The Graph

In the last week or so (31 January, that is), all your 2011 sources of income were supposed to have sent you an accounting of how much you earned.  Adrienne is better at keeping track of these things than I, but I have learned through the years to put my W-2 in the folder on her desk when it arrives in the mail, so we don’t have to sift through the house looking for it six weeks later.

This is also the time of year when I have to start scraping money together to make my annual contribution to my Individual Retirement Account.  It strikes me as perversely appropriate that I make my 2011 contribution in calendar 2012, just as I did the year before and the year before that.

The timing stinks.  I just this morning wrote the check to pay off the credit card bill accrued over the year-end holidays.  (I’m of the age that I don’t yet pay my bills via electronic funds transfers.  I like – well, like isn’t the right word – I need to look at the bill every month, because when I see how much I owe, I always think, “That can’t be right,” then I go through the items and by God, I did spend that much.)  (Yes, I know the email that comes with the EFT is itemized, too, but I’m of an age group that doesn’t pay attention to pixels the way we do to ink.)  (And yes, a good environmentalist should be more avid to save trees.)

Every year, I promise myself I won’t wait until the calendar year is out before making my IRA contribution, so I don’t have the Christmas/IRA collision and every year I never do.  Is having an IRA not forethoughtful enough that I should also be thinking about my contribution in the dog days of summer?

I appreciate the grim humor that accompanies the word “contribution.”  I’m old enough to know how soon I’ll be eligible to draw down my IRA, but my payment doesn’t feel like a contribution.  It feels like another bill to pay and a steep one at that.

I suppose it’s worth it for a million dollars.  That’s right Dr. Evil, one miiiillllliiion dollars!  When I was getting out of college, my dad (and every other male his age) urged me in the strongest terms to get an IRA and make the maximum contribution every year ($2,000 per year then), regardless of the hardship it imposed, because by the time I was ready to retire, I’d have one miiiiilllliiion dollars!

Clearly, this was a cruel joke that I wasn’t in on.  I’m now more than halfway to what for my dad’s generation was retirement, only to find that the concept has gone the way of carburetors and rolls of film, two things once made in my hometown.

Worse still, my IRA is invested in the stock market and controlled by those Wall Street One Percenters we loath so much.  (I have one of those “socially responsible” – read: “under performing” – IRAs.  I may get paper bills in the mail, but I’m not beyond redemption.)  I get statements about my IRA a few times a year and we’re nowhere near one million dollars.  I’m not sure all the money I’ve put in is still there.

Despairing over the poor state of Wall Street, Adrienne and I consulted an investment specialist some time ago.  He told us in a calm (“patronizing,” I thought) tone that the stock market –via IRAs – is always the best investment for people like us (earning less than our peers).

He pulled out The Graph, which showed how – even though there are dips and troughs – the stock market (here his voice dropped to a whisper appropriate for church) outperformed every other investment for… people like us.

Problem with The Graph is that it begins right after the 1929 market crash.  Of course it went up from there, where else could it go?  Second, I don’t care what the market did before I commenced my IRA in 1983, because none of that applies to me.  (Sorry to sound selfish, but this is the market.)

It occurred to me the other day that 1975 was the first year in which IRA contributions could be made. (Such dull occurrences I have!)  If a person was 22 in 1975, just getting out of college, got an IRA and made the maximum contributions every year (now $4,000 per year), would s/he now have a million dollars?  This is the year those people will turn 59 and a half and are thus able to begin drawing down their IRAs.

Two caveats: I know the million dollar thing was a prediction, not a promise and I know that every IRA fund is managed differently and makes different investments.  (Third caveat: the best funds probably wouldn’t take a low-bag schmuck like me for a client.)

That said, is there any diligent IRA contributor out there now sitting on a million dollars?  If you hear of one, let me know.  My guess is they’re living in a gated community with Sasquatch and the Loch Ness monster.

© Mark Floegel, 2012

One Comment

  1. Dad
    Posted 2/12/2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I hope you not only have a IRA but also Roth Ira with a good mix of stocks and bonds

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