I retired in late 2006 with a conservative financial plan in place that would last through the lives of my wife and myself and still leave a little something for the kids. My financial planner and I chose an appropriate asset allocation model and we needed only 5% returns to be in good shape. My wife and I planned on working or volunteering, but we could do things because we wanted to and not because we had to. After many years in corporate America, this was a great place to be.
I am still in a little bit of shock over everything that has happened in the financial markets over the past year. On one hand, events unfolded in the blink of an eye and on the other, it was a death by a thousand cuts. My retirement plans were solid and in place and now they are gone. Disappeared. Vanished. Dead. They will not be revived and I am left with the shock, disbelief, despair and anger of trying to figure out what to do next.
Who is to blame for all this because I would like to introduce them to their worst fears and nightmares? Not really, but they should suffer. I played by the rules. I put my money in secure investments. I didn't gamble on housing or any of the other get rich schemes out there. Perhaps I was too willing to accept the advice of financial planners with all of their asset allocation models and long term investing theories. History always repeats itself, the market runs in cycles, you cannot time the market and so in the end you buy and hold knowing that which comes down will eventually rise even higher...but I don't think so this time. The mess we are in right now feels very different. No one is talking about rebounding to past highs. All of the talk is can we avoid the dire straits of a total system collapse.
There is probably much blame to go around. For years, while I was still a part of corporate America I was incensed at the salaries, bonuses, perks and power being given to our CEO and to all CEOs. In the good old USA our CEO's average 450 times the salary of the average worker. The next highest country averaged 22 times the average worker. Not too hard to see that something was terribly wrong, but times were booming, money being made, stock prices climbing--so who cared. Of course now we find out that most of these profits were just shell games and the people who could manipulate their way to huge paydays. The foxes raided the hen houses and they have all gotten away.
I need to get back to work. I need to make money comparable to what I used to, but it won't be easy. My age and experience work against me not for me. The job market is terrible and we just hit 23 straight months of net jobs lost. There is no end in sight, but still, I conduct my daily job searches and try to stay positive and pray I do not lose everything I have worked so hard to acquire.
I am an optimistic person, but it is clear to me that all of the rules have changed. I have no confidence in the economic stimulus plans, although I am a supporter of this President. I do not see how we can buy our way out of this mess. It is like we are trying to pay off the judge in order to avoid going to jail, but the judge is a harsh judge who does not accept bribes. Something tells me that we must accept our sentence and learn from all this. I don't claim to know what our lesson or lessons might be, but I feel certain that our lives need to change and our desires need to change. "He who dies with the most toys wins" was a funny bumper sticker, but it is funny no more. I think it is time to end this era of greed and selfishness and over consumption. It is time to focus on needs and not wants, and it certainly wouldn't hurt to think about how our actions affect the other guy, and not just that it is good for me.
There are so many of us in this predicament. It is as if we are stranded on an island and there is no one coming to our rescue. Certainly not the government! Perhaps therein lays our opportunities. Those of us with first hand experience on how the old rules no longer apply can begin to create the new rules. We find strength as we look to each other for strength. Our unique bond expanding into a feeling the connection between us...and this connection feels good and right...and we begin to desire this connection...and nurture this connection...and begin to realize what our world could look like if we took care of each other instead of taking care of ourselves. Why not put this into action? It has been talked about often but never implemented. What do we have to lose?