Category Archives: currency

Pension? What Pension?

I read something interesting yesterday in the Wall Street Journal.  Turns out that states are facing a $1 trillion gap between the money they have promised pensioners and the money they have set aside to pay them.  That does not count the massive investment losses they faced in the second half of 2008, from which they have not recovered.

Did I say “interesting?”  Let’s try “criminal.”  I, for one, have not believed states would be able to pay pensions for some time now.  Some third-grade math was all it took.  The zeros were a little hard to manage until I saw this neat little analogy on the national debt clock web site.  If you were to spend a dollar a second, it would take 12 days to spend a million dollars.  Now, how much time would it take to spend a trillion?  (I’ll wait for you while you calculate this.)

Back?  OK.  The first thing you found out was that your calculator does not work with that many digits.  If you are math-compulsive, you got out a piece of paper and started to work.  If not, you waited for my answer: 32,000.

YEARS!

In other words, don’t wait for that gap to be filled.  Ain’t gonna happen.  Here’s why.  If states start to go bankrupt, something that was unthinkable until now, the money obviously will not be there.  But the Feds!  They can save us!  After all, they can always honor their obligations–by printing more money.  There, my friends, is the real problem and a good reason to be worried about your retirement even if you are not a public employee.

Historically, printing more money has been the favored solution of governments when things go bad.  They say they won’t do that, but in the end they always do.  From Ancient Athens to Zimbabwe in 2008, the result is always the same–a swift and ugly currency crash wherein money becomes worthless overnight.  Zimbabwe’s inflation rate reached 98%…PER DAY.  That means it took slightly over 24 hours for prices to double.

There is only one solution at the national level, and that is for politicians to face up to the fact that they have promised way more than they can deliver and cut expenditures.  Whew, that was a good one.  I crack myself up every time I say it.

There are some things we can do, however.  It is sometimes said that the best attitude when going into battle is to pretend that you are already dead.  Do what I do and pretend that your retirement is already dead.  Figure out how to retire without it.  One person I heard of recently bought two haircut franchises even though she is years away from retirement.  Why?  Because people will probably buy haircuts even when they can’t afford luxuries.  And inflation?  Well, if we experience true hyperinflation, all bets are off, but she still stands a better chance than most because her prices will rise accordingly.  If none of this comes to pass, so much the better.  She will have her company retirement and her franchise income.

Learn to make money in a side business or invest in things that stand at least some chance of surviving the coming earthquake.  If you think the politicians will save you, I have a business deal I’d like to discuss with you…

_________

Terry is constantly amazed at how little people learn from history.  He is also amazed at what he saw in New Orleans in 1976, but that’s another story.

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How Much Money Is Enough?

I used to think so. Personally, I do not crave a lot of conspicuous consumption. My pickup goes just as many places as a Silver Phantom Rolls Royce would, and my bird dogs won’t fit in a Lamborghini. I want for nothing extraordinary, having a comfortable home and everything that goes with that. My profession, being a college professor, is fabulous—perfect for me in every way. All in all, I am a lucky man.

Nonetheless, I find myself unable to do some things, at least for now, that I would like to do. Travel, getting my kids into the best college I can, and maybe purchasing some art seem like good things to want. I also dream of some philanthropy—more than my current income will allow.

In other words, I could always use more money for some noble purpose. How about you? Have you been convinced over the years that always wanting more is bad or that rich people are greedy? Examine that thought thoroughly. Money is not good or bad, any more than electricity is good or bad. An electric current can save a life or take it. Money can buy medicine or crack cocaine. The more you make, the more potential you have to do both good and bad. The choice is yours.

Most of the people who were influential in my life as a child were hopelessly bound up by two conflicting notions. On the one hand, they knew they needed money to live and that more money generally meant better living conditions for them and their families. On the other, they heard every Sunday about it being harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter heaven, which they apparently took to mean that poverty is a virtue. The result was paralysis on the subject of wealth.

I have come to the conclusion that, like health, there is no such thing as too much wealth. As I shift my mindset toward that way of thinking, I realize that our culture’s ambivalence toward money is counter-productive. Making money is good as long as it supports and sustains our other values. And what we don’t spend on ourselves, we can spend on others.

So how much is enough? Answer: There is never enough. Setting our minds to grow in our capacity to create wealth for ourselves and others is constructive and healthy. And don’t worry about your being corrupted by filthy lucre. I find that most people have precisely the amount of wealth that they have the wisdom to keep. They may temporarily get more, but soon they revert to bad habits and counter-productive thinking. Likewise, if you grow in wisdom, you will soon find that your wealth grows to match your character.

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Terry spends most of his time thinking about stuff.  He hopes some of his thoughts make sense to you and help you in some way.  If they don’t, he hopes it’s not his fault.

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Diversify Your Knowledge, Not Just Your Stocks

Unemployment is its highest in 25 years.  Some say the picture is much worse and is being masked by changes in the way unemployment is measured.  No matter where each of us is on the political spectrum, or whom we blame, we have to agree that times are tough and getting tougher.

Financial advisors almost universally recommend a “diversified” portfolio of paper investments: stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.  Before I go on, let me remind the reader that I am neither a certified financial advisor nor do I play one on TV.  I encourage people to learn more so they can make up their own minds.  This traditional advice may have had some merits at one time.  A few people probably made it just fine with such a plan.  Times are different now, and there are a number of reason to expand your thinking.

First, paper assets such as stocks can bonk.  “Bonk” is a technical term for what happened last fall.  Stocks fell as much as 40%  People who thought they were diversified got clobbered as their entire portfolios dwindled to a fraction of their former worth.

Second, the “value” of the stock market and other similar investments is partly an illusion.  When we put our money into such instruments, we are usually planning to use the money later.  If that money only buys a fraction of what it did before, the fact that the market is “up” is true, but useless.

Third, and this may be the clinker, the market depends on levels of buying and selling.  Since people who are retiring usually get their spending money out of the market by selling their stocks, the value of those stocks can be depressed when the number of sellers increases.  We are about to face a massive amount of selling for that very reason.  Baby Boomers will soon be retiring in droves.

This leaves us with a problem.  How can each of us build a more stable kind of wealth–the kind that at least buffers the vagaries of the stock market?

Knowledge.

library

Learn all you can now about building supplementary income.  You will find that true diversification involves non-paper assets like real estate and precious metals.  You will learn why having a side business can help you build real, lasting value.  And, you will see that with some discipline and desire, you can survive the coming storm.

— Terry writes this blog because he loves you.  Well, maybe “love” is too strong a word, but he’s pretty sure he likes you.  At least he likes you well enough to encourage you to learn more about your finances.  Terry has not been on Oprah yet, but if he were, he would tell you to visit entrescape.com to learn out how to start your own business.

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The New Retirement Strategy

I for one am not enthused about the idea of retiring. I have seen what happens to these folks. Going from being productive and needed to sedentary and ignored is not good for the soul or the body.

Of course, I love what I do. Not everyone does. If I were still driving for UPS, I would probably crave the peace and quiet of retirement to the mayhem of high-pressure package delivery. In that dismal scenario, I would be facing at least two or three decades of life without a job. What would I do?

What would YOU do?

Let’s assume you are confident that you have a good retirement plan, and then please allow me to screw that all up for you. You have worked a long time to build up enough wealth to live reasonably well without working. Love your job or hate it, you look forward to not having to show up.

As you start to pull money out of your retirement fund, a funny thing happens. Everyone else does too. In fact, at age seventy-and-one-half, all of us are required to start withdrawing. The government wants all those taxes you wisely avoided in earlier years. Somewhere around the year 2017, the numbers get screwy. We baby boomers (I am in my Year of the Bicycle–same as the number of playing cards in a deck) will be retiring in droves.

What does this portend? Nothing good, as far as I can tell. Our current woes will look like a fender-bender compared to the spin, crash, and burn of the not-so-distant future. Hang on, though. There is a solution.

First, let’s figure out what the real problem is. We work now to have money now and also to have money later. Having money later assumes that there is a place we can put it. Were we to put cash in a safe for thirty years, we would withdraw it to find it has much less purchasing power than when we put it in. In fact, at only 2% inflation, it would lose half of its purchasing power during that time.

If we were to put it in stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, the usual instruments of employment-based plans, we might beat inflation by a little. Then again, maybe not. Last year saw millions of people clobbered by the drop in the stock market. If millions of people start selling stocks in a few years, the price of stocks will go down–a lot.

So, back to what you are going to do when you retire. How about running your own business? Having a business will do two things. First, it will keep you out of the bars and pool halls. Second, it may just be the answer to your financial security.

Be smart, though. If you wait until you retire to start thinking about your business, it will take way too long to realize a significant income. Start now. My online course on New Business Fundamentals (entrescape.com) takes you through all the steps you need to take to start a part-time or full-time business.

Remember, we all need something meaningful to do no matter how old we are. Having a business you love to do will not only bolster your standard of living in your retirement years–it may just make them golden instead of rusty.

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Is This Socialism?

In order to understand the premises of socialism, we need to understand two words: “from” and “to.” Specifically, socialists believe that justice is served when societies observe the following rule: From each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs.

On the face of it, this sounds just. Who would quarrel with the idea that people should get what they need? It is the “from” part that get us into trouble. If life were a matter of us all standing around a pre-existing barrel of goods–food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities–and taking what we needed, one might justify this distribution rule.

Of course, we all know that is not how the things we human beings need come to exist. Except for air, basic necessities have to be created by someone. Socialism presumes it is right to take from the creators and give to others. Is that what our economic system has become?

You bet it has, but not in the way you may think.

The complexity of our economic system has allowed us to take from people who don’t exist yet. How can that be? It is called debt. Debt is en extremely useful tool. If someone lends you money to buy something you could not purchase with cash, say a house, many people benefit. You benefit because you are able to use something valuable before you pay for it completely. The seller benefits because he/she can sell to someone who otherwise could not purchase. The lender also makes money.

If we had no system for borrowing and lending money, it would be nearly impossible to own anything like a house or car. Here is the problem. Not only can regular people and private businesses borrow money, so can the government. The difference is that the government borrows from future generations.

One way the government does this is to borrow money literally. It essentially issues IOUs to its citizens. The government can also print money. In the first case, debt can build until the present generation cannot pay it all off. In the second, government spends money it has “printed” and hopes no one notices that the resulting inflation has robbed citizens of buying power.

Either way, the system makes chumps of us. If we live frugally, save our money, and teach our children to do the same, we wind up feeding the government’s insatiable appetite for spending at our own expense. At some point, the system has to break down. Either our children and grandchildren will have to pay absurd tax rates or the value of our currency will diminish to zero. Maybe both.

And this brings us back to socialism. If the government tried in the present to take the amount of money it needs to sustain its orgy of spending, citizens would revolt. If they hide their theft by passing it on to its future citizens, we who are right here right now may grumble, but we won’t revolt.

Is this how we want to live? If so, let’s be honest about it. Socialism advocates taking from the “able” and giving to the “needy.” If you believe that, are you willing to look future generations in the eye and tell them that we gave and gave and gave and that by the way, they owe the bill?

I didn’t think so.

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