As Bob Dylan sang, "Come gather 'round people wherever you roam, and admit that the waters around you have grown. The times, they are a-changin.'" Ole Bob, I think he never knew quite how prophetic he was when he wrote that song. He must have been planning to live in our area after Hurricane Irene. It's been roughly a month and a half since Hurricane Irene, and a month since the commemoration of 9/11. When catastrophic conditions are behind us, we tend to push them back in our minds: not forgetting, just on to the next daily debacle. My thought this month is to bring it back to the front of your mind.
Not since the years of the Great Depression has there been so much confusion to individuals like you and I as to the next step to take with regard to the well being and safe keeping of ourselves and our family. Political uncertainty, debt ceiling debates, roller coaster like stock market gyrations, staggering unemployment, radically depressed real estate values, and now the paradox of financial uncertainty that has epidemically spread to Europe. At the time of this writing, Greece is on the verge of collapse, and every day we are reading about issues pertaining to various financial disasters. In addition to Greece, Ireland, France and Germany, a host of European countries are additionally on the verge of financial calamity.
While all this is going on, it is normal to feel like you have no control over the massive unrest in the financial world. We can't sit in on a Fed meeting with Chairman Bernanke, nor can we call President Obama and regal him with what it's really like in the word of the ordinary American man and woman struggling to keep afloat in this time of panic. We calmly (?) go about our days with our heads held high trying to shield our children from the present calamity, or in the case of the retired; trim budgets and constantly evolve to figure out how to live on a fixed income. Is there anything we can do since the decisions that affect us as a whole are way above us? You bet we can. There is saying that says "the whole is made up of all of its parts." I believe that phrase is more important now to us as individual than ever before. We can take control.
Listen up- all is not lost...far from it. While we may not have control as to how interest rates change or how the billions and billions of dollars in Washington are spent (or mis-spent), it's time to take control of your own dynasty. If you choose to be in the dark, you will be in the dark. It's time to come out into the light, and be acutely and succinctly aware of your surroundings. As you read the next few paragraphs, I ask you to pause after each and take a moment to ponder if your diligence is as keen as it could be. Since you read my column religiously (and I thank you), and you believe in me (and I thank you again), here's a great place to start:
Are you opening your bank and financial statements when they arrive? Have you set your portfolio on autopilot, thinking by not opening your statements all will be right with the world? Nothing could be further from the truth. Nobody cares more about your money than you. Have you heard from your "Financial Guy" lately? Have you and your Financial Advisor adjusted your portfolio, and made sure it continues to conform to your risk tolerance, goals and timeframes? If not, go find the letter opener and get to work.
Create a list of all your account numbers i.e.: mutual fund and stock accounts including your savings, checking, IRA, investments, pensions accounts, utility, phone and any and all accounts that you may have to access in a time of emergency. If you are out of your house, chances are you are out of touch with your accounts. Keep a copy in your wallet, or on your smartphone. By the way- if you have a smartphone or other device that you store delicate or confidential information on, be sure it's password protected. My phone shuts down if unused after 60 seconds: if found, it will be useless. While it may be a pain in the butt having to log back in, think about what it would be like right now if you lost your phone or laptop and your information got into the hands of, well, anybody. You'll get used to it. A smartphone is only smart if you set it up!
Make photocopies of your wills, trusts, insurance policies, house title, and any other legal documents that may become crucial at a time of uncertainty or catastrophe. Store it is a place that will be unlikely affected by a local disaster. A long as you're at it, include the above account numbers as well in the packet.
The time to replace, upgrade or duplicate your sump pump is when there is no need to. Don't wait- Hurricane Irene was a perfect test. If the test failed, it's time to adjust your water-disposal thinking.
Set up a permanent "go-bag." Include a few hundred dollar bills, as well as the usual flashlight, batteries, clothing, etc. Don't get lax about this- when catastrophe strikes and you have but a moment to evacuate, you won't have time to get together anything but what you put in the bag. Think about it now and have it in a place that can be accessed hopefully on the way out.
Evaluate the trees in proximately to your home or other buildings. Better to take them down than for them to decide on their own.
Keep your pet carrier loaded with a few cans of pet food, an extra leash, bottle of water and plastic drinking bowl. We love our pets- they are amongst our post precious possessions.
If you don't have a generator, think about it. You may not need it for ten years from now, but when you need it, there's nothing like having it. Start it up every three months or so, let it run for fifteen minutes or until you run out the gas it the tank. Never store it with gas: it will get stale and dry in the carburetor (hey...I'm a gear-head) and be sure to have a 5 gallon approved container tank of gas in your shed or safe place. Rotate that as well- pour it into the car every 6 months or so and refill it.
Some things are common sense, if we take the time to do it. I'm probably the thousand's person to remind you of the above but I hope, since we've become such good friends that you would listen to me and take action. I care about you almost as much as you care about yourself. Stay safe, my friends.