Trying something new

Because my spouse and I don’t really go in for Valentine’s Day (except for that one time when he – very out of character – proposed while I was suffering from a horrible steak-induced stomach ache), this year I decided to gift myself something that I’d wanted for a while. So, after weighing the pros and cons of my decision, researching the best place to make the purchase, and setting up and funding the account, I bought it.

At age 50, I finally owned my very first stock.

For one reason or another (mostly a perceived lack of disposable income), I’d never been interested in the stock market. Buying and selling seemed mysterious, intimidating, and confusing. It also seemed dumb. Foolish in the way that gambling is foolish, but with a less seedy reputation – in some circles anyway.

Because I consume a lot of news, I’ve obviously been aware of market trends. And I know that there’s been a lot of cheerleading about the strength of it in part because I’m the person who whispers that the stock market is not the same as the economy and that not every one owns stock. Me, for example.

But then it occurred to me that I’ve spent money on lots of stupid things over my lifetime. Pointless things I can hold in my hand and pointless things that only exist virtually. And if I’ve had money to do that, perhaps I could use money to do this. And so I did.

I’m here to report it actually is as confusing, intimidating, and mysterious as I thought. What I did not anticipate, however, is the addictive nature of it. So much so that I probably shouldn’t ever travel to Las Vegas.

On day one, I owned three shares in one company, discovering I now had something called “position.” This term emboldened me – after obsessively watching the ticker on my phone – to add another share later that day. And then another.

I can compare the feeling of buying stock to the two times I’ve tried dollar slot machines. While I knew I would probably lose it all, it was thrilling while it lasted and the cost of playing felt negligible. When the market finally closed that Friday and I discovered I was only down 10 cents? I felt like a god damn superhero. Better than that, I felt like a real grown up.

My obsession with tech companies suddenly seemed useful.

Donut Wheel, Cupertino, CA near the former headquarters of Apple circa 2008. My obsession with technology is unhealthy in all the ways.

I assumed I was done for the month and would make another small purchase in March, determined to only buy what I liked and used. But then I found myself spending the long weekend reading analyst reports, fine tuning my watch lists, googling terms like “market cap” and “volatility,” and boring my family with a lot of, “Did you know that…?”

They humored me. Mostly.

“How is this different than gambling?” asked my teenager.

“It’s not. But maybe if I make informed choices I won’t lose it all?”

“It’s totally gambling,” tsked my younger daughter.

Yesterday morning when the markets opened, I discovered she wasn’t wrong. By 9:32 I had already bought two more shares of Friday’s company, for a total of seven. At 10:30 I’d buy a single share of second company whose price dwarfed all the other shares combined.

“I think I might have a problem,” I told my husband.

But then I went back to read about volatility. Checked the charts, news, and ratings and felt better about it. I wasn’t taking big risks after all. They were pretty solid tech choices without a lot of drama. By the close of yesterday I was ahead by a medium coffee. Today? Make that three medium lattes.

I’ll probably never have the money or the stomach to invest large amounts and inherit real risk. And I’m limited to stocks that are lower in price per share so I won’t have the volume to see dramatic gains, But I’m enjoying my new hobby and fairly confident I’ll at least break even when all is said and done.

I’m sure I’ll be able to stop at any time.

Journalist, freelance writer, blogger, and amateur photographer.

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