Monthly Archives: November 2010

Quick Post–Invest In Yourself

Seed Heads for Winter Birds

Dear Reader:

I found a really good, simple, layman’s-terms explanation of the housing bubble. Here is the article.

My question is still this: How do we prevent such a thing from happening again? Maybe the answer is, we can’t.

As we head toward Thanksgiving Day, I’ll leave you with some thoughts. Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. Take your pleasures where and when you can. Save for a rainy day. Be thankful for your blessings. Invest in community, in friendships, in knowledge, in healthy activities, in things that are important to you. Take a class. Learn something. Vow to eat a healthier diet. Cut back on the stuff that’s not so good for you. Exercise. Build muscles and stamina instead of a fat stock portfolio. Invest in yourself.

At least that’s how I’m looking at it today Outside the Box.

Saving the Harvest

Saving for a Rainy Day

Dear Reader:

We are about to celebrate to bounty of the harvest and all the blessings that have come to us throughout the year. Traditionally, this is the time when the fruits and veggies have been collected and stored. Instead of eating every bit of the garden produce, we try to grow extra and save it for the long, cold, unproductive (gardening-wise) months ahead.

In days of old, many people lived a subsistence lifestyle–growing their own food, making their own clothes from fibers of animals they raised, creating their own amusement by telling stories, singing songs, and playing games. In that kind of life, it was very important to plan ahead and save.

Today, if we are able, we also try not to spend every penny we make, putting some aside “for a rainy day.” It’s been more difficult to do that in the present economy, but we continue to try. Here is a question though: Where is it safe and ethical to store your money?

A friend and I have been engaged in a conversation of late regarding the banking system and usury (see Into The Black parts I and II to read the comments and replies). Today she pointed out that the first definition of usury is “lending money for interest.” Not exorbitant interest. Not really high interest. Just plain interest. Her point is that when we put our money in the bank and earn interest on it, that is usury. When we invest in the stock market so that banks can borrow our money and we earn interest on it, that is usury. So who am I to point fingers (first, second, third, forth, or thumb) at the banks for doing what I also do every day?

Devil in Disguise?Are we all just devils in disguise?

Once I got over being defensive, I had to ask myself, “Okay, so if I do business with the banks and I put my money in the banks and the stock market and I expect to earn interest on my money, I am part of the problem. So now what do I do about saving for that rainy (snowy, sleety, hurricany, tornado-y) day? Do I stuff money in a safety deposit box? In a hidden safe in my house? Do I just stockpile stuff?

I don’t believe there are any easy answers here. I’m a big believer in putting money in the bank, but I’ve also accepted the current reality that you might as well stuff it in your mattress because inflation rises higher than the interest rates in the bank. Hence, investing in the stock market is one financial option that must be considered since the rate of return has been historically higher. Except when it isn’t.

I’ve briefly (and only playfully) considered taking my 401 K and using it to buy up a stockpile of yarn. Yarn is actual. Real. Something of value that could be traded for something else. I could open a yarn store, for instance. I could plant bamboo on my front lawn (it’s a grass!) and make bamboo knitting needles for sale. But, of course, even a dreamer like myself sees how ridiculous this sounds as a way of saving for the future.

Are we stuck with banks as they are? Are there any options out there?

One option is a credit union. These are non-profit, democratically-run banks where members can save money in accounts and take out loans. Some are federally insured while others are not. They are rated by an organization called the NCUA–National Credit Union Administration who evaluates the credit union for soundness. Click HERE to read some FAQ’a about credit unions.

I also like the idea of doing business with local banks rather than large multinationals. These banks lend to homeowners and local businesses, keeping the money in the community.

However, interest IS paid on these accounts, and even though you are supporting local business, local banking, and local people, you would also be profiting from your investment. Usury. Sigh. Perhaps I should take another look at alpaca farming . . .

Any ideas on how to save money Outside the Box?

Election Day In Maine

Cathedral of the Forest

Dear Reader:

You know the old saying, “Can’t see the forest for the trees?” This is how I feel about this year’s elections and ballot initiatives. Take, for instance, Question 1. Mainers will decide if we want to allow a casino to be built in Oxford County, arguably a part of the state that could use a boost in jobs and income and opportunity–the trees. But what about the forest? According to the Morning Sentinel Online, proponents of the casino have outspent opponents 10-1. Who ponied up the money? Mostly the casino’s partners and investors.

Then again, who is contributing to the Vote No campaign? Oh, businesses like Hollywood Slots in Bangor (they have quite the little monopoly on gambling in our state at the moment) and the Passamaquoddy Indian Tribe up in Washington County (they are hoping to get a casino initiative of their own on the next ballot). We are supposed to believe that these groups have our best interests at heart . . . nothing to do with competition for what little Maine dollars there are to be spent on entertainment when the cost of heating oil is going up and January’s chill is lurking around the corner of the calendar.

Life's a Beech

While I am strongly in favor of business development in Maine, and I also believe in free enterprise and competition, I’d rather see something on the ballet like: Will you support the RE-creation of shoe factories, textile mills, and paper mills in the State of Maine? I’d vote yes. Will you support tax-exemption for Maine’s small, non-industrial farms so as to encourage more local production of food? Yes. How about abolishing sales taxes on ALL Maine-produced goods? Instead of sneaking down to sales-tax-free New Hampshire, maybe a few more Mainers will stay home and buy our own great products.

Do we need a casino . . . or just a better view of the big-forest picture? And some Outside the Box thinking?

What about the gubernatorial candidates? Any of them thinking up new and improved ways to grow our sluggish state economy? One candidate has been in Augusta so long that the “way things are” attitude has probably become embedded. Another candidate has some radical, new ideas that would certainly shake things up a bit, perhaps for the better, perhaps not. The third candidate presents some solid, maybe even workable solutions for what ails us, though less radical and therefore less likely to produce sweeping changes.

Whoever takes over the Blaine House after today’s election, the new governor will have a tough row to hoe. It’s one thing to come up with ideas. It’s another one altogether to initiate legislation and get the measures passed at the State House. And we can’t forget (though sometimes it is easy to) that we are part of the larger national economy. Some of what goes on in Washington effects us here in Maine, no matter what crazy or just-crazy-enough-to-work ideas we come up with here in the Pine Tree State.

Remember to vote today! Take a look outside at our still-pretty foliage. At least the view from our windows is still tax-free. For now.