Friday, December 12, 2008

Theoretical Money

My husband is in charge of our investments. He likes money, he'd like to have more money. He also understands and enjoys reading a prospectus. Whereas my eyes glaze over three sentences in-and forget the charts. So I let him investigate, then he gives me the possible plans, pros and cons, and we make a decision.

A year or so ago, an opportunity presented itself in the form of a former military colleague. This was someone we considered a friend and we'd kept in general touch with him after he left the service. We have lots of common friends from our former station together and we were all currently living in the same area. This guy was now working for a venture capitalist and he had an opportunity for us and our friends to get in on the ground floor as a group (the guys actually basically formed up a trifecta) on a large investment that would normally be out of reach. The guys, who are admittedly more well-versed in finance than I, felt it was a great opportunity and a good risk. When my husband presented it to me he was enthusiastic. It was a significant amount of money for us, but it would come out of what we considered "investment accounts" and not our daily household operating money. I asked him, "What if we loose it all?" He told me that we would remake the amount of money into those accounts during his deployment with his extra pays (ie. hazardous duty pay). He thought it was a fairly safe calculated risk. I was a little nervous about mixing friendships and money, but I agreed and kept largely out of it.

Money changed hands and our trifecta was having trouble getting the documentation they wanted about where the money was and what their stake was. Then my husband deployed and my Dad got sick and I forgot all about it.

Fast forward to this October. Hubby and I both return home with a housekeeping list. He had been trying, throughout deployment, to get in touch with our friend and the main investment guy to get answers, to no avail. Once he was back in town, he teamed up with the other trifecta members and they began to push in concert. Now, as a side note, none of these men in the trifecta are the type of guys you would immediately describe as "easy-going", you'd be more likely to say they are great guys, "but..." and there would be a qualifier about anger management or not wanting to be on their bad side. So there was a long meeting and some pointed phone calls and threats of the activation of lawyers. And then there were more promises of paperwork and clarification. But they got nowhere. Money was not where it was supposed to be. They were invested with people who didn't know the money was from them, in other cases. Licenses were questioned. There was much confusion and unpleasantness.

So a lawyer was retained. And she sent some scathing letters that resulted in more promises of restitution and paperwork by certain deadlines. The deadline came but only brought a rebuttal letter from yet another attorney for the other side. By now, my husband is not sleeping and is working up a good ulcer and snapping at the boy and I. He has no desire to enter into a protracted and expensive legal battle, throwing good money after bad. One member of the trifecta agrees but the other wants to go after the venture capitalist and choke him with his last nickel, if necessary. More long talks ensue and the husband grows ever more testy. I tell him, listen, the money is gone. If we get some back, great, but make peace with the fact that it is gone and make your decisions from there.

The next morning, amidst trying to get paperwork put together for a rental application across the country, he ran home to sign things and ended up shouting at our son and being very short with me. He went back to work and I went to the gym. I was not happy and basically worked up what I was going to say to him that night while I was running on the treadmill. Then he left me a message apologizing, which took some of the wind out of my sails, but didn't mean I didn't have something to say later. The boy and I got a full apology later that night and he explained that the perfect storm of investment stress, work stupidity and moving stress all converged moments before he left to run home that morning. It was not his finest hour. But later that day, he had a long talk with the more reasonable member of the trifecta and gained some perspective and peace.

And then I had my say. I told him:
-The money is gone. It sucks, but it's gone. But it was only theoretical money anyway. It was never in our hands. He still has his job, we have a home. We won't have to live on Top Ramen. Nothing really bad has happened to us.

-All he's been guilty of so far is a poor character judgement call. He thought he could trust our friend and trusted his judgement about the venture capitalist. I told him he did know what to do, despite his protests otherwise. He wasn't going to get into a protracted legal battle and waste more money and energy. I told him I thought this was as much about his pride as it was about the money. I told him not to let hubris cloud his judgement.

-I told him that when it comes right down to it, it's just money. It doesn't really matter in the end. When my Dad was so sick, I would have hocked all my jewelry and cashed out my IRA if that was what it took to get Dad to Vermont one last time. But whether I had $2000, $40,000 or $800,000, it didn't matter. Dad was too sick to go anywhere. No amount of money could make that wish come true and it certainly couldn't save his life. The money isn't important.

And he agreed. In fact, he'd been thinking of my Dad earlier that afternoon and realized the same thing after his calming chat. And so, we're going to see what the lawyer can settle for us, and we're walking away.

And the sky won't fall.

And we won't starve.

And we're still going to be better off than more than half the people in this country who are struggling so much this year.

And it isn't the end of the world.

It was only theoretical money anyway.

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