Ask the Question

David Gartland

I WAS A PART-TIME instructor in public speaking for Dale Carnegie & Associates during the 1980s and early 1990s. I taught a course at the Downtown Athletic Club in lower Manhattan.

At the time, my wife and I were living in northwestern New Jersey, and we each took the bus into Manhattan to our respective jobs. The course was given after work, so I had to take a late bus home. This meant my wife needed to drive to the bus depot to pick me up.

One night, I arrived at the bus stop, but my wife wasn’t there. I called our condo, thinking she’d fallen asleep, but she never picked up the phone. This was prior to cell phones. I called repeatedly, thinking that, if she had fallen asleep, the ringing phone would wake her up. But she never picked up.

Just after I made yet another call, a police car pulled up and my wife got out of the back seat. She greeted me with, “Hello, honey.” The cop greeted me by asking, “Sir, do you have a license and registration for your car?” I said “yes,” and presented both. He then informed me that my wife didn’t have a valid driver’s license.

Like me, my wife grew up on Long Island, New York. She’d tell me about the cars she owned and the adventures she had driving around Long Island. When we got married, the only question I asked her was, “Do you know how to drive a stick shift?” She said “yes.” This was important since I owned one car and she didn’t own any. I assumed she had a license. How else could she have driven a car on Long Island?

It turns out she did have a license when she was living on Long Island. But when she moved to Manhattan, she let it lapse since she didn’t need to drive. In her defense, she forgot the license had lapsed.

The upshot: She had to get a New Jersey learner’s permit and could only drive when there was a licensed driver in the car. Me. She then needed to schedule a road test. Remember, my car was a stick shift, so she not only had to demonstrate her driving skills, but also had to demonstrate comfort with a standard shift. She passed and was complimented by the road test examiner.

The lesson I learned: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” In other words, do your due diligence. If I’d conducted proper due diligence on my wife’s license status, I would have known she didn’t have a valid driver’s license and I wouldn’t have let her drive my car.

The same lesson applies when you invest your money in a mutual fund. Do you understand the mission of the fund and its managers? Did you read the prospectus? Is this how you want your money managed? If not, you’ve got the wrong mutual fund.

The same would apply when buying Series I savings bonds. Do you know how long you need to let the money sit until there are no penalties for withdrawals? If you need your money back in the first five years, maybe inflation-indexed Treasury bonds are a better choice.

If you don’t understand a financial instrument you own, you can end up in a situation you weren’t expecting, like me letting my wife drive my car without a current license. Haven’t done your due diligence? If you later discover your hard-earned money isn’t being managed in the way you wanted, you have only yourself to blame.

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