Riding the wave: Achamma Oommen

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Riding the wave: Achamma Oommen

July 10, 2009

“I love cooking and entertaining. Most guests enjoy my hot and spicy dishes,” said the voluble Achamma Oommen, who retired in March. Her other hobbies include vegetable and flower gardening and knitting. Oommen's cooking reflects her native India. (photo by Joe Howell)

Having put all three of her children through college with help from Vanderbilt's tuition benefit for dependents, Surgical Tech Achamma Oommen, 70, retired in March after more than 34 years at VMC. When we asked Oommen about saving for retirement, she passed the phone to her son, Abe, a Vanderbilt graduate and his mother's financial counselor. Abe said his mother's income in retirement will be significantly better than the often advised goal of 80 percent to 90 percent of working income.

Back in January 2007, months ahead of the stock market's historic drop, Abe advised his mother to move her 403(b) savings out of stocks and into money market funds.

“I thought the market was over-priced and at the time I thought we should have gotten her out earlier,” Abe said.

Oommen's luck continued this March, when she invested in financial companies whose stock values had collapsed. Says Abe, “I expected the government to address the accounting rules that were holding down financial stocks, and that's what happened. That along with the government's massive bailout programs and quantitative easing created a ripe and rare opportunity.” Oommen increased her investment substantially within a month, then promptly got out.

Abe Oommen remains skeptical of U.S. stocks. “The 1960s through the 1970s brought a horrible climate for stocks. It could happen again. The U.S. is a mature economy. Our greatest growth is behind us.” He advises investing in India, Brazil and China.

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