Riches to Rags Stories

Since we are talking about savings and cost of living, I thought it would be interesting to share "hero to zero" stories that you have seen. I'd imagine anyone working in finance has seen at least a few cases of some dude overextending himself financially and blowing up after a wrong turn in their careers. I'll start, since I've seen a fair number of personal blow ups during the GFC.

I met this guy, let's call him Vladimir, in 2010 when someone asked me to put his CV to a firm I was working for at the time. He was in his early 40s, with a wife and 2 grade-school age kids. I don’t recall his education, but I think it was a top-10 MBA.

In the early 2000s he got into agency MBS trading at some mid-grade dealer. Obviously, at the time, everything linked to real estate was red-hot. At some point, he moved to a fixed income hedge fund running a “hedged mortgage carry” strategy and taking home somewhere from 750 to 1.25. All of that came to a halt in 2008 when mortgage rates decoupled from the treasury rates and he blew up. Having run a very similar strategy myself, I can speak at length about the merits and drawbacks of the strategy (if people want), but that’s outside the scope here.

To be honest, there would be nothing special about that story if not for his personal spending habits that lead to a proper death spiral. While his wife was also in finance, she was some sort of a risk analyst and he was the bread winner of the family. He sent his kids to LF at the cost of 60k/a, rented a 3,000 sqf apartment on the Upper East Side. He had two cars, an Aston Martin convertible for fun and a Lexus SUV for the family outings. All parked in Manhattan - the garage costs alone were probably enough to support a small African country.

It does not end there - in the mid-2000s he bought a huge coop in Brooklyn (sic, or was it Queens - I don't recall) that he started renovating. That’s where things turned south - somehow, he got into a conflict with the coop board and the renovation was halted. All that while paying a 2 million dollar mortgage and common charges plus the legal fees for fighting the coop boards. He felt he could afford it. After all, he was a hot-shot PM trading the hottest instruments, it was a drop in the ocean.

In 2008 the fund let him go. Whatever savings they had set aside went very quickly - between the 8k per month on rent, 10k for the kids school tuition, 2k for the garage the bleed was real. Add to it a mortgage on his coop that he could not even sell since it was gutted. He eventually got a job as a sub-PM at another fund, but the managers felt that the guy is too leveraged to make good decisions and he was let get after 6 months. A few months later he was forced to declare bankruptcy. Last I heard, he was living in Washington DC working as a litigation consultant for some law firm.

 
Mostly Random Dude:
All parked in Manhattan - the garage costs alone were probably enough to support a small African country.

LOL

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee
 
OnlineMoneyMan:
Saw a dude at the hot dog stand who was 20 cents short. Times seemed tough and so I gave him the change. Things worked out in the end after that for him as he got the hot dog.

You felt like a big man with those two dimes didn't you.

I keep dimes around me as well. Although, a different kind.

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee
 
OrangeFlyer:
Nice of you to allow him to get his sandwich

A hot dog is NOT A SANDWICH!

Next thing you'll be telling me pineapple belongs on pizza.

The only difference between Asset Management and Investment Research is assets. I generally see somebody I know on TV on Bloomberg/CNBC etc. once or twice a week. This sounds cool, until I remind myself that I see somebody I know on ESPN five days a week.
 

I’ve seen a few and this is my least favorite one:

Guy is mid-50’s on an extremely expensive and much younger second wife. Has most of his money in company stock. Assume he makes $1-1.5MM pre-crisis. Gets fired somewhere around the financial crisis. Gets another job after ~2 years of searching for something like $125k + commissions for some shitty fund. Goes completely broke as all company stock essentially hit zero, home is underwater, and wife does not reduce spending. Kills himself.

 
DickFuld:
Kills himself.
Horrible :(

PS. I don’t think I’ve heard any suicides in my circle

I have a friend who lives in the country, and it's supposed to be an hour from 42nd Street. A lie! The only thing that's an hour from 42nd Street is 43rd Street!
 
Pmc2ghy:
Shitty yes, but I honestly can't feel any empathy for these kind of dopes. I'm as capitalistic and greedy as they come, but I've known/read about too many people making $1M+ per year in places like NYC and they still feel like they "can't get by." You're making bad decisions in life if this is your outlook, and shoulda been prepared for the pendulum swinging the other way.

These people are also more likely than not to look down own flyover country. They'll essentially say "let them eat cake" when a guy making $50k per year in Nebraska loses his factory job and can't support his family cuz marginally-humane laBangladesh can be had for pennies on the dollar. Fuck 'em.

I can see why you would assume he was condescending and a dick. He was actually neither of those things. He was originally from flyover country (non-target as well). He clearly didn’t make good decisions financially and probably had some other personal problems of which I was not aware. That being said, he was a pretty likeable guy. The spending was likely out of insecurity. His lack of discipline for his investments was presumably for misguided optimism. He wasn’t the evil caricature you have sketched in your mind.
 

My uncle is a successful financial advisor.

He says the worst people to work with are the people in finance and doctors. Namely because they come to him for retirement planning, but have no money to retire or nowhere near enough to continue living their lifestyle.

The big thing to remember it's not about how much you make, it's about how much it cost you to live.

 

Dr's sucking at finances doesn't surprise me... they seem to lack common sense but are book smart as hell. I know of an orthodontist making between $300-400k a year living paycheck to paycheck... single, no kids. The stupidity is real

Finance people being shitty at managing personal finances surprised me - when I first got into the industry, I was dumb founded at some of the financial choices people make. I just don't get it.

 

My uncle is a doctor. This is an actual conversation I had with him:

Him: "Hey, you're a finance guy. what are some good investments I should get into?"

Me: "well what investments are you in right now?"

Him: "I don't have any right now. I put some in the stock market in 2011 and I lost a good amount and I took it out and have been just saving cash since then."

Me: "what stock positions were you in?"

Him: "I had $500k in something called SPY"

Me: "...You know SPY has doubled since 2011 right?"

Him: "Son of a bitch"

 

As an older gentleman once said, “Having money isn’t spending money.”

"Bulls take the stairs, bears take the elevator" "Sell a teenie, lose your weenie"
 

I’ll throw in another story. There was a senior guy at Bear who was getting a divorce in November 07. His wife offered him to keep the stock, but give her the apartment on UES and the house in LI. He took the deal.

I have a friend who lives in the country, and it's supposed to be an hour from 42nd Street. A lie! The only thing that's an hour from 42nd Street is 43rd Street!
 

I really don't understand why schadenfreude doesn't get more play in mainstream society. I thought during the GFC it would have been great to have a version of Jeopardy where 3 morons in foreclosure with negative amortizing loans competed in a test of knowledge. The winner would get 12 months of payments to shore things up for a while. With all of the outcry of 'Greedy Bankers' I really think there should have been a way to show just how dumb some of the people on the other side of the table were /are....

 

Have you heard of repo games? Was bedridden after catching a terrible illness so had nothing to other than watch crappy tv all day (this was pre-nflx and Hulu)

Premise: giant bouncer-looking guy with a clipboard, film crew, and tow truck show up at someone’s house and alert them that they are behind on their car payments and are here to tow their car... the owner freaks the fuck out until the bouncer guy say WAIT, this is your lucky day, if you can answer 3 of the next 5 questions, we’ll pay your loan off”

The questions are ridiculously easy and there is no time limit. The contestants usually get them wrong.

    <div class="embed-responsive embed-responsive-16by9 mb-3"><iframe width="560" height="315" loading="lazy" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/lz4LmMTTjQI" class="youtube-iframe embed-responsive-item"></iframe></div>

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=y2m7xLRcsWU

 
ElliotWaveSurfer:
Have you heard of repo games? Was bedridden after catching a terrible illness so had nothing to other than watch crappy tv all day (this was pre-nflx and Hulu)

Premise: giant bouncer-looking guy with a clipboard, film crew, and tow truck show up at someone’s house and alert them that they are behind on their car payments and are here to tow their car... the owner freaks the fuck out until the bouncer guy say WAIT, this is your lucky day, if you can answer 3 of the next 5 questions, we’ll pay your loan off”

The questions are ridiculously easy and there is no time limit. The contestants usually get them wrong.

    <div class="embed-responsive embed-responsive-16by9 mb-3"><iframe width="560" height="315" loading="lazy" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/lz4LmMTTjQI" class="youtube-iframe embed-responsive-item"></iframe></div>

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=y2m7xLRcsWU

Frightening. The plot from Idiocracy is happening now.
 

My boss was research director of a new HF that took off after a successful $500MM+ raise. After two years of great returns he got married and built his dream home. Gutted an entire floor of a top building and turned it into a palace with 19 bathrooms, including one with a large group shower (aspirational, LOL).

Just as the buildout finished, the fund tanked, financial markets collapsed, investors bailed, he got laid off (as did I), and the top end real estate market was dead as the proverbial doornail. Foreclosure followed and he had to start over with pretty much nothing but the clothes on his back, along with a wife and kid.

I have another buddy, a Green Beret who got divorced in the Caribbean and everything he managed to keep was on his boat when a hurricane came along and sank it. He quite literally was reduced to rags -- flip flops, cutoff shorts and a Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville T-shirt was all he had left. That's a weather story, not a finance story though.

 
Best Response

this is the saddest part of my career, but the lessons will stay with you, a couple of true stories and a couple well known ones or ticking time bombs

  1. johnny depp (https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2017/07/johnny-depp-financial-crisis-m…)

  2. 30 for 30 - broke

  3. wealthy heiress. actual client of ours from years ago, married a guy worth $100mm+, got divorced after several years (amicable and profitable), invested with us. great client for years, spent reasonably relative to income, had a daughter in her 40s and son in 30s, daughter was an entitled schoolteacher and son was an on again off again addict. after many years, the client (the heiress) passed away after complications with lung cancer. to our credit, we'd been interacting with the son and daughter for many years, and seeing the path ahead, we encouraged the heiress to name a corporate trustee to oversee the funds, a recommendation she abided by, essentially ensuring that her kids would not squander the money. fast forward a few years, the kids can't seem to spend the money fast enough, a house here, a house there, quitting their jobs, and so on, all against our recommendations which was to use this as a backstop and to fund for future generations' education (what the heiress wanted). long story short, they didn't like being told "no," fired us, and are successfully squandering 8 figures in less than 10 years in the suburbs of a very reasonably priced SE city.

  4. doctor doctor. wildly successful doctor, had his own practice, my senior partners established retirement plans for the whole medical group decades ago, and at retirement, he had many many millions. because he'd been saving so much, we assumed he had reasonable lifestyle needs (after all, we knew how much he made and saved, so we did the math and assumed it'd last forever). not so fast. apparently dr. spendthrift has been banking years of expenses in the back of his mind, and now instead of market updates, every conversation we have with him is "you're going to run out of money," yet he continues to spend in the neighborhood of 8-12% per year of his assets and has at least 10-15 years left to live, closer to 20 if you include his wife's life expectancy. the hypocrisy is the biggest head scratcher. a guy who saves lives and preaches the importance of preventative maintenance is in utter denial about his financial situation and won't take the proverbial "medicine" of living on less. to be sure, it's not like I'm asking him to live like a pauper, just like a prince instead of a king.

  5. company man. this is a generic tale but one we've seen so many times it's worth mention again. you graduate college or b-school and get hired into a management training program at a F500 company, you've got it made in the shade. this company promotes from within, gives good raises off of a good starting salary, offers travel opportunities, shadowing opportunities, and best of all, look at their stock! during the benefits enrollment as a new hire, you overhear an employee about 10y your senior talk about how he's made a killing by putting his 401k into the company stock, so you, being the naive 22 year old wanting to fit it, mimic his decision. for a while, things look great, the company's growing in the high teens per year and along with it, your 401k. no such thing as too much return, right? if it ain't broke, don't fix it! your company stock strategy has beaten the market handily over the past several years, and you watch the stock religiously. one month, you see the stock take a dive when the market has a good month. you think "wtf, my department had a good couple of months, I wonder what's happening," then you learn about earnings reports and find the company missed earnings. suddenly you become curious so you ask your boss what it means to "miss estimates," and you're given some canned answer about how hard it is to impress wall street and to not worry about it. since you don't have the guts or the knowledge to challenge him/her, you go back to your desk, a little uncomfortable, but now a devoted follower of the stock, determined not to sell below the peak price before it started going down. weeks go by, the stock flounders in a trading range, and then you get a pop upwards. vindication! finally, my patience paid off, so you breathe a sigh of relief. this goes on for years while you accumulate more and more shares, until one day, you see some news. perhaps it's a missed sales estimate, the premarket has the stock down 20%. perhaps it's allegations of accounting fraud, perhaps the whole market is crashing and you're just going down with it. regardless, you're fucked. you can't get out in time so you either sell at a loss or ride it down. maybe your stock is microsoft and you recover just fine, but maybe you're at wachovia, maybe cisco, maybe GE. this is a tale as old as time. diversification is boring as hell, but it'll save your ass.

 
thebrofessor:
5. company man. this is a generic tale but one we've seen so many times it's worth mention again. you graduate college or b-school and get hired into a management training program at a F500 company, you've got it made in the shade. this company promotes from within, gives good raises off of a good starting salary, offers travel opportunities, shadowing opportunities, and best of all, look at their stock! during the benefits enrollment as a new hire, you overhear an employee about 10y your senior talk about how he's made a killing by putting his 401k into the company stock, so you, being the naive 22 year old wanting to fit it, mimic his decision. for a while, things look great, the company's growing in the high teens per year and along with it, your 401k. no such thing as too much return, right? if it ain't broke, don't fix it! your company stock strategy has beaten the market handily over the past several years, and you watch the stock religiously. one month, you see the stock take a dive when the market has a good month. you think "wtf, my department had a good couple of months, I wonder what's happening," then you learn about earnings reports and find the company missed earnings. suddenly you become curious so you ask your boss what it means to "miss estimates," and you're given some canned answer about how hard it is to impress wall street and to not worry about it. since you don't have the guts or the knowledge to challenge him/her, you go back to your desk, a little uncomfortable, but now a devoted follower of the stock, determined not to sell below the peak price before it started going down. weeks go by, the stock flounders in a trading range, and then you get a pop upwards. vindication! finally, my patience paid off, so you breathe a sigh of relief. this goes on for years while you accumulate more and more shares, until one day, you see some news. perhaps it's a missed sales estimate, the premarket has the stock down 20%. perhaps it's allegations of accounting fraud, perhaps the whole market is crashing and you're just going down with it. regardless, you're fucked. you can't get out in time so you either sell at a loss or ride it down. maybe your stock is microsoft and you recover just fine, but maybe you're at wachovia, maybe cisco, maybe GE. this is a tale as old as time. diversification is boring as hell, but it'll save your ass.

Citi used to be one of our clients for employee financial planning services in 2008, and they really used to push stock in the 401k. those who didn't get axed at least are still solvent for the most part. The share price is back where it was before the crisis, but that 10 for 1 reverse split wiped everybody's savings out. (and their stock is still down ~90% on an adjusted basis)

The only difference between Asset Management and Investment Research is assets. I generally see somebody I know on TV on Bloomberg/CNBC etc. once or twice a week. This sounds cool, until I remind myself that I see somebody I know on ESPN five days a week.
 

It's human nature, but I'm still shocked by the ones who are prudent enough to work with guys like you in the first place and still choose to go off the rails. And screw those kids in #3

 

the most ironic part in my opinion is it's not specific to intellect, upbringing, or status. just like we've seen rednecks save tons of money and create generational wealth, we've seen ivy league educated people be in complete denial and blow through money like it's going out of style. financial irresponsibility transcends class, race, status, gender, everything. you either are responsible or you're not.

this would be a lot more fun if we could write about success stories. fortunately the ones that end in ruin we rarely oversee, it works out like #3 where we get fired for telling them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.

 
thebrofessor:
30 for 30 - broke
According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated article, 60 percent of former NBA players are broke within five years of retirement. By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress. Sucked into bad investments, stalked by freeloaders, saddled with medical problems, and naturally prone to showing off, many pro athletes get shocked by harsh economic realities after years of living the high life. Drawing surprisingly vulnerable confessions from retired stars like Keith McCants, Bernie Kosar and Andre Rison, as well as Marvin Miller, the former executive director of the MLB Players Association, this fascinating documentary digs into the psychology of men whose competitive nature can carry them to victory on the field and ruin off it. Director Billy Corben (The U, Cocaine Cowboys, Limelight) paints a complex picture of the many forces that drain athletes' bank accounts, placing some of the blame on the culture at large while still holding these giants accountable for their own hubris. A story of the dark side of success, "Broke," is an allegory for the financial woes haunting economies and individuals all over the world.

—ESPN Films

 

Not sure why this is surprising. 60% of people in any professional sports league probably make the league minimum for 3 years and then flame out. Confirmation bias is such that we remember the names that have been around forever and have successful careers, but even guys who get to their first free market contract barely represent a majority, IIRC. People who make it to multiple free agencies are a fairly small minority of players. And for those guys, it isn't crazy to see how they go broke - minimum salary in the NBA is 490k, so your take home pay is probably under 300,000. That's a lot of money, but if you play for 3 years and make a million bucks, it's easy to squander that quickly. And then you're stuck with no skills, no education, and probably a lot of expenses from the high-flying days...

 

A trader should always live below their means. Too volatile. Applies to bankers to a lesser extent as burnout is possible. It’s a highly leveraged career. Better to save so you have an escape hatch.

 

I have stories after stories of people spending too much and losing it all in the recession, none are too interesting though, few suicides there too.

The craziest one I've ever heard was from some of my RE friends in PHX. They said some ex-Lehman Brothers trader couldn't afford his mansion down the street from their office and burned it to the ground, and escaped in a scuba suit, only to get charged with attempted murder, since he was in the house, and took cyanide pills in court and died right there in front of the judge.

Supposedly there were a bunch of Picasso paintings that were never found (they were out of the house before it burned down)

 

Sic transit gloria mundi, baby. The stories really worth telling are about the ones who lose it all and then make it back. That's character. The rest is bull.

No Surprises!
 

Less extreme, but a guy I know, early 40s, lost about $20 million in the recession. He was a McMansion developer for the stars out in LA and was making a fortune building spec single family houses. Got absolutely hosed.

He’s a commercial developer in a much less expensive COL city now doing very well for himself - kept his family together and everything - but he says the experience was absolutely life changing. His entire approach to, and relationship with, money changed

Commercial Real Estate Developer
 
CRE:
kept his family together and everything

Not sure if it's more remarkable that he did it, or that it needed to be said. Good reason to think long and hard about the type of person you marry.

 

Those kind of guys have an easier recovery period. He’s got a real skill as a developer he can put to work. Losing the fortune sucks but the reason he likely made 20 million was being highly leveraged.

A career like that seems easier to have a second act than someone who was like a mbs trader and blew out.

 

Guy heads up a floor at a large money manager, pulling in $1M every year for 10 years. Well connected, top business school, the whole nine yards. Started making this kind of money relatively young at age 30, then by age 40 he looks 60 due to excessive drinking.

Now overtaken by alcoholism halfway through his life, right around the world financial crisis, assets plummet and he leaves his job for undisclosed reasons. Drinking gets him in jail on multiple occasions, and being unemployed "retired early" eats up all his savings.

Ultimately, it was the decisions made while drinking which really destroyed him financially. During extensive periods of alcohol-induced irrationality, large amounts of money would abruptly be moved as a result of whimsical generosity or impulsive purchases.

Beware the bottles...and don't pay for models.

The end.