Hum… another month or so has passed by since my last post. Apologies again for the lack of new material, folks. I’ve started a new job, and between the fun & games associated with a major change like that that and the generally increasing level of activity in my household with the advent of spring, I’ve been pretty busy. I’ve also recognized that my writing has been sounding more like a broken record, and I don’t know that I would be adding a whole lot of value to anyone’s life by repeatedly harping on the same few themes over & over.
Briefly, here are a few of the things I’ve been watching over the last few weeks.
- Oil is rising… fast. $120 per barrel is within sight… nearly double the price we saw last year at this time. People can argue ad infinitum about the causes of this price spike, since there are a number of them. The fact of the matter is, though, that pump prices are finally starting to catch up with the pace being set by crude oil. I gassed up my 4-cylinder passenger sedan this morning and paid nearly $50 for the privilege of doing so. I guessing it will cost my wife around $60-$65 when she fills up her minivan soon. When I first bought my current vehicle, I was able to fill it up for around $20 per tank, and soon I will be paying three times that. I paid $3.45 per gallon this morning to fill up. This is close to the peak of the post-Katrina price spike in 2005 and at the time was met with horrifying reactions. Now, it’s met with glum acceptance and people are just happy it hasn’t hit $4 yet. How easily we adapt to events…
- Food prices are starting to get more play in the major media. If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, search for ‘food riot’ or ‘food prices’ in Google news. There are so many stories popping up that it makes little sense to try and highlight the important ones, since there are so many of them. So far, those of us in the first world haven’t been affected too badly by this process, but I think that’s coming. As with most other things, when the shit hits the fan, the fecal matter is not evenly distributed, and the world’s poor are being affected most right now. I find it hard to complain about my grocery bill rising when poor folks in Haiti are forced to eat ‘biscuits’ made up mostly of yellow clay.
- Commodity prices have skyrocketed over the last year or so, but recently there seems to be a decoupling between the price of oil and that of other commodities (gold and other precious metals, in particular). The US dollar has found a level of support it seems, and I’ll be curious to see what events will finally force it below the 70 mark for good.
- The US financial market is continuing to get shredded.
- As is the US housing market.
There’s more, but those are the big issues to watch. Expect little real help from the denizens of Washington DC. Most of the ‘help’ they have talked about so far involve insufficient bailouts that we all will be paying for over the coming decades. I’ve been writing about these topics for some time now, and I have been feeling little impetus to write more on them, for it makes me seem to be hyper-focused on doom & gloom, which is not the case. It also gets repetitive… both for you to read and for me to write. People who pay attention to things already know about this stuff. I have to step back occasionally and not worry about phantoms lurking just over the horizon, as it were.
My life is in a somewhat strange place right now. My career is going pretty well, and I’m very enthused about my new job. It’s interesting work in a high-demand job field, and my new company will be one that I feel will withstand the coming recession/depression as well as any company can. My family is doing very well; my wife is doing her usual excellent job of managing schoolwork, family and home while my kids are growing and thriving. I’m making enough money to keep my bills paid and can mange my debts. Rising food & retail prices will put a crimp in extra-curricular spending, but that is to be expected, and will be a common theme for many families around the world in due time.
Things are going well for me assuming the current paradigm keeps chugging along. If a major dislocation takes place, I hope to be better prepared for things from a mental frame of mind if nothing else. So, I have one eye focused on the here & now, and the other looking for storm clouds on the horizon. As mentioned above, this split between enjoying the present and preparing for a potentially drastically different future makes for some strangeness in life.
The job change has given me a few financial opportunities that I am pondering. I have a 401(k) plan with my previous employer, and I have a few options as to what to do with it. I can leave it where it is, roll it into my new employer’s program, roll it to an IRA, or cash it out. I don’t need the cash right now, but if things truly go to hell in a handbasket, my retirement funds most likely will be worth nothing by the time I am eligible to use them without penalty. I haven’t decided what to do yet, but my gut feeling is to leave the funds where they are right now without getting embroiled in a new employer’s plan. I have no need for the cash now, but would like to be able to access it if necessary.
I’ve rambled on long enough. We live in challenging times, and I think that my children’s’ expectations of what makes a successful life will be different that what it has been for me and the folks of my generation. My children’s lives, I think, will be much more local, much less materialistic, and potentially more difficult, more connected and more fulfilling all at once. Only time will tell.