This month marks the end of another year for this column -- a total of 364 weekly diatribes stretching back over the past seven years. And no, I don't use a ghostwriter. Instead, I have a process.
I read a lot because I enjoy the world of finance. Much of my entertainment comes from the fact that truth is stranger than fiction in the world of commerce, and more often than not, we could never dream up what we get to witness. This includes both unlikely successes such as YouTube and abject failures like Enron.
My marching orders are to write about issues that relate to retirement-oriented financial decision-making.
In some cases, the thread gets desperately thin -- such as my column about retiring in Mexico after a motorcycle trip to Puerto Vallarta.
I try to start with some anecdote to get everyone's attention. It jumpstarts my thought process if I can think of something that just cracks me up. My goal is to meet the Monday morning expectation of someone who once said, "Steve, considering its subject matter, I find your column to be surprisingly pleasant to read."
Years ago, as a ski instructor at Sugar Bowl, I learned that there are basic building blocks of understanding that are part of the learning process.
For example, people wanting to move forward on skis need to be told that their poles have to stick into the snow behind their feet. It seemed intuitive to me, but then family photos show me on skis at age 2 in 1946.
Teaching people about money requires the same sensitivity to those basic building blocks.
Achieving satisfying investment results over time requires the understanding of basic concepts that are often counter-intuitive.
Timing the market, for example, sounds good on paper until you realize that nobody does it successfully for any sustained period. Bonds rise in value when interest rates go down? How can that make any sense?
As to the process, I try to use current events or interesting anecdotes to spark an interest in understanding an investment fundamental or product. Meanwhile, I really appreciate the hundreds of e-mails I receive from people who tell me how much they enjoy the column. Many have said that it's the first thing they read after the sports page. The occasional critical note comes from people who think I'm too political and that my column should be "on the op-ed page" -- or better yet, not written at all.
Well, "let's look at that," as the therapist would say. How this country is run can have a substantial impact on the well-being of any person in retirement or saving for retirement.
It doesn't do any harm for someone reading the financial page to be reminded that government spending has increased by 46 percent over the past six years and that this, combined with record national debt and a reduction in taxes, might be a fiscal recipe that could threaten Social Security benefits and plunge the country into a national depression.
For the moment, however, we seem to be operating in a haze of bonhomie.
In Richard Young's Intelligence Report, he points out that most of Iraq is really showing improvement and that it's just in Baghdad and a few major cities where the citizens have reasons to be terrified.
He also attributes all of our economic and stock market success to the Bush tax cuts. I hope he's right, but on some visceral level it all feels too much like 1999 to me.
I'm all, "if things seem this good, something must be wrong." Me? I'm paring back investments that have done well to date and banking my fires with big companies and bonds.
As for my politics, I'll be voting for anyone who shows indications of fiscal restraint, otherwise known as common sense, and that includes candidates from both parties.