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As a kid we’d go to Chinatown on a big night out. My parents never had much, if any, money, and living in Queens, New York, a big night on the town was anywhere in Manhattan. Inevitably we’d be told, myself and my sisters, Merri and Jessica, and my brother, Rory, that we could only order from one side of the menu. We couldn’t order steak, shrimp, or lobster. We couldn’t afford it.
I always appreciated my parents’ effort, but it irked me and didn’t seem right that other people could order those things and we couldn’t. I remember clearly swearing to myself that one day I’d be able to order as much shrimp and lobster as I could stand to eat. I loved shellfish.
As a teenager I spent some time on the streets, homeless. I ran away from home, and after sleeping on my friends’ floors didn’t work, I slept on the subway and in Prospect Park in Brooklyn or wherever there was a park bench. At that point in my life I wasn’t thinking too much about shellfish, I was thinking about survival. One of the things you learn when you are struggling in life, I think, is that you don’t have time to think about what you don’t have; you just try to get enough to survive.
I always thought I was invulnerable. I mean, when you have been through some rough times, you get a bit toughened up; you have no choice. I had seen a lot of things, many of which no growing kid should ever have to see. I had friends who died, and I saw people on the street just expire in front of me. I never thought about my own mortality until 2001 when I was struck by a rare bug—they still don’t know where it came from—and I nearly died. I flat lined on a gurney. I saw the proverbial white light, or pieces of it anyway. I remember thinking, right before I passed out, "This can’t possibly be all there is!" It seemed so not possible, and so it turned out. Hopefully, it’ll stay not possible for me to die for quite a while. I kinda like my life, ya know?
It also felt very unfair to me that here I had overcome so much, gone from zero to hero as my clients like to say at trendfund .com, and I was gonna just expire? No friends, no family, nothing but a gurney and some doctor who had a very freaked- out expression on his face. This was it? No! No way! And then I blacked out and woke up I guess a couple of minutes later. I was alive, and grateful. Right before this happened, my oldest daughter was born. Happiest day of my life, for sure. She was and still is the sun in my damaged heart. I tell her, and it’s true, that she is literally in my heart. She is there no matter what, every day and every minute. My youngest daughter joined her when she was born. It’s kinda amazing how life can change at a moment’s notice.
What does this have to do with Rule Your Freakin’ Retirement? Well, it’s pretty simple, I think. Before my kids were born and I felt immortal, the thought of things like retirement, or insurance, or savings, never entered my mind. I was always a day- to- day kind of person, and I still am in many ways, but I’ve learned that some things are worth protecting, and my daughters are certainly at the very top of that list.
In order to protect them, I started to think about what I would like to secure for them when I am gone. I am sure they would be fine without any money from me, but fine and better than fine are two very distinct planets. When my parents pass away, which hopefully won’t be anytime soon, I don’t think I’ll get much of anything. They don’t have much. And, that’s okay, I don’t need it at this point anyway. I’m more concerned with their well- being than I am their demise. But I would like to think that my girls will have a better inheritance. So, I bought life insurance for the first time in 2001, if memory serves. It’s kinda surreal planning for your own death. I remember those com mercials (they still play them sometimes) where the father- husband is there and then some voiceover comes on and says something like, "What happens when you’re gone?" and then the dude just fades away and doesn’t exist anymore.
It’s pretty morbid, I think, but having my girls makes it easier to suffer a little morbidity in order to protect their future. And part of my own future, my retirement, is also part of their future. I figured if I could learn to rule my retirement, then I would stand a much better shot at being prepared for things like college for them, the traveling I want to do as I get older, and eventually, yes, my death.
In the meantime, the retirement piece stands out for me. I would rather feel secure as I get older and prepared to keep eating shellfish. I don’t eat steak much, if at all, so I wouldn’t miss that, but I sure would miss my shrimp and lobster!
This book is about making a plan that allows you to take control of your retirement and the years leading up to it. It’s better to start today, no matter your age, than wait until you have to rush and scurry around to try to make it work for yourself.
Trust me, I am not a planner. I am a person who does things on the so- called fly. I like spontaneity, I thrive on it, but I also know that as I get older I need to be just a wee bit more conservative in some of my spending habits. When I first made millions by trading stocks, I had no idea what it was to have money. I was buying things I didn’t need just because it felt like I should. I was almost obligated to spend a lot of money since I had a lot of money. I don’t feel that need any longer. I’ve been through many transformations in my life, and my latest seems to be—planning!
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I feel a lot better with some cash in the bank, some savings, and without the fear that any day I could be homeless again! Trust me, I’ve asked other people who have spent time living on the streets, and most of us in the back of our heads still once in a while feel like we’re going to be "struck homeless" at any minute, without warning, and be powerless to do anything about it!
One way to ensure that it won’t ever happen, then, is to plan a clear and straight path to a retirement that frees you of worries about money on a day- to- day basis. Retirement should mean that you get to do just that—retire! If you’re stressed about money, you’re stressed, not retired!
Rule Your Freakin’ Retirement is a book that takes you to places with your retirement that most retirement books would never deign to. It’s got a lot of practical suggestions, but it also covers many of the aggressive (but I believe simple and safe) strategies that you should use to actively manage your retirement accounts. In this day and age, being passive with your finances can, and very well may, lead you down a path to ruin, or to maybe worse, a path where you have to continue working for many years past the age most others are retired.
That’s what Rule Your Freakin’ Retirement is ultimately about: taking control of your finances to the point where it’s part of your daily or weekly or monthly routine. That way it’s not a burden. Taking control of a piece of your life that most people take for granted will allow you to rule not just your retirement, but your entire life! That, my friends, is what we are striving for here. Don’t take the lazy person’s approach. Take the approach that it’s your retirement, dudes and dudesses, and no one is gonna care more about your retirement then guess who? Go ahead: Guess!
Excerpted from Rule Your Freakin’ Retirement by Michael Parness.
Copyright © 2009 by Michael Parness.
Published in March 2009 by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.