Financial Thoughts Before You Pull Any Lever

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Financial Thoughts Before You Pull Any Lever

Mud-slinging.  Name-calling.  Shades of the truth.

If you listen to political ads, you’ll hear a hundred triggers you could react to as you make a decision about what candidate to vote for.  That holds true for all elections: national, statewide or local … in fact, for anyone who can possibly have an impact on the “playing field” you call your life.

Of course social issues are important.

But if the economic environment makes it difficult to earn, save and create security for yourself and your family, how important is that social issue … relatively speaking?

So, before you pull back the curtain and step up to a voting machine, special stylus or pencil in hand, here are some financial thoughts you might want to consider as you make those oh-so-important choices.

Other factors, like healthcare, student loans, mortgage rates and others, are very important … but here we look at just the big four:

Jobs

Unemployment figures are bandied about by all candidates.  But do you know what those figures really mean?  Is there any manipulation of the statistics that makes them a false indicator?  (The answer is yes.  Besides, there are enough different statistics out there that they can always find one that works in their favor.)

So what do you hang your hat on?  Listen carefully to what the candidate says she or he is going to do to create an environment where good jobs will be generated.  Are they pro-business or anti-business?  Do they seem to have a believable vision of where they’d like to see the job market go?  Does the position they are seeking have the influence needed to make the promised changes, or is it just pretty-sounding rhetoric?  Check your gut:  do you believe them?

The Economy

Unless you’ve invested years in studying economics to understand how all the pieces work, domestically and internationally, it’s hard to grasp what’s really going on in the economy.  (It’s even hard for economists, because today nothing reacts as it used to.)

But here are two fundamental elements that we can all appreciate.  And if the candidate you’re favoring has been elected to some office before, her or his voting record is a good place to start.

What is the position they hold on the country’s deficit?  (And here all politicians weigh in, whether they are running for the Senate or chief dog catcher.)  If they think it’s okay to grow the deficit more and more, remember that this is the same as allowing the balance on your credit card statement grow larger each month.  As you know, the interest payment due each month grows proportionally.  Someday it will be more than you can pay.  And the balance itself will eventually have to be paid back.  The answer you get from candidates will give you a hint about their long-term view.

And inflation?  Like the unemployment rate, this too is a manipulated number.  Just imagine, the figure mentioned most often today in the U.S. is what’s called “core inflation,” a figure that doesn’t count the price of food or energy.  How real is that?  How many people do you know who can live long without food?  Or heat in the winter?  And how long could they go without filling their gas tanks?

To put inflation in perspective, it means “how far your money will go when you shop.”  So listen carefully to what a candidate is saying about keeping all costs down as far as possible.  The answer will tell you how much she or he cares about the quality of your day-to-day life.

Taxes

Nobody likes to pay taxes.  Yet everybody likes to benefit from some of the things they make possible, like good roads, good schools, a safety net for those in need, a secure country and so on.  And we know they’re necessary.

But politicians are great at demonizing their opponents, throwing enough mud to make it hard to know what’s what.

Here’s what you can use as a gauge when you’re analyzing a candidate’s posture on taxes in general or on a specific tax:  do you feel that the money collected will be used efficiently if the government provides the good or service?  Or is there someone else who could do the job better?

Forget the rich and the poor for a moment.  Putting yourself in the taxpayer’s shoes, if you were going to pay more because of a particular tax, at the end of the day would you feel good about paying it?  (Because in my books, if you wouldn’t be willing to pay it, you shouldn’t expect someone else to pay it either.)

Where a candidate stands on “who pays what” will tell you what they think the role of taxes is.  And then it’s up to you to see if you agree.

Housing

The American economy grows and contracts based on how housing is doing.  You see, it’s not just building or renovating the houses themselves that matters.  It’s everything that goes inside those houses that helps drive the economy.  Refrigerators, toilets, roofing materials, sod, architects, plumbers, landscapers, realtors, county inspectors …

If anything has taken a direct hit in this economic crisis, it’s been the housing market.  Generations of Americans have counted on the increased equity in their homes to help finance their needs in later years.  And home values had grown along on a pretty steady upward curve.

Now that values have tumbled, whether you’re in a house with an upside-down mortgage (where the balance is greater than the value of your house) … have lost your house … have been able to stay afloat … or don’t even own one, what candidate seems to have a better plan to get our economy back onto sure footing?

Forget fairness for a moment.  Who is offering a plan that will strengthen the general economy so that the demand for houses can grow?  Is that plan affordable?  Or is it so expensive, it’ll put a drag on the economy as it tries to get out of its present doldrums?

To Wrap Up These Financial Thoughts …

I’m not talking about political platforms here.  These questions aren’t about Democrats or Republicans … or anyone in between.  They’re about the numbers.  They’re about what are ultimately your numbers.

Let me know in the Comments section below which of these financial indicators are most important to you whenever you pull that lever.

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Bio: Sharon O’Day lost everything at age 53: her home, her business, everything. But how could that be? She’s an expert in global finance and marketing with an MBA from the Wharton School. She has worked with governments, corporations, and individuals … yes, she was the secret “weapon,” if you will, behind many individuals in high places. Yet she did! Since then, with her finances completely turned around, Sharon has gone on to interview countless women. She’s done extensive research to understand how that could have happened, especially with her strong knowledge of numbers and finance.

The surprising answers are shared in her posts, articles and an upcoming book. Today her mission is to show as many women as possible how to become financially free for the long term, through her coaching programs. She has developed a step-by-step plan to get past all the obstacles that keep women broke and scared … and from reaching the financial peace of mind they so deserve … if they’re willing to do what it takes!

  • As I read this article one thing kept coming to mind…regardless of the individual choice made when pulling the lever, regardless of the numbers as each perceives them and regardless of what WE believe about any of it, the bottom line is that politics as we all know it to be needs to take a back seat so that whoever is in charge can do what they tell us they will do…For me they all spin…so I am looking for the one who is willing to work well with others!!

    • I agree about the “universal spin,” Denny. You’re also right about how critical it is for any leader to be able to bring people together. As I wrote this article, I thought, “Boy, if I list everything that I’d like to see in our future leaders, I’ll be writing for weeks. So stick to the numbers, Sharon …” 😉

  • You know, years ago, my WWII veteran Dad told me it really never seems to make a hill of beans who’s in the White House. It’s the Congress that usually screws things up. Something to think about! LOL

    • It actually takes both to make any real change, Martha. (And talking to one another would be a great start!) So your Dad was right!

  • Alexandra McAllister

    Sharon, I am in Canada and we have the same issues. I agree with you: “These questions aren’t about Democrats or Republicans … or anyone in between. They’re about the numbers. They’re about what are ultimately your numbers.” Excellent post!

    • Thanks, Alexandra! While there are some differences between our two country, in some ways we’re similar. And, unfortunately, I’m afraid the distortions of politics are pretty universal!

  • Martiel Beatty

    I think we need to have this conversation more. It would help us all understand where we stand.

    • I agree wholeheartedly with you, Martiel. I do my best to bring these topics up as often as I can … because I know how critical they are to our quality of life in the long run.

  • Wonderful points to keep in mind…I think we let the mud slinging distract us from the real issues that we care about. Thanks. xx

    • It’s just a little difficult to cut through the mud at times, Carmen. But it’s worth the extra effort to get clear on what our decision criteria should be! 😉

  • Carly Alyssa Thorne

    I wish the Government and Politicians would get that the best business is Honesty, Integrity, and Facts NOT BS and Mug slinging..

  • Excellent points, Sharon. I wish you all the best in making these upcoming decisions in your election. I keep similar points in mind when we go to the polls in Canada!

    • Sherie, because the U.S. is Canada’s major trading partner, I know that what happens here actually has an impact there. So we accept all your “well wishes” and will do our best! 😉

  • Great ideas to keep in mind, Sharon. I do see these things changing. People are starting to demand transparency, honesty and integrity.

    • As well they should, Bradi! If nothing else, the economic crisis in 2008 woke many people up to the fact that they couldn’t just let things slide any longer. Hopefully the electorate will get more and more engaged!

  • olga hermans

    I like that you gave us al these points Sharon; it is not about the person, it is all about the office and we need to look at the values that are coming forth at least that is what I am looking for.

    • The hardest part, Olga, is ferreting out what a candidate truly believes. (Their track record is a good start, but even that gets obfuscated by the campaigns.) So it takes a little work, but it’s well worth it!

  • Another great, thought-provoking post, Sharon! For me, I’d say it’s the economy and taxes and whether a candidate has a demonstrated willingness to really listen and make attempts to work with those of differing views.

    • You got it, Lisa. Being clear on our financial priorities is useful in elections at every level, starting with our local candidates. Candidates all the way up the chain need the willingness you pointed out!

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Great post Sharon. We are at such a critical time in history, that it is important to have someone lead us down the road to economic recovery. For the younger people just starting out, I’m concerned about their job future. We need to make Washington work again, but communicating across party lines.

    • Oh for some truly civil discourse, Cathy, and genuine efforts to reach across the aisle to achieve what this country desperately needs. Besides my concern for those starting out … is my concern for those getting close to retirement who have been hit hard by the economy and/or by a lack of solid financial knowledge.

  • Sharon, if you ran for office I would be your strongest supporter. What happened to American intelligence and the ability to think for ourselves, ask hard questions and listen earnestly to the answers? Thank you for this fabulous blog!

    • Thanks, Lorrie. I think I’ll stick to sharing what I’ve learned over the years with whoever can benefit. Trust me, a message of personal responsibility is not a terribly popular one … which is why I love my readers so! They get it! 😉

  • Love this One Sharon. It is why I will vote the way I do! The economic changes brought on by the clasp of the housing market and the high cost of health care drove the company that my husband worked at for 20 years back to Canada. It’s been tough on us. We will get through but the life plane we once had is gone.

    • Lots of people are picking up the pieces, at all different life stages; that’s why I suggested readers look carefully at the financial issues and vote what most reflects their financial goals. It’s no guarantee that’s what you’ll get, but it certainly increases the odds more than voting social issues at the moment.

  • You hit the nail on the head, Sharon. All the other stuff that swirls around the candidates just muddies the waters. These are the important financial pieces that create a strong economy and quailty of life for Americans. Wish you were running for President!

    • Thanks for the confidence, Ruth, but I’m too marvelously flawed and transparent to be elected to anything! 😉

  • Elizabeth Maness

    This can be a very heated subject. I just wish that someone whould get back to the business of taking care of the people. Stop competing and focus on the real issues.

    • I know it is, Elizabeth … unfortunately, the stakes are too high … and the stakeholders are too powerful.

  • Great post again Sharon! I love the way that you were able to get your points across without naming names, parties, or platforms.

    • Sally, my purpose wasn’t to push anyone in any particular direction. But rather, I wanted readers to think one layer deeper and look at their own self-interest … voting their own “pocketbook” issues. It’s too easy to get caught up in rhetoric!

  • anonymous

    Unfortunately things are never cut and dry -as someone who works in the Finance Dept of a local government – even on a small scale – with 6 council members and a mayor – you would not believe the individual agendas and politics behind decisions, unfortunately the structure creates the problem – on the national level each member of congress, lobbyists, agencies, corporations on and on have many times competing agendas – I know where I work, and as a taxpayer in the community I live – we just want to follow the rules and do the right thing for the community – trust me it doesn’t always happen, no matter how hard we try.

    • I have few illusions of what happens between intention and implementation … at any level of government. And the higher up you go, the greater the gap. But if we don’t start with clarity in our reason for selecting a candidate … and get carried by the rhetoric … it’s even worse! Thanks for your insightful (and honest) comments; they’re truly appreciated!

  • Jamie

    Another well written post written by you Sharon!

  • You are so right Shanon! These are the important issues, regardless of the party.

    • You got that right, Tereza. It has nothing to do with party … it’s about the “pocketbook” issues that reflect the life YOU want to live.

  • Marie Leslie

    Great post, Sharon. You are always so on target with your advice. I totally agree and have been looking carefully at the economic impacts of the various candidate’s positions. Things are rarely as simple as they would have us believe.

    • You’re looking in the right place, Marie! If only things WERE simple. Unfortunately, even after we make wise decisions, the political process is so distorting “as they make the sausage,” as they say. But if you don’t START OUT with a solid foundation, there’s no chance! 😉

  • Amy Marin Carlson

    Sharon, I love the perspective this article brings to issues I think we’re all just about sick of! I agree that we can make wise decisions based on numbers, as long as they’re not distorted ones.

    • I don’t think the 6th can come soon enough, Amy. (I live in a swing state … so haven’t answered unrecognizable incoming phone calls or watched any news in ages.) Hopefully many will make their decisions based on a cool head and not rhetoric. 😉

  • Thanks for another great article, Sharon! You made some great points to think about before pulling that lever!

  • Sharon, you gave me some new perspectives to think about. Thanks!

    • Happy to share those perspectives, Meryl. Each election is SO important, but sometimes we lose track of why that is so …

  • I really enjoyed your article. There was a lot of things to think about in there!
    Thank you for taking the time to put it together!

    • You’re very welcome, MarVeena. It’s just a different way to look at what we should factor in as we go to vote. 😉