By Leslie Lewis, businessinsider.com
When I was a child, I performed in seven episodes of the TV show “Sesame Street,” which led directly to me learning how to invest.
I remember seeing the big, brown woolly mammoth puppet Snuffleupagus hanging lifeless from the rafters of the sound stage, which confused me as a 6-year-old. The lights were really hot, too. But the toys in what I later learned was called “the green room” (where we wait before shooting) were the coolest toys I had ever played with in my young life. The recurring characters Gordon and Maria were very kind to me; the nicest adults I had ever met, other than my parents. All told, it was a great experience — especially because I made $700 from this gig! It paid $100 per episode.
My mother and I went to open an account at Carver Federal Savings, a Black-owned bank in New York City. They gave me a cute red passbook with $700 printed neatly in the “credits” column. This was in 1979, long before any kind of online banking, and that’s how financial institutions did it.
I had money in the bank! I remember feeling a quiet pride.
My other big windfall wasn’t nearly as fun: The summer before second grade, I got hit by a car while walking in the parking lot of a zoo with my aunt and cousins. Luckily, the wheels didn’t touch my body, and I got off with just a flesh wound on my left knee, “multiple lacerations” to my legs (a new word from my paperwork that made “scratches” sound much more impressive), and a sprained ankle.
Nonetheless, my parents, both lawyers, sued the driver, and I was awarded $15,000.
I bought my first stocks around age 8
I was about 8 years old when my father taught me how to invest in the stock market, using the proceeds from the settlement and the earnings from my stint on “Sesame Street.”
He sat me down at the dining-room table in our brownstone in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, and we looked at the long columns of tiny print in the newspaper. He methodically showed me what a ticker symbol was, how to look up the stock price, and what the 52-week high and low were.
He helped me choose stocks: I chose the toy company Mattel, which I remember was $8 at the time. (Invest in what you know!) And he chose some others, Genentech (now part of Roche), IBM, and others I can’t remember.
What I do remember was feeling like I was learning something important, a secret to the future of adulthood. And I still sort of feel that way.
My father’s death destroyed my relationship with money for a while
My next most memorable experience with investing was after my father died in 1993. I was 19, and all of a sudden, I had inherited what felt like an overwhelming amount of money — my father had created significant wealth while he was alive. Over $1 million was wired into my bank account: part life insurance payout, part bequest from my dad.
Any semblance I had of a normal relationship with money blew up, and all of a sudden, the expenses of my college student life didn’t seem to have an impact anymore.
Losing my father was, of course, traumatic. Inheriting all this money because of someone’s death was also traumatic, although no one would likely pity me, and thankfully, I had the money to pay for the therapy I would need. But somehow, I had a mental block around asking for help with managing the money.
It would take me 27 years before I was capable of hiring a true financial advisor, and if I could do it all over again, I would have reached out much sooner.
Now, I wish I hadn’t waited to invest
When I look back at it, the opportunity cost of leaving my money in cash or conservative investments, plus the erosion by inflation, is startling.
They say the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. But the second-best time is right now. It’s never too late. Another thing my father taught me was “Never regret a profit.” Even if I could have made much more money by being fully invested years ago, I’m still financially well off, and that is something to appreciate. No regrets.
If I had one piece of advice for anyone who hasn’t started investing yet, it would be: Please, just start. If that feels hard, ask for help. Money and investing are an emotional business, and even financial professionals need a neutral advisor to help wade through the waters of our personal-finance rivers.
We can all use someone to sit down with us and show us what to do, just the way my dad did for me when I was 8 years old, sitting at the dining room table.
Leslie Lewis is the founder of fintech startup MultiGenerational, a financial services company whose mission is to accelerate America’s journey to racial wealth parity, by making stock market investing accessible to the first-time African American investor. She writes a blog called The Investing Starter Kit, which aims to break down money concepts for anyone new to investing.Before becoming a financial consultant, she was an actress and writer, most known for creating the solo show, Miracle in Rwanda. She’s also a fitness enthusiast, and former amateur bodybuilder, competing most notably in Canadian Nationals, and doing a 20 minute forearm plank!
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