Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009


Shortly after completing today’s post my 6 yo daughter came down stairs dressed like a yard sale in purple socks, bright green leggings and a multi-colored top that had seen better days. I had to bite my tongue not to comment beyond a positive remark that she sure looked bright and beautiful. What, you may ask, does this have to do with investment? Here’s the truth of it. We must get beyond thinking in terms of pieces of paper being the only legitimate means of deciding value. In my the case of my daughter’s attire, letting her dress herself is an investment in her future independence.

My girls can make applesauce, help build bee frames, plant tomatoes, and sew on a button. They can whip up a batch of granola, use a fire extinguisher, perform CPR and make cookies from scratch. Lest you think they are little house on the prairie prodigies, I must add that my two youngest are adopted and both have serious special needs. We just never believed in limiting what they were allowed to try. We spent a lot of time on therapy but an equal amount letting each do things we could have done ourselves in a lot less time and with a lot less aggravation. The investment was in their self-esteem and future competence.

My husband is taking classes in furniture making and bee keeping and I am taking one in knitting. investment. He volunteers at the food pantry. Investment. We helped a neighbor stack his wood. Investment. We go to church. Investment. We walk a neighbor’s daughter to school so she doesn’t have to pack up her toddler each morning. Investment. We put in a piece of ourselves and withdraw good will and sense of community. We become more competent. Our children will be productive members of our families rather than the recipient of society’s largess.

As I watch our economy crumble, I am aware that the worst may be yet to come. The dollar may fall and the deficit rise but my investments will continue to pay real dividends in the ways that really matter.

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The good folks at CNBC were urging people to go drive somewhere and buy something this morning, as though that was going to help stem the blood flowing on Wall Street. I hope no one actually listens to them. Here is the truth. That may be the job of consumers but we are not consumers-at least we shouldn’t be-we are citizens. Our job is to manage our affairs prudently, with as little interference from government as possible. As citizens, we need to know the difference between spending and investing.

I just bought a new food dehydrator. I dry a lot of food each year. I will grow tomatoes this summer, dry a lot and next winter I will enjoy pizza and foccacia with sun-dried tomatoes. That makes a dehydrator an investment that will provide for my future needs. If I buy pizza from big chain, that is spending.

My kids need winter clothes. If I scout out the local thrift stores, resale shops, tag sales and mark down racks to ensure that I have excellent quality snow suits and boots for several years, that is an investment. If I run out to grab a snow suit from WalMart I will have a poor quality garment, destined for the landfill in one season, I will be spending.

If I spend money keeping up the maintenance on my vehicle, changing the oil, replacing key parts as they begin to show wear and washing off salt deposits before they corrode the body, that is investment. If I have just paid off my car and therefor run to my dealer to buy the latest model, that is spending.

If I insulate my home, buy sweaters for my family, get plastic film for windows and replace aging appliance with energy efficient models, that is investment. If I but a new refriderator because it is stainless steel, replace my counters with granite and jack up the heat when the temerature drops, that spending.

A greenhouse is an investment. A pool house is a spend.

You get the point. This is not to say I never just spend. I do. But not when I don’t have the discretionary income and not to meet some externally created need like keeping up with Joneses.

As spring approaches, think investing. Seeds and dwarf fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and beehives are all investment that will offer a far better return than the stock market. A small piece of earth you can call your own is not a real estate investment. It is an investment in yourself, your family and your community. It is the best investment you will ever make.