Saturday, February 7, 2009

Intelligent Financial Planning

As worried as I am about the economy now, I'm even more worried about what I'm going to live on in the future. So I'm contributing more actively to my 401(k), but two questions are bothering me. Why is it plan number 401? What does the (k) stand for?

I tracked down some financial experts and posed these questions to them. Well, to their secretaries, anyway, and their voice mails, and in some cases the door to the bathroom stall they were using at the time. I got a variety of answers, “He’s not in at the moment,” “Leave a message at the tone,” and “Get the hell away from me!” respectively. But I refused to be deterred in my quest for the Truth! Finally, I found someone who could explain it all to me. He smelled terrible, and rolled back and forth muttering to himself, and I think he lives in the subway station, but here’s how he explained it to me.

The 401 comes from the number of gallons of Scotch it took for congress to agree on a comprehensive plan where taxpayers willingly put aside a portion of their money without paying taxes on it now, hoping vainly that it will be enough to keep them ahead of inflation, taxes, nuclear holocausts, locust plagues, and housing market collapses later. Apparently, during the planning process, they sealed the building and refused to let any legislator leave until everyone was in agreement, and victuals were airlifted in each day to keep them focused on the task at hand. Unfortunately, with all they could drink and free food shipped in daily on the taxpayers dime, it was several conga lines around the rotunda before they remembered they had a job to do, and several hangover cures were necessary before they even remembered what the word “law” meant.

Having given their proposition a number, they sat down to figure out what should be done with the money. Unfortunately, a number of schools of thought developed, and so 25 separate proposals were made. Each one was assigned a letter of the alphabet.

401(a) This proposal was named after representative Aaron A. Altamount, (R-IA) who spent three hours each day trying to convince Congress that the money should be invested into a pyramid scheme. His logic was that everyone benefits once they’re all members, and then we could help developing nations by getting them to join. The letter “a” was assigned as a joke, as representative Wayne Karrigan (D-VT) said “Let’s call it A not because it’s [Altamount’s] initial, but because he has a big, fat ass!”

401(b)itchslap All of your money is spent paying Mr. T. to personally bitchslap banking managers until they agree to raise the interest rates for savings accounts, and give free toasters to the masses.

401(c)rack All of your money is given to the CIA, who then buys all of the crack cocaine available on the streets. After it is held in their impound building for a few weeks, demand will skyrocket, allowing them to earn large returns on your investment by putting it back on the streets at higher prices.

401(d)ance, slave monkey, DANCE! Your money is spent on training a personal slave monkey to dance on your command. Not very practical, but a lot of fun.

401(e)rotic All of your money is invested in the adult entertainment industry, because hey, that’s one area of the economy that’s guaranteed to do well no matter what the NASDAQ says. Plus, the quarterly reports are a LOT more interesting.

401(f) All of your money is systematically put in brown paper bags, and then buried in a government artillery range, and any maps leading to it are discarded. If you can find it without getting shelled, it's yours tax-free. Otherwise, you're fucked.

401(g)ummy All of your money is spent on gummy bears, which are then consumed by one sixth grader. The insulin generated in his body is painfully harvested and sold to pharmaceutical companies for a return on your investment.

401(h)ormone Your money is spent on the hormone therapy, radical reconstructive surgery, and mascara necessary to give you a complete sex change. Then, you can earn twice what you had been saving for years in a matter of hours as you turn to a life of specialty prostitution.

401(i)nvasion Your money is used to finance the U.S. military’s invasion of Canada. Then, depending on the particular amount of contribution, you will be assigned seized lands, personal property, and actual Canadians who must spend the rest of their lives in servitude to you.

401(j) Your money is spent on securing a command performance of J.J. Russell in your home (“Dyn-o-mite!”), because the man who has laughter is very rich indeed.

401(k) Named after Senator Charles “Special K” MacStevenson, (R-MA) who said, “Hey, it’s their fucking money. Why don’t we let THEM decide what they want to do with it? Am I right, people?” Congress left it in for laughs, and had no idea how popular it would later become.

401(l)egal fees Your money is used to keep a lawyer on retainer, because by the time you’ve retired, at least one person will have tried to sue you for money because of something you’ve done. Or didn’t do. Or said. Or didn’t say. Or thought. Or implied.

401(m)armosets Because everyone loves marmosets. Especially when you pay them to frolic.

401(n)uclear deterrent All of your money is used to further develop America’s nuclear arsenal. By the time you’re ready to retire, the radiation leaking from the warheads has either killed you or mutated you into something tough enough to hold your job until you die.

401(o) was never made into an actual plan as far as anyone knows. Congress couldn’t get their mind out of the gutter for the five minutes it would take to come up with a viable plan for the letter, they’d just snicker and make dirty jokes. Finally, when asked to put something on paper, Senator Mark Herrickton (D-AZ) said, “Hey, we’ve got something planned for the money.” Then, before collapsing into guffaws, he squealed, “DON’T BLOW AN O-RING!”

401(p)resident All of your money is placed in the private bank account of a bank president, who then spends it all on booze, drugs, and expensive mistresses. Hell, you’ll never save up enough money to live that kind of lifestyle, so won’t you sleep easier knowing that someone will?

401(q)uality financial planning Ultimately, this plan was rejected as being more than you deserve.

401(r)obot butlers Your money is used to develop the automatic robot butler, with a power source that doesn’t need recharging. He’ll cook, clean, and even iron your shorts as you life the life of tomorrow’s retired millionaire, TODAY!

401(s)hakespeare All of your money is invested in Hollywood productions of modern-day adaptations of William Shakespeare’s plays. The logic behind this was, “Sure, everything before now was a bomb, but that just means that their time is due!” Most of this money will be paid to Julia Styles.

401(t)urner and hooch Besides being a great movie, it hasn’t reached total global market saturation yet. That’s why under this plan, your money is used on a showy marketing blitz, to bring this heartwarming comedy of canine films and mismatched police partners to nations like Paraguay, Uzbekistan, and the former territories of Yugoslavia. Because once they get a taste, they’ll be screaming for more.

401(u)nderground bunkers This was offered as a bit of a compromise between 401(n) and 401(i). Your money is spent on an enormous series of underground bunkers that span the entire country. Then, our weapons of mass destruction are used to sterilize the entire planet. The looting and pillaging in the aftermath will allow you to live in the comfort you so richly deserve, you warmongering bastard.

401(v)iolent combat All of the money you save is put into a pool with all of the money that everyone else your age is saving. Then, you all retire at the same time, and have to engage in a violent, winner-take-all deathmatch. There can be only one. Per age group.

401(w)et tee-shirt contests All of your money is spent by members of congress on travel, entertainment, fancy shoes, and haircuts. With the remaining $20 left in the fund by the time your retirement rolls around, they pay a bunch of homeless people to enter a wet tee-shirt contest in the hopes that it will distract you. And hey, a little water never hurt the homeless, did it?

401e(x)ploration Your money is spent on space exploration, in the hopes that mankind can contact an intelligent alien race who can show us an economic model which allows honest people to keep their money, and gives scheming hucksters a swift boot to the groin.

401(y)outh Your money is spent on the research and development of a serum which reverses the effect of aging. This way you can make yourself young again and start your career a little farther up the ladder, repeating as necessary until you can save up enough for a comfortable old age, somewhere around three thousand years from now.

401Free(z)e Your money is put into a bank account, and then you are cryogenically frozen on the day you retire. At a predetermined date, you will be thawed, and can live comfortably off of the billions of dollars that your account has earned in compound interest.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Backing into your dreams

The most effective goal setting happens in reverse, when you pick what you want and work backwards to see how you can get there. It's easiest to tackle your biggest goals in baby steps, and working back from the finish line helps you step in the right direction. I map things out in writing.

For example, it has been a lifelong dream of mine to meet Bruce Campbell, so I can start by writing that down ("MEET BRUCE CAMPBELL"). I can meet him by luring him out of his palatial Hollywood mansion with the smell of a delicious, fresh-baked pie, so I would write "BAKE A PIE" under "MEET BRUCE CAMPBELL." The logically preceding step would be "LEARN HOW TO BAKE," although I shouldn't forget to include "LEARN BRUCE CAMPBELL'S FAVORITE TYPE OF PIE," and "FIND OUT WHERE BRUCE CAMPBELL LIVES," which should all be listed as steps towards our eventual meeting. I'm done once I have worked my way back to the point I'm at now, which is ignorant of Bruce's address (and pie preferences) and unable to bake (but full of ambition). Then I have a roadmap that I can follow upwards to realize my dreams.

This method also works to encourage parallel thinking and to recognize more than one way to reach a goal. For example, I don't need to bake a pie, as long as I have something that looks like a pie ("BUILD FAKE PIE") along with a way to simulate that new-pie smell ("GENERATE EXCITING SMELLS"). This is great because once I have laid out all of my options I can choose which ones will take the least amount of work for maximum efficiency. I can also work on multiple strategies so that I have backup plans if something doesn't turn out the way it's supposed to ("RENT PIE COSTUME").

However, problems arise at the two extremes of the creativity spectrum: the unimaginative and the insane. Unimaginative people may scoff at my goal of bringing the dead back to life, calling it a crime against God and nature. However, neither of these obstacles are insurmountable. A figurative definition of “dead” allows me to work miracles (CONVINCE NETWORK TO RESUME “ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY JR” SERIES) or facsimiles thereof (BUY “ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY JR” DVDS). A little imagination makes it easy to publish that memoir by your cat, as long as you're flexible on the definitions of "memoir," "cat," and "publish."

Far more challenging are the goals that can not (or should not) be attempted. People could waste their entire lives trying to eat braised leprechaun calves, and that's not even a goal that wastes the lives of others. All it takes is one person going about the courtship of Jodie Foster the wrong way to ruin things for everyone.

That's why there is something to be said for having your plans reviewed by a third party. The internet, the yellow pages, or even the line at the unemployment office are all excellent places to find one of the hundreds of thousands of professional coaches out there who will help you develop a plan of action in exchange for money (or in some cases, a hot meal). A coach can align your goals with more realistic and achievable expectations, like helping you realize that turning milk into yogurt can be as personally rewarding as converting mass into energy.

Whether you are working backwards on your own or with assistance, the method helps not only to reach your goal, but for seeing if your goal is worth reaching. Why spend 12 years teaching a cat to play the banjo when it won't even put you on the cover of Cat Fancy magazine? After a thorough examination of your objectives and priorities, you may find that you can set the bar for your goals so low that you accomplish something by doing almost nothing at all ("MEET SOMEONE NAMED BRUCE").