Six tips to maintain your financial independence
Right after Independence Day my wife Jo and I embarked on a long drive from Phoenix, AZ to Evansville, IN. When it’s her turn to drive, I lean back, adjust my neck pillow, put on my headphones (noise cancellation is a beautiful thing), check my email, and generally shut my eyes and get lost in thoughts and daydreams.
Our nation had just celebrated the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I found myself reflecting on our nation’s history. In layman’s terms, the bulk of the population was not pleased with taxation without representation, and a government that had many laws the people did not like. They drafted the Declaration of Independence and basically said, “Enough is enough!”
Declaring one’s independence does not make it so; they were going to have to fight for it. The colonists prevailed and eventually chose to self govern, celebrating hard fought independence.
In 1860 another group of colonists took exception to the power of the federal government and attempted to secede from the union. After many bloody battles, their independence from the federal government was not granted.
While daydreaming I realized that most people not only want independence as a nation, but also want independence individually. The latter is much more personal. The Oxford American Dictionary defines it this way: “he valued his independence: self-sufficiency, self-reliance, autonomy, freedom, liberty.”
“Successful retirement” is having enough money to support your comfortable lifestyle for the rest of your life, without constantly having to worry about money.
The terms self-sufficiency and self-reliance really nails it. It’s sad some of my friends were under the illusion of being independent. Some had nice airline pensions only to have them reduced as most every major air carrier filed bankruptcy. The City of Detroit filed for bankruptcy in what I fear is a preview of things to come.
I saw this article at Express Tribune with disturbing photos of a Greek pensioner in tears.
While the Greeks voted NO to more austerity, they will not be able to exempt themselves from financial hardship. If they stay in the Eurozone their creditors will demand repayment of their debt, government pensions and promises will be cut and assets will be confiscated. If they leave the Euro and print their own currency, it will result in high inflation and seniors and savers will find their buying power reduced considerably.
Independence is something most of us struggle with for our entire lives. When I was 16, having my own car meant not having to depend on my parents’ whims when it came to use of the family car. Soon we wanted independence from our parents, then our creditors, overbearing employers; the list is never ending. Once we have our retirement nest egg we must protect it from all threats; we never want to lose our independence once we have it!
6 tips for Baby Boomers and Retirees to protect their independence
1. Don’t rely solely on a pension or an annuity. While the promises are made in good faith, bad things happen. Whether it is Delta Airlines, Enron, Detroit, or AIG, they are still pension promises. Too many promises that cannot be kept collapses the system and everyone gets only a fraction of what they anticipated. You must build and create wealth above and beyond. It can be something as simple as a stamp collection, small farm, rental property or building a nest egg on your own,
2. Don’t trust any government. Politicians will do what it takes to stay in power. Confiscating wealth from the working class and promising it to the welfare class is part of the charade. When it comes to taxation, it is one area where you are presumed to be a tax cheat unless you prove otherwise.
I have friends who retired from varied government jobs in the State of Illinois. The City of Chicago and State of Illinois are in dire financial straits. Friends reassure me their pension money is well funded and segregated from other pension plans that are woefully underfunded. Uh huh! When the government promises cannot be kept, nothing is sacred.
The Federal government is also on the list. How many times have they already changed social security to reduce benefits? Social Security is an annuity where the insurer reserves the right to change the rules at any time without your consent.
Unlike states or corporations, the Federal government can print money. There is no guarantee that inflation will not erode the value of the dollar. While your pension check might be adequate today, high inflation can eat up your buying power in a hurry.
3. Be proactive and move some money to another country. While the photo of the Greek pensioner is truly sad, having the banks shut down should not be a complete surprise. Less than 700 miles away, the government of Cyprus did the same thing and the government instituted an emergency tax on all savings; basically confiscating money right out of people’s bank accounts.
The citizens of Greece had ample warning. At the time of this writing, nothing has been decided. Greek citizens cannot access money from their accounts and many have no means to pay their bills. Those who saw the handwriting on the wall moved a good bit of their wealth to other countries in anticipation of the inevitable surprise of a bank holiday.
How does this relate to pensioners in the US? While your pension check may be direct deposited in your bank account you still have the option to move your money to safer ground. Just be sure that portion of your nest egg is out of harm’s way.
4. Diversify among currencies. The fiat currency of any government is an IOU, a promise to pay, nothing more. With the exception of Everbank, most bank accounts and brokerage houses denominate their clients accounts in US dollars.
Prudent investors’ world-wide spread their wealth among several different currencies. Currencies trade in pairs. If one currency is strong (meaning increasing in value) it is really being compared to another that is weak (and decreasing in value). Whether you live in Argentina to Zimbabwe and any point in between, if you want your nest egg to hold it’s value, currency diversification is a major component. It is something easily done, even by investors in the US.
5. Legally build a moat around your wealth. There is a huge cadre of specialists in the area of asset protection that can help. It might be something as simple as an LLC, an offshore account, or converting gold into jewelry or other forms of collectibles.
With each passing day we see governments seize assets, declare “eminent domain” and take property without permission. Saying “it can’t happen to me” is a dangerous approach. How many more cases do you need to see of a government agency seizing assets of a citizen based on “suspicion” of a crime before you recognize the danger is real? The innocent citizen has to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees suing in an effort to get their money back.
Having money out of the easy reach of a confiscatory government is a form of insurance. While the event may never happen, the catastrophic cost should it happen makes it well worth adding the extra layer of protection.
6. Don’t fret over things you cannot control. Spend your time and energy focusing on those options still available to insure your financial independence. If you want to insure our nation’s independence, fight that battle at election time. If you want to insure your own “self-sufficiency, self-reliance, autonomy…”, requires you to take action.
When it comes to personal independence, the battle lasts a lifetime. No retiree wants to be dependent on the government, a burden to their children, or spend the last years of their life constantly worrying about how to pay their bills. You did the hard part, you built a nest egg to allow you to be independent and enjoy your golden years. Now your job is to make sure you keep it that way.
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE
I want to thank all the readers who made the effort to find and contact me after our newsletter was abruptly shut down by the new ownership at Casey Research. Your kindness and encouragement were a major factor in my decision to continue my writing.
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The best sign of the trip was a restaurant just outside of Amarillo, TX. “Your check stomach light just went on”. While we did not stop, I chuckled about it and was hungry for the next hour until we stopped.
Until next time…
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