Three weeks ago I withdrew most of my retirement savings, paid my taxes up front, and paid off the mortgage on our family home, the balance on a car loan and most family credit card debt. Interestingly, the banker who handled our mortgage pay-off revealed that we were the fourth family to pay off a home mortgage that month. He lauded us for our choice to go debt free.
Our family now lives on a cash basis, spending only what we can afford. At least for now, we are also saving a significant portion of our monthly income. If, however, it continues to look as though savings accounts, too, are threatened by machinations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), our family may use the banks even less.
I chose to do this in spite of so-called experts who insist this decision will cost me money. On the contrary, this decision has brought great benefits to our family.
Before I made this choice, our family simplified its life as much as it could. We sold a big house and moved to a much smaller one. We began to grow much of our own produce and put in a small fruit garden. I traded a job that kept me away from the family for one that gives me much more time with my husband and son. All these were good choices. But I continued to be disturbed by what I felt was my complicit participation in an unjust system. My retirement account was 'banking' on the world continuing in its present way, at least long enough for me to draw upon this investment strategy tied to global realities contributing to great social and environmental ills.
The current culture of fear has paralyzed our middle-class, which used to be a significant participant in the shaping of our country's approach to life. Now we allow ourselves to live as if we are powerless and must wait for others to safeguard our future.
At this moment, some participants at the Climate Conference in Peru are emphasizing the need for universities and banks to divest themselves of all fossil fuel investments. I tried to do this on a personal level by working with financial advisors who promised to "green" my investing strategy. Unfortunately, given the current investment system, even they could not completely eliminate my retirement account's connections to fossil fuels. Or to weapons. Or to a myriad of companies that contribute to our planet's present compromised state. For example, you can't develop oil and gas without the large machines that make these operations possible.
Also, colleagues and I had experienced over the past years the intensely worrying losses caused by one investment 'bubble' after another. I grew tired of hoping all would be well in the long term. Gambling has never interested me. And what a strange system we have. Corporate law protects corporate officers from prosecution, corporations that bring harm are seldom penalized sufficiently to make them rethink their strategies, and yet--individual investors must again and again absorb losses from the reckless investment and business practices of the companies to which their investment accounts are tied.
I must report that replacing so-called investments with an end to debt and the knowledge that our family is living within its means has liberated me from the unvoiced hope that, somehow, the current socio-economic system could remain largely intact even as we attempt to address the huge problems of population growth, economic disparity, corporate greed, ineffective/complicit/cowardly national and state governments, and climate change--all of which need to be addressed immediately. The current systems are more invested in their own survival than they are in the wellbeing of this planet and its life.
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