply of stories and questions to go with them.

At one point she asked "Has it ever occurred to you to just take off to the other side of the country to live there, no plans, except to just see what turns up?"

I said "No, of course not. That would be like putting my life in a bottle and throwing it in the ocean."

She said "Yes, and you might land on a nice warm beach."

"And I might also get smashed on the rocks. I will not leave that to chance."

She went on to say that huge numbers of people will do just that - head out, not knowing exactly, precisely, where they're going or what they're going to do when they get there, but convinced that "there" is better than "here".

To most on this board I would think that would be, to put it mildly, a strange thing to do. But apparently large numbers of people do exactly that.
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Old 11-16-2014, 04:47 PM   #46
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I am ignoring the fact that these are real people with real problems, not all of them self-inflicted. They need my help, or at least my understanding, not my derision.
That's a noble outlook, and you are surely right in the strictest sense: That's what that one particular person needs (or wants), now that he/she is in that place.

But what does society need? Are we better served, and better off, with an increase in fatalism ("things just happen, there's nothing much I can do to prevent my own falling into that pit") or an increased feeling of personal responsibility for our fate? Based on what I see around me, I'd pick Door Number 2.

And, from an objective standpoint, when people "fail" like McPherson did and then they take community resources (that subsidized lodging is coming from somewhere . . .), it hurts everyone. It especially hurts those who are in the same pit but for reasons outside of their control, because fewer resources are available for them and because people who are paying the bill lose faith in the government programs that give resources to the needy.
I wish McPherson and those in his situation the best possible outcome.

General comment not related to Gumby's post:
Shame-- a lot has been said against it. But it has historically existed in every society, and before we cast it aside entirely we need to think hard about the ramifications.
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Old 11-16-2014, 04:48 PM   #47
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I agree with you, though, that you need to spend with an eye to the future and clearly this guy didn't. DH and I have a pile of wonderful travel memories and the pictures to prove it, but we can still afford health insurance and dental implants. For that I'm grateful.
Budgeting and cost control are what Mr. McPherson lacked.

I'm 8 months into ER (at age 53) and I've had to pay for an unexpected tooth crown and 2 trips to the UK. Thanks to building in contingencies and being able to control other spending I'm still under my budget, which is half of what my savings could actually support. If Mr McPherson had kept to a budget he wouldn't be writing such bitter little articles. The socialist and Christian in me says that society must take care of people no matter how they arrive at their present circumstances, the literary critic in me recoils from the self pity which is expressed and then denied.

The piece reminds me of the old Victoria notion of the "deserving poor", those that work hard and are poor through circumstances beyond their control and the "idle poor" and malingerers. The deserving poor are.....well.... deserving of our help the others are not. Is that the way to do things? Do we accept moral hazard when dealing with social services.
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Old 11-16-2014, 05:21 PM   #48
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That's a noble outlook, and you are surely right in the strictest sense: That's what that one particular person needs (or wants), now that he/she is in that place.

But what does society need? Are we better served, and better off, with an increase in fatalism ("things just happen, there's nothing much I can do to prevent my own falling into that pit") or an increased feeling of personal responsibility for our fate? Based on what I see around me, I'd pick Door Number 2.

And, from an objective standpoint, when people "fail" like McPherson did and then they take community resources (that subsided lodging is coming form somewhere . . .), it hurts everyone. It especially hurts those who are in the same pit but for reasons outside of their control, because fewer resources are available for them and because people who are paying the bill lose faith in the government programs that give resources to the needy.
I wish McPherson and those in his situation the best possible outcome.

Shame-- a lot has been said against it. But it exists in every culture, and before we cast it aside we need to think long and hard about the ramifications.
I would never argue against the idea that an increased sense of personal responsibility would greatly benefit society. There is no question that if the people in these stories followed my suggestions, they probably would not be in the hole in which they find themselves and they would have a better future. But I think it useful to acknowledge that my identification of their failings and suggestions for improvement is not driven solely by some objective desire to be helpful. It is, at least in part, a sort of exorcism of my own anxieties.

You're right that there is a societal cost to helping people out of a jam. But life is complicated; even people with a history of poor decisions can also be simply unfortunate. If we first insisted on ironclad proof that the situation was solely and unambiguously the result of factors beyond that person's control, we would never help anyone.
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Old 11-16-2014, 05:52 PM   #49
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But I think it useful to acknowledge that my identification of their failings and suggestions for improvement is not driven solely by some objective desire to be useful. It is, at least in part, a sort of exorcism of my own anxieties.
As an aside, pilots do this all the time. If there's a crash, we rush to dissect it, and gather together those hints of poor judgement or less-than-stellar competence on the part of the pilot. At the end of this exercise all is well: "see, that bad outcome was entirely avoidable. I wouldn't make those mistakes!"
And, for good measure, we jump on anyone who openly opines as to the cause of the accident before the official report is issued. But--in private--we're all gathering info quickly to build our story and make the bad thoughts go away.

(Obviously, the above contains much unfair overgeneralization)
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Old 11-16-2014, 07:42 PM   #50
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But what does society need? Are we better served, and better off, with an increase in fatalism ("things just happen, there's nothing much I can do to prevent my own falling into that pit") or an increased feeling of personal responsibility for our fate? Based on what I see around me, I'd pick Door Number 2.

And, from an objective standpoint, when people "fail" like McPherson did and then they take community resources (that subsidized lodging is coming from somewhere . . .), it hurts everyone. It especially hurts those who are in the same pit but for reasons outside of their control, because fewer resources are available for them and because people who are paying the bill lose faith in the government programs that give resources to the needy.
Absolutely agree.
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Old 11-17-2014, 12:12 AM   #51
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One of the more interesting neighbors I had at one time was a working psychologist, and we had a lot of interesting conversations over the backyard fence. Being ever-curious at the weird things I saw people do at work I had a seemingly endless supply of stories and questions to go with them.

At one point she asked "Has it ever occurred to you to just take off to the other side of the country to live there, no plans, except to just see what turns up?"

I said "No, of course not. That would be like putting my life in a bottle and throwing it in the ocean."

She said "Yes, and you might land on a nice warm beach."

"And I might also get smashed on the rocks. I will not leave that to chance."

She went on to say that huge numbers of people will do just that - head out, not knowing exactly, precisely, where they're going or what they're going to do when they get there, but convinced that "there" is better than "here".

To most on this board I would think that would be, to put it mildly, a strange thing to do. But apparently large numbers of people do exactly that.
That's a very interesting insight. Yet the forum is fillled with people who aren't afraid of risks. A number of members have flown high performance military aircraft and helicopters, or spent months under the sea living next
nuclear reactors and enough nuclear weapons to devastate a country. Plenty of folks, have lived overseas, or worked for companies with risky prospects.

The vast majority of us have invested in risky financial assets and held them during turbulent times. A fair number of us have invested in individual companies, startup and perhaps riskiest of all starting our business.

So are we just the lucky ones or did we plan better?
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Old 11-17-2014, 01:19 AM   #52
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That's a very interesting insight. Yet the forum is fillled with people who aren't afraid of risks. A number of members have flown high performance military aircraft and helicopters, or spent months under the sea living next
nuclear reactors and enough nuclear weapons to devastate a country. Plenty of folks, have lived overseas, or worked for companies with risky prospects.

The vast majority of us have invested in risky financial assets and held them during turbulent times. A fair number of us have invested in individual companies, startup and perhaps riskiest of all starting our business.

So are we just the lucky ones or did we plan better?
I think General Patton had good advice on that front: "Take calculated risks. That is quite different than being rash." What Walt34 described was more on the rash side, unless one was financially independent.
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Old 11-17-2014, 04:36 AM   #53
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What Walt34 described was more on the rash side, unless one was financially independent.
Hits home with me. Only now, being semi-FIRE, I am starting to give in to feelings of "let's explore that unknown and see what happens".

It has probably to do with fear thresholds vs. other drivers? I can relate to that.

For example, I am still financially speaking not 100% garantueed home free by any means, but I have a pretty decent buffer and some credentials and reasonably youthful age (34) to recover if things go awry.

People with more confidence, less control issues or shorter planning horizons don't wait until they have a 25 year or more buffer in living expenses to go off on a dream with low success rates. Some here (certainly over at Bogleheads) wait until 50+ years and still struggle with OMY in a profession they don't really like.

Or put differently: Careful planners didn't (I suppose) start the american independency war, risking everything (for those that had something to lose). They also don't go on doomed Antarctic expeditions.

So I don't judge the guy for leading a risky life (financially speaking). Although he shouldn't complain either and he did make some silly moves turning over his money management to others and trading on margin.

Anyway, random rambling ..
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Old 11-17-2014, 05:01 AM   #54
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I don't think people are judging the guy for taking risks (like going to Eastern Europe after the wall fell). But for taking UNNECESSARY AND STUPID RISKS, he does cloud the experience of others whose poverty may have been less their own damn fault. He was not just the architect of his own financial disaster, he was the general contractor and the work crew.

*also after reading through some of his blog posts please add me to those who are not impressed with his writing style. That is ok if some like it and some of us do not. As a wise man once said, "We can't all like the same things or we'd all be chasing after grandma."


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Old 11-17-2014, 05:20 AM   #55
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I think General Patton had good advice on that front: "Take calculated risks. That is quite different than being rash." What Walt34 described was more on the rash side, unless one was financially independent.
Several years ago I had the privilege of meeting Lt Col Richard Cole, who is now a young 99 years. Col. Cole was the co pilot for Gen. Jimmy Doolittle when back in 1942, the Doolittle Raider made the daring first attack on Japan.

Accompany Richard Cole, on both his trips to the Pacific Aviation Museum was Jimmy Doolittle's granddaughter. Joanne Doollite wrote a biographer of her famous granddad. The title of the bio was called simply CALCULATED RISK.

In listening to Col Cole and Joanne talk about Jimmy and the raid and reading her book, what struck me was that although raid was considered a virtual suicide mission by most people it wasn't at all. Jimmy had PHd in Aeronautical engineering from MIT and was either an INTJ or ENTJ. The amount of planning that went into the raid was immense,and the fact that only 3 of 80 raiders were killed during the raid and 4 later died in captivity at the hands of Japanese, I think speaks volumes about the quality of the planning.

I guess good planning is hard for most people which is why they don't do a good job like the author.
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Old 11-17-2014, 08:06 AM   #56
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There is nothing wrong with taking risks. Calculated or foolish.

The risk taker should take his or her glory or lumps. Just don't whine when things go wrong. If still alive figure out how to get re-organized to live well or live with the consequnces and don't suck on the public teat.
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Old 11-17-2014, 10:57 AM   #57
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I like being surrounded by a lot of devil may care risk takers. My grandmother hopped on a boat from Ireland with almost no money at 18 years old. America was built by whacky risk takers. It makes us vibrant. In the meantime I will take my prudent SWR and count on others like me and not a few risk takers to keep the enterprise going.
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Old 11-17-2014, 01:04 PM   #58
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That's a very interesting insight. Yet the forum is fillled with people who aren't afraid of risks. A number of members have flown high performance military aircraft and helicopters, or spent months under the sea living next
nuclear reactors and enough nuclear weapons to devastate a country. Plenty of folks, have lived overseas, or worked for companies with risky prospects.
As others have noted there is risk, and then there is calculated risk. When I think of that I think of Lindberg's flight over the Atlantic. The risks were many but he calculated them and figured it would work. A major engineering feat at the time and later compared to landing on the moon was simply keeping an airplane engine running for 33 1/2 hours without breakdown.

Another example given was Doolittle's raid on Japan.

My career was in police work which has its own (exaggerated by TV) risks. But there were days....

But all of these were calculated and well thought-out risks. When I approached a scene that was a crime in progress I had a plan A, plan B, plan C, and plan D if possible. I never just strolled up with no thought of what to do if all hell broke loose, and I saw some guys do that.

And so it goes with the finances - same thing - multiple plans for what to do if the stuff hits the fan.
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Old 11-17-2014, 01:10 PM   #59
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I like being surrounded by a lot of devil may care risk takers. My grandmother hopped on a boat from Ireland with almost no money at 18 years old. America was built by whacky risk takers. It makes us vibrant. In the meantime I will take my prudent SWR and count on others like me and not a few risk takers to keep the enterprise going.
Years ago I heard the life story of a cabbie in Vegas while he drove me to the hotel from the airport. (Risk related observation: never gambled a dime in Vegas and not interested; I was there for a meeting.) For years he'd led the life of a high roller: comped rooms and all the fine wine, women and booze he wanted. He'd eventually lost it all. He was quite cheerful; apparently he was OK with a humdrum life now preceded by a lot of good memories. I later heard an old Spanish proverb, "Nadie te quita lo bailado" (Nobody can take away what you've danced) and wove it all into a Toastmasters speech.

It's a wonderful life philosophy but I always made sure I didn't spend 100% of what I earned on dancing.
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Old 11-17-2014, 01:28 PM   #60
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As others have noted there is risk, and then there is calculated risk. When I think of that I think of Lindberg's flight over the Atlantic. The risks were many but he calculated them and figured it would work....
.....
And then there was Amelia Earhart. Sometimes the ball doesn't bounce the right way.

This is how I see McPherson. Born rich and smart (and in the Depression!)), back when that combination pretty much guaranteed success. If the ball had kept bouncing his way he would have been writing his memoirs of his life from a most comfortable retirement. He controlled that ball much of the time (my first question reading about him on Wikipedia was how did he go to three colleges yet apparently not earn a bachelor's degree?) but otoh a couple of random bounces in his favor would have saved him (had the Post's profit sharing been put in place a few months earlier he would have had a nest egg that might have been locked away for him; had he used a different FA; etc.).

Too much information is missing from his article (for which he was paid I reckon and hope) for me to feel sorry for him, but I can see how others could end up in his situation.
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