Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Colossians 3:15

Thursday, September 29, 2011

'Hey, lady! Can you spare me a penny?'

Published in Cumberland Times-News Thursday, September 29, 2011.

"If Bill O’Reilly’s idea of a one percent federal retail tax should materialize, then I would see my investments working for the government and not for me."
In the past couple weeks, after finishing our grocery shopping, my brother, sister-in-law and I – exiting the plaza -- have observed a panhandler with a sign that reads “Jobless. Broke. Hungry.”

I always feel compassion, and a sense of “but for the grace of God, there go I,” along with a smattering of skepticism, when I see someone homeless.

My sister-in-law suggested we give the fellow a granola bar she handily retrieved from the car console, “since he says he’s hungry.” My brother reckoned, though, the beggar would prefer cash.

We ultimately decided against any gift. After all, I said, there are places where he could receive food; and we agreed that likely, judging from his plentiful tattoos, he would squander cash.

I recalled the time I encountered a vagrant outside McDonald’s in Sharpsburg. “Lady, can you spare me some change?” he asked. “No,” I replied, “but come inside, and I’ll buy your breakfast.” “Oh, no,” he said. “I don’t eat here.” (Doubtful, then, I thought, he’d buy food with cash.) “Sorry. I can’t help you,” I told him.

My brother, sister-in-law and I postulated that if this beggar had saved the money he spent on eccentricities, he might have that cash, with interest now, for necessities. Of course, it is possible he changed his ways some time ago and simply has hit hard times. Without family or assistance, many more likely would be on the streets today.

Times are exceedingly tough. We all feel the crunch of stagnant or shrinking incomes, escalating expenses, diminishing returns on investments, and frozen or dwindling savings. We all have to make less do more; austerity is the new norm.

Suze Orman says,” I quoted to my brother and sister-in-law, “saving has to be more fun than spending.” For me, it is. I buy items on sale and use coupons. If it’s not a deal, then there is no deal.

I did make a few bad spending decisions, one wrong investment turn in my younger days, but I don’t expect any more of those.

I never could afford eccentricities; I always had a hefty monthly health insurance bill that still keeps me strapped. But praise God I’ve had health insurance all these years; without it, I’d be poor, possibly homeless.

Suze says health insurance is a must, to build security, along with investing in stocks. Now, that’s where I get nervous. Investing in a mutual fund, with a financial adviser, is what I consider my past wrong turn. I lost too much. Now my certificates of deposit earn a paltry penny (and less) on the dollar.

If Bill O’Reilly’s idea of a one percent federal retail tax should materialize, then I would see my investments working for the government and not for me.

Suze says if we choose solid stocks that pay dividends, then we can earn up to five percent and keep ahead of inflation – if we invest half our holdings for at least a decade, that is!

I’ve done some courageous things, mostly because I’ve had to; but I could never be that brave.

I might continue to consider, and then re-consider, putting a thousand dollars into a dividend fund, but I won’t make any hasty moves. One percent assured in the bank helps to pay my health insurance.

Perhaps Bill O’Reilly, and the president, would do well to panhandle for pennies and see how many they could collect. My guess is even a one percent tax would be too much for most.

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