Les: When you invest, when you get started, chances are, you’re gonna make a mistake or two along the way. Nobody’s perfect. Heck, even the pros. They make recommendations that don’t always work out. So I think one of the keys is to understand that you’re gonna make a mistake. Don’t let that stop you from getting started.
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Chris: This is the Penny Forward podcast, a show about blind people building bright futures one penny at a time.
Liz: I’m Liz Bottner.
Chris: And I’m Chris Peterson.
Liz: We are blind people learning, from each other, what it takes to be successful in our personal, professional, and financial lives.
Liz: Before we start, we’d like to thank Ron and Lisa Brookes, at Accessible Avenue, for sponsoring the Penny Forward podcast. I’m sure many of us have experienced frustration and uncertainty when trying to use public transportation or paratransit services that are either inaccessible, or just poorly designed for meeting our needs. Accessible Avenue works with transit agencies and other mobility providers to make transportation services accessible for everyone, including those of us who are blind or visually impaired. Accessible Avenue also works with individuals and organizations who need training or assistance with public transportation problems. You can learn more at
Liz: If the topic of investing seems incredibly daunting, or your first thought upon hearing the word “investing” is, “I could never do that!” You are most definitely not alone. Additionally, while our inclination when our elders tell us things may be to not listen to them, much wisdom and invaluable life lessons can come from age and experience. Les Kriegler is 71 years old. Over his long life, he has enjoyed a successful career in the New York state rehabilitation system, both as a counselor and an administrator, raised two children with his wife Jane, and become a successful investor. We invited Les on because we think he has a lot to teach us about how investing can be a powerful tool to help blind people lead comfortable and care free lives.
Liz: Hey, Les. Thank you for being here.
Les: Thanks for inviting me.
Liz: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Les: Well, I live in Highland New York, which is about two hours north of New York City, I am 71 years old, happily retired. I live with my wife Jane. We have two children, two very nice in-laws, and two wonderful grandchildren. And I enjoy traveling, reading, computers even though they frustrate me sometimes, and managing our investments, I’ve always had an interest in there, and I think I’ll let it go at that for now.
Chris: So, could you talk a little bit about what your life was like as a blind person, and how your career played out over the course of your life?
Les: Well, I feel pretty fortunate. When I grew up, I did spend a few years at the New York state school for the blind, but I spent most of my education in the public school system, and I think that helped me prepare for college. I think things were a little too easy at the state school, and it was good for me to have to learn how to get things done, certainly when I was in high school. When I graduated, I had gotten a masters in rehab counseling. That was my profession. Originally, I thought I wanted to teach, and I made a career change in my late twenties. And, as far as my career is concerned, it’s funny. Things happened very quickly for me. Because I graduated, I got married about a month later, I was lucky enough to be offered a position about three weeks after that, and I started work about three weeks after that. So it was all kind of whirlwind, but I feel very fortunate that I got the position I got. I remember my father in particular, he used to tell me, “A bird in a hand is better than two in the bush,” which means that when I got my first offer, I had traveled around looking for work, but when I got this offer, which happened to be where my wife lived, I was very happy to accept it.
Liz: When you first moved out on your own, what were your attitudes towards money?
Les: Well, I didn’t think all that much about it. I mean my parents talk about money, so I was comfortable with the topic. I remember, it’s funny now, when I think about it. The first job I got, I was offered a salary of ten thousand eight hundred dollars. And I thought that was just the greatest thing that could have happened. Now remember, that was 44 years ago. ′'(chuckle.) And a lot’s changed since then. But you remember that, as far as money, I knew we would have to pay our basic bills, and I was confident we could do that, and as time went along, I started to think more about my family. We had our first child about four years later, and so, that’s when I really started to think about, “Okay, what am I gonna do in terms of planning an investment program?” I didn’t start investing right away. It was like four years after we got married that I made my first investment.
Chris: So that’s a good Segway into, how did you get started in investing?
Les: Well, like a lot of people, a colleague at work had told me about an investment advisor broker. He referred me to him. I bought a fund through him, through Templeton, which, back then, Templeton was widely regarded as a really good mutual fund company. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I paid a large sales charge to get to the fund, and I thought, “Well, if that’s what it was, that’s what it was.” So, that was the first investment I made. It was basically, I was lucky enough to inherit money. Again, it sounded like a lot back then, and I think I received about 30,000 dollars, and I knew I needed to do something with it. So that’s what I did. And that’s how I started.
Liz: What were some of your first successes in investing when you started?
Les: Well, I would say the first success was actually getting started. Getting the money into a good quality fund. I was happy about that. I knew it was the right thing to do. At the time, I was like 31 years old, and I knew I needed to get started, and a mutual fund made sense to me. So I would say that was success number one.
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Chris: When you started, did you have much of a concept of what a mutual fund was, or what it was that you were investing in?
Les: I think I knew that it was a group of stocks. I had watched enough financial shows, my favorite show, and I don’t know if you two are familiar with this, but there was a show on TV called “Wall Street Week.” Louis Rukeyser, who you might not know, but he was a well respected journalist, and he hosted a show. And so I learned from him, and I used to watch the Nightly Business report on PBS. And so I had at least a decent idea of what a mutual fund was, and how it worked and how it was priced. That’s really the extent of what I knew. I didn’t know specifically, … Again, I knew the name of the fund I was in. I didn’t know exactly what they were invested in. It happened to be the Templeton World Fund, so I figured they were invested in this country, and other countries, and I thought, you know, it was good enough, at that point.
Liz: What were some of the mistakes you made in investing at first?
Les: Well, in retrospect, the mistake I made was paying that front end sales charge of 8 and a half percent. That was a mistake. I didn’t know that, but I subsequently found out, when I started investing in what are called “no load,” which means no sales charge, mutual funds, that that was probably a big mistake. Because twenty-four hundred dollars of the money I invested, maybe a little more, was gone off the top. So to make that back, it was gonna take awhile. So I’d say that was one mistake I made, and the other big mistake I made was buying … And again, somebody had referred me to an insurance sales person. I bought a whole life insurance policy. Paid four hundred dollars. But after one year, I realized that it didn’t really make sense. It was too expensive to buy that, and I realized that mixing insurance and investing was not a good idea. But I think the key thing that I learned ultimately was that everybody makes mistakes. The key is to learn from them and not make the same mistakes again. And I can assure you, I didn’t in those two instances. That was the last sales charge I ever paid, and I certainly have only bought term insurance since then, so I learned. And I figure that’s … That’s how you do it.
Chris: Was there a way that you realized that you were making those mistakes? And about how long did it take for you to come to that realization?
Les: Well, with the insurance, I think it took me the better part of that first year. I mean I had made the decision by the … It was a one year payment that I made, and certainly by the time it was time to make the second payment, I decided I wasn’t gonna do it. So, as far as the sales charge on funds, I think until I started to do some research, and I got involved with Fidelity Investments in 1983, and I … While I’ve been with other companies, I’ve been involved with Fidelity ever since then. I always enjoy telling some of the reps I speak with that they probably weren’t even around when I got started with Fidelity. But I think once I started to learn about no load investing, … And again, there weren’t a lot of resources. I, again, depended on the medium that I, as a blind person, was comfortable with, radio. And there was this financial show that was on every weekend, Saturday and Sunday, and I started to learn about no load investing. And I started to realize that that really was the way to go. You could pay fees on funds, that’s one thing, but to pay an up front sales charge had nothing to do with how the fund would do. So, I’d say, though, that probably took longer for me to realize, and till probably about 1983 when I actually started getting involved. And Fidelity had some low fund charges too on some of their things, but ultimately, they went more toward no load and I got involved with no load funds.
Liz: Are there any things that you have been able to do, or opportunities that have presented themselves specifically because you have invested?
Les: One of the accounts that I set up was for our children’s education. We felt strongly then, as we do today, that we wanted our children to be involved in helping pay for their education, but obviously, we wanted to handle at least the lion share of it. So, certainly setting up back then, they didn’t have 529, you know, college savings programs like they do now, but they … They still have this I think. I got involved in something I like to call Ugma. U G M A. Uniformed Gift to Minors Act. And that was a way you could shelter some money, and again, I invested in mutual funds, ultimately for both of our kids, and just let it grow. When it was time to use it, there was money there that helped, at least the first year, for sure, and maybe in to the second year, for each. So, it was definitely worthwhile doing, and of course I watched it, and managed it. I’m not one of those people who wanted to invest in a fund and never look at it. ‘Cause I did realize it was important to kind of monitor what was going on. Beyond that, I set up IRA accounts, because in addition to living and college, I did kind of think about retirement even though it was way down the road. I went to work for the state of New York in 1980. So, I started thinking about those things. Even though it was a long way off, and I didn’t really expect that I would necessarily remain with the state. I did, but … And it turned out to be a good move for me. I also got involved with the tax deferred programs that they offered. Even though I had an IRA, initially, I worked for the state education department, and I had an account called a 403B, which is a tax deferred account, and what I really liked about that was, they took the money out for me. I loved that. Because I didn’t have to worry about sending in the payments. And I really am very high on that. Ultimately, I got involved in the state plan when I changed agencies, and got involved in another tax deferred called a 457 plan for the state, and the same thing happened. And I didn’t put huge amount in. I put what I felt … You know, I never put the maximum in. And my wife didn’t either, because we had to live. But what I did do was, the only adjustment I made on the 457, I was doing seven percent of my gross income initially. I also had to pay into my retirement for awhile. It was like three percent contribution. Once that ended, about 20 years after it started, I made sure that additional three percent went into my deferred plan. So I was always conscious of trying to do what I could do without, you know, strangling us, and not, you know, you can’t just live for retirement. You’ve got to do things. And, so, it was a balancing act, but it worked. I sometimes marvel at the fact that it did, but it did. And things worked out really well.
Chris: So, by putting away that money that you were able to put away for retirement in those plans, what is your retired life like now, and how do you attribute that to the things that you did to plan for that?
Les: Oh, I think it made all the difference in the world. First of all, we’re modest people. I mean we’re not … I don’t consider us rich, but we live comfortably, and we worried about the same thing that middle class people worry about. How are we gonna get our kids through college? How are we gonna handle our mortgage? How are we gonna pay all our bills? I think what’s happened now, though, is that now that we’re retired, first of all, we don’t have a mortgage. Which is nice. We’re living in a senior living community. So, but we’re paying rent, and we’re … It was a lifestyle change that we decided to make. But, we really don’t worry about money at this point, because we have money in our own savings. I’ve also … had started a program a long time ago. One of the things I started to do, and I imagine people must do this, although I don’t know anybody who has. But one of the things that we did was we would send money in for car payments. Well, when our car was paid off, we started sending in the money to ourselves. Made the same payments, we were used to making them, just made them to ourselves. Same thing with money that our kids were getting to help them out when they were in college. Well, they graduated, those payments stopped, but we kept making them. Because I was used to making them. And so, instead of sending it to somebody else, I sent it to ourselves. And I think that was very helpful. So, to summarize, to answer your question, I would say, at this point, we’re at a point we don’t really have to worry about money. We live modestly, but we can do what we want to do. If there’s something we want to do, we can do it. If our credit cards are a little higher than we’d like, we can pay them off, and we just don’t have the stress. And I can’t tell you how important that is. Is to not have to, you know, be stressed out over money. We can contribute to our grandchildren’s college, we can help out our kids if we want to help them out, we really can do what we want. We can donate money to who we want to, we can just decide, it’s not based on not having something, it’s more based on “what do we want to do with what we do have?” And that’s liberating. That’s really empowering to be able to do that.
Chris: There’s a term that sounds kind of daunting called “generational wealth,” which basically means that as a family, you start to save for your kids to help them out, and maybe that reduces the amount that they have to worry about money, so that they are able to contribute a little bit more to their kids, so they have to worry a little less about money, and so on and so on, and so it sounds like you really made an effort to start building generational wealth. Is that basically what you’re saying?
Les: I think that’s fair. I mean look. Again, it’s like with everything else. It’s a balancing proposition here. Because we didn’t save for retirement just to pass money on to our kids. We want to enjoy it. We worked for it. We worked hard. And, even though I don’t know really how we did it all, we did, but by the same token, I think we both feel like we would like to leave them something, and we will. And so, there’s two benefits to that. One is we’re gonna enjoy it, but we also are mindful of wanting to pass something to them. And I think our kids know that that’s gonna happen. We’ve had discussions with them about it. I haven’t given them numbers, but they have an idea of what our goals are. And they know that we’ve got all our money consolidated in … pretty much in one firm, with Fidelity now, besides our bank accounts. So I think it will make it easier not only for us, but easier for them when the time comes, when we’re gone, when we pass, that, you know, we also don’t want to make it hard on them to try to get things together. I’ve heard too many horror stories about how people have accounts scatter all over the place, and they have multiple accounts here and there. We don’t want them to have that problem. The money’s there for us, but we intend to leave money for them. But these are all things that, you know it’s important to kind of plan and think about, and discuss. So, that’s what we’ve tried to do.
Liz: What advice do you have related to investing, in particular, or more generally just about life, for other people who are blind or who have low vision who are just starting out?
Les: Well Liz, I’m glad you phrased that the way you did. Because investing and life are really synonymous in my opinion. And I’ll illustrate. When you invest, when you get started, chances are, you’re gonna make a mistake or two along the way. Nobody’s perfect. Heck, even the pros. They make recommendations that don’t always work out. So I think one of the keys is, to understand that you’re gonna make a mistake. Don’t let that stop you from getting started. I’ve heard so many people, and very bright people, who are blind who have said to me, “Oh, I couldn’t invest in the stock market. I don’t know anything about it. I couldn’t do it.” Well, that’s not true, especially if you want to get involved in funds, or if you want to buy some individual stocks, fine, but the point is, the stock market has been the place to be. You look at history, and I’m a big believer in history, that’s where you could make the most money. If you invest in the market. You can’t, without taking ridiculous risks, do better than being in the market. And it doesn’t mean you have to have all your money in the market. You have to be comfortable with your percentages, but I would say it’s important to take the plunge. Start. And it doesn’t matter how much you put in. If it’s 25 dollars a month, 50 dollars a month, it doesn’t matter. What’s more important, in my opinion, is to get that mindset going where you’re making that payment every month, and it’s going in, and, like I said, over time, it really does make a difference. Your money will compound, you’ll earn more money, … If the market happens to go down, and you’re buying in each month, then you’re gonna buy more shares when the market’s down, and when the market’s up, you’re going to reap the benefits. So, that’s a win win. There is risk, of course, but that shouldn’t stop a person from getting going. And do whatever you feel you can do. And pay off those credit cards too. By the way, that’s another mistake I made, fortunately for a short period of time, I’ll never forget. I used to pay our credit card bill’s minimum payments, until I saw, one month, what the interest charges were. And, I was shocked. So, the point is, again, if your in debt, try to pay it down as best you can, and try to get rid of it and make that a goal. Also, try not to use your retirement savings for that. Chances are you’ll have to pay a penalty, and I never liked the idea of having to take money out of your IRA to get out of debt. Try to find another way to do it. And just work on it until you can pay it off. It will happen, if you’re disciplined and you just have that goal and stick to it.
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Chris: I thought of another question that I’d like to ask you if I may.
Chris: You talked about raising children, and a couple of times, you’ve touched on what you’ve discussed with your children about your finances. When you were raising your kids, how did you teach them about money, and what would you suggest other people do as far as having discussions with their families about their finances?
Les: well, we used to make that a regular conversation, whether it was around the dinner table or just in general, I wanted them to understand what we were doing. You know, one of the things, and my wife would tell you. In her family, they didn’t talk about money. So she wasn’t comfortable with the subject. I’m still not sure she really is. She’s certainly more attentive now that we’re retired and, you know, she needs to know what we have, but it’s important to have those discussions. Whether it’s about your checking account, whether it’s about paying off credit cards, and what we were doing, we looked for opportunities, I think, to talk about, and tell them, what we were doing, and the importance of, like I said, not getting in over your head with credit cards, only buy what you can afford, in terms of when I was dealing with financial aid officers, and that was … That’s a … can be a discussion in itself. (Chuckle.) I made sure they at least knew what was going on. And then of course when they had questions, tried to answer them. But I think it’s really important to start as early as possible, even with allowances, when we … we talked about that. We talked about the fact that, you know, when they were really youngsters, you know, seven, eight years old, whatever it was, that we expected them to manage the money they had. Because again, that starts to teach budgeting. Talking about money is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. Because everybody needs to have money, everybody needs to spend it, everybody, hopefully, needs to save it, and the more you have these discussions, the earlier you start the better. Because then they understand, there’s no mystique about it. It’s not something that you’re not supposed to talk about. And that’s how, you know, kids start to learn. And they … I felt our kids certainly were influenced by what we did. They learned from us. And I think they have good habits now too. They save. They pay off their debts. And I’d like to think that we were a prime influence in that happening.
Liz: Is there anything we did not ask you that you would like to share?
Les: Again, I think it’s important to do whatever you can do. There’s no rule that says you have to invest X amount of money. You have to determine what’s comfortable. You can always change it. You know, just because you might put ten dollars away a month to start, that doesn’t mean you’re always gonna be at that point, but do what you can. Get into the habit. It’s really a process. And the sooner you get comfortable with that process of investing a little bit each month, the better off you’re gonna be, and the better you’re gonna feel. And, again, don’t worry if you make a mistake. The point is, you’re doing the right thing. You’re planning for your future. And even though it might seem to be a long way off, believe me, it does happen. And I would also say, the earlier you can start the better. Now, if you can’t start until your forties or 50, it’s not too late. You still, I would encourage people to develop an investing program. But obviously, the sooner you can start, then you’ve got time on your side. That’s the biggest thing you really have going for you, is time. And the more time you have to grow your money, the better you’re gonna wind up doing in the long run. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. And don’t be afraid to talk to people. If you have an account and you’re not comfortable with computers, firms have 800 numbers. Call them. I still, I tell you, and I’m relatively comfortable being on the web. I do some things with apps, with the bank, and with fidelity, and I’m comfortable with that, but sometimes I just want to talk to somebody. I’m a traditional guy that way. I like talking to people on the phone. Because I think there is an element of that that you won’t get from looking on the web. Because a lot of times, what happens is, those of us who are blind, we also have to struggle with dealing with the sites. And so, I think that takes away from … It’s a challenge. And I just feel like there are times when it’s helpful to talk to people. And so I do that. I like to talk to people, get information from them, ask them questions, and all of you can do that. You don’t have to do it all on the computer. You don’t have to do it all on your phone. You don’t have to use the app. You don’t have to use them at all, if you’re not comfortable. You have to assess where you are, and if you have an opportunity to learn to use those resources great. But if you don’t, that shouldn’t stop you. If you’re intimidated by it, that still shouldn’t stop you from developing an investment program and an investment strategy.
Liz: Thank you, Les, for being here, and for sharing your experiences, and your journey with us. We really appreciate it.
Chris: Is there something you’d like to talk about? We’d love to hear from you. Visit pennyforward.com/podcast to learn how to contact us or to leave us a voicemail that we may share on the air. And while you’re there, please make a small donation to support our work to develop accessible and affordable financial education programs for people who are blind.
Liz: The Penny Forward podcast is produced by Liz Bottner and Chris Peterson, Audio editing and post production is provided by Byron Lee, and transcription is provided by Ann Verduin. Music was composed and performed by Andre Louis and Web hosting is provided by Taylor’s Accessibility Services.
Chris: Penny Forward is a community of blind people building bright futures one penny at a time. Visit pennyforward.com to learn more about who we are and what we do. Until next time, for all of us in the Penny Forward community, I’m Chris Peterson
Liz: and I’m Liz Bottner. thanks for listening and have a great week!