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Battle Royale

Battle royale with AT&T yesterday, one of my least favorite companies (because it’s always like this with them). Since we are all now working from home, I had switched our business account from a landline to a “remote only” account with just a SIM card and calls forwarded to our office manager’s home. I was really happy to get this type of account since it is only $45/month as opposed to the $200/month we had been paying for several landlines. Suddenly yesterday our office phone number stopped working completely, I guessed because we had been switched to the new system but our line was not forwarded yet. This was a bad situation because we receive much of our revenue over the phone. 
 
I called AT&T to try to find out what was going on. However they would not talk to me without the account number (which I did not have, because they apparently switched our account to a new account number, and none of the emails from them contained it) or the serial number from the SIM card (which I had not received).  I tried to gain online access to our account, so I could get the account number, but their system would not allow me to register online and told me to call them. They switched me back and forth between departments for literally hours. No amount of explaining or threatening on my part helped. 
 
Finally they told me to go to an AT&T store to get a SIM card. This jibed with what I had concluded during the unhappy time when Mike and I were AT&T U-Verse customers – you will waste hours of time trying to accomplish anything over the phone, and the only way to get any service from AT&T is to go to their store (a large one, not a small one, where you will similarly get no service).  I was incredulous that it had come to this, since I am convalescing and can barely walk, even with crutches. So Mike borrowed my mother’s wheelchair and took me out for the first time since my surgery to the AT&T store. I learned how to go up and down stairs on crutches, as this was necessary to get to the car. 
 
At the store, after waiting, of course, with my injured foot elevated onto one of their chairs, they tried to convince us that I could not possibly have a remote-only account, they do not exist, I had to have a cellphone attached to the account, etc. This is a company where the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, to an extreme. They finally did produce a SIM card. A helpful employee did a workaround by inserting the SIM card into one of their phones and forwarding our business line to the employee’s home. Problem solved – six hours later. Though I still have no online access to our account and cannot manage it. The store folks said they would have a business representative call me … we’ll see if that happens. But just grateful our phone is working.

 

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Good-Bye, Suite 404

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Spent the day cleaning out my father’s office. What got me inwardly weeping was having to recycle the simple tools of his trade. My dad was a technical stock market analyst, one of the originators of that whole field. The tools of his trade were chart paper of many different sizes and grid types, his T-squares with which he drew the charts, the rubber cement with which he glued stuff together, pencils, erasers and drafting tools.

He published a newsletter, originally every 10 days, then lengthening it to every three weeks, but then with the advent of the internet, he went the other way and began publishing daily. He loved to write, and freed from the labor of having to mail out his writing, he relished the ability to publish his thoughts daily.

But he also continued to mail his every-three-weeks letter to those who preferred to read a paper copy. The tools of that trade were envelopes – tons of envelopes, renewal notices in a different color for every month of the year, a huge Pitney-Bowes postage meter, all kinds of “first class,” “air mail” and many other ink stamps and post office paraphernalia.

He also started selling his charts, and developed a brisk business in two of them. One was a large, odd-sized 11×15 inch chart book, one page for each year, from 1885 to the present. Each page charted the Dow Jones Industrial, Transportation and Utilities Averages, Treasury bonds and volume. Each year we produced a new page that customers would buy to add to their book. These pages also briefly described the major financial events of the year, with text inserted alongside the graphs.

When I came onboard four years ago, I updated us to producing the charts using Excel for the graphs rather than hand-drawing, and Adobe In-Design for the layout, rather than literally cutting and pasting in typewritten sentences. I initially panicked when it fell upon me to write those sentences with the financial events of the year, and I searched the internet for year-in-review articles. However I found that I always remembered more of the events than I thought I would, and it became a fun and useful intellectual challenge to create this condensed list. Last year would certainly contain the crash in oil prices …

And then there were the books, hundreds of them. The ones he treasured most were early editions by his heroes, the developers of the Dow Theory, Robert Rhea, William Hamilton and E George Shaeffer. He had dozens of books on other favorite topics: gold and precious metals, the Fed (hatred of), methods for trading stocks, the history of Wall Street. Also many books by Louise Haye and Emmet Fox, emblematic of the spiritual journey of his later years.

Then there were the relics of the legal life of his business – the Articles of Incorporation of Dow Theory Letters, and years of corporate minutes, which he had bound into books.

Then I started reflecting on his different offices. When we moved from New York to California when I was five, he opened an office on 60th St. and El Cajon Blvd. I remember being there one day, which was unusual, and the plan was for me to help out. I was afraid my dad would want me to fold his newsletter into thirds to go into envelopes, which I didn’t think I could do, being all of maybe eight years old. Fortunately he did not expect this of me, and I think I spent the day drawing.

When we moved to La Jolla when I was 11, he got a second story office above a precious metals dealer, where he remained for many years. I don’t know what happened between him and the proprietor, but it must not have been good, as they never did business together, and I never heard him mention him!

Later he moved his office to a small house on Torrey Pines Rd., where both he and I lived for a short time after my parents were divorced. Next he moved the office to Prospect St., next to Morgan Stanley, where he had his accounts. Finally the rent became too high and he moved his office to its last location on Fay Ave. Interesting location since his third wife’s name was Faye.

Concurrent with all of this, and quite fortuitously, I have been reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a profound book by a Japanese woman who obsessively devoted her life, from the age of five, to tidying up – reducing the number of her possessions and organizing them impeccably, so that she could then enjoy the rest of her life in an atmosphere of beauty and tranquility.

Her message is to first vastly reduce the number of your possessions, keeping only those that spark a feeling of joy within you. Then you can easily organize them in a simple manner. Toward the end of the book, she goes on an unexpected tangent. She believes our possessions have spirits of their own, and thinks we should continually thank our clothes, handbags, and the other tools of our lives for their devoted service to us! This is such a beautiful way to look at life, and so completely describes the way I am feeling today. So here goes, starting with the people involved.

Thank you, Dad, for your devoted study of the stock market, and your study of all of life. My dad read for several hours each day – mostly magazines of all types – and I was always envious that he got to do that. But his reading allowed him to write not just about the stock market, but about everything that interested him – psychology, society, politics, the arts, popular culture, fashion, high-end auctions, sexuality – and his multifaceted writing was what kept people subscribing and reading him for decades, and from one generation to the next. I can hardly count the number of emails he received which stated, “I never met Richard, but I felt like he was one of my best friends …;

Thank you, Dad, for writing literally every day of your life, up until about a week before you died, when you went onto hospice and could no longer even move or speak.

Thank you, Dad’s secretaries and office managers, who organized his life so he could devote himself to his writing, who created instruction manuals for the many tasks involved in publishing his letters and charts, and later for posting his writings and charts to his website. Thank you for assembling all the supplies involved in publishing and shipping, which I am feeling so nostalgic in releasing to the universe (in the form of Goodwill!) today.

Thank you to our office – the three humble rooms, but with balconies and fresh air for each room, in which I have spent many a pleasant hour and day.

Thank you, desks – old and worn but solid wood – and the comfortable mesh office chairs that supported my dad and all the ladies who supported his efforts …

Thank you microwave, toaster oven, mini-refrigerator, water cooler, cupboard of teas, paper plates, eating utensils … all of which supported a comfortable daily life for those who had the pleasure of working at Dow Theory Letters for the humane stretch of six hours each day …

Thank you, lateral file cabinets, whole walls of them, matching putty-colored metal, which contained the lifeblood of a business, the records of subscribers, accounting, purchases, marketing, employment records, photographs, and a thousand other things.

Thank you, computers, monitors, printers, in-office servers, for your all-important work as the stewards of the intellectual content of almost 60 years of writing …

Thank you, equipment – the 24-pin dot matrix printer and Pitney Bowes postage machine that allowed office staff to print their own labels and send out their own renewal notices, a task that never ended … thank you adding machine and tape used to calculate the Advance-Decline ratio …

Thank you, binders, of office procedures, subscriber lists, renewal rates, and so much more.

Thank you, custom chart book binders, chart pages, custom shipping boxes, bubble wrap, cardboard mailing tubes for the pages; all the supplies involved in producing and shipping the chart books and chart pages.

Thank you, huge drawers of office supplies – pens, markers, paper clips, rubber bands, batteries, post-its, and countless other things.

Thank you, Goodwill, to which I have taken 18 boxes of documents so far, to be disposed of via your shredding service, also knowing I am helping people to be employed …

Thank you, new tenants to our suite. It worked out that exactly when we were ready to depart (actually a bit before, which has made things challenging) someone finally wanted to sublet our place. Serendipitously, this is a man who was in the stock market business for 25 years, but then he lost a son to addiction, and decided to change course. He went back to school, got a Ph.D. in psychology, and now runs addiction recovery groups. His practice has been growing so that he is ready to relocate from his one-room office on the fifth floor to our three-room suite on the fourth floor.

Perhaps most importantly, thank you for the honor and privilege of running my father’s business for his final four years. I was challenged a lot, made a lot of mistakes, and learned a whole lot. It was all so intense that it seems like a blur.

And lastly thank you to myself, for being willing to jump into something I knew little about, make it my life, support my father, and do the best I could with it. I brought on other writers who complemented my father’s outlook to create a Dow Theory team. The business is still going, and is a tribute to a bold and inquisitive man who wrote honestly and from his heart, whose candid observations on the stock market, the arts and his own life and spiritual journey enriched the lives of thousands of people around the globe for almost 60 years.

Social Security Saga

1/14/16

Today I had to go to the social security office downtown. The last time I went, ten or twenty years ago, was such a horrific experience that it is permanently etched in my mind. I was carrying a Swiss army knife my dad had given me in my purse, as I always did. I had to go through a metal detector, and was told to get rid of my knife. Of course it wasn’t as if they had a locker or were willing to keep it for me or be helpful in any way whatsoever, so this entailed walking several blocks to my car and then back. I must have said something in a frustrated tone of voice, and the rude and ill-willed employee accused me of threatening her (ridiculous!) and called a security guard to forcibly eject me from the building! So I was not looking forward to my appointment today.

I showed up to the scene of a long line of broken-down looking people in the front. However I was amazed at how nice, positive and helpful all the employees were. The uniformed guard in the front said to each person, “Go to this lovely man at desk ___, and then to window ___” … really going out of his way to create a positive tone. Another uniformed guard who was dealing with a large man babbling crazily the whole time I was there was calm and kind. The woman who took my appointment was helpful. What a change! Are people receiving better training (I think so)? Did the complaint I filed about the woman ten or twenty years ago have an effect (probably not, but perhaps many people filed such complaints). Some accuse Americans of being “superficially nice,” but I sure appreciate it!

 

1/22/16

My morning with social security. I am taking over the affairs of my mother with Alzheimer’s and my autistic sister, with the social security administration. I had a phone call scheduled at noon with “Susan,” the social security person who is handling our case. So I went to the county courthouse this morning to try to dig up some conservatorship records that are needed to process this case.

I struggled to use the microfilm reader to locate her case records and copy them. Of course not being an attorney, it was difficult for me to sort through 30 pages of legalese records and know which ones to copy. I could not find the page with the judge’s signature, and started to get panicky, worried that I would not get home in time for my phone appointment.

This is a critical matter, since you cannot call social security workers nor can you email them. All you can do is receive calls at prearranged times, go there in person or fax them, and I don’t even have a home fax. Finally I remembered that I had actually passed the social security office in walking the eight blocks from my parking space to the courthouse, so I thought – I will just walk to the office and talk to Susan in person rather than the phone call! Problem solved! Of course a little voice told me that changing a single detail within a rigid bureaucracy might not work …

Meanwhile there was an atmosphere of desperation at the courthouse records department, as I was not the only one there on a social security mission … the lifeline for many people … and it was hard to get much help. As I finally gave up and went to pay for my copies without the judge’s signature, the clerk took pity on me and helped me locate the correct pages. I copied them and walked quickly to the social security office, getting there 15 minutes before my scheduled appointment.

Daria (to uniformed officer): I have a phone appointment at noon, but I won’t be able to get home in time because I was at the county courthouse getting some documents I need for the meeting. So I would like to meet with “Susan” in person instead of over the phone, if you could let her know that I am here.

Officer: We don’t deliver any messages. You’ll have to take a number, sit down, and when they call you to the window, they can let her know.

Daria: How long a wait is it?

Officer: About 40 minutes.

Daria: Then that won’t work! The time for my appointment will have passed!

Officer: Well that’s how we do things. Have a nice day!

I resisted saying, “That’s unlikely, due to you, asshole,” and took off at a run, despite my sprained ankle and the fact that I have not been able to run in months. I sprinted the several blocks to my car, and by the time I got there had exactly eight minutes to get from downtown to Mission Hills. So I took off like a bat outta hell, as my father used to say. I called our roommate and told him, “I’m expecting a really important call. Could you pick up the home phone if it rings, and say, “just a minute, I’ll get her,” and I’ll be home by then.

I got home at 12:01 and Susan did not call until 12:10. I told her about my attempt to meet with her in person, and she said, “You could have just dropped the papers in the express box!” Yeah, as if I knew about the express box or had time. Maybe next time, only I pray there will not be a next time.

Let ‘er Rip – NOT!

7/7/14

Yesterday I got up and it was sweltering. So I decided to go to the beach and jump in the ocean. I haven’t done that yet this summer, and thought perhaps I could get a parking spot if I went early enough.

So I took off for Ocean Beach at 7:45 am. The parking lot was half empty, which was awesome! As I walked toward the ocean I looked to see if there were flags to indicate the swim zone, but did not see any. I also looked for lifeguards and did not see any of them either. There were many surfers in the ocean all along the shore. So I went in the ocean, which felt pretty cold … as far as I could without getting my hair wet. Then I came out and started walking to my car. But as I reached the sea wall I decided I felt incomplete – I would need to shower anyway, why not get my hair wet?

So I headed back into the ocean. This time it was easy to adjust to the water temperature. As I went out, I felt the ocean pulling at me, strongly – out to sea! Could this be a rip tide? As I felt myself being pulled, I realized my feet could not touch the ocean floor any longer. This was not my plan! Time to get back to shore immediately. But I could still feel the tide pulling, pulling – what incredible power!

I decided – This is the day I become a body surfer! Maybe this was why this happened! I tried to catch every wave going in and let it carry me. I didn’t feel I was making much progress at all, but finally I could feel the ocean floor again. I dug in with my toes and tried to resist that relentlessly current snatching me out to sea.

Finally I was walking in to the shore – still fighting the current – and saw a lifeguard in a jeep on the beach. I was planning to say to her – That was scary! There is a powerful rip tide out there!

But she beat me to it! “If you want to keep swimming, you want to go beyond these jetties, because there’s a powerful rip tide out there today,” she said. “It will pull you all the way out there.”

“No kidding,” I replied. “That was scary!”

“I was coming to get you,” she said. That was a relief. I knew when I was out in the ocean that I would not die, because there were so many surfers. And I knew that to get out of a rip tide, you swim parallel to the shore until you get beyond it. But that would be a lot of swimming. I knew that if I called for help, hopefully one of the surfers would get me in to shore. But the embarrassment of a rescue operation was definitely not something I wanted. So I was grateful to learn that there was a lifeguard, and even more grateful that I had not needed one!

  • Laser hair removal – being hairy used to ruin my life
  • Cut & paste in word processing programs – I used to type a paper, cut it into pieces by paragraph, rearrange the paragraphs, retype it, and repeat – kids today don’t know how good they have it!
  • Online reviews – Amazon started it all – a genuine revolution
  • Yelp – has brought accountability to most businesses
  • Internet, websites – endless source of fascination and learning
  • Blenders and vacuums with sufficient power – hooray for things that actually work!
  • Books on CD and downloads – Audible – allows me to “read” vastly more than I could otherwise
  • List & outline app (Omnifocus) – bliss for a list maniac like me
  • Budgeting / tracking spending website (LearnVest) – I finally feel like my financial life is under control!
  • Online banking, credit card management, bill-pay – life is so much easier
  • Real estate management websites – ClearNow, EZ Landlord Forms, Rentometer, Zillow – could not manage real estate without these
  • Navigation – such relief for a directionally challenged person such as myself
  • Email – such a great way to communicate for those of us who tend to avoid phone calls
  • Cell phones and texting – used to simply not be in touch as much

Last weekend, Mike and I attended our middle son Jake’s graduation from UCLA. To begin with, it never occurred to me that he would participate in this commencement at all, since he is lacking five classes that he needs to graduate, and has not even declared a major yet! But that is apparently how things are done these days. Jake was happy to get to “walk” in the commencement with his friends from the last four years.

Jake had invited us to this commencement at the last minute, a week or so before it happened. Of course we told him we wouldn’t miss it for the world. We were already scheduled to go to San Luis Obispo that weekend to move our daughter, Nina, a freshman at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (SLO) home to San Diego for the summer.

So Mike and I took off in our old Toyota Previa van, with 260,000 miles on it, bound for SLO, six hours away. We said a prayer that our car would hold together for yet another trip. Our plan was to leave early, load Nina’s stuff after we got there, and spend the night at Morro Bay. The next day we would drive to LA (midway between SLO and San Diego) and attend Jake’s graduation.

Mike drove most of the way, while I finished reading a fascinating investing book. Along the way, we discovered that since we were not in our usual cars (this van is usually loaned to my mom’s caretaker), we were lacking a number of essentials that we usually keep in our cars: sunglasses, iPhone charger and Kleenex, to name a few. There were some very ugly sunglasses that my mother’s caretaker had left in the car, so I got to wear those, and luckily he had left some napkins in the car. Mike made jokes about how we looked like the Clampetts, and we sang the theme song from The Beverly Hillbillies. I remembered all the words!

We got there around 6 pm, and decided we were too tired to move stuff, so we would just go to dinner. Last time we went to SLO we also stayed at Morro Bay, a cute little seaside town 15 minutes away that I fell in love with. It has a waterfront with boats and seafood restaurants, and is like a miniature version of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. I had been waiting ever since that time to go back with the fam and eat at one of those restaurants again!

As we drove to Morro Bay, Nina looked at restaurant reviews on Yelp on her iPhone (our kids will not eat anywhere, ever without consulting Yelp), and chose a place called Tognazzini’s. We got there and all loved the look and feel and menu. We got our clam chowders, fish & chips and shrimp linguini and started to eat, but soon Nina started talking woefully and then burst into tears! Here I had thought she was doing wonderfully in college, but I guess she was only telling me half the story.

She sobbed that she didn’t have enough friends, Cal Poly was very white-bread and conformist, she felt she didn’t fit in, her department was mediocre, and she didn’t even know if she wanted to go back there. The dam had burst and she sobbed out all her frustrations. She was also mad at me for not calling her enough. I sympathized with her situation and feelings, but also told her I’d had enough of her accusing me of not calling her. I raised my voice a bit when I told her that if she wants to talk to me, pick up the phone!

Next a stranger approached our table and said, “I can see you’re going through a hard time here, but we are trying to enjoy our dinner at the table behind you, and could you keep it down?” Our jaws dropped and I don’t think we even answered him.

We continued our conversation, with an added topic – this jerk! I could think of a few choice things to say to him. Such as that restaurants are typically loud (my main pet peeve with restaurants), and we were not even being very loud, and who in the hell would say that to a sobbing teenaged girl and her struggling family? Someone with a hollow life?

After five minutes I managed to reframe my angry thoughts into something positive and self-affirming and marched to his table. I told this man, his wife, teenaged son and someone else, “Since you felt free to interrupt our meal, I have a few things I would like to say to you. I am really happy and grateful that I have a family who is honest with each other, that we can have deep conversations, and that we express our feelings to each other. It’s too bad this was so disturbing to you …” His wife smiled and said, “Oh, we totally understand, we just needed you to dial it down a notch.” She actually seemed so nice that I just said, “Okay,” shrugged and left. Our daughter thanked me for doing something. It had just felt like an attack that required a response.

Next we retired to the quirky “Masterpiece Hotel” (“Each Room a Masterpiece!”) hung with various works of art, telling Nina we would be at her place at 7 am.

The next morning, Mike’s alarm rang at 6 am and I told him – go back to bed, get some sleep, we’re on vacation! So we got to Nina’s dorm around 8:30.

We loaded the van and Nina’s car with two dressers and an unbelievable number of boxes and bags of clothes somehow acquired by our “clotheshorse” daughter. I thanked god that she did not attend college anywhere that was a plane ride away.

We drove to LA, using Google Maps on my phone for guidance. The route was pretty much Highway 101, but after some time, Google Maps wanted us to turn off on state 154. “Ignore it,” Mike said. Then he got tired so I took over driving, right before the 154 turnoff. “I want to try it,” I told him, thinking it would shave a bit of time off the somewhat winding Highway 101. And okay, I have a taste for trying new things.

So I turned onto the 154, and immediately could see that it was a two-lane highway; actually not what I would call a highway at all. Oh well, Google Maps must have told us to turn here for a reason, right? We drove past large estates with horses, which I was excited to see, being a horse nut. Yet another part of California that I never knew existed … just north of Santa Barbara.

Then the road started taking us uphill, and the hills became mountains. It was beautiful – the Cleveland Forest with thick stands of pine trees – but then there were drops of thousands of feet on either side of us, and this was taking a long time. What the f___?

Mike was periodically yelling at me for my folly, and texting Nina, DON’T TAKE THE 154. That was before both our cell phones went dead, with no car charger — no more Google Maps. But I was enjoying seeing a new route, grateful it was not quite as scary as the mountain roads in Yosemite, cursing Google Maps, and remembering to never take this route again …

Finally we were back to the 101, which was choked with traffic. We inched toward Los Angeles at 4 pm on a Friday, bummer. After hours, we arrived at Jake’s apartment to pick up the parking passes for commencement. He did not seem to want me to go inside. I went inside anyway, since he was in the shower, and saw a male figure sleeping on the couch (always), towers of empty beer bottles in the living room, more in the hall, stacks of dirty dishes in the kitchen. So what did I do? Took photos! I had the urge to “document his lifestyle” …

We managed to get to our hotel and change, navigate the college maze and park, and arrive at the commencement almost on time. It was in Pauly Pavilion, venue of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, with Wooden’s statue outside, hung with banners of some of his sayings. “Make each day your masterpiece.” “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” We were treated to some speeches, and watched most of it on a huge monitor hanging in the middle of the stadium, which wasn’t bad. The one speech I remember was the chancellor saying that no one ever remembers commencement speeches, so he had decided to highlight a few students instead. He described two African American students and an Asian student who had overcome a lot of obstacles to attend college and were doing a lot to give back to the community.

Afterward, our daughter asked me what I thought of the proceedings. I told her – “Well, commencements are notoriously boring, almost like torture. So they were trying to do something different, which was good. But it was the usual politically correct garbage. What about profiling a white kid who has busted his ass his whole life to get into UCLA, put up with the unbelievable obstacle course that a UCLA education is these days, and has made it to graduation? It was an insult to us.” She said “Yeah, I thought it was shocking, but I just never know what to think.” I told her, “Yeah, it’s hard to know what to think … the world is full of propaganda from all sides … and this is just my reaction. Everyone is trying …”

The next morning we went to the School of Psychology commencement (Jake is getting his BS in Cognitive Science, a “newfangled” major that includes classes in psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, computer science and more). There was one really funny speech by a professor that I wish I could reprint, and a great speech by a student. Then they called all the students by name for their diplomas. I would say that 75% of the names were Asian, and there were small smatterings of Hispanic, Indian, Iranian and European names. I can tell you that “John Smith” is dead. Nothing remotely like that. But gotta love those Asians for the work ethic and drive that has gotten them so far …

Our poor daughter was again puzzled. Where were people like us? I explained to her, “Rich people and poor people (on scholarship) attend private colleges. The middle class can’t, for the most part.” We discussed how public colleges have changed so vastly from the time that Mike and I graduated from San Diego State. California colleges used to get 75% of their funding from the state, and now they get only 10%. Why? Perhaps a research project for a future column. Fees used to be a few hundred dollars a year and now they are $12,000. Way more than the rate of inflation. Why? Public colleges now must seek every international student they can get, since they pay out of state tuition that is vastly higher than local kids. The new PC mantra is that every kid should attend college, which gets a lot of airtime, while others (including me, a former teacher) think it is misguided.

Mike perhaps summed it up best when he said, “China doesn’t need to invade us. They’ve already conquered us.”

I wish this book had a different name, because it is about the money! That being said, this is one of the most profound, wisdom-packed, life-changing books I have ever read. I would have called it “The Eight Financial Archetypes and How They Affect Your Life and Key Relationships.”

I found this book due to family struggles. Of our three kids, the youngest, our 18-year-old daughter is quite the spender, while I am the maven of thrift. This has made for endless conflict between my daughter and me. Since she will leave for college in a couple of months, I had been doing everything in my power to heal the rifts between us. A thought finally entered my mind – maybe I should not be looking at money management in terms of right and wrong – maybe people simply have different styles in how they deal with money.

A few days later, the minister at the Science of Mind church we attend announced a new class based on the book, It’s Not About the Money, and people’s different patterns in how they deal with money. I knew I had to attend!

It’s Not about the Money is written by Brent Kessel, cofounder of Abacus Wealth, and one of the top wealth managers in the country. Kessel has a Jewish background but has been studying and practicing yoga and meditation extensively for over 20 years. This is reflected in the book, which is filled with viewpoints and quotations from both western and eastern religions, and advice based on Buddhist and yogic principles. It is some of the best therapeutic and spiritual advice I’ve heard anywhere.

The core of the book concerns what he has identified as the eight financial archetypes, and their tendencies, gifts and pitfalls. Although each of us is primarily one (or more) archetype, Kessel believes all the archetypes have something to teach us, and we should ideally contain elements of them all.

Another of the book’s most helpful concepts is that of the “Core Story,” formed when we are very young, and composed of our deepest beliefs and expectations concerning money. The purpose of this Core Story is to protect us from pain and suffering. However, unless examined, it controls our unconscious and our lives. No matter how much we might want to get ahead and get our financial house in order, we will keep gravitating back to and recreating our Core Story expectations in the present. One of the exercises in the book asks us to write down our Core Story, including the “money wounds” we have suffered, and examine it critically and realistically. Then we can retain the healthy parts of our story’s message, and let go of the unhealthy and unhelpful parts.

Following is a description of each of the archetypes:

The “Guardian” is ever alert for looming financial disasters, and tends to obsessively worry about money. He spends hours a day going over his accounts, and often accuses others of overspending. The Guardian’s gifts are alertness and prudence, and his pitfalls are worry and anxiety. The Guardian’s Core Story usually includes “money wounds” around having too little, or sometimes guilt over having too much. Guardians believe in doomsday scenarios. They tend to worry excessively, even if their financial situation is secure, according to objective standards. The Guardian can be helped by looking at his situation realistically, ideally with assistance. It may reduce worry to set concrete benchmarks and plan potential actions, such as – if my business drops by 50%, I will cut costs by moving to a smaller office.

The “Pleasure Seeker” loves to spend her money – all of it and then some! – on sensory pleasures. The Pleasure Seeker’s Core Story may include growing up poor and wanting to make up for early deprivations, or growing up rich, and feel entitled to continue a lavish lifestyle, no matter what. The Pleasure Seeker’s sayings may include, ‘Life is too short to not …”, “You can’t take it with you,” or “I deserve it!” Though let’s face it, we all need some of the Pleasure Seeker in us! Who wouldn’t want to eat fine food, live and dress in style, get massages, shop, recreate and travel? The problem is when we live beyond our means, and it leads to debt and heartache in the future. Pleasure Seekers also tend to create tension in their relationships due to their “retail therapy.” Pleasure Seekers need to face when their spending is masking an inner pain or void, find different ways to experience pleasure, and plan realistically for their futures.

The “Idealist” wants to save the world, or at least a portion of it. Many idealists are artists or musicians, or work for non-profits or social services. They are distrustful – of government, big business, bosses, corporate polluters – and feel like outsiders in a middle or upper class world. They often see money itself as the problem, rather than their relationship to money. Sayings might include, “Money is the root of all evil,” “I’d be a sellout if I had more money,” or “Money isn’t happiness, it’s what’s in the way of happiness,” and they like to rant about “the one percent” who control the country. Idealists need to achieve balance within themselves in order to be more effective agents of change. They need to consider how their own Core Story and relationship to money is affecting their lives, as well as their ideological beliefs.

The “Saver” may come from the Great Depression era or have parents from that era. He gains great satisfaction from frugality, and/or seeing his investments grow. The Saver is the personal finance archetype that is idealized by our society, and promoted in books such as The Millionaire Next Door and Rich Dad, Poor Dad. So what could be wrong with saving? Nothing, except that Savers tend to take it too far, and ultimately feel addicted to or imprisoned by their need to see their investment balance grow. Savers can be aided by getting some bookkeeping help so they don’t have to stress over paying every bill, and by setting some money aside into a fund to be spent either on themselves or on giving.

The “Star,” like the Pleasure Seeker, likes to spend a lot of money. The difference is that the Star’s motivation to spend is to impress other people – either via personal image enhancement (clothes, jewelry, hair, cosmetic surgery, entertaining, cars, fancy electronics, home), visible generosity to charities, or trend-following in general. Stars crave attention, recognition and prestige. Their sayings might include, “Clothes make the man,” “You get what you pay for,” and “First impressions count.” The roots of the star’s emphasis on physical appearance might be a circumstance from his childhood that made him painfully aware of how much we tend to judge each other on appearances – perhaps discrimination based on race or class – or starting out as an “ugly duckling.” Or a Star’s parents might be Stars themselves, and harp on their children’s appearance and success status. The Star may ultimately feel trapped by her own image and the need to maintain it. The focus on image usually masks inner feelings of worthlessness. Stars can change by becoming aware of and working therapeutically on these inner feelings, and by making a decision to downsize their self-marketing machine.

For the “Innocent,” the ends never meet, no matter how much money he makes. Unlike Idealists, Innocents are not “against” money. But they struggle financially, are perpetually in debt, feel they aren’t competent with money, and can’t hold onto it. They avoid balancing their checkbooks, looking at account balances, creating budgets, and paying bills. Their Core Story revolves around scarcity and lack, a strong belief that they will never have enough, and feelings of powerlessness. They are sometimes in dependent financial relationships. Even if Innocents win the lottery or earn a lot of money, they will almost always end up penniless, because they have such a firm unconscious belief that this is where they belong. Innocents can make progress by valuing their own good qualities and gifts, and mustering the courage, self-valuing and support to learn to deal with their finances.

The “Caretaker” prioritizes others’ needs above her own, is “the responsible one” in relationships, and often ends up supporting family members or even friends. Some caretakers have relations such as disabled children who really are dependent on them, and whom they need to support. But more often it is voluntary, with Caretakers often having assumed such a role early in life. Their empathy, caring and generosity are very positive traits that others archetypes would do well to emulate. But the downside of caretaking can be resentment, burnout, and enabling irresponsible behavior by others. The cure for caretakers is for them to care for themselves with as much enthusiasm as they care for others, and to lovingly wean others from their dependence on them.

Lastly, the “Empire Builder” is the classic entrepreneur, either in the business or non-profit sector. The Empire Builder tends to be a visionary, an innovator and a workaholic. He thrives on making a large-scale impact on society, likes having control over others, and strives to leave a legacy after death. Empire Builders are not confined to the business world – they can include artists or musicians who leave a large body of work, social activists or politicians. A pitfall of the Empire Builder is that he is never content. Having achieved one goal, he immediately sets the bar higher, barely skipping a beat. Empire Builders can benefit from getting some assistance in assessing their financial needs (they can be overly simplistic) and deciding on investment strategy (they are often overly cautious in investing, assuming their business will support them). They may need support in devoting a portion of their resources to enjoying life and part to giving to others.

The book contains a chapter for each of the archetypes, including case studies drawn from working with hundreds of financial planning clients. Kessel describes each archetype’s Core Story, discusses the archetype’s pitfalls and gifts, and the “payoff” for its type of behavior. He provides exercises and suggestions to help readers cope with the challenges of being that archetype and evolve beyond it. Kessel is appreciative of all the archetypes, and the exercises he suggests are compassionate and self-supportive. There is also financial planning advice tailored to each archetype.

You may recognize what archetype you are, or you can take a quiz on the Abacus Wealth website at http://www.abacuswealth.com/education/quiz.

In general, Kessel’s solution is for us to follow “the Middle Way.” As taught in Buddhism, the Middle Way lies between self-indulgence and asceticism. In this context, the Middle Way consists of satisfying both our “inner four year old,” who believes in and defends our Core Story, and the highest and wisest version of our adult self. The book has exercises to help us access our “innate financial wisdom,” or our most joyful and achievable adult dreams for our future.

The remainder of the book is financial planning advice, which focuses on diversifying between small, mid and large cap value and growth stocks, both in the US and internationally, real estate, and bonds (maybe), with an emphasis on index funds. He also has excellent advice on both philanthropic and family giving, suggesting that money be left to grandchildren in phased-release trusts.

In conclusion, this was one of the most life-changing books I have ever read. Formerly, I had thought of the financial behavior of family members as unfathomable if not crazy. The book helped me understand my husband (Innocent), children, and father (Guardian), and be much more compassionate and less judgmental of them.

I now feel that one of the most heroic and worthwhile journeys we can take is to work toward a balance of the archetypes, and a reconciliation of our inner child with our mature and wise self. In this endeavor, it helps immensely to have a deeper understanding of the archetypal positions from which people typically start out.

— Daria Russell Doering