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Life Cycle

Jonathan Clements

I JUST HAD MY SIXTH bicycling accident—which made me think about my investment portfolio.

I started cycling seriously in 2005, when foot problems forced me to cut back on running. That was the year I bought my “starter” bike—part aluminum, part carbon—purchased for $1,000 from a bike shop that was going out of business. Within a few months, I added the special pedals with the shoes that clip in.

Early on, I had my fair share of embarrassing falls, the result of stopping suddenly but failing to escape the pedals, which would leave me lying on the ground, my feet still firmly attached to the bike. But those weren’t my six accidents. Instead, these were the six:

  • I hit a pothole and went over the handlebars. I briefly thought, “so this is what it’s like to fly,” before landing on my chin. I immediately sat up and had this terrible sense that, when I opened my mouth, all my teeth would drop out. They didn’t.
  • I went around a corner too fast and the bicycle slipped on gravel. I landed hard on my hip but got back up and rode 25 miles. Later that day, while having dinner with friends, I felt something growing in my khakis. It turned out to be a massive hematoma on my right hip. The emergency room doctor was impressed.
  • The big one was 2011. The bicycle slid out from under me while crossing a wet metal bridge. I briefly lost consciousness and got an ambulance ride to the nearest hospital, where my face needed a dozen stitches and an x-ray found I had a broken shoulder blade. But the big issue turned out to be my left hand, which needed to be surgically repaired. The accident was the inspiration for my novel 48 and Counting. Some readers loved it, others not so much.
  • In 2016, as I was approaching a traffic light, my bicycle started fishtailing like crazy. It turned out someone—a leaky truck, I presume—had dumped a bunch of oil on the road. I deliberately forced the bike to the ground, rather than careen into the intersection, and was rewarded with some handsome bruises and oil from head to toe.
  • Last year, I had to stop suddenly, tumbling off my bicycle and badly cutting my elbow, which I bandaged with the mask I was carrying. The good news: I avoided the car that was about to hit me.
  • Last week, a van suddenly appeared in front of me as I entered an intersection. I had the right of way—there was no stop sign for me—but that’s scant comfort when you have an altercation with a far larger vehicle. The apologetic driver said he couldn’t see me because his view was blocked by a truck on the side of the road. I hit the van’s side and ended up on the asphalt, with a few cuts and bruises, or what cyclists call “road rash.” Fortunately, neither the van nor I were going especially fast. I walked the bike home, straightened out the handlebars and then headed back out for my 20-mile ride. (You know what they say about getting back on the horse.)

As I recount this history, I can imagine what you’re thinking, because I’m thinking it, too. Six accidents in 16 years? This guy is going to get himself killed. And, indeed, that’s how my 75-year-old father died in 2009, struck by a speeding car while riding his bicycle in Key West, Florida, where he had lived for the prior 15 years.

When I was at boarding school in England, I never thought of myself as an athlete. Quite the opposite. I was the small kid who was relentlessly bullied, in part because I had this strange half English, half American accent. But in my 30s, I discovered I could run long distances at a decent clip and, ever since, I’ve prided myself on staying in shape. But it’s now dawning on me that the rewards may no longer be worth the risk, and I need to find a kinder, gentler way to exercise.

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What does this have to do with money? I have the same thought about my stock-heavy portfolio. Are the potential rewards still worth the risk?

I must confess, I don’t much care for growing old. Yes, it’s better than the alternative. But I hate the sense that parts of my life are slowly getting taken from me. I have to be more careful about what I eat. I can no longer run regularly. I don’t sleep as well. I can no longer invest solely for the long term. It seems age brings with it a host of drawbacks, all fraught with reminders of our mortality:

Rising caution. Whether we own a bicycle, a computer, a car or a stock portfolio, there’s a good chance that there’s a crash somewhere in our future. The question is, how bad will it be—and can we cope with the fallout?

I’ve long been a fairly fearless stock market investor, keeping a high percentage of my portfolio in stocks and happily buying during market declines. But I realize I need to temper my appetite for risk, because the time is fast approaching when I’ll be living largely or entirely off my savings.

Diminishing ability. As I discussed in early May, I’ve started to ponder the implications of the reduced physical and mental ability that come with advancing age. I’ve already traded down to a smaller home and I’m planning to radically simplify my finances.

Shrinking time. Fingers crossed, I’m hoping for another 25 to 30 years. But how do I want to use that time? At some point, most of us will decide we’ve had enough career accomplishments and it’s time to devote more hours to parts of our life that we’ve neglected. When I was a teenager, I would merrily lose myself in a novel for an entire day. I can’t imagine finding the time to do that right now—but I wouldn’t mind trying it again one of these days.

Declaring victory. How much money is enough? This is both a career and an investment question. When do we quit earning an income and when do we stop focusing on an ever-larger net worth? I don’t have a good answer. But I find I’m thinking less about accumulating more—and more about enjoying what I have.

Jonathan Clements is the founder and editor of HumbleDollar. Follow him on Twitter @ClementsMoney and on Facebook, and check out his earlier articles.

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Gary Palmer
Gary Palmer
1 month ago

Jonathan I’m glad you’re OK. Between your accidents and your dads experience I’d say you are failing to heed an incredibly obvious message. It’s time to downgrade the degree of danger in your lifestyle. Sad, but it happens. My knees also gave out from running, I moved to the treadmill. The back gave out, now its an elliptical and a stationary recumbent bike. No fun, but you don’t die. Bicycling in San Diego is very dangerous. Lots of serious accidents.
Jonathan I’m just becoming aware of income oriented closed end funds. With yields of as much as 7.5-8.5%, why aren’t they more popular? Say for example EXG or CHY.

Jonathan Clements
Admin
Jonathan Clements
1 month ago
Reply to  Gary Palmer

Thanks for the comment. I don’t know anything about those two funds. But you don’t get high yields without high risk. I strongly suspect that, if you look under the hood, you’ll find those fund yields are the result of some combination of fund leverage and low quality securities.

Brett
Brett
1 month ago

I agree with Matt. Gravel riding is all the rage these days, so if you’re in an area with access to these kinds of roads, you can avoid the cars. Same with mountain biking. I’m still racing bikes at 56, but I’m beginning to transition over to the dirt to reduce risk. I know a number of other masters racers who are doing the same.

Matt Wyatt
Matt Wyatt
1 month ago

Jonathan,
I’ve enjoyed your weekly articles for a while now.
My wife and I have been good savers .

Riding is good for the body and the soul.
I love to ride.
I am lucky to live in the area I do, Summit County , Colorado, where there are miles and miles of paved bike paths and so I rarely find myself competing with autos .Also, Mtn Biking or even gravel bike riding on dirt roads or single track trails can be much safer than competing with cars.
Keep on riding!

Of course, our area is known for it’s Alpine skiing. We have known many folks that have injured themselves repeatedly skiing.

Everyone seems to face the choice of tempering their activities, eliminating them, or continuing to get hurt.

My wife and I have a “safe and sane” attitude regarding our activities, where we mitigate the risk. We remind ourselves at the beginning of most activities “to be aware, to be careful”.
With this in mind , at 62 we continue to ski/snowboard, road bike, mountain bike, hike beautiful long hikes, kiteboard, swim, and work to stay fit!!!

Of course I ‘ve had a few mishaps in my life, but the most frightening was when I was 20 years old. In my freshman year at UC Berkeley I rode my old 10 speed all around town. At this time I was relegated to riding on the shoulder of roads…………no bike lanes!!! While on Shattuck Ave, headed home, a City bus approached me from behind, attempted to pass me, the bus came along side me and then slowly edged closer to the curb that I was riding next to. The bus hit me, pushed me off my bike, and then ran over my bike! Luckily, I was not riding fast and was able to jump off and roll onto the sidewalk. As I said, more frightening than anything else.

Lesson: I can’t compete with cars, buses, or anything else like that!!

Keep on writing, investing, and riding!!! (safely, by the way!)

Mark Shulkosky
Mark Shulkosky
1 month ago

Like most of your articles, this hit home. I’m in the same stage of my Life/Cycle. Although I usually only ride on rail to trails, I’ve had a couple of my own bike accidents. Dumped the bike on a curve when I slid on a little mud in an almost dried up mud puddle sustaining some road rash on my arm and leg, a cracked helmet and a bruised ego. The worst was last year when I hit my face on a pole 9 miles in to a 3 day, 150 mile ride from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD on the GAP trail. The bike was fine, The helmet was fine. I spent the night in a hospital and several evenings in a dentist’s chair.
For most of my time investing, I have spent too much time in the weeds and focusing on the what instead of the why. I spent so much time trying to reach some financial goal. On my bike, when I focused on the pole, I hit the pole and not my goal. Lately, I spend my time trying to simplify our investments so I can spend my time doing what I want (I still have to figure out what exactly that is).
The wisdom I have gained over the years is that mindset may be the most important component of any success you achieve in life. Investing is becoming more about philosophy and mindset. And so is biking! Next month, I’m going to finish that bike trip from where I left off. I want to head into retirement with the same mindset. I want to be able to recover from any set back and still achieve my goals.

Tom Kubik
Tom Kubik
1 month ago

Swimming is safe. I question your sanity if you continue to bike. Unless it’s a peloton or stationary in your den.

Thomas
Thomas
1 month ago

That’s scary! Before COVID, I biked to work many days. Fortunately, I have never been in a really bad biking accident, and I hope my good luck can continue. I tend not to ride particularly fast, though, and I also use a hybrid bike rather than a road bike.

Incidentally, I’ve become a bit obsessed with bicycle infrastructure lately after watching the Youtube channel Not Just Bikes. It’s insane how much safer biking is in countries like the Netherlands due to smart city and road design. Look how amazing this street looks to bike on!

Last edited 1 month ago by Thomas
John Yeigh
John Yeigh
1 month ago

I subscribe to single-track biking, and I can 100% guarantee that the trees never swerve while using a cell phone nor run a red light.

UofODuck
UofODuck
1 month ago

Good article. I am also a(n increasingly older) rider who has so far accumulated a variety of scars, 2 broken bones and one all expense paid trip to the hospital as a result of accidents. What all of this has made me appreciate is: 1) how quickly something bad can happen, and 2) the need to plan my riding in order to avoid accidents. I only ride in non-commute hours, I avoid heavily traveled roads as much as possible, I don’t ride in darkness or bad weather and I didn’t ride at all for 3 months when the pandemic filled our local hospital.

Your analogy to investing is apt. As I have aged and my capacity has diminished, I have had to give serious thought to and make plans for who will take over my investing chores when necessary. I hope that I will be able to make this decision myself when the time comes, but the unfortunate truth is that most people are reluctant to give up control over important life tasks, often long past the time when they should have been ceded to others.

An estate plan is an important part of the process of when and how to transfer control to others, but perhaps more important is who we choose to carry out these plans. Parents tend to entrust their closest (or favorite) child with the power to make important health care and financial decisions, but that may not be enough. Any power of attorney should contain a “springing” provision that can be triggered by written opinion of one or more health care providers. Its equally important that whoever is the designated power holder can and will make the tough decisions, even in the face of often misguided objections by their parents.

This latter aspect of the planning cycle is often the most critical part of any planning effort, but is sadly one that often receives only perfunctory attention.

Jonathan Clements
Admin
Jonathan Clements
1 month ago
Reply to  UofODuck

Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

Roboticus Aquarius
Roboticus Aquarius
1 month ago

I’ve been thinking a lot about aging lately – not just my own, but my Dad passed recently, and my FIL is showing signs he can’t continue to live on his own.

There’s a James McMurtry song called ‘Jaws of Life’ that’s full of wry humor about having taken a few trips around the sun, and it’s been getting a lot of airplay on my current playlist.

I certainly resent the insults of aging, and taking longer to recuperate, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore them. In fact, the more directly I face them, the better for me in the long run. I wish I’d faced a few more directly in the past. I keep wondering if aging is another great reason for SPIAs or deferred single premium annuities that cover your basic expenses plus a bit extra (assuming no pension, and SS isn’t enough). If the money just keeps coming, then losing your wallet or getting scammed (while still a terrible thing) will likely matter a lot less.

Jonathan Clements
Admin
Jonathan Clements
1 month ago

I just asked Alexa to play the McNurtry song….

James McGlynn CFA RICP®
James McGlynn CFA RICP®
1 month ago

Do you have a “roadid” bracelet that has information for medical care workers to contact next of kin? If you are going to do something obviously dangerous this can help your relatives’ peace of mind.

Jonathan Clements
Admin
Jonathan Clements
1 month ago

Yes, I do.

Klaus Barre
Klaus Barre
1 month ago

Lots of circumstances we are not in control of. Walking hiking are my current preferences, San Diego weather is accomadating all year round. Need to watch out for multitaskers with earphones but none appear to be life treatening.
I look forward to your continued writings and thoughts on finance in retirement and when maintaining lifestyle has become a major component / objective of investing particularly avoiding “investing crashes” brought on by some of our own thinking and actions in response to economy we perceive in retirement.
Continue in good health so you and colleagues can continue to share insights.
Thank you guys.

Wilco
Wilco
1 month ago

Good to hear that you survived the wreck okay, Jonathan. I hope that you will find a safe way to keep on riding (Now that you’ll have more time to ride!). I now ride only on Class 1 bike paths and am fortunate to live next to one. If you’re still interested in a running-like exercise, consider an ElliptiGO or similar running bike. Slower, more intense workout than a road bike and requires less time. No cleats necessary. Non-impact and weight-bearing. Great option for your Schuykill River bike path. Wider tires on the road bike also helps a lot with stability. As others have noted, recumbents work well on paths. I’ll be looking at a fat tire e-bike in a few years.

Long-time reader, thank you for the education over the years. Bill

Steve Spinella
Steve Spinella
1 month ago

What to do? Stop counting? Ride slower? It is sobering to realize the risks for sure. A nursing home administrator told me people always bring the clients in one day too late…. Why would we think we’re different? Accepting limits and forgoing thrills is perhaps one of the hardest forms of self-discipline. @RQuinn I’ve got to check out the trails in Cape Cod some day!

AKROGER SHOPPER
AKROGER SHOPPER
1 month ago

Jonathan,

What’s going to take your place if the ER can’t put the pieces back together. We all wake up anticipating another article from you helping us along. I gave my Schwinn away years ago and walking is fast enough for getting exercise. There are too many distracted drivers out there, and I may have made a mistake by giving away my ’90 Crown Victoria to my son.

Mark Grady
Mark Grady
1 month ago

Jonathan,

I can relate to your biking experiences. I have ridden road bikes for most of my adult life and have been reading your work since your days at the WSJ. I have had 3 trips to ER from bike accidents in addition from the failures to clip out of the pedals in time to stay upright. The first time was on RAGBRAI in Iowa when my front tire got caught in a wide crack going down a long hill. I landed hard on my side and .ended up with broken ribsd close clipping my front wheel and I crashed on my left side ending up with a broken. The second time was on a group El Tour ride in Tucson, AZ when another rider passe arm. The latest and hopefully last was on another group ride in AZ when I was drafting some faster riders and my front wheel collapsed on some very rough pavement and I ended up with a fractured vertabrae This resulted in wearing a back brace during the hottest months in Arizona. I have sworn off large group rides because of the unpredictable nature of other riders in close proximity. I am still riding at 73 and have switched to a light weight hybrid e bike. I feel much safer and more in control than I did on my road bikes.

I have enjoyed reading your life experiences and sound investment advice over the years and hope you continue riding and writing for many years to come.

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
1 month ago

These days I get my fresh air with two-a-day dog walks, which the dogs appreciate. And for more serious exercise, fast walking a treadmill while watching Netflix is just the ticket—I’m not dodging speeding cars and a good show makes the exercise time fly (Peaky Blinders is terrific!).

SanLouisKid
SanLouisKid
1 month ago

Joseph Addison said, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” The nice thing about your blog is I get a lot of mind exercise without exposure to physical danger… I would guess that just as an investment plan needs to shift as you get older, so does an exercise plan. If you continue to bike, please remember the famous words of Phil Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues: “Be careful out there!”

GaryW
GaryW
1 month ago

My response to slowing reflexes and decreased balance was to buy a recumbent trike (“tadpole” with two wheels in the front). While I can (and have) tipped it, it’s much more stable than a bike and the fall is much shorter. I also don’t have to unclip from the pedals when I stop since I won’t fall over.

The trike is still a problem on city streets, however, because it is low and some distracted drivers don’t notice it even though I have a safety flag and flashing lights that can be seen in all directions. Luckily, I live close to a very long bike path (along the Erie Canal) with only a few places where I need to cross a road at street level.

Rick Hagan
Rick Hagan
1 month ago

Good read I can relate too. I have had to cut down on running, start road biking, and slowing down on my dirtbike to avoid injury in my 60s.

stelea99
stelea99
1 month ago

After a near-death incident with a car in 2005, I stopped riding on the street. Fortunately, there are lots of trails where the biggest hazard are groups of moms with strollers. So, get a rack for the car and find a trail nearby. Alternatively, relocate to somewhere with trails if none is nearby. With 6 accidents already, Fate is trying to communicate with you.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
1 month ago

I read this at 5:30 this morning and it inspired me to take a nice ride this morning. Watched the sun rising over the boardwalk, the early morning surfers, and had a chance meeting with my son, his wife, and my grandson at a local coffee shop. Thanks for the inspiration. And stay on the Schuykill River bike path (https://schuylkillriver.org/schuylkill-river-trail/), or the River Drives when closed on weekends. As a life long Philadelphian, and a casual cyclist, I can attest the roads and drivers leave a lot to be desired. Stay safe.

David Powell
David Powell
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

Just last week I modeled market drops at average intervals for my investments and decided to dial back risk (and returns) somewhat.

Have not ridden in PHL but I’m with Rick about sticking to trails whenever possible. Too many distracted drivers on the road. My first crash produced an impressive hematoma too. Doc still smiles when he sees me for the trick he played.

Jonathan Clements
Admin
Jonathan Clements
1 month ago
Reply to  David Powell

I bought my new house so I’d be within a few blocks of the Schuylkill River Trail. But last week, it turned out that even those few blocks were a few blocks too many….

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
1 month ago

Just unlucky!

Moma Tkr
Moma Tkr
1 month ago

As Dr. Bernstein once said, “When you’ve won the game, why keep playing?”

Klaus Barre
Klaus Barre
1 month ago
Reply to  Moma Tkr

Hopefully Jonathan and colleagues will elaborate on the “why keep playing?” since taking our marbles and leaving doesn’t seem to be done very often. Hope these winners keep on coaching between rides and reads.

Mik Cajon
Mik Cajon
1 month ago

Have you considered pickle ball?

minderbender
minderbender
1 month ago

Peloton?

Jonathan Clements
Admin
Jonathan Clements
1 month ago
Reply to  minderbender

In the winter, I put my bike up on a trainer in the basement. But when it’s warmer, I love to get outside. Watching a TV screen is no substitute for that.

R Quinn
R Quinn
1 month ago

Perhaps a tricycle is in order. If you lose the next confrontation with a truck and there is no HumbleDollar, what are some of us going to do to keep busy in retirement? Come back to Cape Cod, lots of safe bike paths here.

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