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Kathleen Clary Miller
Monopoly money

Kathleen Clary MillerKathleen Clary Miller has written 300+ columns and stories for periodicals both local and national, and has authored three books ( She lives in the woods of the Ninemile Valley, thirty miles west of Missoula. 

A wise old saying dictates something about staying way from politics and religion in a friendly conversation.  But if you want to be my friend, never talk about finance.  Like the three-year-old who bolts from his mother’s slippery grasp when she attempts to corral him, I run from investment discussion and 1040-form forums like I long ago bolted from a heaping spoonful of yucky cough medicine. When the words “Fed” or “capital gains” slide into any verbal exchange, a solid brick wall crashes down in my brain. An otherwise intelligent, capable person, if the talk turns to interest rates, I revert to the bimbo who is looking right at you but wondering which strappy sandals go with that new black skirt I shouldn’t have bought until my dividend check arrived.

What is the matter with me? If I am willing to increase my earning potential by systematically organizing a numbers strategy before purchasing a lottery ticket, why can’t I do it with finances?

Because it isn’t like my childhood Monopoly game, where it all came down to a roll of the dice. You’d collect and you were finished—no forms, no interest rates, and no plan for the future. Based on my competitors’ visible capital as well as my own cold, hard cash, I could purchase property, charge rent, and collect earnings with as much chance of winning as anyone else. No one was at my side analyzing the viability of the B&O Railroad or the Electric Company as it applied to possible tax exemptions.

Today experts and pundits would find it necessary to predict the future of the hotel industry on a failing Baltic Avenue or an over priced Park Place. Their advice would cloud my former confidence with doubt and fear: Should I short the Short Line Railroad? I would leave the room indecisive and unsure, remembering longingly the good old days when, based solely on instinct, I boldly made my move.

My kind, generous father purchased some stocks for me years ago, and I am forever grateful for the boost in my income as a result of his careful money management. Of course, he loved to sit at the breakfast table and remind us that had he not opted to sell his Sysco stock—the truckload of shares he had been granted in return for the sale of his own company when I was in college—we would have been strutting around with billions in our wallets.

Except for that one teensy misjudgment on his part, you’d think I could have risen above my handicap long enough to listen to his wise counsel. Instead, whenever I lit upon a kitchen chair to grab a sandwich and he began talking about the market (and I don’t mean grocery store), I suddenly had to make a phone call. When he patiently explained to me for the fourth time since Saturday why my mutual fund needed tweaking to avoid substantial capital gains tax, he recognized the familiar change in my weather as a thickening cloud washed across my gaze and I bobbed my head for the third time, in desperate need of a nap. The how-to book he had advocated I read years ago is, of course, on the shelf, untouched.

My aversion is not entirely my fault. What began as ownership of simple shares in recognizable company names has uncontrollably multiplied into monstrous transactions with untenable things like REITS, royalties, and K-1s. I could follow along, if, like Jed Clampett, a forty-foot geyser spewed gallons of oil per minute out of my own front lawn, but I can’t visualize any of these intangibles. This kind of exchange is all on paper. Monthly statements that rival any mathematics Master’s thesis arrive in envelopes or emails I open just long enough to read the bottom line. What’s my balance? I quickly three-hole punch all sixteen pages and store them in my “Stocks” binder (who said I couldn’t manage my portfolio?) then return to my real goal for the day: completing the Times crossword puzzle.

            I am terrible; I am bad. I am a wicked, spoiled daughter who wants to have money in my account but doesn’t want to hear a word about how it gets there. I am the darling who resided in South Orange County spending my income on manicures and trips to Nordstrom, wondering could the boob job in return for my own children’s inheritance be far behind? I was able to retire comfortably to a simpler life in Montana (no boob jobs necessary here), and despite such good fortune (literally), after all, am no better than those Pasadena trust-fund babies I trashed while growing up.

            Still, I would rather have a root canal than read the annual reports that clog my mailbox, and I turn my taxes over to a professional as fast as I can get the check written. Meanwhile, the battle continues. When proxy ballots surface on the kitchen counter, I don’t even open the envelope, and I recall my disparaging father shaking his head as I deftly tossed expensive glossy tabloids detailing corporate meetings and year-end goals into the recycling bin while I poured instead over retail store catalogs. If I invest in The Sundance Company, would I be invited to the stockholders’ meeting hosted by Robert Redford?

            As my dear, departed father tried to discuss real estate ups and downs, current banking trends or his frustration over the power of analyst predictions, I started to hum softly. Then I was guilt-ridden and momentarily determined to be the Wall-Street-wizard daughter of his dreams. But my mother’s words, the ones I used to think were so unkind and intolerant, echoed in my ears: “Do you always have to talk about something so boring?” This outburst resulted from his desire to share with his beloved wife his latest triumph in a series of many that had brought her a life of contentment and designer shoes.

Bright and conversational in many other areas, now that my father has passed away and my husband takes care of our money matters (he knows better than to try to discuss it) when the broker calls our house and asks for me, I still cut him off in mid-sentence and now hand the phone to the man I married so I won’t have to face finances.

“Sorry, Tod. I have to go try on some sandals.”


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Monopoly money