Some People Are Getting Rich Off GameStop, Others Just Want to Pay Their Debt

Credit card debt. A telescope. Medical debt. A down payment on a house for your parents.
January 28, 2021, 4:34pm
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Image: Getty Images

GameStop is a dying company, but because of a financial battle between Reddit users and hedge funds, the stock has skyrocketed in recent days, transforming some random internet users who decided to gamble into rich stockholders practically overnight. 21-year-old Jeff, who asked to keep their real name anonymous because of the national attention this story is now getting, first invested into GameStop last October, long before it'd become a meme.

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As of this writing, Jeff has made more than $200,000 by investing in GameStop. 

Motherboard reviewed copies of Jeff's financial statements to verify his claims.

His first purchase, made after a friend discovered speculation on 4chan about GameStop's financial situation, resulted in spending $500 to grab roughly 41 shares, at $11 per share. (Currently, GameStop is trading at a whopping $155 per share.) That $500 investment earned him $120 in profit in a few weeks. Convinced by online arguments GameStop's stock could be exploited, he continued buying shares and stock calls, which allows an investor to pay a premium for the right to purchase a stock at a predetermined price at a later time.

When GameStop started exploding, Jeff was primed to cash in. One stock call, purchased for $1,164, eventually turned into more than $120,000. 

"I just want to be financially independent," said Jeff, who's currently attending college with an art major. "I don't want to work a 9-5 for the rest of my life. I want to be free to be able to do whatever I want!! I just wanna draw and not worry about income in a capitalist system."

When Jeff realized what was happening, he called his mother and invested some of her money. He managed to turn his mother's $1,400 into more than $14,000. 

"I just wanna help her with her house purchase," he said.

What's happening with GameStop is a bubble. At some point, whether it's today, tomorrow, or a week from now, it will pop, and people will lose money. There are always winners and losers on Wall St., but what's made this moment into a digital populist uprising is how average people with little-to-no financial knowledge managed to walk away with real money. 

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In a moment where a pandemic continues to physically and financially ravage the country, the government has done little to help people. When presented with the opportunity to help themselves, it's not shocking people are taking it, and more often than not, they are not people like Jeff, who are suddenly rich. They have modest ambitions.

"I bought 3 shares on Monday and have made enough to potentially cover the cost of all my dog's veterinary expenses for the year," said Josh, who asked to keep their last name anonymous due to the viral nature of this story. They recently found out their new dog has heartworm, and will require regular treatments that would've been financially distressing. 

Now, that debt won't be an issue. They can afford to pay it.

They also were forced to unexpectedly buy a new phone recently, after their old one died. 

"No joke, it's gonna go towards a telescope probably," said Mike D'Aguillo, who'd never bought a stock before this experiment and found the whole experience deeply stressful. "I sold Tuesday morning because I realized I didn't want to be involved in this anymore. It was way too stressful and I had a negligible amount of money invested. I see the price rocketing to $350 today and possibly beyond, and part of me feels like I missed out, but also I'm a little relieved to not have to be freaking out about the minute to minute ups and downs."

D'Aguillo will end up making, after taxes, around $350.

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"I bought in after listening to y'all talk about it on Waypoint Radio [VICE's gaming podcast] and then finally sitting down to do the research about what was going on," said Bobby Brace.

Brace dropped $650 into Robinhood, one of the more popular ways for normal people to buy and sell stocks on their phone, on Tuesday. That turned into $1,510 in just 24 hours. This morning, Robinhood stopped its users from being able to trade GameStop stocks and other Reddit favorites. 

"At this rate it will mostly just cover the pay cut I took at the end of last year," said Brace, "but I do plan to immediately pay off my credit card debt."

Credit card debt. A telescope. Medical debt. A down payment on a house for your parents. Some will inevitably come out of this storm millionaires, buying fancy cars and houses with luxurious pools. But most people I spoke to were just happy to get a monkey off their back, or have the opportunity to purchase a luxury during a time of unending financial anxiety.

Two different people, for example, told me they could finally start planning for a wedding.

One person messaged me about how they'd made a few thousand and planned to take the winnings and A) put them into a more traditional fund and B) buy a new pair of AirPods.

"After I wrote that I felt bad and then gave half to a mutual aid fund," they wrote.

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"I think I'll just be getting a new winter coat, a bottle of scotch a shelf higher than normal & giving a chunk of it for helping people experiencing homelessness here in Bloomington," said Nate Rosenbloom, who put $7,000 into GameStop and watched it become $20,000.

"My wife and I agreed to roll it in to our Health Savings Account to help out with any future medical costs (two kids, 5 and 3) when they come up," said Robert Tangen, who put in a little less than $5,000, which subsequently tripled to $15,000.

"[My partner] wants a new coat and some shoes," said Sayem, who saw their $130 investment become $420. "She's been working really hard in retail during the pandemic and she honestly deserves something nice. Especially if that same system that mandated her to risk her life to sell toys at Christmas will suddenly land me a small windfall."

Most people I spoke to hadn't sold yet, and were hoping for a bigger payout. Some took their profits out of the system, but left some money behind, in case things continue to spiral. The allure of what's happening with GameStop is that, for the moment, it continues to keep growing, and the longer people keep their money in, in theory, it will lead to bigger gains. 

But Sayem, for one, has made peace with their profits disappearing if a cliff is coming.

"I just wanted to be a part of a weird, wacky cultural moment, and also to fuck with a hedge fund, because lord knows rich people don't need more money," said Sayem.