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Nothing Odd

Ken Cutler

VOGUE RAN AN ARTICLE a decade ago about Marissa Mayer, then Yahoo’s CEO. The opening quote from Mayer grabbed my attention: “I really like even numbers, and I like heavily divisible numbers. Twelve is my lucky number—I just love how divisible it is. I don’t like odd numbers, and I really don’t like primes. When I turned 37, I put on a strong face, but I was not looking forward to 37.”

Mayer’s statement resonated with me. I’ve been afflicted with a similar lifelong obsession with numbers. When I was very young, my dad wrote math problems on yellow lined paper for me to solve. My sister Lynn taught me elementary geometry when I was in third grade. I had a fascination with baseball statistics and memorized all kinds of numbers from my baseball cards. As I got older, I became fixated on grade point averages and Scholastic Aptitude Test scores.

I’ve never been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I have no particular fear of germs, and I don’t engage in handwashing rituals or similar activities. Still, there are components of my personality that seem to place me on the OCD spectrum.

If I see a cat video I like, I can watch it dozens of times and still find it funny. I have certain silly phrases and movie quotes that I never seem to tire of repeating. (I can picture members of my family nodding their heads as I write this.) And, yes, sometimes I get preoccupied with numbers.

Like Mayer, I prefer even numbers, though odd numbers that end with five are acceptable. Also like Mayer, I think 12 is a great number and I’m not fond of prime numbers. I was a bit annoyed with myself that, in 2023, I had 23 HumbleDollar articles published and 23, of course, is a prime number. With a little foresight, I could have made it 24, which—as a multiple of 12—is very desirable. I console myself that writing 23 articles in 2023 has a certain cachet. Maybe I should shoot for 24 in 2024 to keep the pattern going.

My numerical quirks have affected how I approach my finances. I’m sure some of these considerations may seem silly to those unafflicted by a numbers fixation. Still, I receive emotional benefit from these mostly benign practices. Here are some of the ways my OCD tendencies have trickled into my financial life:

Even number of funds. In any given portfolio, I prefer to hold an even number of funds. For example, my 401(k) has eight funds. At one time, it had six. It has had as many as 10. It’s never had nine. Once, it briefly had seven, but that made me uncomfortable.

Preferred bond denominations. When I buy a new savings bond or certificate of deposit, I only purchase certain face values. For example, $10,000 and $12,000 are acceptable. What about $11,000? Never.

Spreadsheets. I’m obsessed with spreadsheets. I probably said all I need to say about this topic in an earlier article.

Symmetrical rebalancing. At various times, I’ve rebalanced my portfolio to have roughly equal amounts in multiple funds. I could then easily monitor the “horse race” and see which funds were winning.

Closure. I don’t really want my mind to be filled with financial numbers and deliberations. I prefer closure—the sense that I don’t have to think much about my finances any more. My decision to forgo rebalancing is, in part, due to this. I want my finances on autopilot so I can devote fewer brain cells to thinking about investments.

Retirement has been helpful in this regard. Before, I felt driven to monitor my financial progress. Now that I’ve retired, the accumulation phase is largely over. It’s much easier to avoid checking portfolio balances and to stop financial numbers from invading my brain uninvited.

Control. Having a touch of OCD makes me want to feel in control of my finances. I don’t currently use a financial advisor. If I did, I think I’d always be looking over the advisor’s shoulder. I agree with David Gartland’s statement in a recent article: “I feel better finding out I made a mistake with my money, rather than learning someone else made a mistake for me.”

I’m not suggesting that readers follow in my footsteps. I don’t think the practices above have materially affected my finances. Perhaps a few opportunities were missed. On the other hand, if any of you see something of yourself in me or Marissa Mayer, take comfort: You aren’t alone.

Ken Cutler lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and has worked as an electrical engineer in the nuclear power industry for more than 38 years. There, he has become an informal financial advisor for many of his coworkers. Ken is involved in his church, enjoys traveling and hiking with his wife Lisa, is a shortwave radio hobbyist, and has a soft spot for cats and dogs. Follow Ken on X @Nuke_Ken and check out his earlier articles.

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