My Best Long-Term Investments
Yes, this came as a big surprise to me, too. I always thought I’d notice if anything like this ever happened because I’d start wearing a monocle and would be able to afford luxuries like cufflinks and name-brand cereal. Instead, I read the news in a rejection letter for a government loan that I hadn’t even applied for.
Let me back up.
Eighteen years ago my wife and I decided to have a baby. Then a few years later we had another one. And then another one. And since we believed in economies of scale, we had one more. Shortly after that we found ourselves facing what financial experts would call a “severe budget shortfall,” which is just a fancy way of saying that we sucked at rudimentary math. So we stopped having more babies and slashed our monthly expenses so we could afford necessities like electricity and #2 pencils and bandages.
This lifestyle isn’t as swanky as it sounds, though, which is why I was surprised when I received a letter informing me that my son’s application for a subsidized college loan had been declined because, get this, I have too much money. I laughed out loud when I read that part, which is something people of my generation do because it’s easier than getting out our smartphones and reading glasses so we can type “LOL” to our online friends. Also, we don’t have online friends.
Anyways, the letter went on to explain that my son had qualified for an unsubsidized loan and that I was welcome to take out a special type of parental loan for the remaining balance. Both offered interest rates that are normally associated with organized crime and guys named “Three Finger Tony.” It then provided a detailed breakdown of the fees, just in case I still sucked at math:
Tuition and Fees . . . . . . . . . . . . $26,553
Books and Supplies . . . . . . . . . . $1,300
Housing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $7,900
Meal Plan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $5,680
Personal Expenses . . . . . . . . . . . $1,982
Subtotal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $43,415 per year (estimated)
Unsubsidized Student Loan . . . ($5,600)
Academic Scholarship . . . . . . . ($12,000)
Parental Contribution . . . . . . $25,815 per year (estimated)
$25,815. Per year. Estimated. I did not laugh out loud when I read this part, which is something people of my generation do when we realize we may have been overselling the importance of higher education to our children.
I don’t mean to imply that I was caught completely off-guard by the notion that I’d need to help with the expenses, and I’m certainly not implying that either my wife or I would rather have our son forgo a college education and live at home with us indefinitely. I just thought our contribution would be on the lower end of the scale between $25,815 per year (estimated) and the cost of the paint we’ll need to buy after he moves out so we can redo his walls, which are currently coated in vibrant layers of AXE® Body Spray.
Fortunately, rich people like me don’t need to borrow money since we can always get more by selling one of our vacation homes or by firing our least attractive servants. In this case, I plan to make an early withdrawal from my retirement account. Thankfully it’s not the type of account that’s filled with unused money and would trigger huge tax penalties if I tried to access it before I was dead. It’s more like the type of account that requires frequent visits to seedy motels and years of smuggling dubious substances around in suitcases.
Let me back up.
I used to travel a lot for work, especially after my wife and I were first married. To show that I was thinking about her while I was away, I’d bring back a small souvenir as a symbol of my eternal love for her. Since I hadn’t yet received news of being rich, it was usually something inexpensive. And by “inexpensive” I mean “free.” This typically meant gathering and re-gifting the complimentary soaps and other toiletries from the motels where I stayed. I know, my wife is a lucky woman.
When I’d get home she’d excitedly unpack all of the tiny bottles and arrange them on our bathroom counter and we’d talk about my trip and our future and all of the exotic places we’d visit together someday. But as the years wore on and our livable space wore thin, the excitement dwindled and the bottles moved from the counter to the cabinet to the crates in the closet. Still, I kept bringing them home to her. For 23 more years. But not just because I believed the items would someday play a crucial role in my romantic magnum opus, but because I began to see them as a real investment opportunity. While other people were worrying about things like interest rates and how national safety concerns like North Korea and gluten-free diets were affecting the stock market, my motel amenities were steadily growing in value right along with their overpriced retail counterparts.
To be fair, the growth didn’t come without costs. I once slept for two consecutive nights at a Motel 6 without using any sanitizers, for example, just so I could maximize my gains. I’ve also lived in constant fear that maybe tiny bottles of lotion are, in fact, dangerously volatile and I’d die in a fiery explosion that would embarrassingly vindicate the entire existence of the TSA. I can’t imagine how hard that would be on my family.
Thankfully the risks have paid off, though, and I’ve slowly amassed a diverse portfolio of soaps, body lotions, shampoos, conditioners, shower caps, and hermetically sealed packages of cotton swabs. I’m not sure exactly how much is in the account, but there’s enough to cover a larger-than-expected portion of my son’s college expenses. Specifically, the portion of Personal Expenses that includes miniature hygiene products. Sure, this may delay my own retirement for a few years, but isn’t that what parenting is all about? Working hard and making small sacrifices so our children can become better people? After all, they’re the only investments that will really matter in the end. Because someday, long after my last bottle of shampoo and sense of bladder control are all gone, they’ll still be around to care for me.
Then I’ll know I’m truly rich (estimated).