PHILOSOPHER GEORGE SANTAYANA SAID, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That’s why, at the end of the year, I like to study the past twelve months and ask myself, what is it that I learned? Some years the answers to the question are easy, like in 2000, when the obvious moral was that the stock market doesn’t always skyrocket. In 2002, we were lucky to learn that the inverse, stock markets don’t always plummet, was true. Other years are more difficult, but if you dig, each twelve months you’ll find plenty of learning nuggets buried in the headlines that you can carry into the next year and beyond. 2010 is no exception. Although it wasn’t a year with brilliantly shining financial stories, there is plenty to remember.
Here are my top five 2010 lessons, in descending order:
5) Home ownership is difficult (still). According to RealtyTrac, one out of every 389 homes received a foreclosure notice in the month of October. Banks are still uneasy about loaning money to people for home purchases, and with good reason. If you own a home, having a good cash reserve, a low amount of debt, and a consistent income stream are all vital to maintain your mortgage.
4) Don’t trust others to keep your personal information private. The global Wikileaks crisis and several banking hacks prove once again that you can’t be too careful with your personal information, especially on the internet. The FBI and National White Collar Crime Center’s Internet Crime Complaint Center opened its doors in 2000, received their 1 millionth complaint in 2007 and the 2 millionth complaint last month. A shredder and computer security program might be two wonderful holiday presents for yourself this year.
3) Balancing the checkbook IS important. The banking collapse of 2008 finally hit national governments this year, with countries such Ireland, Portugal and Italy experiencing huge financial difficulties. Other countries, such as France and the U.K., in an effort to curb financial issues, cut back on government programs. Even a bi-partisan committee of legislators in the U.S. brought forward a plan for severe cuts to cut the deficit. I don’t want to dwell on political issues, but this brings up a huge question for us all financially. Is your financial picture more like Ireland or the U.K.? If you’re in trouble, what is your strategy in 2011 to make severe cuts to avoid financial ruin?
2) Creativity wins the day when finding good interest rates for your bank account. Interest rates dipped so low they won the limbo contest this year. Although that’s great news for borrowers, it was horrible for savings accounts. As of December 12th, Bankrate.com listed the national average rate on a 6-month CD at .68%. To earn money on investments, savers are going to have to dig hard, get creative, and maybe educate themselves about financial instruments out of their comfort zone. I’ll help in 2011 by providing some rate-boosting strategies.
1) If you wait for Congress to make decisions that affect your financial plan, you’ve probably waited too long. As of this writing, although we’re only two weeks from the end of the year, Congress is still wrangling with the tax code for 2011. I hear often that people want to wait until the picture is more clear before embarking on their financial journey. I always sigh when I hear this because today’s Congressional tax-cut action is nothing new. You can’t wait for someone else to decide what to do before you push your financial boat into the water. You’ll never get anywhere by waiting.
I think that I’ll always remember 2010 as the year that Jack Welch’s famous quote came true over and over. While CEO of General Electric, Welch made preemptive cuts to the company and spurred growth across the board at the same time. There are few leaders who are more polarizing than Welch because he took action quickly and effectively to turn GE around before deeper, more life-threatening cuts needed to be made to the firm. The quote I think describes 2010 for me is Welch’s, “Control your destiny or someone else will.” If you don’t pay your mortgage, take steps to control your personal information, balance the budget, learn about investments and build your financial plan, someone else is going to take control of your life. Sadly, you probably won’t like how they manage your financial picture. On the other hand, if you make financial moves to secure your future early like Welch did, you may not be popular today because of your cuts, but you’ll successfully build the abundant future you deserve.