Monday, December 15, 2008

Economic Rec-depr-ession ... or Surviving in the Lean Times

It's depressed the dollar, yanked the yen, and pounded the pound and now it's coming after you and your once-impenetrable piggy bank. It's the looming shadow - the wolf in the darkness who breaks into your home, eats your instant noodle soup and spends hours on your couch racking up the pay-per-view bills (and ordering infomercial-based fitness programs and blenders). Of course, I'm talking about the Recession ... or the Neo-Depression ... or ... well, let's just call it the #$!%^&-ession.

Now, you may be behind TARP ... or you may think the bailout is the worst trick since Edward Bernays’s 1929 campaign to recruit women smokers (Bernay's campaign successfully tied smoking to the women's liberation movement and gave us little white "torches of liberty." He's probably more responsible than anyone else for the last eighty years of smoking-related disease and death among women).

Either way, it really doesn't matter. I mean, we can chitter, chatter, and complain all we want about the crisis and the government's (ill?) response to it ... but that's not gonna keep the wolf from shoving his money-sucking snout into your wallet (not sure how I feel about this metaphor anymore ... oh well). When it comes down to it, we can be "mad as hell" and "not gonna take it anymore," but how will that help you keep your home (or buy lunch for that matter)? Righteous indignation just ain't gonna pay them bills.

Truth is, we've got some tragically tough times ahead. And while I still feel optimistic - after all, no one ever starved with a law degree as long as they were willing to order takeout - I realize it's high time I started cutting back. I mean, that hedonistic, devil-may-care approach to finance that most of my generation has known since birth has finally broken down ... and hallelujah, it's just in time.

I mean, we all want to blame Wall Street and those fat-cat execs who have been livin' life high on the investor's dime ... but let's get a few of those fingers pointed in the right direction. After all, an absence of liquidity in the markets wouldn't really hurt most of us if we were already out of debt and putting our surplus in safe, time-tested investments. And even a deep drop in the stock market wouldn't mean as much if we protected our principal and left high-stake risk to the crew from Ocean's 11.

This crisis seems the perfect storm ... it's destructive, it's dangerous and it's likely to destroy small fishing vessels who care more for profit that personal safety; but those folks who built a shelter and have hunkered down to weather the mess have nothing to worry about. Fail or fortune, we've only ourselves to blame.

So suck in that belt, kick off those extravagances and follow these basic principles to get and keep yourself in the black (lovingly ripped off from The Richest Man in Babylon):
(1) Fatten Your Wallet: Take one-tenth of EVERYTHING you bring in and save it for the future. Pay it like clockwork ... like tithing ... like your financial success depended on it. (It does). Don't let a paycheck pass without retracting your tenth.

(2) Control Your Expenditures: Don’t buy frivolous things. Avoid the "it's on sale mentality." Frugality and fortune go hand in hand.

(3) Multiply Your Money: Once you've built up some savings, invest it wisely, safely and with a clear eye to the future. If you start saving money, it shouldn’t just sit in a mattress. After all, a high-yield savings account can double your principal in about fifteen years.

(4) Protect Your Assets: Only invest where the principal is safe. For the most part, this would discourage stock investing. Sound crazy? Just talk to someone who lost 45% of their net worth in two months.

(5) Ensure a Future Income: Keep your eye on retirement (no matter what age you are) and make sure your family will be taken care of if you pass. Buy an affordable home ... keep your belongings in good shape.

(6) Invest in Yourself: Work hard, find opportunities, get educated. Today, a college education is one of the best investments you can make; I’m not saying that it’s a requirement to be successful, but it opens the door to greater possibilities.

Of course, there are countless more bits of advice, but in the end, the key is this: Follow the prophets, get out of debt, and use your common sense. And if nothing else, try and smile each time you stop at those gas pumps. After all, these #$!@#&-essions ain't all bad.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Little Holiday Spirit (Part I) ...

It’s been far more difficult to start off this little memoir than I thought. You see, I wanted to give a go at some homage, pay the piper and all that, but I stuck myself in a bit of trouble because homage demands “literary prowess” (whatever the hell that is). In the end, though, it finally came to me—the perfect beginning.
The ghost was bored, to begin with.

It was so simple. So clear. I had gone through a few drafts (i.e., “It was the most exciting of times, it was the dullest of times” and “Whether I shall be the hero of my own memoir or whether some other git-faced spirit will take that role remains to be seen,” and simply “Hell.” I liked that last one best, but I wasn’t sure anyone would get it), but when this popped into my head, I was done. I could add nothing more.

I mean, it’s nice—not too highhanded or over-the-top or anything like that. Pure, solid homage. After all, I gotta hand credit to the book that really put me on the map, literarily speaking, I mean. Why, if it weren’t for Monsieur Dickens (that cheeky little bastard) no one would care a two-pence or a haypenny or a hey nonny-nonny for me or the other so called “spirits” that “haunt” (can you believe this insanity? Words in quotes?! Hah!) A Christmas Carol.

Ok, I guess I better back up two shakes. First off, the name’s Edward—Edward Salberry, to be precise. I know what you’re thinking, “Who the hell is Edward Salberry?” (or, if you’re a bit higher minded and moral and all that, probably like, “Who, perchance, is Edward Salberry?”). And I can’t blame you one bit. I mean, no one knows me by that name anymore. Not since Dickens anyway. Like as not, you’d recognize me as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. But actually, just to set the record straight, that’s more of a title. It’s like knowing a knob named Bill Accain who shovels dirt at the cemetery and thinking his name was really “the Shoveller” or “the Man who Moves Dirt For Recompense” or something like that. Nice when talking with friends about a bloke, but no good if you wanna talk with the man himself. So, by all means, call me Edward. And, like I said, I am the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come … and Hannakuh Yet to Come … and Ramadan Yet to Come … and Diwali Yet to Come … and, well, let’s just say that if it’s an up-and-coming religious holiday you want haunted, I’m your spirit.

Didn’t used to be that way, though. Back in the day it was straight up Christian holidays and nothing doin’ with those heathen jobs living in their deserts and jungles and the like. Fact was, most of those pagans were already filled to the brim with kindness and charity and Christian cheer … well, in a blood-sacrifice kind of way. Mind you, I don’t recommend the cannibalism or the “human sacrifice to please Baal,” or anything like that. I’m just saying that when they weren’t chanting and chirping and gorging on their victims, they could be pretty damn civil. And did they know how to party. Wow! This one feast in Papua New Guinea before they offered up virgin triplets probably blasted the doors off any other dinner in history. Really.

But I digress.

Fact is, we’re living in an increasingly global society with political correctness and equal opportunity kicking you in the face every time you turn around. Buddy of mine once got fined half a month’s wages for failing to properly haunt this Scientologist guy into repentance and redemption and what not. Well I just have to say, bugger that. What if I got some problem haunting the man … you know, on moral grounds or something. It just ain’t right that some union can come in and make me fork out some hard earned cash because I'm not gonna do anything "repugnant to my nature" or whatever. It's a bloody mess, if you ask me.

And who do we have to thank for all that? Why, Dickens himself. I mean, he just waltzes in with his serial novels and his "realistic" characters and … well, I'll get to all that. Guess what I need to do is tell ya more about myself. I mean, sure, Dickens will play a part, but we’ll keep him in the wings more than not. Gotta head out now ... busy time of year and all that. But don't worry. More to come. More to come.