Chasing The Lady

I never would have had the slightest interest in finance, investment and the stock market if wasn’t for a friend of mine called Jill. Jill is producing her own films and when I first met her about ten years ago she was working in teaching. In a few short leaps and with a lot of effort she transformed herself and her career, albeit nearly burning out in the process. I have a lot of admiration for her. She’s blazing a trail and I consider her a peer.

About three years ago Jill phoned me up and asked if I’d mind a financial advisor getting in touch with me. I’m immediately suspicious. I love wasting telephone canvassers’ time on the phone and resent any kind of hard sell. So I’m, “Like why?” And she tells me this guy is really good and has helped her out on a film project and if I go for a free no obligation consultation it will help her out although I don’t have to. So I say sure. Soft sell I can buy into.

Okay, well I go to see this guy James and he is a Ferrari driving wideboy with a certain amount of charm and a certain amount of slickness and an expensive suit covering both. He works in a big open plan office with a whole team of slickers all with phones glued to their ears or vacant looking clients sat at their desks.

I listen to James while he explains to me why most people don’t invest money. In fact, why most people don’t save money. “Do you know why most people don’t save money?” he asks. He doesn’t pause for my answer but provides it, “Habit. Habit. Pure and simple. That’s the secret of saving money. How big is your overdraft now? I’ll bet you’ve always had that overdraft haven’t you?” I nod in my best impression of a vacant looking client. “You always will. All of my clients have overdrafts but the difference is now they have the habit of saving too.” Ooo-kay…

Jameses’ mouth runs at the speed of his sports car while he gets me to think about how much cash I’d really like for my pipedreams–“Ooo, about a million to start with…”–and the various ways I can go about building capital to achieve all that. A lot of it is pure BS and I let it drift over me. Some of it makes sense. Then he comes to a key question, “What do you think you would invest in to make the best returns possible on your money?” Of course, he plays this in from left field to catch me off guard so I pause and blink.

Before I continue, let me share a bit of background. Chase the Lady is a card game based partly on strategy and partly on luck. I think it’s also called Hearts and the way it’s played is each person lays down cards, following suit if they can and acquiring tricks. Hearts are worth points so if you can’t follow suit and lay a heart, the person winning the trick ends up with those points. The queen of spades is worth points too, so you try to dump her on some unsuspecting player too, hence the name of the game. The object of the game is to end up with as few points as possible.

Now, here’s the trick. If you can win all the hearts and the queen of spades you can zero your own score or double everyone else’s. This immediately makes you the winner. However, it’s a highly risky strategy to play because if anyone else spots it, they will hold back on one of the cards you need and take some damage themselves while dropping you in deep doo-doo (cf. my garden). If you’re going to do it, you’ve got to play dumb and innocent right up to the last minute before going in for the kill and taking all those points to win.

So, here’s James and really he wants nothing more than to sell me some kind of index-linked front-loaded insurance policy and maybe take out an endowment on my house too. But I listen because he is right about several things including that I’m currently investing nothing, I can afford 20 a month (for starters) and I have big plans. I play kind of dumb and innocent and listen to him right up to this question, “What do you think you would invest in to make the best returns possible on your money?”

Pause. Blink.

My first answer is property. James says yes, okay and that’s alright and pooh-pooh’s my repayment mortgage (more fool him, I think). But what else? So I say I’d invest in growth businesses. And he asks how I would choose those (because unbeknownest to me at that point he’s got his tracker fund all ready and waiting). And that question stops me. And it hits me. What would be my best possible investment? If I could invest in any company, what would I chose as the surest possible high return on my investment? What business would I believe in more than any other?

There’s only one possible answer.

Given that I’d play the Chasing the Lady game to win outright and never mind that it is high risk to try that double-or-nothing strategy, I *know* who I believe in. Me. And that’s my answer. If I’m going to invest in any company, I’m going to invest in mine. I have more faith in my abilities, my own intelligence and my own creativity than nearly anyone else I know. And I know myself better than I’ll ever know someone else’s business. So at that point I my decision becomes clear: I’m going to invest in my own film making future.

And here I am. Okay, I had kind of already made the decision that I wanted to get on with film making after working in television. But the thing with Jameses’ questioning is that it firmed up my resolve.

So now I’m remortgaging my house and lucky me, I was right about investing in property and picked the right place in the right location. My equity has built up far more than I dreamed it would. Meanwhile, okay, actually getting things made is proving to be far slower than I’d hoped but I’m getting on with it. I did buy the front-loading insurance tracker thing from James because, well I wasn’t actually saving anything and what’s 20 a month (or 120 as it became). It’s still small potatoes and hasn’t seriously affected my overdraft and I have other investments now that back it up.

I certainly would never have had an interest in the Motley Fool if I hadn’t started doing any kind of financial planning. But the bottom line is, my main investment is still myself and I leverage what I can into my own future–though not absolutely everything. There’s still some comfort zone with other fallbacks for the future and I didn’t want to give up absolutely everything that makes living now enjoyable either. That was the other thing Jameses’ talk illuminated for me. He was so adamant about investing for the future that I realised very quickly his schemes could eat up all the money needed to have some kind of quality of life in the present.

Nevertheless, as far as investing in my own future goes I feel like I’m playing a hand of Chase the Lady to win. There is a certain amount of strategy, a certain amount of luck, a certain amount of playing dumb and a certain amount of shrewd calculation. Film making is an expensive, challenging, complicated yet rewarding mistress, as far as I’m concerned, and she’s rewarding in so very many many ways, not just financially. Careerwise, I can’t think of any other lady I’d rather chase. Careerwise, that is.

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