SMART INVESTING: BEANIE BABIES

All financial experts agree, the best way to long-term wealth is through collectibles. It works like this: You buy as many “rare” things as you can. Then, in a bunch of years, whoever has the most old things wins all of the money.

The game is too big for me. My interest in the collectibles market is less about collecting anything and more about witnessing other people’s financial regret. It is one of the most satisfying hobbies I ever have had.

My love of hating was born in the ‘90s when I was smacked on the back of the hand because I was about to touch a Beanie Baby. There was a time when people viewed the stuffed animals as a sound investment strategy, and not just garbage.

“Please don’t touch the Babies, dear,” my friend’s mom said. “They are just to look at.”

“The Babies?” I repeated to myself, rubbing my hand.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation so bizarre it couldn’t possibly be real? “She’s pretty sure they’ll be worth a ton some day,” my friend told me later.

A few months after that, I won a “very rare” Beanie Baby that was wearing a hat at a school-carnival raffle. Before I could even make it out of the building, a parent gave me $20 for it. This sale, of course, made me the richest Beanie Babies dealer in the world.

It’s not that I’m against collecting; back in the day, I had plenty of baseball cards and comic books that I hoped one day would be worth a Lamborghini. I’m just the type of person who doesn’t like to be responsible for keeping track of my possessions. If my house is burning down, I want to be solely concerned about my family, not our little nest egg proudly displayed in a dozen custom-made display cases. No, my custom-made display cases are for “participation” trophies only.

And, of course, there are a few things I wish I still had. At a store recently, I saw an old “Star Wars” figure listed for sale at $100. “I used to have that,” I told my wife. “My neighbor and I strapped like a million bottle rockets to it.”

If you gave me something and told me that it would be worth a million dollars in 20 years if I don’t open it, I would not hear you because I would be too busy opening it. Maybe it’s my own design flaw.

Sometimes I think about my childhood friend who wouldn’t let anyone play with his toys because they would be worth something someday. At the time, I was disappointed and envious, telling myself, “Boy, he is going to be so rich.” Imagine my relief 25 years later when I looked him up on Facebook to find that his life was awful.

My advice is this: If you’re going to collect things, do so because you need a hobby, not because you are trying to make millions.

Except for Pokemon cards, of course. Those things are going to be worth so much someday, seriously guys.

—Dave Manley

FEELING BETTER THAN I DESERVE

If I were to meet Dave Ramsey, I’m not sure whether I’d give him a big man-hug or a kick in the shins.

No one I’ve encountered—and in the case of Ramsey that has been limited to his radio program, newspaper columns and books—inspires quite the combination of appreciation and utter disdain.

“Beans and rice. Rice and beans.” … “Live like no one else so you can live like no one else.”

If you’ve listened to Ramsey, one of the country’s most well-known financial advice dispensers, then you, too, probably have wanted to drop-kick your radio at some point after hearing him say one or more of those mantras, oh, 4,785 times. In one show.

So why listen? Because while the advice is fairly simple and straightforward—basically, live within your means (Hello?)—the radio show, in particular, is entertaining because it offers listeners a chance to live vicariously in a couple of different ways.

First, as a listener, I am sincerely happy for the people who have their act together—the ones who are debt-free either through great planning from the get-go or from digging out of a deep financial hole. These are the people the show beatifies. “How’d you do it?” Ramsey typically asks. “Well, Dave, we lived like no one else. We ate a lot of beans and rice. We bought only generic products and clipped a lot of coupons. Oh, and we have a big garage sale.” (Blah, blah, blah.)

The second way to feel good while listening to the show is to wait for the poor sap whose financial life is such a train wreck that, while you feel sympathy for him, you’re really thinking: “Wow. At least I’m not him.” No one wants to be the guy maxed out on multiple credit cards, one step ahead of the repo man or facing foreclosure. Because if that’s you and it’s because of bad choices, guess what’s coming: A lecture from Dave.

“Dude, you’ve got to get your life under control. Beans and rice. Rice and beans … “

Thanks, Dave, we get it.

While the schtick can grow a bit tiresome, the foundation of Ramsey’s advice has served many disciples well enough that we have completed at least some of his “seven baby steps” toward financial freedom.

So now I’m counseling three 20-something children about the intricacies of finance. Yes, I’ve co-signed for a few purchases (sorry, Dave), but mostly they are on their own and doing well.

How does that make me feel? Better than I deserve.

—Rich Desrosiers

MY BIGGEST FINANCIAL MISTAKE

When I was 18, I wanted to be something I wasn’t capable of being. I didn’t want to be a word man. I wanted to be a number’s guy. Only one problem: I can’t do numbers.

I’ll explain.

My biggest financial blunder is an easy one. In 1994, I was still about a year and a half shy of graduating from Malone University. I was working about 28 hours a week at The Canton Repository, making a decent part-time wage for a 22-year-old.

Something happened that year with my college finances. For whatever reason, I needed to come up with about $1,500 to pay a tuition bill or my four-year-turned-six-year plan was about to become seven.

So I “borrowed” against a little nest egg I started. Those who know me know that I’m an Apple fan boy. The company doesn’t make bad products. I have an iPhone, iPad and a MacBook Pro. I liked Apple before it was popular to like Apple. I liked Apple before Steve Jobs really believed in Apple.

I had a little more than $1,000 in Apple stock back in 1994. Working part-time at The Rep allowed me to save some money and invest it.

I can’t remember exactly when I cashed in the stock, but it would have been around August of 1994. Apple stock was trading at about $1.25 a share then, and I had a little more than 1,000 shares of the stock. So to keep the math simple, let’s round down to 1,000 shares.

It’s still a blunder.

My intent in 1994 was to replace the Apple stock I sold. I never did.

What if I never touched that stock?

Those 1,000 shares in 1994, would have split 2-for-1 in 2000, again 2-for-1 in 2005 and the retirement-saving split in 2014 of 7-for-1.

My total loss?

If I had found another way to pay that tuition, or replaced that apple stock, I’d have a split-adjusted nest egg of about $150,000 sitting around.

I’m not a number’s guy, but it hurt to write those words.

—Todd Porter

STANDING OVATION FOR ‘HAIRSPRAY’

GlenOak High School deserves a ton of credit for putting on the musical “Hairspray” this year.

The show was simply tremendous. The performances were fantastic, from Mackey Parsons as Tracy Turnblad to Tyson Upshaw as Seaweed and Christian Andrews as Edna Turnblad. The sets and choreography were marvelously done; it clearly was a labor of love for all of the students involved.

(Full disclosure: Andrews’ mom is a colleague at The Canton Repository, and my daughter played a bit part as one of the “Cootie” dancers.)

But GlenOak’s Musical Theatre department—under the amazing tutelage of Brian Kieffer—would deserve credit even if the props were cardboard (far from it), every singer was off-key (they weren’t) or every actor needed cue cards for their lines (no way).

“Hairspray” carries a powerful message. Set in the 1960s, it tells the story of Tracy Turnblad getting her big break to appear on a nationally syndicated TV dance show out of Baltimore, and then her quest to integrate its all-white cast. This message of inclusion first appeared with “Hairspray” as a John Waters movie in 1988, then evolved into a book, a long-running Broadway production and another movie (with John Travolta in a memorable turn as Edna) in 2007.

It takes guts for a school district to put on such a show. The content can be risqué. The GlenOak performance toned down some things from the original “Hairspray” but kept the same general theme.

That message of inclusion is something every student needs to hear. I’m proud to have three children attend Plain Local, where its leaders are providing a quality education while also supporting rich, important cultural experiences such as “Hairspray.” And while I’m biased to Plain (my wife is an alum), readers should know that similar experiences are the norm throughout Stark County.

While watching “Hairspray,” I couldn’t help but think about my own high school experience. Where I grew up in rural northwestern Ohio, we could not have put on such a show even if we had wanted to—we would not have come close to filling out the performance’s diverse cast.

My children are going to emerge from high school so much more enlightened than I was. For that, I’m so thankful.

—Scott Brown

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