The Inspiring Story of Gina
publication date: May 5, 2009
On March 3, 2009 I got a lengthy email from a reader. At the time, the stock market was continuing its sharp slide and the Dow had fallen below 7,000 a level not seen for more than 12 years. The daily news seemed to be growing more and more depressing and winter was still going strong. I'm usually an optimistic person but this period was especially challenging. I've never seen so many people so stressed over the economy, financial markets and news reports.
Below is an excerpt, reprinted with Gina's permission, of Gina's kind and insightful note to me (please make note of her reaction at the time to the Dow sagging to 7,000). I hope you enjoy it. In the introduction to her note, Gina said, "I respectfully borrowed the title from your vignette ‘the Inspiring Story of Reuben' which appeared in Personal Finance for Dummies circa 1994 edition."
The Inspiring Story of Gina
Gina grew up in the outskirts of Boston, Massachusetts in the 70's with her four older sisters ---- after her upper middle-class family had lost everything due to her chemist father's 1972 layoff from Polaroid combined with a severely dysfunctional family situation. Gina and her sisters lived in "suburban poverty" moving from motel to motel, staying with relatives, strangers, and one evening in 1976 a bus stop in Cambridge, not having enough to eat -- splitting a can of Beefaroni seven ways including the dog -- sneaking into school systems since the family had no legal address and therefore no right to attend any public school.
Gina's introduction to personal finance and "money management" was more flawed than one of Dr. Phil's audience members. In simple slang, Gina was "clueless." Her mother's financial advise was so bad during Gina's college years (made possible by borrowing every dollar from every conceivable source) her mom would actually say things like "for heaven sake just use your credit card....YOU can afford $10 a month!" ....a memory which made Eric Tyson's section heading in his book Personal Finance For Dummies "Blame it on your Parents" particularly validating.
By 1994 Gina held over $10,000 in credit card debt (and remember, that was in 1994!), multiple student loans, a car loan, a bill from the Social Security Administration-which agency claimed her mother unscrupulously collected death benefits for her deceased father in Gina's name during the early 1980's-benefits to which her mother was not entitled--dead husband or no dead husband (and SOMEONE was going to pay the government back, by golly -- since her mother threw away the letters, the government eventually found Gina and insist SHE pay it back). Gina's job entailed supporting evil salespeople who swore, screamed, and threw objects at her head; and to this day Gina would swear their "business ventures" weren't even legal. She came home crying every night, and felt nauseous every morning upon hearing the alarm ring. And her financial abyss seemed inescapable.
Finally one freezing snowy morning in April of 1994, while digging her car out of the snow in the pitch black so she could get to her job which she hated, she suddenly thought to herself, "You know, I could have a job that I hate and NOT be digging my car out of the snow at 4:30 a.m. in April....I could have a crummy job and be going to the beach...." In that very moment Gina decided she would make plans to move to San Francisco by Labor Day 1994.
And she did. She packed the stuffed animals in the car, sold everything that wouldn't fit, shipped her books, and drove across the country -- with no money, no job, no housing, and over $10K in credit card debt.
Once settled and working in her dream city of San Francisco, Gina had had enough -- enough of this financial ignorance, enough of this financial suffering, enough of being utterly clueless and helpless when it came to personal finance.
As fate would have it, Gina stumbled across Eric Tyson's Personal Finance For Dummies, read it cover to cover, savoring every word, drinking in the knowledge, and laughing hysterically at the delightful humor: this Phi Beta Kappa Humanities student had no idea finances could be so much fun, that such a book could be a joy to read.
Within one year Gina was completely debt-free; she had opened an IRA and began funding it voraciously. Gina soon read Eric Tyson's Investing For Dummies and started to get the hang of various financial products.... no magic involved, just steady earning, saving, and living within one's means...
Fast-forward to February 2009: Gina is most proud of her utterly "pimped out" IRA's--- her number one rule is to max out any available 401K's and always her IRA. She took to heart the simple 100 minus your age rule (or 120 minus your age for her aggressive attitude) in building a solid, diversified unglamorous portfolio of Vanguard's mutual funds (and a couple Fidelity thrown in there) for a nice 60/40 US/International split , 50% Active/50% Index. She loves to read Eric's books and relishes every payday, when she can sock a nice portion of funds into some nice, wholesome, long-term vehicle.
Like Reuben, Gina has never had a job paying over $40,000 per year -- currently makes $35K per year and makes many lifestyle choices to support her goal of saving and "building wealth slowly." She ignores the soothsayers, the minutiae, the daily gyrations and frankly is shocked at people's knee-jerk reactions to "the market." When most folks are "doom and gloom" right now, Gina watches the news and thinks "Omigosh the Dow's at 7000....what a buying opportunity!!" Slow and steady, calm and sensible, paycheck by paycheck, Gina enjoys "building wealth" and believes there is no magic to it at all: the secret is, there is no secret.
And it all changed the day she picked up Eric Tyson's Personal Finance For Dummies. How someone so bad with money could get a clue and get it together is all due to Mr. Tyson's teachings.
Thanks, Eric. It sounds corny, but your book changed my life.