A Lucky Tortoise

Richard Quinn

I’VE BEEN REVIEWING my past writing on HumbleDollar, my own blog and social media. I notice I often throw out personal details, such as the second home we own, paying for our children’s college and our spending on travel. My intention isn’t to boast.

In fact, I don’t even think of myself as wealthy, though the statistics say my wife and I are above average. Perhaps that’s because what we have today was accumulated over 60 years, between when I got my first job at age 18 and today at age 78. Slow and steady, as they say.

I had lots of help—because I’ve enjoyed a life devoid of uncontrollable adversity. I never lost my job, had uninsured medical bills, had a relative to support, got in over my head with debt or had student loans. My nine years of night school starting at age 26 were mostly paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs. There was never a year I didn’t receive a raise, though I vividly recall one increase of just $12 a month. My wife and I have been married for 53 years.

Fortunate indeed.

In our defense, we also never caused bad things to happen. We always lived within our means. We never paid a penny in credit card debt. We lived on one income from the day we were married, with the constraint on spending that goes with that. When my income—net of savings—proved insufficient, such as when we had three children in college at once, I started what folks now call “side hustles.”

My wife and I today drive a Mercedes, which is seven years old, and a Jaguar, now two years old. But I’d argue the perception of luxury is mistaken. Many pickup trucks—today’s most popular vehicle—cost more.

Our life wasn’t always this way. We bought basic vehicles that we kept until—in three cases—the engines blew up. Once we had an older Chevy stolen. The police called to say where they had found it abandoned. I went and “stole” it back, cleaned up the food and other garbage in the backseat, had it repaired and kept it five more years.

I started saving and investing at age 18, not very successfully I admit, but the idea was there. I had to cut back in some years, but I never stopped saving. My best investment was a pension based on 50 years of service. Did I give up higher pay by staying with one company? Very likely. But I enjoyed my work and we didn’t want to risk being relocated.

Today, we’re financially secure. What isn’t apparent are the decades it took to reach this point. My best income years didn’t start until 2005, when I was 62. From that point on—five more working years—I saved 100% of my bonuses. The growth from our investments since has been significant, as it should have been for anyone with at least some stock market exposure.

I worked with some rabbits who saw advancement in changing jobs, rushing ever upward, some employing rather unethical tactics in the process. But looking back, even considering some missed opportunities, this tortoise won his race.

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