SHOULD-A, WOULD-A, COULD-A: A tale of 20-20 hindsight
Commentary by JoEllen Collins
Because of recent fluctuations in the stock market, it seems I hear more
than ever sentences beginning with "If only I had bought that lot on
" or "I wish Id followed the tip" or other such
regretful phrases. You cant be alive and grown-up in todays world without
having missed some opportunity that, in retrospect, might have led to more financial or
other kind of security.
Mine was selling a home in Malibunot on but overlooking the
oceanwhen the market was low. Looking back on the decision, it now seems that I
should have just leased out the home when I had to move. Instead I virtually traded it for
a condominium in Santa Monica.
The last price it sold for (over six times the amount of the sale in 1979)
would have guaranteed me a large nest egg. Instead my eggs have all wound up scrambled, as
have my possessions from more moves and disasters than you would want me to share at this
So, when there are discussions about "What ifs," sometimes
I sigh and say ruefully, "If only Id have kept that house, I would be
Of course there are other things I wish Id done smarter: started a
401 K earlier; or avoided joining limited partnershipsopportunities touted in the
late 70s and early 80s as terrific investments.
When I had real estate, I seemed to buy when it was a sellers market
and sell when it was a buyers. Oh yes, there are many examples of poor financial
decisions I have made.
However, time and perspective have allowed me to say goodbye to those
regrets and to many other non-financial misdeeds I have made in my life. I have realized,
finally, that I am not destined to be among the very rich.
I saw my parents move down the financial ladder from relative affluence in
San Francisco to debt in a tract house in Burbank, Calif. But I also saw that my home was
warm and loving and our family life not diminished by a lack of funds.
Partly due to limited budgets, I learned to sew during my 7th grade home
economics class and made almost all of my own clothes in high school. I designed my prom
dresses in college and sewed dozens of outfits for my daughters when they were small.
I occasionally still make my own clothes and derive great pleasure from
needleworkappliqueing and quilting. In short, I have benefited over the years from
this skill, one I might not have developed if Id had loads of money to shop.
Because we didnt have much discretionary surplus income, I chose
things I wanted carefully. More often than not my parents found ways to purchase them for
me. Thus, they were highly valued and special gifts, like the dress I dreamed of for
months after seeing it in our local department store. I dont think diamonds could
have made me happier than did the generosity of my parents, who saved to buy it for me.
We didnt watch the television shows that the generation after me
enjoyed where life styles like those of "Dallas" were put before people as
attainable goals. I really dont remember ever being ashamed of where I lived or of
wanting a fancier house as a teenager. I drove an old clunk of a car (not my own, but the
familys), named "Denton" after a character on early televisions
"Our Miss Brooks," a show about high school life. When the principal would get
angry at a teenaged boy named Denton, he would send him out of the office, roaring,
We used the same words on Friday nights when the gang would attempt to
start my car for our weekly forays to Hollywood and then Bobs Drive In in North
Hollywood. I never thought of asking for a fancier car of my own.
My first purchase of an automobile was for my first year of teaching, a
used Volkswagen which overheated three times on the Sepulveda Pass as I was trying to move
my possessions from the San Fernando Valley to Topanga Beach, where I shared a house with
four other young teachers. I loved that car, even though the steering wheel came off one
morning on my way to my classes at Santa Monica High School. When I eventually replaced it
with earnings from my job it was a source of great pride.
I became a teacher (not a way to attain great wealth) in part because I
wanted to honor my parents sacrifices in sending me to college. They hoped I would
get a teaching credential as "life insurance." So I did, and over the years,
even as I have watched friends enter lucrative professions, I have never regretted the
choice I made then to share my love of language with teenagers.
What I really regret is the energy Ive wasted on regrets.
In other words, I dont think that being wealthy would have made a
great difference to me as I grew up, and I have learned that it doesnt really matter
now. As the old song goes, "Ive got the sun in the morning and the moon at
night." I am healthy, I have dear friends, and I live here. What could be better?