Late last year, Frank Warren, a guy who lives in Germantown, Md., passed out 3,000 postcards to strangers, inviting them to mail him a secret they had never divulged to anyone else.
Sure, it was a curious request, but many people found the opportunity to reveal a secret on an unsigned postcard irresistible.
As the postcards flooded in, what had started as a community art project turned into a global phenomenon. Warren began posting a sampling of the secrets on a Web site, www.postsecret.com. And this being America, a book deal came next - "PostSecret, Extraordinary Confessions From Ordinary Lives," which has turned into one of the hottest-selling books during the holiday season.
Some of the secrets you'll find on the Web site and in the book are poignant. One sender wishes he would contract lung cancer so his mom would stop smoking. Others wonder if they are trapped in loveless relationships. Some postcards might make you laugh: "I still suck my thumb. I'm 18."
When I was flipping through PostSecret, I never read anyone's financial secrets. The closest one I saw came from someone who pasted a snippet of an income tax return on a postcard. Across the postcard, the sender wrote: "Income from teaching creative writing: $32,654.00. Income from writing creatively: $0.00."
The secrets project, however, got me thinking about what people must be hiding about their financial lives. Revealing these secrets can be healthy if it prompts people to examine their own relationships with money.
To encourage self-reflection, I've dreamed up the sort of financial secrets that I strongly suspect haunts many people. I've interspersed them with a few of the real secrets (in quotes) that people have mailed to PostSecret.
Let the secrets begin:
My wife didn't realize that the document she signed when I retired waived her rights to my pension if I die first. We're enjoying a bigger monthly check as long as I'm around, but I'm not sure how she'll manage if she becomes a widow and the checks stop.
I don't see why financial experts think I'm committing financial suicide because I've stuffed my 401(k) with my company's stock. My stock is never going to crater like Enron, WorldCom, General Motors or Merck.
"When my friends go on diets, I discourage them. This is because I really want them to be fatter than me."
I never saved much money for my retirement, because I always thought I'd inherit a big windfall from my parents. Now they're both in a nursing home, and the cash is going fast.
I'm afraid to open my Individual Retirement Account statements because I fear that the account balance will only remind me of what a pathetic investor I am.