The Gilmores' Guy: From Living in My Car to Investing Long Term – WealthManagement.com

You may recognize Scott Patterson as the flannel-wearing, coffee-serving diner owner Luke Danes from TV’s “Gilmore Girls,” which ran for seven seasons from 2000 to 2007. Most shows don’t get a second life once they go off the air, but Patterson got lucky when streaming service Netflix signed on for a “Gilmore Girls” revival season, which was released in November 2016.

Before he landed the part, Patterson was a struggling actor, doing some commercials and living in his car at one point—a 1966 Pontiac Tempest with red imitation vinyl interior. Then in the early 2000s, the hit show gave Patterson a big windfall of new wealth, and at the beginning, he struggled with how to best manage it for the long-term.

“I was a little bit of a cowboy and liked the thrill of the gamble,” Patterson told WealthManagement.com.

A lot of celebrities who come into money quickly fall victim to “sudden wealth syndrome,” where people have trouble adjusting to the quick shift from penny pinching to privilege. And it often leaves the person worse off financially than before the big windfall.

Patterson avoided that by developing a discipline for long-term investing, an approach he learned from his long-time financial advisor, Jeffrey Fishman, founder of JSF Financial, a concierge wealth management practice in Los Angeles. He’s worked with Fishman for some 16 years now.  

WealthManagement.com chatted with the Gilmore Girls star about his investing approach, his relationship with Fishman and his secret to managing wealth that is high but sporadic.  

WealthManagement.com: What has been your history with money? You came into a lot of it at a young age.

Scott Patterson: In my 20s and 30s, it was spasms of large windfalls of money that I did not know how to invest and did not invest properly. I had a couple of opportunities to put money away when I was very young and I just didn’t do it. If I had Jeffrey in my life when I was in my 20s, I would be a zillionaire right now.

When I met Jeffrey he sat me down and told me about the discipline of investing long-term. They were very conservative, and I really blanched at them initially. But I started doing some reading. I was 40 years old, and suddenly there was this windfall, and I had to educate myself real fast about how to deal with this, because people were coming at me from all angles. And he said, “That’s another thing that people in your position experience, is lots of people with their hand out and lots of requests for money and loans and business deals.”

I was a little bit of a cowboy and liked the thrill of the gamble, and the whole thing. There was an incident with eToys, where I had the potential to make a lot of money because I got some information online in a chat room. And I would’ve made a lot of money, but the broker did not execute the trade when I was at work, and I ended up losing $20,000. And I think he lost his job.

So I took that story to Jeffrey, and he said, “Well, that’s a typical story, and this is really not how we grow wealth.” And he told me how we grow wealth over time and with discipline. And that’s what I have been doing ever since. A lot of my friends who were in a similar position are struggling because they didn’t have the discipline, and they spend too much money or they bought that extra home, or they went on too many vacations, or whatever it is.

He grounded me and helped me to appreciate what money really represents and what it can do long-term.

WM: At one point, you were living in your car, right? I read that somewhere, so it must be true.

SP: I was living in New York. I used to do a couple commercials a year, when you could make money doing commercials. I decided that I was going to give Los Angeles a shot, and I ended up in a 1966 Pontiac Tempest with red imitation vinyl interior. A buddy of mine from back east was kind enough to allow me to park that in his apartment parking lot. It was not underground, it was outdoors, and I slept there for about a week. That is a true story. I have been that guy.

WM: How did you meet Jeff, and why did you choose him as your advisor?

SP: My accountant referred me. Jeffrey is just a nice, solid family guy. He’s very trustworthy. He’s very hardworking. He’s very smart. He’s very wise. He’s moral. I mean, he’s got a real moral sense to him. He’s just a good guy. He’s just a regular guy. He’s fun to talk to. He loves baseball, so we kind of bonded talking baseball. We go to lunch, and we’ll talk about everything under the sun and we’ll have laughs, then we get to the boring financial stuff. He’s a good hang.

WM: What does your financial plan look like? What does your portfolio look like?

SP: It’s broadly diversified, between stocks, bonds and cash. It’s concentrated in the United States. I don’t have a lot of foreign exposure—probably about 6 percent.

Here’s one of the great lessons that I’ve learned in the 16 years that I have been fortunate enough to be friends with Jeffrey: Large-cap dividend payers are really very, very appealing to me. I like a stock that pays me to own it and pays me to wait. But it’s got to be between 3 and 5 percent. If it gets any higher than that, then it gets a little dicey. Can’t rely on that big a dividend.

I like companies that are best in breed. I like companies that dominate their space. I’ve got to see a track record going back decades of ever-increasing dividends. I just think, the markets are enough of a gamble, so you should really pick the most solid players and the players that have been doing it for the longest period of time.

I don’t mess around with new companies. I don’t care how exciting or sexy they appear. I don’t pay attention to any of it. It’s just all noise to me. They got to prove it to me over time. Then I circle around, and I call Jeffrey and I say, “Listen, why don’t we buy a block of this giant- world-dominating-in-its-space company that pays a 3.89 percent dividend?” He says, “OK, let’s do it.”

WM: It sounds like you’re pretty hands on with your portfolio.

SP: Yes, I’ll go over my statement, and I’ll go over my stocks. I’ll go over everything once a month. I don’t really like owning a tremendous amount of stocks because I don’t have the infrastructure or the employees to pore over these daily reports.

I try to keep my stock holdings at a minimum. I might have 10, 15, but even that feels like it’s too much. I just want to sort of whittle it down to 10 and then maybe eight. I want to have larger amounts of money in fewer positions. I’m concentrated a little bit, because I really now know what I target and what I like and what I’m comfortable with. I don’t care about Tesla or anything like that. If it’s not going to pay me to own it, I’m not interested.

WM: As an actor, your earning years are limited and obviously with shows going on and off the air, how do you make your money last and what’s the secret to managing wealth that is high but sporadic?

SP: It’s to put as much of it away and invest in long term as you can. Just get rid of it. Get it out of your sight; get it invested, so you can’t touch it.

I’ve had a fantasy of owning a second home at the beach or Aspen, and I realized I can always stay at a nice hotel in those locations and enjoy it for a weekend and not make a huge financial commitment. And I realize the people that own those types of places in those locations, their net worth is much, much higher than mine. I mean, they’re in the $50-$100 million range, and they can just pay $10 million cash for a nice home or $5 million cash. I’m not going to do that. So, it’s really about getting it away from me. Take the cookies away from the baby or he’ll eat them all and get sick.

Living below your means over an extended period of time is one path to wealth. I could have afforded a lot more house than I bought, but I still scored with the home that I did buy and I bought at the perfect time, 2003. It has great schools in the district, and they are public. I was going to move at some point, and my advisor said, “Don’t do it, because if you go over here, you’ll have to go pay for private school. Look at the money you’re going to save sending him over here. It’s rated better than any of the private schools, and it doesn’t cost you anything.”

WM: Are you familiar with digital advice platforms, or robo advisors? Do you use them? What do you think of them?

SP: Good lord, no. If there’s not a person involved that you know and trust and you don’t do your own homework, then I would stay away from something like that.

That’s so far removed from how somebody should invest; it’s kind of scary. I mean, you’re just opening yourself up to getting ripped off. There are too many unknowns there. It’s important to do your own homework.

Jeffrey recommends something to me, and I’ll read about it. I won’t make a decision right away, and they don’t pressure me to make on the spot decisions about anything. They’ve saved me a lot of money. I’ve come up with some pretty cockamamie ideas, and they’ve shot them all down. I used to come up with some kind of pretentious question for Jeffrey every week and I’d call and ask him a question to see if he was on his game.

WM: You’ve said you would pursue a degree in finance if your acting career stalled. Is that still true?

SP: It is a goal of mine; I would like to get there one day. I think that financial education in this country is really lacking. I was incensed after discovering a few basic things from Jeffrey and reading a few basic tomes on investing. I grew up in a very, very well-to-do town with one of the best public high schools in the country, super-competitive place. And nobody taught anybody anything about money, and it’s probably the most important thing in your life. And for people to even graduate high school, much less college, with no knowledge of investing, with no knowledge of the financial market, is staggering to me. So I think that’s one area I would like to see change.

If you ever watch Shark Tank, Kevin O’Leary considers his dollar bills to be tiny little soldiers that he deploys in whatever fight he sees fit. When he says ‘No’ to an investor, he says, “I’m not sending my tiny little soldiers out to fight for you, I’ll never see them again.” If you said that to a classroom of 16-year-olds, you could make them laugh.

They just don’t understand what money can do. I mean, we live in a world of compounded interests, it’s magic.

WM: Are you guys working on the next season of Gilmore Girls?

SP: I’m not waiting around for that. You know, who the hell knows?

WM: Did the Netflix revival change your financial plan at all?

SP: It’s always good to get a big windfall. It just puts me in a better position for retirement; it puts my kid in a better position. I got very lucky when I got that job back in 2000. But I was old enough to know that lightning probably wouldn’t strike twice and that I had better be real careful. I mean I was in a little studio apartment in West Hollywood paying $550 a month, utilities included, and I stayed in that little place until 2003.

I bought a house when I was forced to create deductions. Jeffrey gave me this sort of Sophie’s Choice between, “Do you want to write a check this size to the government or do you want to be able to deduct this much money and write a check this size to the government?” So it was a financial decision. Pure and simple.

WM: Are you doing anything else in your off-time?

SP: I’m developing my own coffee brand. We’re almost ready to launch, but we want to have our ducks in a row before we come out with it. Quality coffee is something that I am obsessed with. It’s the thing I look forward to every morning and throughout the day and throughout the evening and now throughout the middle of the night. It’s going to be called Scotty P’s Big Mug Coffee.