I’m sitting in a coffee shop near my house, and at the table next to me are two men. One is 26 years old, and the other is 66 years old—I know this because they told each other. (Yes, I’m totally eavesdropping, but people always ask writers how they get their ideas, and now you know one of the not-so-virtuous ways.) Anyway, my ears perked up here because these two men started discussing their investments in the stock market. “You get more conservative as you get older,” the older man said to the younger.
That made me smile and think about seventh-grader Lindy Sachs, the stock-trading whiz in my book, The Short Seller. This guy is talking about investing when you’re 26—imagine how gutsy you’d be if, like Lindy, you were 12!
“You can’t take as many risks when you get older,” the 66-year-old continued, “because you don’t have as much time to make up for major losses.”
True, I think. But what if you majorly lost your parents’ money, and you have to make it back before they find out? That’d cause some extreme, high-stakes drama; too stressful in the real world, but ripe for great fiction.
The men have moved on to other topics, but I’m still thinking about why older investors might play it safe, while Lindy (fictional though she is) can find herself in so much hot water. Part of it is that Lindy believes she can’t lose, but another part is that, at the age of 12 (and being part of an economically-stable family), she doesn’t yet have a strong sense of the value of money.
As we get older, we get more experience with how much work it is to earn money, how long it takes to save it, and how much it costs to buy the things we want and need. Lindy understands this at first; she thinks about her finances in terms of hours spent baby-sitting or raking leaves. But once online trading earns her some quick cash, she loses sight of how much she’s spending—the dollars become nothing more than numbers on a screen. It’s only when she’s lost an unfathomable amount that she takes a step back and tries to fathom it.
In writing The Short Seller, I didn’t set out to educate anyone about the stock market or comment on the world of finance—I set out to tell a good story. Even so, I’ve heard from many adults who praise my efforts to teach kids about investing, and I agree that it’s important for everyone to be aware of how our economy works.
I’d love for mothers and daughters to read this book together. I hope they both relate to the characters, get sucked in to the story, and laugh in the right places. But it’d be pretty cool if they also begin to discuss the value of money, the purpose of investing, and the ways a computer screen can make us forget that our cyber-actions have real-life consequences.
If reading The Short Seller makes a young girl’s ears perk up at the mention of the stock market, that’d be a big dividend, too.
Elissa Brent Weissman is the author of The Short Seller, Nerd Camp, and Standing for Socks as well as The Trouble with Mark Hopper. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Visit her at EBWeissman.com.