Tag Archive | "money"

The Money Game

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Sometime before recorded history, mankind … some of mankind, anyway … learned that to trade with others was neater than killing to possess what another had.  Thus, the barter system came into being.  Swapping one’s goods for another’s goods was expedient, until the concept of money came into play.

One of the earliest forms of money was salt, for in the days before refrigeration, salt was essential to the preservation of meat, and meat (protein) was essential to the preservation of human life.  People would hand over a bag of salt to whoever had goods they’d wanted to acquire; the size of the bag varied with the asking price of the goods.   When people learned to extract salt from the sea and primitive mines, it became more plentiful and so, the mineral no longer enjoyed as great a demand.  Humans then began to barter precious metals instead of salt, bars of gold and silver.  Somewhere along the way, some genius determined that paper money and small coins minted from gold and silver were easier to cart around on one’s person than gold or silver bullion.

Eventually, the acquisition of money — wealth — became an end in and of itself.   The more wealth one acquired, the more power one possessed and the more avaricious one became.  Whether acquired by a feudal overlord who kept his serfs under his thumb for their most basic necessities, or a conglomerate or huge banking institution abusing its power, money and the urge to possess mass quantities of it became the root of all evil.  For as Jesus Christ warned, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Despite Jesus’ admonition, greed — nor William Shakespeare’s reproach, “Neither a borrower or a lender be” — never gave the mega financial institutions a moment’s pause.  If one did not possess the amount of money he needed to acquire the basic necessities (i.e., a home), one knocked on the doors of the financial giants.  Behind those doors, the giants grinned and rubbed their gluttonous hands together, plotting to become more profitable.  Thus was born the practice of charging interest: additional fees for money lent to consumers and other businesses, and additional monies given to consumers or other businesses that allowed the banks to use their deposited money to the bank’s own ends.

While most banks pay out interest to their depositors in the neighborhood of 5% or lower for keeping a saving account open, the institutions charge as much as 30% in interest to consumers who apply for and receive credit cards from the banks.  And, it doesn’t stop there!  Some banks sold mortgages to naïve borrowers who paid back only the interest; their paybacks were never applied to the principal!  Legislation was then enacted to protect the consumer against such practices, thereby creating the amortized loan.  Amortized over a span of many years, each monthly mortgage payment was then applied to interest as well as principal.

Although our current laws demand that banks must be transparent with lenders when selling different types of loans, the banks always find a way to screw the little guy.  It wasn’t enough, just before President George W. Bush left office, that he and his cronies bequeathed $710 billion in bailout monies to the big banks and insurance companies.   Greed is a hungry monster that is never satisfied.   Banks such as Bank of America, to name one, were then caught red-handed, charging their customers for incidentals such as the use of debit cards, or the more prevalent practice of charging as much as $30.00 for bounced checks written out for far less than that amount.

When called on the carpet about those bounced check fees, a representative of Bank of America blatantly stated, in a formal, public announcement, that although her bank would rectify that situation, it would still find ways to extract extra cash from unsuspecting customers! And only a recent uproar from the general public, overturned the fee that Bank of America wished to attach to the use of debit cards.

Although banks may advertise their services as “free checking,” “free online banking,” and other freebies, the truth is another matter.  “Free checking” usually requires a minimum balance of $100 in one’s checking account.  “Free online banking” permits the bank to pay the float on your money, as most banks can take up to 5 days to process a transaction you request.

In all cases, the banks keep a portion of our accounts, to do with as they please, without paying us interest.  Government at the Federal, State, and local levels probably use these same, self-serving practices.  If you doubt this, consider tax credits issued to taxpayers.  These credits are not given in monetary form, but in the form of a statement.  The taxpayer uses the credit and the debtor accepts it without any money being transacted.   The debtor is satisfied, but what about the taxpayer?  He or she never saw any money in the first place, so how can they be sure that they’d really received a credit or just a statement to placate the masses and keep even more money in governments’ pockets?

Yes, the manipulation of money is highly profitable, if the right ones are holding the sacks of dough, that is.  Have you noticed how the devaluation of money was achieved by manipulating public perception?  Not very long ago, millionaires were considered rich beyond the wildest dreams of most people.  Now, millions are chicken change.  Billions, trillions, and quadrillions are the way to go, the path to overwhelming wealth.   All of this money is ground out and doled out daily by the Federal Reserve Bank (but not to hardworking taxpayers).  When money is printed and exchanged in billions and trillions of dollars, its purchasing power will diminish to the point where dump trucks will be needed to carry it to market … again, not by the average taxpayer, who actually work for his or her living.

Those dump trucks may not be all that far behind.  Remember how gold and silver bullion was abandoned in days of yore, in favor of lighter paper currency and coins?  Well, recent trends indicate that savvy (read: rich) investors are returning once again to gold bullion as a hedge against a tanking economy.  If we as a nation should return fully to the gold standard, our present-day U.S. dollars would shrink in number.  And those of us who cannot afford to buy gold bullion will, once again, be screwed.  But the banks will still stand strong.  Who said feudalism is dead?  It may be some time before I get to heaven, but when I do, I’ll wager that there are more camels up there than rich bastards.

Does Money Buy Happiness?

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How do we define happiness: that which each of us pursues with a single-minded purpose, yet often, fails to achieve?  Is happiness a state of mind we delude ourselves into entering, or is it as real as it is fleeting?  Is it a secret desire, lovingly nurtured and finally brought to fruition?  Is it a haven far from the cares of the world?   Or is happiness nothing more than an elusive dream?

For a moment, reflect upon your life and answer the following question honestly.  When was the happiest time in your life, and was wealth the source of it?  And the next question: if you could accumulate enough wealth (with the concept of “enough” being subjective), would you be happy?  Or would you be like the two friends in the motion picture The Treasure of the Sierra Madre?  Accompanied by an old prospector, the friends set out to strike and unearth gold.  But in the end, their real happiness is found in the company of friends and family.

Although wealth brings a measure of security, particularly in these lean times, it also brings pitfalls if one does know how to manage it.  When one has money, one tends to overspend, and overspending leads to harmful indulgences, several of which can be found in the Biblical Seven Deadly Sins.  Ultimately, if one does not enjoy a strong foundation of spirituality and love, money does little for us but point up the fact that we have, in essence, nothing of real value.  Of money, the Good Book asks, “What good does it do if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Mathew 16: 26)

How, then, does one find happiness?   It is not a tangible thing, like the gold sought by the characters in the above-named film.  I believe that the answer to this question lies in the human soul and not in the material things in life.  Instead of driving ourselves crazy procuring wealth, and shortening our lives with the stress needed to accumulate it, our time on this plane would be better spent in the company of friends and family, enjoying the true treasures that surround us.  Barring a loving support structure, and sometimes even with that structure, many of us take solace in the arts.  Some of us enjoy the arts as spectators and listeners; some of us have the talent to wield that art so that others may take comfort from it.

Perhaps the arts are not for you.  Perhaps it is sports, or initiating or being active in a worthy charity.  Perhaps it’s serving as a mentor to a disadvantaged child.   For examples, don’t look too closely at those who seem to have achieved monetary success and yet, have managed to muck up their lives as well as the lives of others.  The headlines abound with the Lindsay Lohans of this world but rarely focus on the average person who has found his or her bliss and had the guts, or at the very least, extended himself/herself, to attain that bliss.

Granted, celebrities who command huge salaries have more time and money to pursue what makes them happiest.  But even if you maintain a 9 to 5 job and carry all manner of obligations, you can still seek out what makes you happy and carve out a little time for yourself to enjoy that happiness.  If you don’t, you’ll make everyone around you miserable — if not immediately, then eventually.  It’s inevitable.  If you don’t, you will have done nothing more than move through your life no better than an animal concerned with gaining only the barest necessities.

Find what makes you happy, and go for it.  And don’t give up if it escapes you for a while.   The quest itself can offer many happy and enlightening moments.  If you keep at it, if you envision it, it may come to you.  Often, just the dream of happiness can see you through your darkest hours.  Walt Disney’s Cinderella featured a song titled “A Dream Is a Wish your Heart Makes,” written and composed by Mack Davis, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston.  It has a beautiful melody and lyrics that can chase away the blues.  So why not listen now, dream a little dream, and have a happy day! 


Money Talks

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Despite the concept that all people are created equal, some feel that they are entitled to special treatment.  As you may have guessed, many of these folks drive luxury automobiles loaded with state-of-the-art technology, and look down their noses upon those of us who don’t.  This attitude is ludicrous because we “poor folk” are typically smarter and more independent than our wealthier counterparts.  At least we know which side of the car houses the gas tank and the proper way to refill our windshield washer fluid.

I had the opportunity to observe a hoity-toity customer as I shopped in a convenience store recently. The lady in question was complaining rather vociferously to the cashier about having to step out of her car to enter the store to buy oil for that vehicle.  She said she was driving a Porsche and had no clue as to the type of oil she should buy.  She wondered why the oil was not stored outside, and then added that one of the guys working the gas pumps should fetch the oil for her.  As I recall, President Lincoln abolished slavery well over a century ago.  This snooty customer sounded like the type of person who enjoys making others’ lives miserable by assuming that her wealth entitles her to a higher social status than the men pumping the gas.

I am not saying that all rich people act rudely and pompously.  John Travolta, for instance, was brave and selfless when he flew desperately needed supplies to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  He performed similar humane deeds in assisting the people of Haiti after the earthquakes of several weeks ago.  Travolta’s actions seem to reflect the heart of one who genuinely cares for his fellow human beings, instead of acts of self-aggrandizement. Although this man has made millions of dollars, his compassion for others paints him as one of the good guys who does not have a superiority complex.

Financial situations can change in a heartbeat, particularly in this economy.  Instead of giving orders, the rich could be taking them in the future.  The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away — sometimes, right quick!  With people losing their jobs faster than a speeding bullet, the rich cannot count indefinitely on their elevated status.

While I don’t hate the people who possess wealth, I think they should treat the rest of us with dignity and respect.  I do, however, dislike the practices of name-dropping and the slapping of American Express and Platinum cards on the counter, as if such behavior will earn them better service.  It tickles my funny bone, though, to know some of the wealthy are really cheapskates.  Some try to hoard points for a free trip, and then turn around and say that they wouldn’t travel less than First Class!

Self-entitled people seem to be more critical of everything.  Nothing seems to satisfy them.  How can it, since they already own everything?  They keep up with the Joneses with the latest fashions, jewelry, expensive cars, and bigger and better homes, breathing, “I so deserve this!” to anyone willing to listen.  How does one determine who really deserves what in this world?  It has been my personal experience that you get what you get, and that there are no guarantees in this life.  This is a lesson that we would all do well to learn early on in life.

Instilling children with an attitude of superiority is not the proper way to raise them.   Kids have to learn the value of things, and how to support themselves.  As they grow into adulthood, spoiled little rich kids have a tough time finding mates, since their expectations are so high.  Some real life Romeo and Juliet couples never make it to the altar due to mismatched financial backgrounds.  What a shame, if those couples are truly in love. Money comes and money goes, but finding a soul mate is not an easy task.

Another problem is learning to take care of oneself by managing one’s own assets and, of course, earning those assets in the first place.  Anyone who has seen the movie Ground Hog Day knows how grueling it can be to wake up and repeat the same things over and over again … such as going to work!  Work, however, produces that rewarding and oh so necessary paycheck.

If someone else gives us wads of cash without asking, in return, exorbitant interest rates or even that we pay the money back, we might not refuse such a generous offer.  However, when we get something for nothing, there is no sense of real accomplishment.  Once we understand that our ability to achieve our goals lies within ourselves, our self-esteem soars.  When I was young, there were not many opportunities to make a little money, unless my siblings and I did some chores around the house, such as washing the dinner dishes, dusting, cleaning the windows, or babysitting the younger kids.  So, when I was able to save up the small amount that I had earned, it was a wonderful feeling to purchase some little trinket.  Knowing that I had worked made the object so much more valuable to me.

Our true value is not monetary; rather, it is how our lives unfold and what we give to this world for the greater good.  It’s nice to collect beautiful things and possess expensive objects, but don’t let want of material items eat your soul if you cannot afford them.  If you give in to greed and jealousy, you develop a cruel and hard edge; you will never understand the art of appreciating what is really important. 

So do yourself and everyone around you a favor, if you are well off.  Don’t act as if you are more deserving of rewards here on Earth than the next person.  There is a karmic reason why you were born into your current circumstances.  The same holds true for working class men and women: we were born into our own circumstances in order to learn life lessons and thus evolve.  If you were born into the latter category, your situation can be a hard pill to swallow.  If this helps you to get through the day, just think of how many wealthy people are not happy.  They may be addicted to drugs or pull stunts like some rich and famous people, as cries for attention.  As the Italian saying translates, “Money does not buy happiness, but it does calm the nerves.”   To this motto, I am adding, “Providing it is not used to denigrate others less fortunate.” 

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