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The Free Lunch

In  spite of the old adage to the contrary, we all from time to time still like to believe that we can get a "free lunch."  I certainly thought that I had one coming a couple of weeks ago.  Let me tell you how the wisdom of that old saying was yet, once again, brought home to me.

Like me, you may from time to time get a "special invitation" in the mail.  I must be on about a dozen mailing lists where I get these invitations about once every six weeks to come, and bring a guest, to a very informative financial presentation.  The invitation usually gives you a teaser description of the "informative material" to be covered, after which a delicious, free lunch will be served.  This particular invitation came with two tickets conspicuously labeled as an "$89 value."  We would be treated to not only a free lunch, but we would also learned how to "Insure you do not outlive our money."  Well, four things really grabbed me about this particular invitation:  1) It was to be held at September's, a new restaurant in my town that I had previously tried and knew to serve excellent food; 2) I certainly do not want to outlive my money and any help to achieve that would interest me; 3) The ticket was worth $89 (it plainly said that right on the ticket); I figured that combined with the lunch this was going to be about a $110 deal for me! and 4) I was off and available to go. 

I had some inkling that everything was not as it seemed prior to the day of the lunch.  As my wife had almost immediately indicated that she did not see the value there, she made plans to do something other than investigate how to avoid "outliving our money." Thus, I needed  only one of the tickets.   So, I decided to sell the other one. Now again I stress, it said right on the ticket that it was an $89 value.  So I thought "What the heck, why be greedy?"  After all the ticket was given to me, so I decided to sell it for $50.  I offered it to my neighbor and he declined even though I tried to show him what a bargain it had to be.  In fact, he may have even laughed at me.  Then I tried to sell it to my preacher, a man known far and wide as one who can spot a bargain.  He likewise declined.  I then swallowed my pride and offered it to him for a mere $20!  He again declined, and I decided that maybe he was not so sharp at spotting a bargain after all.  I then tried to give the ticket away, and to my surprise could not find a taker for a free $89 ticket.  I wondered what was the matter with these folks.  So the other ticket ultimately proved to be worth less than face value as far as I was concerned. 

The day before the event, the gentleman who was sponsoring it honored me with a personal phone call to tell me that he was looking forward to meeting me and to encourage me to be there a few minutes early so "we can start on time."  So I showed up about 10:50 AM for the 11:00 program.  As I checked in with a lady taking names and addresses, I gave her the ticket I did not need and told her I would just take  the $89; now I am quite sure that she laughed at me.  After that indignity, I quietly took a seat next to another couple and waited for lunch.  By 11:10 there must have been about 20 folks in attendance, and I suppose they decided no one else was coming (they were right) so the lady who took my name and laughed at me took the floor and introduced our host.  He spoke for only a few minutes and introduced our speaker of the hour, a man who apparently was learned in the field of not outliving one's money and a prophet as well as he had apparently prophesied the market meltdown of 2000 (along with about every other market observer of the day).  This gentleman came equipped with a power point presentation and the fervor of an evangelical preacher in New Orleans!  He quickly warned us that only by being very wise and using the services of our host would we stand a chance of not "outliving our money."  There was an empty chair at the table across from me.  He would from time to time grab that chair and make reference to the guy who should be in that chair learning at the knee of the expert, but instead thought it more important to be "out playing golf."  That poor schmuck obviously does not stand a chance of out living his money!  Now it was a spectacularly beautiful spring day, and playing golf was exactly what was on my agenda for 1:15 PM that day.  Every time he mentioned my missing tablemate, I would get a little more anxious about getting to the golf course.  But this gentleman's enthusiasm never wavered as he explained all of the horrible things that could happen to one's money in the stock market.  As this went on at length I began to wonder if I was going to hear about the magic of "equity indexed annuities."  And, at about 11:30, I discovered that I must be a prophet also, as we all heard how these special annuities can be the answer to so many of our problems. 

He spoke at length about all of the things about which our host was an expert.  He explained that we needed him to help us set up "stretch IRAs", single premium insurance policies, TOD (transferable on death) accounts in order to avoid probate, and rebalance our retirement funds.  Some of the things he spoke about were things with which I was familiar, and though I did not catch him giving outright false information, he certainly left a lot of information on the table, so to speak.  For example, almost any mutual fund company can easily help you to set up a "stretch IRA" as it is as simple as having the proper beneficiary designated.   He spoke at great length  about several things and eventually got to the point where I thought he began to repeat himself.  I know that he mentioned my missing tablemate about four times, and I began to get antsy.  About 11:50 I desperately needed to wash my face, a cup of coffee, and to go to the bathroom.   Thus I screwed up my courage and, right in the middle of the personal story of how his father, a mutual funds salesman had ruined his grandparents' retirement, I got up and went to the bathroom.  I only barely managed to get back to my seat without getting the coffee, but out of respect to my other inmates, I passed on it.  He eventually gave the group a short break at 12:15, warning us to be gone for only five minutes as he wanted to finish up quickly so we could get to the wonderful lunch they had planned for us.  The ladies room apparently had only one or two commodes as a line quickly formed outside their restroom.  This delayed things beyond the allotted five minutes, so the learned gentleman sent our host to tell the girls to hurry up as he had quite a bit of information to yet share with us.  I was sure that this was where they would bring in the coffee, but I was wrong.  I thought he had surely by now heard my snoring, but he was apparently so "into the moment" that he had missed it.  Eventually we all assembled back in our room, and the power point was fired up once more.  We had graphs of the last three market "meltdowns" and statistics to prove the enormous financial carnage that these created.  If only they had been in "equity indexed annuities" sold by our host!  He grabbed my missing tablemate's chair another two times and by now I was desperate to go find him on the golf course!  We heard how our host would not "charge us a dime" for the enormous good he could do for us.  I am almost sure he noticed that I pounded my head on the table when he said this.  But I quickly got it together; by now I was determined that I would show him that I would not leave until I had my lunch and a cup of coffee.  Alas, he eventually proved more determined than I as he droned on another forty-five minutes; the last fifteen came after he said "SO finally, in summary. . "  I could physically sense the day getting shorter as I strove to stay engaged with the learned gentleman while he finished his presentation, get my free lunch, and then get to the golf course.  At 1:03 PM, two hours and thirteen minutes after I walked in the door, the learned gentleman flashed up his last power point slide and sat down.  As our host was explaining that the lady would now come around prior to our lunch being served to set up a time for us to get together for further consultation, our "free" consultation, I lost all control and bolted for the door.  I immediately stopped at Krystals and bought two cheeseburgers and a cup of coffee as I hustled to the golf course.  Yes Virginia, there is no such thing as a free lunch!


19 April, 2008

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Reader Comments (1)

hopefully that is the last "free lunch" you will waste your time at! Except if they are offering free luggage at a time share in Gatlinburg, of course.

April 22, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterginger

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