A week ago, Jeff was on top of the world. GameStop's stock was skyrocketing, and he'd managed to turn a series of small investments into more than $200,000. The 21-year-old college student, who asked to stay anonymous because of how much public scrutiny the GameStop story is getting, was imagining not just escaping school without debt, but being able to buck the capitalist system entirely and enjoy life without having to take a typical job.
"I don't want to work a 9-5 for the rest of my life," Jeff told me last week. "I want to be free to be able to do whatever I want!!"
But over the course of several days, as the GameStop stock inevitably imploded, Jeff went from having more than $200,000 to just $50,000.
"This whole thing has numbed me to money," Jeff told me recently.
Motherboard reviewed copies of Jeff's financial statements to verify his claims.
I reported on Jeff and several other people last week, individuals largely without much trading experience, who decided to try and take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime situation. Some, like Jeff, had the potential to make life changing money, while others were happy to have enough to pay off recent veterinary bills or buy a nicer brand of scotch at the store. But what nearly all of them shared was a desire to keep going, to see how much more they could make. People were promising the stock could go to the moon, but how far away was that?
Someone was going to be left, as they say, holding the bag. Someone has to lose money.
After I published my story on Motherboard, Jeff's $200,000 became $170,000 in a matter of hours. Poof. He described feeling "numb" but "overall okay" while watching the numbers, which in theory represented his newfound wealth, tumbling downward.
Later in the day, however, the stock continued to fall, and $170,000 became $140,000.
"[I'm happy] as long as I'm above 100K," said Jeff. "Admittedly, I wish I would have sold this morning."
The numbers would not stay above $100,000 for long.
Around this time, members of the subreddit WallStreetBets were encouraging people to "hold the line" and not sell their stocks, because if they continued to work in concert with one another like they had before, they could, hopefully, send the stock higher. But between apps like Robinhood restricting the buying power of normal people, people getting scared at their losses or being content with their gains, and the kind of everyday stock manipulation that defines Wall Street and ensures they always profit, there was no guarantee of anything.
"I am most likely selling tomorrow or the day after," said Jeff on Monday. "This event has laid the foundation for a lifetime of wealth (taken care of correctly)."
They should have sold sooner.
On Tuesday morning, the stock plummeted—again. Quickly, $140,000 became $38,000, which was still an incredible amount of money but a far cry from the $200,000 just days prior. Eventually, they sold as the stock spiked a bit and managed to get out with $50,000 in profit.
"The highs that I had were among the biggest of all time," said Jeff. "Nothing ever came close to that ride to $400 [per share]. It going down today to $80 [per share] was some of the worst feelings I have ever felt. I felt like a different person. I haven't been able to sleep for about a week now."
No sleep, but $50,000 richer. Not a bad trade off, all told.
One individual I've spoken to a lot over the past two weeks was Anthony, who asked to keep their last name private because they didn't want their family to know how much money they had made off GameStop. The key phrase there, however, is "had made."
“I felt like a different person. I haven't been able to sleep for about a week now."
Several weeks ago, Anthony and his wife, whose day jobs include being a teacher and a PhD student respectively, invested roughly $100,000 and, as GameStop became a meme and a rallying cry, turned that into more than one million dollars. The goal, Anthony told me at the time, was to sell when the stock hit somewhere between "$500-$1,250" per share, which would mean Anthony was leaving this experiment with even more than $1 million.
But you don't make any money until you actually sell the shares, and GameStop, even at its highest of highs, never hit $500 per share. At one time, it traded as high as $483 per share.
The investment, according to Anthony, was 80 percent of his family's savings and his Roth IRA.
"This is irresponsible," he joked. "I will be strongly considering just selling on Friday or Monday regardless. At a certain point, I don't care about hitting the peak if I'm cashing out with 1.25-2.5m. That's an amount of money I aspired to save over a lifetime. I don't feel the need to hold out for more."
Anthony sent Motherboard photos of his brokerage and Roth IRA to confirm his claims.
Last Thursday, Anthony watched $500,000 evaporate over the course of an hour. The next step, according to Anthony, was to finally get out in the next day or two, as things got weird.
On Monday, Anthony was down another $307,000.
"My hands are diamond," said Anthony, echoing a popular meme about continuing to hold onto a risky stock position, even when there's good reason to bail out and take your profits.
At that point, Anthony sold enough to cover his original investment, but this was a far cry from the more than a million dollars—and beyond—that was at one point within his grasp.
On Monday, he was still holding, hoping for a turnaround. But as of this writing, GameStop is trading at $68.88 per share. The moon isn't anywhere in sight, and Anthony is no longer a theoretical millionaire. He's now up roughly $150,000.
"I do feel pretty stupid that I looked at 1mill in my brokerage twice and thinking 'nah, not yet,'" said Anthony, "though my wife has taken it rather well."
Anthony intends to, for the moment, keep his diamond hands.
Others have become more hardened and cynical.
"I bought GameStop at $285 [per share] and AMC at $15 something and am currently $1,400 in the hole," said one person, who asked to remain anonymous because of how huge this story has become. "I'm now holding because I've concluded money is fake and I just don't care anymore."
Many have been playing at lower stakes, but it doesn't make the money (and potential) less real. Greg, who asked to keep his name anonymous, recently had his disability support in the UK (government financial assistance for his chronic fatigue) revoked. He decided last Friday, long after GameStop's stock had become volatile and increasingly unlikely to hit the astronomic highs some had been predicting, to jump in.
Maybe this event, unlike the government, could help make his life easier.
GameStop is a U.S. company, but it's still possible to buy its stock around the world, and so Greg bought £500 GBP (~$680 USD) worth. Like others, Greg was taken by the desire to, if nothing else, cause a little pain for hedge funds that might take a loss trying to fend off all the people investing in GameStop.
"After learning more about it and hearing, including personal stories of why people want this to work, I've decided to add my tiny flag to the rally," said Greg. "I can afford to lose this money. I'd burn £500 if it would scare the rich."
Greg had come into the picture late to the party, buying GameStop's stock as it was on the rise, but coming away with anything would be a win. The idea, he told me last week, was to sell whenever they made enough to cover their investment. Worst case, bail on Tuesday.
On Monday, Greg had, like so many others, started reading what they could to surmise what happened next. Was the stock diving a conspiracy by the market's big power brokers? Was the so-called "gamma squeeze," which would theoretically send the stock briefly rising to incredible levels, still come? Greg began reading WallStreetBets, theorizing about the acts of hedge funds, and analyzing the volume of trades coming in and out of GameStop.
At times, it can sound conspiracy-adjacent.
In other words, they were still hoping for the dynamite to go off, and on Monday evening, decided to put more money into GameStop stock. It was still money they could afford to lose, they told me, but it was nonetheless hard to justify, given all of the available evidence.
"If I needed the money I'd be scared, but only betting what I'm willing to lose all of has kept me calm," said Greg on Monday evening.
Less than 12 hours later, the stock showed no signs of heading to the moon. Greg caved. All told, Greg put £1,500 GBP ($2,000 USD) in and lost about £1,000 Euro ($1,300 USD).
"This manageable loss is probably a good lesson learned to stick to my original suspicions of these services [like Robinhood]," said Greg. "I'm okay overall though. I learnt about how I deal with stress and I'm glad I mostly stuck to my plan and didn't double down."
Greg will now pivot to his original plan: appeal for disability support.