I am getting old, my friends. I am getting old. It’s no longer just a feeling, either. More and more, there are objective real-world reminders that I’m not the young man I once was. Kris and I spent last weekend, for instance, hanging out with other old folks at our 20-year college reunion.

We had a blast, of course. Though we don’t see most of our old friends as often as we’d like, when we do get together, the connections still feel strong. We went to a small school (our graduating class was probably about 350 students), and so most of us knew each other. A lot of us stay in touch by blog, Facebook, or e-mail. Our ties are tight.

WU motto: Not unto ourselves alone are we born.

For me, of course, it’s always fun to hear about people’s financial lives, especially when they’re successful. Before we left for the reunion on Saturday, I grabbed a small notepad. “You’re going to write about the reunion for Get Rich Slowly, aren’t you?” Kris said. She knows me pretty well.

I jotted a lot of random notes over the weekend. For example, I learned that in 1998, one classmate published a well-regarded book about investing called Sleeping Like a Baby. And another founded LegitScript, a website that certifies which internet pharmacies are providing legal, authentic prescription drugs. (LegitScript has over 85,000 pharmacies in its database; of these, only 323 are legitimate!)

But mostly I used my notebook to write down dialogue from hours of conversation.

Martin Gets Robbed

Kris and I talked with Martin, for instance, who rents a home in Portland. He lives at the bottom of a hill, just outside a very nice neighborhood. As a result, he gets to meet some powerful people. (He told a story about recruiting the governor of Oregon to find his daughter’s lost cat.)

Perhaps because he lives near some posh homes, his own place has been robbed four times this summer. “They’ve taken everything I have at this point,” Martin told us with a sigh. But it’s not just his house. Thirteen other nearby places have been burglarized recently.

“The police aren’t much help,” Martin told us. “They say there’s nothing they can do. They recommended I just watch Craigslist to see if I could find my Stuff.”

I liked that Martin used the word Stuff to described the things the burglars had taken. “It is just Stuff,” he said. “I’m in a fine financial position to replace the Stuff. And I have renters insurance. At first I felt violated, but I’m over that now.”

“Actually,” Martin said, “I hate to compliment the people robbing my home, but at least they’re doing a nice job. They don’t trash the place. There’s no identity theft. They just get in and get out, almost like they have a shopping list.”

Sara Saves

Since I’m about ready to leave for a few weeks in Peru, naturally I talked a lot about travel. Many of my classmates studied abroad when they were in college. Others have found the travel bug as adults.

Sara, for instance, had always wanted to go on the annual college-sponsored trip to Florence, Italy, but she couldn’t afford it when she was in school. And she couldn’t afford it after school either. But when she found out the school was going to end the program, she decided to do it. She and her husband spent a year savings specifically for the trip.

“We opened a separate savings account,” Sara said. “We used that to save for the trip. I put a little away every month. Then one day my husband topped it off to surprise me.”

“I love targeted savings accounts,” I said.

“I know,” Sara said, smiling. (Turns out she reads Get Rich Slowly!) “I do too. We still have that account open, and we still use it to save for vacations. It gives us permission to do things that we otherwise wouldn’t do. Right now, we’re saving for our twentieth wedding anniversary.”

“And your husband likes this?” Michael asked. Michael is the former GRS “intern”; he spent much of 2008 helping me keep this site organized. Michael and Sara went to high school together.

“Yes,” said Sara. “The only one nerdier about money than I am is my husband! We live in a small house, but we own it. Because of that, I was able to quit my job.”

“‘Own it’ as in you paid off the mortgage?” I asked.

“Exactly,” she said.

“Awesome,” I said. (In real life, I use the word “awesome” far too often.)

“We’re buying our house again,” Michael said. “Rates are so low that we’re refinancing for fifteen years and taking money out in order to remodel. We ran the numbers and decided that it would take too long to save like we’d normally do. By the time we’d saved for it, we wouldn’t have any time left to enjoy it.” Michael’s a savvy saver, so I’m sure he’s making a smart choice.

Old friends.
Old friends (under ghastly red lights)

Jen Scams the Banks

Kris and I spent a lot of time talking with Jen, who used to know us pretty well. “Do you still keep separate finances?” Jen asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Do you still keep your cereal boxes separate?” she asked.

“What?!?” Kris said.

“You used to keep your cereal separate. Like if you both had Wheaties, you’d each have your own box. It was hilarious.”

“We don’t do that anymore,” Kris said. (And though neither of us can remember actually doing that while we were dating, I’ll admit it sounds like something we might have done.)

“Do you have separate accounts?” I asked Jen. I expected her to say no, of course. Most people join their finances when they get married. But she surprised me.

“We do have separate accounts,” Jen said. “We like it. But I think it’s because my husband and I came together as adults. If we’d met when we were younger, our finances might be more merged.”

Jen and her husband have a sort of division of labor when it comes to finances. She takes care of the regular monthly bills because she’s better at keeping track of them. But he takes care of all of the banking. Her husband frets that they’re not saving enough, though.

“I guess we’re very financially responsible, even though my husband worries,” Jen said. “We just had a financial adviser review our retirement last week, and he laughed that my husband was so worried. He told us we’re fine. My husband’s still worried, though, but it’s good to know that a pro thinks we’re on course.”

At this point, Jen noticed I was scribbling in my notebook. “Are you taking notes?” she asked. “Ha! What else do Get Rich Slowly readers want to know? Should I tell you how we used to scam the banks?”

“Scam the banks?” I asked.

“Well, it wasn’t really a scam. It just felt that way.”

“How’d you do it?”

“Well, the credit card companies used to offer zero-percent interest rates, right?” Jen said. “We’d get a new card and take out a $10,000 advance at zero percent, and then put the money in a savings account for a year or eighteen months or whatever it was. We made a vow that we would never spend it. And we didn’t. The money sat there earning interest. We’d earn $300 or $400 in a year. It wasn’t a lot, but it was something. It felt like a scam!”

The party's over, but we're not leaving.
The party’s over, but the class of 1991 lingers on. (Some of us, anyhow.)

Old Friends

We spent a lot of time gazing wistfully at the red brick buildings, wishing we could be students again. “I miss doing whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it,” Lisa said. While we were in college, it always seemed like there was so much to do, so much work to do, but looking back it’s clear that we had it easy. We all agreed it would be fun to grab current students at random and challenge them to a study-off. We have no doubt we’d win.

“Now I know why all of the ‘non-traditional’ students used to get the best grades,” I said. “They were more motivated. And they knew how to work.”

It was getting late, but the nine of us who remained weren’t ready to leave. None of us wanted to wait five years to get together again. But that’s how time works. “I used to be able to stay up until eleven,” John said. “But I can’t do it anymore!”

“We’ve got to pay a babysitter,” Laura said. “So we’ve got to leave soon.”

“How much do you pay for a babysitter?” John asked.

“$10 an hour,” Laura said. “But that’s a small-town rate.”

“It’s $15 an hour in Seattle,” said Aaron.

“I pay $8 an hour in Montana,” said Jen.

With that, we rose slowly and sauntered outside. Four current students were seated in the quad, laughing and lounging under the starry sky. “Hey,” they said as we walked past.

“Hey,” I said.

“Were you here for the reunion?” they asked. “What class were you in?”

“We’re the class of 1991,” we said. “What about you?”

“2012,” they said. “And were you all friends back then? Are you still friends now?”

We looked at each other and smiled. “Yes,” we said. “We were friends. And we still are. And maybe, twenty years from now, the four of you will still be friends too.” And I hope they will be. Friends, especially old friends, are worth far more than money.

52 Replies to “Old friends: Scenes from a class reunion”

  1. Becka says:

    I just had to giggle at your “small school” with a class of 350. That’s about what I graduated with as well, but the first high school I attended had something like 450 for the entire student body.

    • Becka says:

      Ha, OH! *COllege* reunion. Oops. Yes, that’s tiny. 🙂

    • Ru says:

      Small class size?! My university class has 26 people in it! We are probably the smallest bachelors class in the school though.

      And I don’t understand what you meant by “non traditional students”. Can you explain?

      • Becka says:

        Well, now that’s just absurdly small!

        I’m not sure you meant to ask me, but “non-traditional” when it comes to college is pretty much code for “old,” usually age 25+.

        • Ru says:

          Oh, okay, I’ve never heard it said like that before, we usually call them “mature students”.

          Of my class of 26, 14 (I think) are either mature students (over the age of 25) or attended another institution before coming to mine, but that’s very often the case with art school. Nearly everyone attends at least a year late because you’re supposed to do an art foundation year. I took 2 years out from school but didn’t do a foundation year, so started uni at the age of 20.

          We’re a tiny class, but we all want to be there, so we’re a loud and motivated lot!

      • Laura says:

        Non-traditional students are those that are not on the “usual” college path. They may be married, have children, be working full-time jobs and going to school part time, or any of a million other situations that don’t involve spending Friday nights in the dorm trying to score beer and pizza.

    • Jeff Ehrlich says:

      Great pictures! Looks like a very small reunion / High School…hope you had fun!

  2. mabu says:

    People grow old but thing remain the same all be it with new name tag. Read your reunion conversation, interest and concerd only reafirm that we live in a loop.

  3. STRONGside says:

    My 10 year high school reunion is this year, and I have really been looking forward to it. I think it will be fascinating to see where people have gone after high school, and the paths that they all decided to take. I considered my class large with about 250 in our graduating class, but it seems that my perspective was a little skewed.

  4. trb says:

    JD- just finished reading Gail Sheehy’s opus on coming to grips with middle age, and highly recommend it. Start with 1976’s Passages, or skip to the 1995 updated New Passages. I think there’s a lot there for everyone trying to figure out what the next half century will hold.

  5. My University Money says:

    That’s a really neat story, the ending seems almost “storybook.” What I’m wondering is how were you lucky enough to find friends that were comfortable discussing financial stuff openly? I find it is such a social taboo, and I’m not quite sure why. It’s frustrating for me as a young person because I’m sure there is a lot I could learn by talking to people with more experience. I can’t wait to see some of my friends at the five-year reunion soon!

    • J.D. Roth says:

      Well, in a way I’m lucky. Because people know that I write about money, they often just open up to me about it. Our conversations naturally go there.

      But one way to get people to talk about money with you is to actually talk about your own life and your own struggles. I’ve found that if I share the things I’m going through, it often gets people to talk about their own experiences. In other words, if I go first, it often breaks the ice and makes it easier for other people to talk about money. This doesn’t always work, but it does sometimes…

  6. David says:

    Old friends are like siblings, it’s nice to have someone else who remembers specific things that you remember.

    Two typos:

    “We living in a small house…”

    “I used to be able to say up until eleven…”

  7. monsterzero says:

    I’m not very good at hanging on to old friends when there’s geographic separation. That’s something I should work on.

  8. akajb says:

    “Now I know why all of the ‘non-traditional’ students used to get the best grades,” I said. “They were more motivated. And they knew how to work.”


    This type of thinking drives me nuts, and I hear people say it all over. It’s just not true. *Some* non-traditional students do very well. *Some* traditional students do very well.

    I’m coming up on my 10 year high school next June. I don’t think my HS has ever done a reunion. I don’t think I’d go if they did anyway. I’m only in contact with 3 people from high school, and that’s probably 3 more than I really want to be. But I couldn’t wait to get out of it and off to university.

    • Chris says:

      And many, who were both a traditional and non-traditional student at different points of their lives, did better as a non-traditional student.

      • akajb says:

        Which doesn’t counter what I said at all.

        You can also say that many people who go back to school as a non-traditional student probably weren’t very successful the first time around, and so it’s not surprising that they do better the second time around. People who were successful the first time around are less likely to need/want to go back.

        Anyway, my only point was that I wish people would realize that it’s not a bad thing for some students to go straight to university, where they will excel. And it’s not a bad thing for others to not go directly to university and then go later should they become ready for it.

        We give university too much prestige. We need people doing all kinds of jobs, and many of them should *not* require a university degree – which doesn’t make them less important.

  9. Mary says:

    “We looked at each other and smiled. “Yes,” we said. “We were friends. And we still are. And maybe, twenty years from now, the four of you will still be friends too.” And I hope they will be. Friends, especially old friends, are worth far more than money.” You really are rich!

  10. Pamela says:

    I really like your friend, Martin. His story is a good reminder that people can steal your “stuff” but they can’t steal your peace of mind unless you let them.

  11. econobiker says:

    Scam the banks: or the old app-a-rama to get the most credit in the least amount of time then deposit it into high interest savings and make the interest. Though they did have to make sure that they were making the minimum payments or the bank would have clobbered them with fees and interest charges.

    “Well, the credit card companies used to offer zero-percent interest rates, right?” Jen said. “We’d get a new card and take out a $10,000 advance at zero percent, and then put the money in a savings account for a year or eighteen months or whatever it was. We made a vow that we would never spend it. And we didn’t. The money sat there earning interest. We’d earn $300 or $400 in a year. It wasn’t a lot, but it was something. It felt like a scam!”

  12. Tiffany says:

    I cant believe a person has been robbed that many times in one summer that is just crazy. I would have to move if I could afford it. And its great that Sara and her husband are saving to be able to do something she has been wanting to do since school. Yeah I really feel that I am starting to get old as well. Our son doesn’t even know what a tape deck is…wow!

  13. Beneath The Clutter says:

    I have my 10 year reunion coming up in June! Your stories have made me reflect on my 10 year financial history–I’ve had some ups and downs. But, now, 10 years out I have a clearer picture as to my goals and steps to accomplishing those.

  14. El Nerdo says:

    RE: Peru trip.

    You lucky dog! Don’t forget to get some parihuela, ok? It’s not as famous as cebiche, but damn, it’s an elixir of delight. Yes, it’s “soup”, but that word doesn’t do it justice.

    You should have been there last week though. See:

    Anyway I was listening to Rubén Blades yesterday and I thought this song might be GRS-appropriate. Ask your teacher to show you the lyrics:


    (ignore the disco intro– it’s for mockery– oh and the video is not “official”. but great, great lyrics.)

  15. Sadaf says:

    I’m really interested in knowing how couples manage finances with separate bank accounts. I know all the bills probably get paid, but how do you figure out who pays what? Is it just a percentage of income? I’d like to learn more.

    • Kristen says:

      Sadaf – my husband and I keep separate checking and savings accounts, but they’re all at the same banked, and we’re both users on one another’s accounts. I have a spreadsheet that breaks the bills out by due date, etc. When someone gets paid, those bills get paid online, and then the money for savings gets transferred to the appropriate savings account (hubby is self employed, so we have a savs account just to hold tax money, another for house payment, another for general savings). We keep our ‘mad money’ in our separate checking accounts and can spend it however we like. I keep very little money in my checking account, so trying to track his transactions against my account would not be a good idea. So, our finances are merged, but our accounts are separate.

    • Ely says:

      You work it out like adults. It’s different for everyone; our system likely wouldn’t work for you, and JD’s system wouldn’t work for us. But if you have communication and partnership it’s no problem.

  16. Bella says:

    Great post JD, friends – especially old ones – are definitely worth more than money. I think sometimes we do get so focused on ‘getting ahead’ that we lose sight of things that really do require an investment of time and money, like friends and family, but offer far greater returns than cash.

  17. Brenda says:

    I got a chuckle out of your idea of a small school. My graduating class had 87 students. My daughter – who is a senior this year – has 9 in her class. Right now there are between 40-50 students in the entire high school. Likewise, my brother’s graduating class had 65 (I believe) whereas my cousin who graduated the same year had over 400 in her senior class with the same types of numbers at the other 2 high schools in that area. Honestly, you don’t know the meaning of small until you live in a very small town (under 4000 is where I grew up but I think the pop where I live now is 200). Sorry for disagreeing but you had a large class.

    • El Nerdo says:

      Er, that was college, not high school. I bet you wish the editing function was back.


      • amba114 says:

        Agree. For a college/university, 350 is a “small” class. For a high school (in the US), that’s considered large. When you think of all the State U.’s with graduating classes in the thousands, an under 400 class seems almost “intimate”.

        • PawPrint says:

          350 is large for high school? Hhmm, there were about 600 in my H.S. graduating class in 1971. I thought that was normal, but I guess not. Maybe normal for then, but not now?

  18. Ally says:

    That’s so funny how you say you went to a “small” school!! My graduating class had 33 students, including myself. I’m friends with just about all of them on Facebook. My 10 year reunion should be sometime next year (class of 2002).

    • Ally says:

      I didn’t read the previous comments. I see now that it was a college you were talking about. I’m not sure how many students graduated from my college but I don’t think it was very many. I didn’t have any friends in college (I was a book nerd and spent my entire time studying) so I definitely wouldn’t go to a college reunion.

      • Megan says:

        It IS a small college! I went to a similar-size college, and had maybe 200 people in my graduating class. There are suburban high schools that graduate double that many every year!

        For perspective, the big state schools in my state have literally thousands of students graduating every year.

  19. Ben - BankAim says:

    Wow.. so that’s what we will look like in about 10 years!!? I just had my 10 year reunion!

  20. Ashley @ Everything Finance says:

    Such a sweet story. I haven’t been to any of my reunions. It’s awesome that everyone is still friends and it’s not awkward. Kudos to getting financial conversations out of everyone. They are my favorite!

  21. jim says:

    I have to agree with what Martin said : ““I hate to compliment the people robbing my home, but at least they’re doing a nice job. They don’t trash the place. There’s no identity theft. They just get in and get out, almost like they have a shopping list.”

    Seriously its a lot nicer if the robbers don’t needlessly trash your place when they steal your stuff. I’d much rather have them take the TV than smash a window, take the TV, and break the unlocked drawer in my desk for no apparent reason. Portland has higher than average property crime rates and I blame the meth heads.

    But Martin really needs to get some form of security at his home. I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t have done so already.

    • PawPrint says:

      Can renters install security systems? I thought they had to be hardwired into the house or something. If there is a security system that renters could use, I think that would be worthwhile in Martin’s case.

  22. elena says:

    The babysitting rates amaze me.

    • Tyler Karaszewski says:

      In what way? You wouldn’t pay someone more to watch your child than you would to make you french fries?

  23. Natalie @ Mango says:

    JD, this is great. I love that you’ve taken a college reunion and managed to turn it in to a post about finances! Bravo! There is something about class reunions that fascinates me. I mean, I obviously did not go to your school or graduate with your friends– really, your post has nothing to do with me at all– and yet I couldn’t help but read every word as though I were there. I think it is the story in the class reunion; there is always so much potential there. And in this case, you really did unearth some fascinating information! As you mentioned, most people do merge their bank accounts when they get married, but in certain instances, I think it might even be a better idea not to. Did your friends say why they’d decided to do that in the first place, other than the late marriage?

  24. retirebyforty says:

    Old friends are the best! I made many lifelong friends in college and really miss spending time with them. We really need to plan a get together soon. Glad you had fun.

  25. krantcents says:

    I never actually wen to a reunion, but I caught up with a few friends when I am in the area. I find that the things we have in common has changed, but it is fun to catch up.

  26. bemoneyaware says:

    Meeting old friends face-to-face is much better than meeting them on facebook. Great post about the great time that u had.

  27. Ziraldo says:

    I never went to any reunion. I chose not to. There was no point to it. School was something to get through as quickly as possible and then to move on to the next thing. I’m reasonably successful but in retrospect I have been nothing more than a phantom ship on a phantom ocean.

    When I was in school, this country was going through the worst social convulsions it ever knew–possibly exceeded only by the Civil War and the situation now.

    Anyone who lived through those times remembered the draft riots and race riots which rocked this society to its foundation.

    Anyone who lived through those times remembered turning on a television and viewing the nightly carnage of Vietnam.

    There was the fear one had of being drafted; the fear of attending an older brother’s funeral who believed he was fighting for freedom but was nothing more than a victim of a Cold War mentality; there was the fear of entering a job market which at the time was in recession.

    And unfortunately today’s young face the same prospect: an unemployment rate of over 9% and a new generation of wounded men and women– victims of a war they never sought.

    And you know what sad thing is? The generation that believed so much in the human sprit now constitute the stagnant establishment. We failed our children and grandchildren. We have failed you.

  28. Jade says:

    I can’t wait for my school reunions,it is going to be so interesting to find out how everyones lives have turned out.

  29. Laura @MotherWouldKnow says:

    Lovely story. I just went back to my college after being away for decades. No reunion (class of 8,000 meant no reason to go to those) – just walking around, enjoying campus. Made me realize that some of my best friends are still the people I met when I was 18 yrs old.

    On the “scam” – too bad you can’t do that anymore. With interest rates at virtually 0, no point to putting money away just to earn interest. Hyperinflation no good either, but it would be nice to get back to reasonable rates for CDs and savings. Hard to teach the value of saving in this environment.

  30. Only counting on myself... says:

    1991 seems like yesterday to me you young ‘un.

  31. Marie says:

    I went to Willamette too!! I’ve been reading your blog for about a year, and never knew that we had the same alma mater. I live in the SF Bay Area now, but am a proud member of the WU class of 2005. Go Bearcats!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close Search Window