Alexandra Penney had been building up her retirement savings for over 30 years, and a decade ago she put her money in the trust of Bernard Madoff’s firm to grow it. You know how that story ends, but in her ongoing series “The Bag Lady Papers,” Penney writes about the emotional toll of seeing your life’s savings evaporate in what seems like seconds, and how she’s been coping since.
It’s also interesting to see how vitriolic some of the comments are after each entry (she had created a pretty luxurious life for herself, especially for someone who’s an artist and writer). It’s as if her story—which veers wildly between rage and terror—doesn’t have a universal element that anyone can relate to.
I’m in my dented white ’95 station wagon heading south to clear my mind of the Madoff debacle and to sell a very small trailer-size cottage in the funkier part of Florida. I need the money so I’ll have something to live on for the next few months.
Heading down the East Coast on I-95 is terrifically boring, so my mind begins to race with the same old scary thoughts. Was I greedy? No, I was conservative, really. I never wanted to strike it rich with Bernie Madoff. I just wanted financial stability. And I had lost money with other financial advisers, so I trusted an old and valued friend who told me about an investment—Madoff’s fund—that would yield a steady interest, allowing me to work on my art and not be dependent on my family.
As I drive, my outlook turns darker and blacker. What’s going to happen to me? How am I going to earn money? You’re going to lose your edge. You’ll get sick and disabled. You’re going to walk around in shreds, paper in the soles of your worn-out shoes. And—oh, my God! I just realized that with all with the bags and boxes packed into the back of the wagon, I’m already a Driving-Around Bag Lady!
Here are some tips on how to avoid getting caught up in another “Madoff fund” (we wonder if that phrase will enter our lexicon now).