Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The "rock stars" of the financial media

For anyone who reads this blog in hopes of comedic diversion, this one could be a doozy. I’m about to opine on the economy.

This ought to be funny because through dint of my historically underpaid profession combined with my god-given laziness, I’ve rarely had ample funds. I’ve never earned much and have endured many years when my idea of a splurge was getting a pizza with pepperoni and sausage.

So maybe I should be the last guy to assess the economic recovery, but here goes: I believe it’s going to happen sooner and cause less widespread hardship than any of the experts are so gloomily predicting.

Why should anyone believe me?

Because for years I’ve been doing exactly what everyone agrees the entire country needs to be doing to return to fiscal solvency.

I’ve lived responsibly.

I’ve paid off all my bills down to zero. I haven’t lived extravagantly. The four cars I’ve owned have all been paid off and driven a minimum of -- sorry Detroit -- five years. My wife and I paid off our first house in 12 years. My credit cards rarely carry a balance.

I did this in spite of tempting news reports that hinted I could be doing more with my money by embracing the schemes now being blamed for our current mess.

And that’s because I’ve never trusted the celebrated big shots of the financial media.

Financial reporters used to be uniformly dour and gloomy as the agate type on the stock pages, and that’s as it should be. I’ve never believed in any get-rich-quick schemes, preferring to get my financial advice from penny pinching wisemen like Benjamin Franklin.

Then around about 1995 irrational exuberance began sweeping the country. Bartenders started sharing stock tips. Desperate housewives without more cuddly pool boy options started forming investing clubs. Brash hosts on cable financial news shows started acting like carnival barkers.

People started calling them the “rock stars” of the financial world.

Let’s get this straight. To call anyone in any field that doesn’t involve drugs, groupies and ear-blistering electric guitars a rock star is a blazing insult to historic excessives like Keith Richards, Tommy Lee and Keith Moon.

You’re either a rock star or just some dork with a schtick.

Take Rick Santelli, for instance. He’s the big mouth from CNBC who made waves last week declaring it’s time to revolt against the Obama stimulus package. The rant elevated him from sub-cable purgatory to the major news networks and even earned him a tut-tutting from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Once again it left me wondering if that’s what it takes enjoy national notoriety but the only equivalent way for me to ape that sort of shrill idiocy is to start typing my posts in OBNOXIOUS ALL-CAPITAL LETTERS. But that hurts my eyes and I’m not about to start doing that.

Most of the financial experts I see commenting on TV today look like they’re in way over their heads. Without fat portfolios to substantiate their genius and videotaped warnings proving they saw it all coming, the blustery guys look feckless and their fresh young female counterparts look like girls who stayed too long at the frat party.

The best and only financial advice I’ve ever heeded came from my brother, the -- ta!da! -- financial advisor. He told me about 20 years ago: “Always pay yourself 10 percent of every paycheck first, and then pay off your bills.”

Simply put, that means if I get a check for $1,000 -- and this is a wild hypothetical because that hasn’t happened in months -- take $100 and put it in a savings account that generates compound interest. Then take the remaining money and pay off what you owe. If you have any leftover, use it to splurge on something like a pizza with pepperoni and sausage.

It’s that simple. The advice has given me a sound foundation upon which to weather difficult times, and I'm optimistic that's what's in store for America.

(By the way, the other great piece of advice I received and share without fail to dewey-eyed newlyweds is: Always argue naked.)

So there it is. I think before you know it, we’re all going to be fine. We’re going to have some difficult times, but it’ll be more cleansing than painful.

We just need to help each other whenever we can and focus on little things to get us through the day.

And if you struggle today to find something hopeful to help you carry on, I offer this: In the next day or so, I’m going to write about why after five years I decided to change my head shot for my various on-line endeavors.

I don’t know why, but for some reason I think that’s going to pull one or two of you through whatever tumult the next day or so is bound to bring. I hope something does.

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