Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Money matters

Searching for a heart of gold

The Alaska gold rush got people bustling with energy and dreaming of life with gold. People were willing to gamble their lives for a taste of the good life.

I didn't come to Juneau in search of gold, but I've been doing a money dance for years. I've earned it, raised it, borrowed it, repaid it, saved it, blown it, invested it, had it stolen, won it, lost it, found it, been swindled and conned, and I'm still confused about money. And if we save a pot of gold, do we suffer worrying about it? Here are some ideas I've heard about money.

"The more you give away the more you get back"

Doesn't everybody have to generously give for this to work? It seems some people are generous while others squirrel it away. Alaska USA bank tellers in Juneau said they've noticed there are savers and spenders, and rarely people in between. Both bankers said they were spenders with one exclaiming, "The more I make, the more I spend," because she can't take it with her.

"Carpe Diem"

The poet Horace once said "Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the unknowable future, instead one should scale back one's hopes to a brief future, and drink one's wine."

This was true for comedian Sam Kinison, who walked into a restaurant in Hollywood where I worked and enjoyed handing out hundred-dollar bills. A year later he got hit by a truck.

Seizing the day didn't work for my seamstress in L.A. He/she was a midget-transvestite ex-showgirl with romantic ties to a famous mobster. He once enjoyed four-star hotels, private jets and sequins and jewels. Now in his 80s, his mobster is behind bars, and he's struggling to pay rent and support his dog. His thick Spanish accent would rasp at me over the phone: "My dog needs surgery. Can I make you a dress?"

"Every want is not a need"

I have a rich aunt and uncle who've managed their money well and traveled the world. My aunt even broke her leg on the Great Wall of China. When asked how they manage money they said, "Every want is not a need."

This same aunt and uncle would then fly to the Galapagos Islands to go snorkeling. I'm confused. Was that a want or a need? I needed those Shoefly shoes, I wanted to eat ...

"Put your nose to the grindstone"

My grandmother, widowed with four children, found herself forced back to work. After buckling down and making a fortune in real estate, she retired in her million-dollar home, drank cheap wine and clipped coupons. She was incredibly generous with her family but would take restaurant condiments. She retired and lived comfortably below her means. I wish she'd spent her retirement traveling with a companion, drinking vintage wine.

"Go big or bust"

I used to work graveyards at Canter's, a bakery and deli in Los Angeles open 24 hours. Sunset strip clubbers packed the place when the bars closed. Before their group Guns and Roses skyrocketed to fame, a broke Slash and Axl Rose used to sit at the counter milking a cup of coffee.

Marc Canter, the deli owner's son, was friends with Slash since fifth grade. Marc loaned them money to record their first demo which had the hit song "Welcome to the Jungle." His friends achieved stardom, and Marc eventually wrote a book called "Reckless Road," about their rise. Marc said they paid him back and then some.

"I loaned money to them not just because they were my friends, but because I believed in them," said Marc, who watched their sold out concerts from the front row. "Would they have made it without me? Probably. They had the talent. I just made it a little easier, helped them get started."

"Money can't buy happiness"

I once had Buddhist monks, who believe money is essential but causes suffering, tell me about my past life, present life and future life for $200.

In my past life they said I was a male, mountain-dwelling, turban-wearing hermit who didn't bathe much. They pointed out I was a highly evolved human being though - unlike this life.

In my next life I'm going to be a successful business man with lots of money, but that might not buy me love as Paul McCartney found out.

"Do what you love, the money will follow"

Author Marsha Sinetar wrote that finding your right livelihood is the ticket to financial freedom. That each of us will eventually express our burning desires and make a fortune, settling for jobs that are uninteresting, tedious and unrewarding will make us miserable. It worked for Guns and Roses, who preferred to die doing what they loved instead of settling.

Warren Buffet - The king of money

The third richest man in the world believes in investing and has $54 billion. He'd have more but he keeps giving it to charities. While in high school he made $174,000 by placing a pinball machine in a barber shop, taking the earnings and buying another until he had machines all over town. He started creatively investing people's money and struck gold. He doesn't measure success by money.

"When you get to my age, you'll measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you," he said. "That's the ultimate test of how you've lived your life."

He stated in 2006 that he will leave all his money to charities.


So where is the happy medium between saving the economy and saving us? Marc Canter thinks you should have enough money to cover unexpected stresses that arise, but not have too much.

"That's when divorces, overdoses, and suicides happen, when there is too much money," he said.

I like the attitude of writer, poet and critic Dorothy Parker who left all her money to the Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation. "Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves."

• Send Courtney Nelson your thoughts about money for the next column. She can be reached at nelsonfamily@acsalaska.net">nelsonfamily@acsalaska.net.

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