Monday, March 3, 2008

My Wild Card

I have a trust fund. Those are not words I ever imagined myself saying. It's not a large trust fund, at least not so far. So far, the principal is $24,000. That might be it. It might be much more. It's likely that the money from this trust fund, when it becomes available to me at age 35, would be a significant help to my early retirement. At the least, it could allow me to raise my standard of living to include a few more luxuries without having to rely too much on freelance work or casual income.

I think about this money. How could I not? But I try not to. I try not to think about how much will be added to the principal or how much interest it will earn. Thinking about it seems callous. It seems selfish. And it's definitely counting my chickens before they hatch.

The branch of the family that set up this trust fund has been wealthy for several generations. They owned a lucrative family business that consumed my great-grandfather's life until he died, and consumed my grandfather's life until he started losing his mental acuity to Alzheimer's in his late seventies. My grandfather had six children. Only one ever worked for the family business, and she quit after a short time. My father, the eldest, refused to have anything to do with it, but continued the family tradition of workaholicism in his chosen career. He always made it home for dinner, but would often return to the office afterwards, sometimes staying until after midnight.

This gives you some idea of the value my family places on hard work. If I used this money to partially fund my early retirement, I am certain that many of my relatives would disapprove. My grandmother, if she is still alive, might even regret giving me the money. Early retirement was not the purpose of her gift. In the letter I recieved when my grandmother first set up the trust fund, she said that she would like to see her grandchildren use the money wisely. She mentioned furthering our education, buying homes, and unexpected healthcare expenses. She also mentioned giving back.

My grandparents have donated a lot of money, especially to religious and educational institutions. I'm not opposed to charity by any means, but I don't like the work of most religious and educational institutions. My giving would probably go to an organization working for marriage rights for the GLBT community or to support the homeschooling movement in some way. I don't think my grandmother would approve of my pet causes any more than she would approve of early retirement.

Education would be another possible use for the money. I don't have an advanced degree. While there are several things I would enjoy studying, another degree is pretty far down on my list of priorities. It also seems a bit frivolous--if I got a degree, it would be an MFA in Creative Writing or a PhD in children's literature. I emphatically don't want to go into academia, so this sort of degree would be for personal edification rather than any sort of professional development. I'm pretty sure my grandmother was thinking more of MDs, MDivs, and MBAs.

When my grandmother set up the trust funds, she didn't count on me and my unconventional plans. I love her and I would like to use her money in a way that she would like. But if I had access to the trust fund tomorrow, I know I would invest it for the purpose of early retirement.
I honestly feel that the best way to fulfill my potential is by not having a conventional job, by buying myself the time and space to really explore my interests.

I'm making my plans based on what I can do on my own: $2650 in savings every month and reducing spending as much as I can. In the meantime, though, the idea of the wild card money lurks in the back of my mind.

I guess the real question is if someone gives you a gift, do you do whatever you want with it? Or do you try to use it in the way you think they would want you to?


Sam said...

Is the $24,000 included in your networth?

I hate gifts with strings attached. It doesn't become a gift if there are conditions attached to it.

When I get cash gifts I usually save it regardless of what the giver wants done with it. So in case they want it back, I can just hand it over.

Anonymous said...

I generally decide what to do with gifts on a case-by-case basis. I don't worry about making the giver happy when it is a pretty standard gift (i.e. a generic birthday or Christmas check, usually small amounts). Usually these end up going toward some form of savings, but not always. For example, I received $50 for my birthday this year, and that sure is going to be a video game in the next couple months.

On the other hand, I do not at all object to receiving larger gifts with "helpful suggestions" included. I've received some large sums from my own grandmother, telling me to use the money wisely. But I don't kill gray cells trying to think of how to please her with my spending. It's just that much more of an incentive to do the right thing with the money... and by that I mean, just about any of the sorts of things you are contemplating doing with your own trust fund, rather than going out and buying a $5000 TV.

I think it should always be up to the receiver how they want to spend their money, but I think when somebody gives you a gift that is meant to give you some security in your life, it is rude and irresponsible to spend the money foolishly.

Anonymous said...


Presumably the $24k isn't in the author's net worth... otherwise, she should probably cash that trust fund in ASAP to clear out some debt. :-)

Have people actually tried to take gifts back from you before? That's unbelievable. I wouldn't mind getting gifts with strings attached myself (hey, it's still money I didn't have before), but once it's in your hands, they should back off.

Scarlett said...

Beany and Datanoh,

Nope, the $24,000 isn't included in my networth...that would pretty much mean I'd never saved a penny on my own! :)

There aren't really strings attached to the trust fund, I just have some idea of what my grandma probably would prefer that I spend it on.