Fribble Tuesday, November 30, 1999

A Fool in Wise Clothing

By Chris Grantham (

I had an interesting surprise last week. A financial consultant for American Express (who also happened to be my English teacher's son) came in to talk to our class. I was skeptical at first� skeptical of lots of things. Would the class even care? Could anyone really hold the attention of thirty-five teenagers for an hour and a half, while speaking about something rather obscure to most teens -- financial security for our wonder years. I mean, come on! Fifty-nine and a half? That's like� old!

I was also skeptical about my ability to keep my mouth shut if he turned out to be Wise. I promised myself that I wouldn't do anything more than spar. Perhaps a little light jousting, but no major combat. Fortunately I didn't have to test my resolve. He waxed Foolish early on. He made some important points to us about diversification. While I don't think that teenagers need to be nearly as diversified as to include bonds in anything we own, he made the important diversification point nonetheless. Certainly, he didn't exactly suggest that we all run out and buy T-Bills, but he didn't discourage us either.

The important thing to note is that there are Fools out there, working for large, potentially Wise companies. He made the most important points that you could possibly make to a bunch of spend-happy teens. Stay away from credit cards. They're bad news! Ironic, don't you think. I mean, he does work for American Express, even if it's not in the credit card area. I find it humorous in general because I'm sure there are many other financial planners at AMEX suggesting that clients curtail their credit card use! Anyway, lecturing teens about credit cards is like lecturing about drugs. Some are going to use them no matter what, some are going to avoid them no matter what. But the few undecideds you can steer clear will make it all worthwhile.

What did I take away from this -- being the Foolhardy teen I was? Aside from some details about the multitude of different IRA options out there, I've got a newfound respect for corporate America. Specifically, American Express will be getting a lot of attention from me over the next few months as I decide how to invest my Christmas pennies. Any company like AMEX that advocates fiscal responsibility (even at the cost of short-term profits) in turn creates a more conscientious fiscal consumer, a more educated consumer, one that is better for the economy.

After all, that's what Foolishness is all about -- education.