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The Light at the End of the Tunnel — and how you and your family can get there faster

moneyOK – everyone comfy? Want more coffee?

We’re back in the kitchen (because that is where the food, the heat and the good seats are). We’ve talked about (to review, in case anyone is taking notes here and no – there are no essay questions on the final) saving money, starting a garden, “doing one thing” to improve your situation, and finding out who your network is.

Today, we’re going to grasp the wriggly monster with both hands: The country is in the toilet. Really. The news gets worse every day. It looks as if we are “staring down the barrel of a gun” and “hitting the wall” – simultaneously. (Being able to do both at the same times is going to take the skills and physique of a contortionist, but I digress.)

And now Elliot Spitzer gets out there and basically says that all the money that has been used to bail out the banks and AIG was wasted – like we didn’t know that already.

But he did talk about something that we WILL talk about which is:
“government investment in the long-range competitiveness of our nation, not in a failed business model…”

What I want you to do, right now (and you know I am all about the “right now”) is to take that phrase “government investment in the long-range competitiveness of our nation” and replace a couple of words so that it reads like this:

“personal investment in the long-range competitiveness of ME” or “family investment in the long-range competitiveness of family members.”

Recently, I also wrote a diary about the cost of higher education and what it is doing to American competitiveness (you know the shorter version and frankly, our competitiveness is in the shitter too). How are you going to improve your and your family’s competitiveness with THAT?

I’d also like to remind folks about a couple of things from the Great Depression and from bad times more recent: Companies that invested, whether it was for advertising (during the Great Depression) or in developing new products (even when Corning, Inc.’s stock went straight into the toilet, landing finally at $1.80, they still invested in developing new products, which is what keeps them competitive), invariably come out the other end of an economic mess in better shape, more profitable, and more competitive than those who hunker down, cut spending, lay off staff and hope to still be there when the sun shines again.

So, what does this have to do with you, bucky? And your fam? You need to look at yourself and your family as your own little economic unit, your own little company, if you will. And we are in the bottom of all toilets right now. Time to cut costs to the bone? Hunker down? Hope things will get better later?

Mmmmmm, no.

Yes, you can cut your operating costs at home – plastic on the windows, more effective nutrition, not eating out. But you need to, like those successful companies from the Great Depression, invest and position yourselves for the future.

Advertising and Marketing

Get out there. Let people know you guys are still around and about. Attend school functions; go to your local Chamber of Commerce “get togethers;” talk to the folks at church. Let people know who you are, what you do, how you can help THEM, too. Do good stuff. This goes triple if things at your work start to look shaky. Do not hide. Don’t let anyone hide.

New Product Development:

Companies look ahead and if they are smart, do the stuff that needs doing to position themselves for the next wave up. Corning pays the scientists and engineers to cast their minds into the river of the future and you and your family members can do that too. Talk to your kids – find out their dreams. I know people find it funny when I write: “Be a patriot: take a degree in accountancy,” but it’s true – have everyone think about what is good for the country AND for themselves and talk about ‘how do we get there?” If you have college or education benefits at work – USE them. If they will allow you to use them for other family members, then do so. Explore programs that might be available at your children’s schools – perhaps there is a tech high school and one of your kids is technically inclined. Don’t allow all the chitchat about college to get in your child’s way – go talk to the people and find out what they’ve got and how your kids can take advantage.

Be a creative thinker. CAD-based machinists in my area START at $40,000 a year and our local Vo-Tech high school trains for that. In some areas, they are so hungry for them, the companies will hire them and then pay for college for them to move on in the technical field.

Use the internet, books and tapes from the library and learn new stuff – invest in yourself and in members of your family. Perhaps you will make a mistake – perhaps learning some particular computer program will not help you when we come out of this, but the more you do it, the better your chances of having the products that will sell when we come out the other end of this tunnel. Every product development that Corning does is not a hit “out of the park” – think about this that way.

Another thing is – if you have a small business and need money, you need to look for money. I realize that the meme out there is “there is no money.” Here’s a story:

The DH and I were working on the house once when the kids were little. We’d just gotten started and had paid the first payment to the contractor when I lost my job. I remember coming home that day and realizing that the contractor had picked that day to rip the back of the house off and dig a 15 foot hole in the back for a new basement, which was now filled with water. I put my head on the steering wheel of the car and wept. At dinner that night, the DH and I were in a panic: How could we possibly get a loan from a bank now that I had no job? All that stood between us and the great outdoors was a big blue tarp.

A small voice from a chair next to us piped up, “Ask Grandma and Grandpa – they have money.” Our 5-year old had cut through the muck and mire to the nub of the issue – we just had to find someone with money. There are all sorts of people out there who have money and who have been getting shittier returns from the market for a long time.

Your job, if you need money for a new business, to expand your business, etc. is to find those people. Go back and see: Advertising and Marketing. You need to meet and find people who a) have money to invest, b) are willing to invest locally and c) are willing to invest in YOU and your family to do whatever it is you want to do. Don’t be shy and don’t think they aren’t out there because believe it or not, they are. Just go to the internet and do a search on “angels” – they are out there and they are looking for a better return and better control than they can find in the market. In your case, you need to find your local versions of angels – believe me, they are out there.

Above all – FDR and Frank Herbert (Dune)were right: FEAR IS the mind-killer. Now is not a time for fear: It is a time for thinking and planning and doing.

(originally published at Oxdown Gazette)

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