Walsh’s Wonderings — Snared in the PBS rabbit hole

He had me at “buy low.”

I’d been flipping through the channel listings when the local PBS station caught my eye with financial advisor Ric Edelman’s take on retirement planning amid COVID-19.

And just like that, I lost the rest of my Saturday.

PBS draws me like a moth to a flame with its weekend fare - a collection of documentaries and do-it-yourselfers hawking everything from tai chi to chai tea. My local affiliate is not shy about keeping its hands in my pockets to keep these shows on the air, and their fabled pledge drives have kept my closets full of tote bags and Simon & Garfunkel CDs for years.

I first got hooked on PBS through its Leo Buscagla specials, enthralled by the excerpts from his famous “Love” class at USC. My relationship blossomed with Wayne Dyer’s many book specials and the Ken Burns documentaries (Baseball in particular). However, it wasn’t until I actually entered the typical PBS age demographic that I began to fully appreciate its offerings. Let’s face it: Millennials just aren’t going to pause their weekend to binge watch “The Stress Solution with Dr. Rangan Chatterjee” or “Aging Backwards 2 with Miranda Esmonde-White.”

While PBS has a stranglehold on both the child and the aging demos, it’s basically deselected in the Preferred Channel lineup for anyone between the ages of 12 and 50 unless one has been assigned a Nova program for homework. On the other hand, once I committed to buckling down on my financial planning, it suddenly became a wealth of information (pardon the pun).

This past weekend saw me falling down the rabbit hole that began with Suze Orman’s two-hour “Ultimate Retirement Guide.”

Beguiled by her impossibly white teeth and visceral hatred of annuities, it served as the gateway drug to other programs designed to extend my life and therefore heighten the need for additional money to support those extra years.

First it was “The Brain Revolution,” a special that explored neuroplasticity and the latest scientific research on maximizing and protecting the brain as we age. From there it was on to “Overcoming Anxiety, Depression, Trauma, and Grief” with psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen. Then to Dr. Steven Gundry’s “The Longevity Paradox.”

While others were out at picnics or watching the playoffs, I was learning about autoimmune diseases, diabetes, inflammation, joint pain, brain fog, and premature aging. The ensuing panic drove me back into financial planner mode, culling through various PBS affiliate websites for older documentaries on retirement scams and investment mistakes through older episodes of Consuelo Mack’s “Wealthtrack” and “Your Life Your Money.”

Like most things on PBS, these programs are designed to make us feel better about ourselves for having watched them. Retirement porn, whether it be a Dave Ramsey lesson on debt reduction or a Warren Buffett talk on the simplicity of index funds, is no different.

The word “porn” typically refers to those things designed to arouse and give pleasure to those who read, see, or hear them. If I’ve learned anything so far in my belated attempts to get my financial house in order, it’s that I need to find all the pleasure I can in this process. Much like the set of a porn movie, it’s a laborious, awkward, and oftentimes uncomfortable slog through all the things we think the world wants.

Keep an eye out for the next column in this series as I meet with my first fiduciary financial planner. Unlike those movie sets, I’m hoping this process won’t leave me feeling used and ashamed as I look upon the finished product.

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.com , contact him at RobertFWalshMail@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh .