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A Ponzi Scheme Taught Me An Expensive Lesson About Investing

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For my entire adult life, I've been encouraged to invest in my future. You know, in a financial sense. And so I took a bunch of jobs in the arts. This was not well thought out. Which means unless I strike it big with my own TV show or bestselling novel or line of celebrity perfume, I can't solely rely on employment earnings for a comfortable retirement.

man scratching his head
(Photo: G-Stockstudio via Getty Images)

So what are the investment options for a guy like me? There are stocks of course, which can be intimidating to those unfamiliar with the ever-changing face of Wall Street. There are mutual funds, a.k.a. the well-advised "slow and steady wins the race" approach. This option produces far better results when set up in your twenties, and not your mid-forties like myself. So, yep, I kinda dropped the ball on that one.

There are the low-cost but highly improbable options. Yep, I'm talking about the scratchy lottos. But I can't bring myself to go that route. Too many times I've been in line behind "carton of cigarettes and 10 lottery tickets" guy at the newsstand, and the experience is more depressing than Burger King's breakfast menu.

Which brings us to the riskier ventures. Quick story: a few years back, a longtime friend of mine gave me a tip on an offshore investment opportunity. Perfectly legal, she explained, and with a startlingly high return. She had gone all in, dropping somewhere between $50 and $75K into it. (I don't recall the exact amount, but it was a metric buttload of money, and her entire life's savings.) Her expectation was to make back several times that amount within a comically short period of time.

Maybe next time I'll seek the advice of an actual financial investor as opposed to, you know, that girl I met in college drama class.

As investment opportunities go, I thought it was somewhere between ridiculous and clinical insanity. And yet I was hard pressed to say no. "I'll thrown down $5,000," I said to myself. "Because if she gets rich off this and I didn't get in on the ground floor, I'm gonna be seriously pissed." Classic "fear of missing out." Conversely, I also knew that losing $5K would be somewhat frustrating and inconvenient, but by no means the end of the world.

The not so-surprising outcome? Everyone who invested lost everything. All. Of. Their. Money. Which meant my $5,000 disappeared in -- uh-huh -- a somewhat frustrating and inconvenient manner. And instead of purchasing her dream house, as was the plan, my friend parted ways with all the liquidity she had in the world. For her, the frustration and inconvenience was a touch more pronounced.

I'm not sure what happened to the guy who initiated this "life-changing investment opportunity." His Ponzi antics were pre-Bernie Madoff, which allowed them to fly much easier under the radar. So maybe he lost everything, too. Or he's rotting in prison somewhere right now. (My personal fave, option-wise.) Or he's living large on his own private cruise ship. (My least-favourite option.)

So with this less-than-stellar experience now in my rear-view mirror, what's next for me, nest egg-wise? Real estate investments are more stable these days. And there are still the high-yield options that don't involve offshore snake oil salesmen.

I'm excited to explore the avenues ahead, whatever they may be. And maybe next time I'll seek the advice of an actual financial investor as opposed to, you know, that girl I met in college drama class. See how smart I'm becoming with my money? Geez, maybe I should teach a class on this stuff.

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