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'Mo money, 'mo problems...

I was all ready to talk about this Web site,, and how I think it is both brilliant and disgusting, but then I got sidetracked, so I'll have to write about it next week. In the meantime, go check it out. I still haven't quite figured out what to make of it.

The reason I got sidetracked was because I went to a financial advisor today. I've never done that before. The extent of my financial advising up to this point was my parents telling me it was stupid to spend so much money on my computer and a former boss telling me that I didn't need a raise because I was young and should learn to manage my money better.

So, I jumped at the chance at a free consultation from the folks at American Express. This is the way it works: you drop your business card in a fish bowl at a restaurant thinking that you might win a free happy hour (that's a scam, by the way) or a free steak. Instead, that business card goes to American Express Financial Advisors™, a crack team of operatives who call you at work and flirt until you feel like you're going to cost them their job if you don't let them help you.

The first time they tried to advise me, this really pushy guy kept calling me, faxing me directions, and trying to schedule appointments until I finally decided I'd be better off sticking wads of cash under my pillow than letting this guy anywhere near my money. Months later, a nicer person called, said she was just out of college and eager to help people and she sounded sincere. So, like a sucker, I scheduled an appointment.

When I got there, using my lunch time from work, I was kept waiting for a while, and finally the girl I'd talked to shows up in the lobby. She seemed nice and friendly and not at all like those scary accountants in the movies who buy and sell and trade stuff that is bought and sold. She took me to her office where this very aggressive money type guy was sitting.

"Should you call security or something?" I asked.

"Oh, no, I work for him. We'll both be advising you," she said. Smiling.

"Oh. Okay. Do I just hand each of you one stack of cash, or...?"

"Hi! Glad to meet you!" the guy said, and shook my hand frantically.

They sat me down and asked me what my financial goals were. "I would like very much not to starve to death next year," I told them.

"We can do that!" the guy said. His name was Bob or Chad or Steve or something like that.

They tried a scare tactic. They said that people who don't invest usually come into their office when they're 30 or 40 and their lives are "a mess." They showed me what I would look like in 15 years if I continued on my current no-investing, no-mutual-fund-having, spending-money-on-videogames path:



Obviously, that scared the crap out of me and I agreed to give them $550 to advise me for the next 10 years. Plus commission.

Actually, I was very proud of myself. I told them that I wasn't going to commit to anything until the beginning of the year ("For tax purposes," I lied.) and that I did want to invest and that I really didn't believe that money was the root of all evil. I think at that point, I convinced them I was speaking their language.

To be honest, my financial goal has always been not to have to worry about money so much. I'm not a big money person. I spend way too much money on stuff I don't really need, but I also am very frugal about big purchases. I don't buy lots of clothes (as evidenced by that picture), but I do spent a lot on rent and utilities. I know I make good money for someone my age, but because I live in Austin, that money zips out of sight and never stays in the bank.

Work offers insurance, 401k, disability, dental, all that. My big fear is that I'll never be able to work on my own or get out of newspapers because it pays too well (note: you will never hear that complaint from any other newspaper employee ever). I mean it pays better than staying at home and freelancing would, at least.

I am kind of proud that I'm not destitute. I mean I worked my ass off to get to a point where I don't have to stress out at the end of every month over whether I can pay rent. I mean, that still happens now and then, but not as much as it used to.

So where does all that money go? Maybe these advisers can tell me. I mean, it can't all be going to the heroin and the hookers. Hey, Mom, that's a joke.

They gave me a bunch of very glossy brochures with phrases like "fixed income" and "peace of mind" and "retirement plan." They asked me when I want to retire. "Um, seriously, I don't see myself in this same job when I'm 50 years old. If I haven't gotten out by then, I think I'll be very sad."

"Very... sad...," the girl jotted down on the single sheet of paper she was using to document all of my hopes, fears, money concerns, and to chart my financial future.

I was sneaky, though. I took a peek at the notes Financial Advisor Guy was taking. I haven't had to read anything upside down in a while, but I think what I read was, "If this guy signs on, I can finally take that trip to the Phillipines and get me a mail order bride."

And that is smart fiscal planning.

My Third Watch recap is almost done, so it should be up sometime today or tomorrow. Mia Farrow guest starred, so there are lots of jokes about adoptees. Trust me, you'll like it.

Have a great weekend! I'm seeing David Sedaris' The Santaland Diaries and doing some administrative stuff with LCP. Oh, and watching my budget, of course. I think they'll send a gestapo squad after me if I don't.


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