A Parfait Storm: What 50 Shares of TCBY is Worth in 2021
From froyo to GameStop, early lessons on the diminishing returns of investing in your own childhood nostalgia
Sometime in the late 90s, my mother sat me down for the talk. Not about sex. Or my period. Or any of that other stuff that might’ve come in useful around the time a young woman enters puberty. No, this talk was about the stock market.
My grandpa had a sweet tradition of sending me $100 on my birthday and even after he died in 1995, my mom carried on the tradition despite our Jehovah’s Witness background (no celebrating birthdays). Our grandpa was Jewish and secular, so this is how we got around that particular prohibition. But on this particular birthday, maybe when I was 13 or 14 — time is a blur by your mid-30s — she wanted me to do something my grandpa was also very fond of: investing in stocks.
She went over some basics with me. What a share is, how dividends work, how to look up the price of a stock using dinosaur speed dial-up on our Windows 95 machine. Then it was up to me to pick the stock of my choice.
Naturally, I chose TCBY ($TBY), the frozen yogurt chain I liked to frequent after dance classes and visits with my dad on the weekend.
It is a common refrain among investors to buy stock in things you actually use. The reasoning goes that if you use it, other people do too. The problem is that when you’re an adolescent, you don’t realize how few novelty chains will survive your lifetime, and how fast fast-food trends go out of fashion.
No matter! They had layered parfaits! And humming froyo machines! And a diversified portfolio that included one cooler full of Carvel ice cream cakes that I never saw anyone buying. Like rainbow sprinkles on a cup of soft serve, I needed this, and only this, in my stock “portfolio.”
“50 shares!” I told the Merrill Lynch advisor, who was humoring my meager investment on behalf of my mother. I probably spent the rest of my birthday money at Claire’s that same day.
Afterward, I waited and watched. I checked the internet religiously for a few weeks to track the stock price. But eventually I grew bored and went back to AIM chats with strangers (username: sassypinkflamingo). I vaguely remember a dividend check for a few bucks arriving one quarter, but honestly not sure if my memory is that reliable. I am certain that I have no idea what became of my Dippin’ Dot-sized (a dessert with a future) brokerage account.
A few helpful Twitter users have since told me that Mrs. Field’s holding company gobbled up TCBY in 2000. They suggested I may have unclaimed funds lying in a Gringotts Wizarding Bank somewhere, but more likely I either closed the account or lost all my money, like a dusty quarter to a hungry slot machine.
Warren Buffett famously said “our favorite holding period is forever.” But my experience, and probably the experience a lot of new shareholders of GameStop this week, suggests otherwise. I realized I would rather share a cone of ice cream than be a shareholder in ice cream. I would rather reminisce about lazy Sundays eating sundaes than rally a gang of amateur investors to bring back froyo, which if we’re being honest, is kind of garbage.
Instead I have found another piece of Warren Buffett advice far more in sync with my own modest financial goals these days: “The best investment you can make is in yourself.”
Pick your sides
In doing research for this newsletter, I discovered National Frozen Yogurt Day is February 6. Plan accordingly.
I like all the Bernie memes.
I’m sure some of you are familiar with being the go-to person for getting your parents and older relatives signed up for a vaccine right now. Writer Anne Helen Peterson wrote a good article on the problems with U.S. vaccine distribution, i.e. “a slow rolling shitshow,” especially it being so reliant on family members who can navigate the internet and health care bureaucracy simultaneously. Just another in a long line of failures during this pandemic. If you live in North Carolina as I do, find out where to get your vaccine shot here.
I got my godson the Philip Pullman His Dark Materials trilogy for Christmas with the intention of reading all of them, and I absolutely looooove the first book so far. Maseco likes it too (*phew*). I’m glad I didn’t just cave and watch the HBO series because the books are really getting me in the mood for more fantasy and science fiction. Let me know if you have other book recs along these lines.
Latest TV recs: The Flight Attendant (madcap murder mystery, HBO Max), Ted Lasso (warmcore sports comedy, Apple TV+), Bridgerton (NSFW bodice-ripper erotica, Netflix)