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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.

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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