Nearly the end of the year. So much to do. So much to review. Past and present bumping into each other as if they are dancing to two different songs. Past wisdom shows signs of relief. Hard work may begin paying off for many. Present wisdom is split between the optimists and pessimists. I write this, watching thoughts from both dance inside my head, nudging each other as I try to pick a topic. Their dissonance is the song many of my friends hear. Will it resolve into a harmony or dissolve into discordance? We won’t know until we’ve lived through it. I wish there was one clear message but one chorus is clear, people are hoping for a Happy New Year.
My life has improved considerably since last year. At the end of last December I was dealing with the emotional shock of not being able to pay the mortgage and very glad for a small sign of hope from client who would pay enough for food and fuel, if not housing and health care. This December I have more work than I can handle, maybe enough to pay a modified mortgage, and yet not so much more that I can relax (thanks especially to HCLE and NRM). My contracted work is good, but far from a rate that will appease all, which isn’t surprising because non-profits aren’t known for high wages (except for the mega-non-profits, but that’s another story.) I’ve been working hard enough that they have names for the days I’ve taken off since June: The Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. I’m not even sure I’m taking off New Year’s Eve because it may be the only time I have to manage invoices and get ready for taxes. Take those two years of data points, negative cash flow and possibly balanced cash flow, and extrapolate and next December could even show a surplus.
Many of my friends are in similar situations. Their businesses are busier than ever, which means more revenue than ever, but their profit margins may be so low that they’ve traded a higher workload for not enough extra money. Ah, but a better profit margin in 2014 with some growth in revenues and – hallelujah! – maybe enough to pay for things that have been put off for years.
I’d love to paint a perfectly positive picture for 2014, but many of my friends are old enough to notice that something is different. Yes, the economy seems to be recovering. But there are a lot of buts. The stock markets are up, but most of the money is going to people who don’t do anything with it except accumulate more. Unemployment is down, but at lower wages and with people holding more than one job. The real estate market is improving (want to buy my house?), but it may be artificial because many of the urban sales have been to corporations that are turning the houses back into rentals with unreasonable expectations.
Or, change is happening in the best way possible.
People are getting out of debt. The Occupy Movement has found a way to cancel debt for 5% of the value. The total value of all of US mortgages is declining. Regardless of the size of the average house, a growing portion of the population is quietly and dramatically challenging the assumptions of house size by advocating and living in houses the size of some master bedroom suites. The Affordable Care Act may be attempting to decrease health care costs, and folks are signing up; but I am more impressed with the number of people who are proactively deciding to eat healthily and exercise more. Those people who can’t get a regular 40 hour a week job are redefining careers and worklife, mostly out of necessity; but with paradigm shifting results.
My concern is that we may be working hard, fixing our systems’ flaws, and adapting to new lifestyles, but at a rate that is too slow and at a time that is too late.
Working seven days a week was a reliable path out of a bad situation. But income and wealth inequities may be so entrenched and extreme that working every day means nothing more than not having any days off.
Even if you make more than you spend, investing may have fundamentally changed with the deregulation of the late 90’s. Maybe it is no longer reasonable to expect an individual investor to be able to compete against institutions that carve through mountains to enable trades that are just a few nanoseconds quicker.
Those of us in America may have to save our country from decades of ideological mis-financing. The ideologues seem to have lost most of the recent battles, but whether they should’ve won or lost, taxpayers and citizens are left with the responsibility for returning the country to fiscal health.
I am pleased with my progress through the year, and as many have said, I am eager for a Happy 2014. I am also aware that many of those same people who are eager for a Happier New Year say so with a tone in their voice, or a posture and gesture in their body language that suggests that they have doubts. For many years people have said, next year will be better. Optimism sustains us – especially when pessimism has proven us wrong so far
My optimism remains. Yes, the financial system is due for a collapse, but I suspect we’ll build something better (and I wonder what that will do to my mortgage.) Yes, the global climate is changing. To suggest otherwise is to suggest printing the Farmer’s Almanac once and repeating it every year. And we will adapt; especially, because coastal cities are quickly switching from debating words to erecting defenses – and going greener. I even think health care costs will come down because such inefficiencies are unsustainable and because eventually people realize it is not just cheaper but more fun to be healthy.
As to whether my portfolio will recover, my good business will become much better, my health continues to improve, and my appreciation of life appreciate – well, yes, I expect all of that to happen, and more. But in the meantime, I think I’ll sit in front of a movie for a while. This mental and emotional dancing has tired me out.
For those of you investing in stocks, stay tuned for my semi-annual review of my stocks and the market. I’ve already started writing it up, and plan to post it on December 31st after the market closes. There’s a lot of hope in there, and if life lives up to that hope, there’ll be a lot of dancing and a big sigh of relief.