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If I entertain you, will you save for retirement?
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"Anyway, Charlie's had a hard life. He was white-collar, moved from one job to another all his life. Seemed to get a job and then downsized right out of it. Over and over. Even so, he managed to save up $100,000 in retirement money. That's a big chunk a change, if you ask me.

"When he was 55, Charlie decided to invest it into his new brainstorm. Seems he got an idea for a barricade. Expected to go head-to-head against Bob. You know what I'm talking about -- Bob's Barricades -- those roadside contraptions you see lined up on construction sites with the monstrous orange eyes? Like a row of Cyclops. They've been the same for flippin' decades. Charlie wanted to change them into something more creative. So he came up with a new design with more colors, more movement. Innovative, he called it. Avant-garde. A regular roadside Picasso.

"He filed for a patent and then test-marketed some prototypes. They confused drivers. Caused accidents. Charlie never got over it. His partners told him the business he went up against had high barriers to entry. Well, I guess it did! They pulled out. He lost everything.

"Now, he's got nothing but this cardboard box at the viaduct under I-595. Mine's next door. We been pals for years. He rigged up a security system using two of Bob's barricades; strung them up with tin cans around his box. Don't get much wind under here, so it works pretty good. He'd know it fast if someone came snooping around.

"Most days Charlie and I take our posts on the off-ramp of Nob Hill Road. I call it 'Snob Hill.' But it's a lucrative location. We got our signs. We get the occasional sawbuck, but mostly just ones. Only problem is, there's lots of competition. Always have to fend off the newcomers who try to weasel into our territory!

"Me? I never really saved much money in those flippin' retirement plans. Worked mostly retail where they weren't offered. And when I had the chance, I blew it, to tell the truth. I think I saved up 15 grand once and then, when I quit, took the money out and bought a used Mustang.

"That dang 'stang was cool. Only lasted me a few years though. Got into a crash.

"Would I do things differently? Heck yeah. I would've gotten into the panhandling business in my 40s. Hey, it's tax-free income. This ain't so bad. I get enough to get by. But if I'd started earlier and invested my cash, by now, I could a been a millionaire."

I hope I've entertained you. NOW will you start saving for retirement?

Longtime financial journalist Barbara Mlotek Whelehan earned a certificate of specialization in financial planning. If you have a comment or suggestion about this column, write to Boomer Bucks.'s corrections policy-- Posted: April 12, 2006
More stories by Barbara Whelehan
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