Here is the third letter I promised you. In my earlier letters I've explained "what happened" and "what's coming." Today, I want to answer the questions you've asked regarding "what can I do to prepare myself and my family."
The focus has to be on 'value' and 'values.' These are the concepts that too many of us have forgotten, celebrities dismissed as old-fashioned or politicians tried to convince us were no longer necessary.
The good news is that our current economic mess is manmade. We did this to ourselves by continuing to elect politicians who sold our country to militant community activists, greedy mortgage brokers and Wall Street types who placed profits above anything else. We were all involved, Republicans, Democrats and Independents. We made this problem by choosing to believe the lie that we could have it all and have it right now. But being manmade means we also have the capacity to solve it.
It is not going to be easy. I believe that the economy is going to get a lot worse. The 'experts' are telling us that we're headed towards at least 10% unemployment and a possible 10 year period of economic stagnation. I fear it could be much worse and so do many of the people that advise me on these matters.
What follows are the things that my family is doing to prepare for substantially tougher economic times.
I'm not a financial expert but even the 'experts' didn't know what our grandparents knew: unnecessary debt is something you have to avoid, it is not a good thing. In our version of the Roaring 20's, the financial elite had lawn parties in the Hamptons where invited guests arrived via helicopter. The parties we had didn't involve helicopters and other excesses but our job as responsible Americans will be to identify our 'helicopters.'
Soon, the Wall Street crowd will turn to the actual economy and the conversation and pressure will change to consumer spending. Remember, YOU are the engine of the US economy. Wall Street NEEDS you to spend. I pray that we hold fast to the 'storm clouds' that are still gathering and ignore the lures and lies that will attempt to hook you back into your old style 'lawn party.' We will continue to spend and consume. We just need to focus on a few out of fashion American values such as thrift, value and moderation.
You know what your family can afford and what it needs. Kids still need to go to college, broken cars still need to be repaired and worn-out appliances still have to be replaced. What needs to change is how we shop. We need to look for value and we MUST live within our means.
How do you know when you're getting something for a good value? Just imagine buying it (whatever it is) in front of dad. Can you imagine telling dad that you 'need' to spend an extra $3,000 so your car can come with that 'must have' automatic self-closing sunroof option? Or paying an extra $650 on a washing machine option so it can connect to the internet? I'm beginning to think that if dad won't spend the money on it, I probably don't need it. Dad is great at spotting value and it's his sense of values that makes him so good at it. I always try to think like my grandfather when I want to buy something, if in my head, he says, "Why, you've got a perfectly good one now," I know I don't need it.
The economy is in for a very rough landing. I think it's more and more probable that we hit a major long-term recession. That's not a reason to panic but if we know what's coming we can start to prepare now.
I don't know who you get your financial advice from (advisor, friend, on your own) but you need to ask these two questions:
If you can't answer this question or your financial planner can't give you an easily understandable answer, please get more information or think about replacing your financial planner. You need to know what got us here because that will help you understand what's coming.
Second, how bad will things get?
No one knows what's specifically coming our way but I do know that all possibilities are on the table. Whoever you're getting your financial advice from must be willing to admit that he or she doesn't have all the answers and that we are in relatively unchartered waters. If they don't think that this is a once in a lifetime event and just about anything could happen, move on.
Hyperinflation: Printing Money is Not the Answer
This is the real devil in our 'bailout' packages that seem to be coming every day. The same people that told me that there is no way we could go into a recession, let alone, a depression now tell me Wall Street and our politicians are too smart to create these doomsday conditions.
I don't know about you but I sure haven't been impressed with the Wall Street and Washington genius so far. After all, they weren't smart enough to figure out that 0% down on a 125% loans to individuals that were not required to present ID or a paycheck stubs was trouble.
I do know that if the answer was just to print more money our politicians would have solved this crisis $1.8 trillion dollars ago. But printing more money is not the answer, in fact, it's causing other problems and possibly setting us up for a long-term disaster. Every American must read up on and ponder what I believe is the real possibility of hyperinflation.
This past summer we had a $152 billion stimulus package, followed by a combined $123 billion bailout of AIG, which was followed by another $700 billion bailout bill. As I write this, politicians are promising swift action on yet another stimulus plan and the government has announced a direct injection of $250 billion into several large banks. No problem has ever been solved by just throwing money at it but plenty of problems have been caused by doing just that.
Countries that have tried to spend their way out of an economic crisis have always triggered inflation (i.e. Argentina, Israel and Iran). Hyperinflation is caused when people lose faith in the value of a currency, too much money is printed and there is no corresponding increase in productivity. So instead of printing $50 and $100 bills the government prints $300 and $500 bills but your $500 bill only buys $50 worth of goods. Soon the $500 bill is replaced by a $1000 bill.
Germany took its first inflationary steps when it decided to fight World War I on borrowed money. It didn't want to raise taxes and there was relatively little in national savings so it borrowed money to build and arm its war machine. Does this sound familiar? It should, it's what we're doing now.
The War which started in 1914 officially ended in 1919 and during that same period of time the prices of goods in Germany doubled. In other words, inflation was running about 20% a year.
Three years later, in 1922, those same goods doubled in price in just 5 months! The process continued to accelerate until menus in cafes had to be re-written throughout the day just to keep up with rising prices. When someone got paid they were met by their spouse who would literally run to spend the money as quickly as possible and no one saved money because the longer you held on to it the less you were able to buy. With no one saving and no countries lending any more money, the government did the only thing it could do, crank up the printing presses and print more money.
The same economic laws that applied to the Weimar Republic apply to America today.
Our government tells us that inflation was recently running at 5.4%. What they don't tell you is that in 1983 government changed the way they measure inflation. If the government used the same inflation measures that it used in 1983 inflation would be running between 10%-12%. Naturally, when the government altered the way it measured inflation it coincidently found that it wouldn't have to pay out as much money in Social Security and other benefits pegged to inflation.
We won't see a true spike in inflation until next fall. It's coming unless the government makes serious changes. If we continue to borrow billions of dollars a day from foreign countries while printing trillions more we are inviting, no begging, for hyperinflation to come and pay us a visit. Please consider this as you decide who to vote for in this upcoming election. Anyone, at any level, running for office who isn't talking about REAL and considerable cuts in government programs and avoiding new spending is either a fool or lying about what's coming.
You can prepare your family for economically tighter times. Our family has been preparing by buying food now that will last us for another 3 to 6 months. I want to be clear: we didn't run out and buy it all at once. Instead, when we went shopping and saw something on sale that we new we would be using in the next 3-6 months we bought a few more than we normally would. We're in the process of doing the same thing with our kids' clothes and shoes. They're growing-up and will need the next size-up in pants, shirts and shoes so Tania and I keep our eyes open for sales and when we see something that's a good value we buy it now knowing that in a year or two our kids will be able to use it and that prices could be substantially higher.
I think this is a good investment and a good way to spend money today that may be worth less tomorrow. Don't run out and liquidate your savings or assets to buy shoes and shirts for the next 10 years, plan and purchase with prudence and moderation.
You've asked me if you should go out and buy a gun. This is a very personal decision and I struggled for over 2 years trying to make this decision. I never wanted a gun in the house but after discussing it with Tania (and Adam) we decided it was the right decision for our family to have a gun in the home for self-defense.
Before we even thought of buying a gun and bringing it into our home, we spent countless hours at various gun shops asking lots of questions. We also reached out to the NRA (which, as you know, is one of the only organizations that I believe in and belong to) and took several courses in shooting and gun safety. If you're willing to make that kind of commitment then, and only then, can you start to consider whether or not you should purchase a gun.
If you decide to buy make sure you have a home safe that can be easily opened by you and your spouse. Also, when selecting a gun, make sure you ask your dealer for a gun that doesn't take exotic or hard to get ammunition.
The gun laws may DRAMATICALLY change with the election of the next President and a new Congress. Time may be of the essence on this issue so vote with that in mind.
Why are we so different from grandma and grandpa? Remember how they made our clothes? They knitted sweaters and gloves, mended tears and placed patches over holes in our jeans and shirts. What do we do today? We go out and buy our kids clothes that are intentionally faded, frayed or torn. Our grandparents would think we were nuts for doing that.
How many times did we hear, "who left this light on" or "turn off the light when you're not using it." They didn't say this because they were swept up in the latest environmentally friendly fad; they said it because they hated waste. They didn't see themselves as conservationists but at their core they were the first truly 'green' generation.
It's their example that inspired me to re-discover the traditional American family eating plan in our home. This plan applies to mom, dad and all four kids. It's simple: if you don't finish your dinner, it's wrapped and put in the fridge and the next day you have to finish your leftovers.
What a great decision this has been because I'm more careful about what I put on my plate and have already had dinner table discussions with my kids about being grateful for what we've been blessed with and why it's important to avoid wasting food.
Tania and I are planning on planting our very first garden next year (yes, I promise to send you pictures to prove it). We've already bought the fertilizer and seeds. In a way this is going to be our modern day Victory Garden our parents and grandparents planted during World War II.
A lot of people think we're planting the garden just for the food and although that's part of it, Tania and I really believe that our family will grow closer by all gardening together. Our hope is that our children will have a greater appreciation for the meals they eat when they experience the work in growing the food they will eat.
We've got so much to learn. I've already learned that there is a difference between heirloom seeds (not genetically modified) and those seeds which have been genetically modified. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type, so familiarize yourself with their respective pluses and minuses. Research what grows well in your area and what you will need to keep your plants healthy and growing.
I do want to share something I learned about seeds. Heirloom seeds are capable of producing viable seeds. So you will always have seeds to plant for the upcoming year. Several genetically modified seeds have 'terminator technology' (that's their phrase, not mine) which will prevent these seeds from reproducing viable seeds.
I'm for reasonable and safe genetically modified seeds and food. They allow people to grow crops where they normally wouldn't be able to and are more robust against disease and predators. Coming-up with all that technology is expensive so these seed producers recoup their costs by limiting the ability to reproduce. You need to have those seeds that are capable of reproducing.
Out of everything I have planned for next year, I can tell you that gardening ranks at the top. It is long term, it brings the family together on a project and it not only teaches my children science but the value of hard work. Does that make me a true sick freak?
This is going to sound hokey but we all need to read the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers. We need to go to the original sources, not someone's interpretation of them. Reading these documents will remind us of what our Founding Fathers really intended for us. Their words will inspire us and renew our faith in America.
We need to familiarize ourselves with the founding principles our country and Constitution are built on. We need to better understand the Founding Fathers, what they believed and how they lived their lives.
The books we read should teach us about our heritage. They should inspire us and educate our children. We need books that tell us the greatness of America's past and the promise of her future. We need to read about the mistakes the government has made so we can avoid taking those same paths. The books that I think best capture these principles are:
Each of these books dramatically demonstrates that America was built on the collective sacrifices of individuals who willingly gave their "lives, fortunes and sacred honor." They remind us that real power rests with "We the People," not Wall Street, Washington or Hollywood.
Also, read books on history that can help you see what may be coming based on our past. The parallels are truly frightening. We are going down the same path by making the same mistakes. These books include:
- The Forgotten Man (on the mistakes of the great depression)
- Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism (arguably the world's first fascist leader and one reason why our children are now taught in school that the Founding Fathers and the Constitution are irrelevant)
- Liberal Fascism (reveals the real danger and roots behind the nanny state mentality and what it means to America's future)
As a country we've neglected our most important asset and resource: our children. We've become so busy trying to provide the best for 'things' and opportunities for them that we work longer hours, spend more time away from home and too often don't give them the attention they need and deserve. If the economy starts to sink, this situation will get worse.
One of the best things we can do now is to build stronger ties with our spouse and children. Our family gets together once a week for a 'family night.'
This past week Raphe had the lesson, "my favorite animal." I was in charge of the game, everyone had to imitate their favorite animal and Tania baked cupcakes for our snack. It's amazing what miracles have taken place in those short 30 minute 'family night' get-togethers. We may have forgotten this in our 'Roaring 20's' mentality but it remains true: simple things have real and lasting value.
Tania and I also set aside time for just the two of us. We have date nights where just the two of us go out. It's usually nothing fancy. Sometimes we go out for a walk or just window shopping. We've even gone on a 'date' to the grocery store to pick-up some groceries. It's not really what you actually do but the fact that we spend time together. It refreshes me. It brings us together. I love this time.
Finally, just continue to seek out those sources you trust and continue to ponder and think the unthinkable. While these things hopefully don't ever take place, they are certainly possible and unfortunately becoming more probable everyday.
The good news is that there's still time to prepare ourselves and our families. We created this problem and we can solve it but there won't be any shortcuts or an easy way out.
We must vote for those candidates of any party that reflect these values: hard work, self-determination, smaller government, fiscal responsibility and honesty. Look to the character of anyone you chose to support. Their past does matter if they haven't learned from it. Their personal life is as relevant as their public one. We must be able to trust those who will be advising and leading us on what our country must do next.
The problems we face in this country can be traced back to the lack of trust. Our whole system fails if we do not trust it and right now we do not have that trust. In the last 20 years we have lost trust in our presidents, congress and court system. It was lost when politicians argued over the definition of 'is,' the duplicity on our border security, during the OJ trial, by a renegade 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the 2006 Republican Mark Foley sex scandal and the 2008 Democrat Tim 'more moral future' Mahoney sex scandal and so many other hypocrisies and double-crosses. Our lost of trust was inevitable.
Our political system was not designed around the people in power or really even us. It began with the core belief that we were created and given rights by God. For America to truly fulfill its promise we must restore our faith in the only thing that is solid, unchanging and real: God.
As we find ourselves not trusting our leaders, institutions or even our currency, remember the secret is simple and found as close as your pocket or purse. How appropriate that on the symbol of our present troubles we find the answer: IN GOD WE TRUST.
Only those who are mentally, emotionally, spiritually and temporally prepared will be strong enough to help themselves and others. Many will be fearful if these things come to pass but if you prepare now, fear is the one thing you will not have to worry about. You are not a victim. You are not a survivor. You are a leader. You are an American.
We are all Americans. Let us recommit that, regardless of where we stand politically, we will do the tough things to save our nation because the task at hand requires no less.
The Americans of the past did not look for leadership to come from the politician in the White House for they knew American leadership only came from your house.
Fear not, stay strong and lead the way.