By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. I’m sure you know the song “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream… Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily life is but a dream.” It’s an English language nursery rhyme, sung as a round. At the commencement of each line another person joins the chorus until all participants are engaged. It’s a tonic for depressed spirits… right now there are millions of those as the world economy resembles nothing so much as a pogo stick — up, down, up, down. But not for you… I’m dishing out today the sane, safe, superior advice that’ll enable you not only to get through these difficult days of Chicken Little and the doomsayers, but actually be better off. And by the way, if you’ve never heard the immemorial round above, you can easily find it in any search engine. It’s a grand song…
1) People panic. You cannot.
The first thing that happens during bad times is that millions of people panic, thereby causing an avalanche of bad news, thereby causing millions more to panic. And so on until you’re thoroughly alarmed, depressed and, you’re convinced, in financial extremis.
This is happening right now.
My father, and the Good Book, deliver the sage admonition “This too shall pass.” And so it will. Good times, bad times, mediocre times, entirely unforgettable times, and the entirely forgettable ones which precede and follow, it’s all just fodder for the newspaper. What matters is not so much what’s happening, but what you do with the intelligence.
Lots of people refuse to accept this economic gospel and run themselves ragged in days like these, lamenting the condition of the world and their own impending penury and residence in the poor house.
You’re smart… you take the long view. You realize that,for all investment strategies you need a window of AT LEAST five years, and that the minimum. Only if like scaring yourself should be reading economic data on a daily basis The long view is the only view.
2) When the world sells, buy.
Over the last days, especially in the light of the downgrading for the historic first time ever of Uncle Sam’s credit rating, the markets have experienced hyper instability. This worries you. But what you should be worrying about is whether you’ve been buying stocks at often dirt-cheap prices enabling you in later days to exult at your cleverness and cause involuntary cheer that “life is but a dream.”
Virtually every company on earth is for sale RIGHT NOW at rock-bottom, fire- sale prices. As stock prices tilt (or even careen) lower, you are handed on a sterling silver salver one buying opportunity after another. Smart money, therefore, is buying today, even if there is a reasonable likelihood prices may go lower tomorrow. But the smart money never lives to micro-time the markets. The celebrated Victorian financier J.P.Morgan when asked by someone in search of a hot tip what would happen on Wall Street, majestically opined, “The market will vary.” And so it will.
Bet that the worldwide economic order will not collapse under Chicken Little’s jeremiads, and buy, buy, buy. To bet on the economic future of the world is hardly much of a risk at all… and all investment harbors some degree of risk, even Uncle Sam’s (still golden if a bit tarnished) bonds. 3) Pay off debt.
We New Englanders have an expression for roiling seas, “Hunker down.” It means secure absolutely everything you want to keep, then sit back to ride out any storm, even the most destructive.
Commandeer your kitchen table and artfully arrange the invoices and statements for every bill you pay. Your first job is to see where the money actually goes. Surprisingly large number of people haven’t got a clue, much less the precise figures to hand. You, protecting wealth, building wealth as you are, cannot afford to be so cavalier. Get the bills and the details of every cash outflow. Ask yourself these crucial questions:
* Can I either dispense with this item altogether or at least reduce its cost?
* Will pre-payment of this account garner useful cash discounts or other savings?
* Can I get a lower priced alternative to the service I have now?
In good times, many of us are casual indeed about undertaking new expenses; we can afford the liberality and the laxity. But in bad times we cannot. Thus, invite yourself to a thorough review of every expense with a view towards eradicating, eviscerating or even just mildly reducing your current financial burden. Remember, “a penny saved is a penny earned.”
4) Enhance your physical surroundings.
When turbulent economic times hit not only do companies and their stocks go on sale but so does the combined physical heritage of mankind, including paintings, fine furniture, carpets, silver and goldwares of royal and imperial provenance… and every kind of valuable and historic artifact. Smart shoppers, smart collectors, insightful connoisseurs are ready to pounce. And you must be ready, too.
In the darkest days of the great recession of 2008, when purveyors of the dismal science were at their most bleak indeed, smart buyers were intensely scrutinizing the worldwide economy; as it tanked, they exulted. Every brilliant artifact on earth from the great Impressionists to the storied Easter Eggs of the Romanovs went on the block… and sank… to the glee of discerning — and patient — collectors worldwide. Such people — and I unabashedly include myself –live for such moments, of war, revolution and acute economic distress. Why? Because each artifact no matter how grand and impressive its provenance changes value as often as stocks, bonds and commodities. And they know that what goes down will (if an artifact of beauty, refinement and appeal) go up again. Thus you should welcome economic downturns, the more acute the merrier, as an opportunity to live like the Windsors (who are by the way such canny “fire sale prices” collectors.)
5) Put off non-essential purchases.
To be an American is to be born with a credit card. “I buy, therefore I am” is our national motto and birthright. As a result, we all buy too much, including way too much of the inessential. During periods of economic confusion and anxiety, intense scrutinizing every purchase before it’s made is essential.
List every single thing you intend to buy in the next month, two months, and quarter. Grade their necessity, with 1 being an item of little need… and 10 being one of acute and pressing want.
Remember, buying things, especially non-essential things, is the quickest way to punch a gaping (and avoidable) hole in your rowboat. You avoid it by becoming a “conscious buyer”, never an impulse purchaser, no matter how tempting the item in question.
To build wealth is a matter of constant scrutiny and penny-pinching frugality, the kind so beloved and extolled by Benjamin Franklin, the original “time is money” man. And remember this: when all the trees of the world are gone, when all the water in the world and all the air are gone, when every animal species is not just endangered but gone, there will still be money and lots of it. Why? Because money is manmade and therefore capable of infinite expansion. Use these timely tips to make sure you get more of it, much, much more. “Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily…” For now your financial betterment is not a dream but daily improving reality.