Key to happiness simple - live within your means

Financial security is tied to life choices

July 07, 2002|By Jeff Brown | Jeff Brown,KNIGHT RIDDER

I've always wanted to run a cult. I'd like to be showered with adoration and money.

But these jobs don't open up very often. Not a single cult headhunter has called. So I've decided to start one from scratch.

Other people have done it. If you are an insomniac, you know what I mean. In the middle of the night, guys on TV hype all sorts of personal finance cults.

Real estate gurus preach about how to advance from the poorhouse to a mansion by flipping properties - no experience or money required, except to buy the guru's tapes. There's a currency-trading cult, and there are all sorts of franchise pyramid-scheme cults.

I want one, and the best time to start a cult is when people are worried, uncertain and looking for answers. Like now.

A cult founder has got to have a gimmick. All cults are basically psychological. "You earn as much as you want to earn." "Make millions by tapping into your inner rich guy." That sort of thing.

So here's my scheme: Life Diversification. (That's a working title, I'll come up with something snappier.)

Basically, I'm going to take an old idea that investors are comfortable with - diversification - and recycle it and dress it up with a bunch of New Age jargon and offer it as the solution to everything.

Life Diversification - let's call it LD - means, basically, not putting all your eggs in one basket. When some get smashed, you'll still have plenty of others.

When your investment portfolio loses 30 percent or 40 percent and your dreams of retiring early to the Riviera evaporate, you've got Plan B.

The new part is that we're not just talking about stocks, bonds and mutual funds. No, we're talking about your entire lifestyle, as it intersects the issue of money.

Like all prophets, I had an epiphany that led me to found LD - or Eldee, as I think it should be called.

A couple of years ago, in a moment of fiscal irresponsibility, I decided to learn to fly. Thousands of dollars later, I was practicing turns 2,500 feet over New Jersey when it occurred to me that this really wasn't the peaceful sensation of soaring that I'd imagined.

Small planes are really noisy. There are a zillion rules you can violate in an instant. You're constantly trying to decipher the babble coming over a scratchy radio. Instead of gazing at the pastoral beauty below, you're watching for other planes that can come out of nowhere at 300 mph. And you're always on the lookout for long, flat fields in case something goes really wrong.

Juggling all this successfully is very satisfying. But I realized I got a much purer sensation of flight on my bicycle - long-since paid for at a price equal to about two hours in a cramped Cessna.

That's Eldee - I mean, The Eldee Plan. If you can't afford to fly a plane, riding a bike may be just as good. Better, maybe. It's a Zen sort of thing.

Another example: Some years ago, I started an investment account I called my yacht fund, thinking that in a few decades it might grow large enough to cover the cost of a 40-foot sailboat. This account grew quite nicely in the late 1990s. Now it's underwater, worth less than my initial investment.

A disaster? A dream smashed? A life ruined?

Not at all. I've got The Eldee Plan. (Or maybe it should be The Elder Plan, to emphasize the wisdom.)

Once you open your mind to it, The Plan provides The Answer to everything. Can't afford dinner at a fancy French restaurant? Who cares? They can't beat burgers on your backyard grill, anyway.

Anyway, you get the picture - a cult based on the idea that living within your means is a status symbol. It shows you're captain of your own ship! You are what you want to be! You serve only one master - yourself!

You're a winner!

Of course, one of the keys is to stop worrying about keeping up with the Joneses. But for The Word on that you've got to wait for my tapes, available soon for $19.95.

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