"The economy's likely to get worse before it gets better. Full recovery will not happen immediately." - President-elect Barack Obama
Today I'm attending a meeting about starting my own 401k--something I've wanted to do for awhile, but could never really afford (and still just barely can)--and I have to admit, current news is not filling me with a whole lot of confidence about it.
If I start contributing to a 401k now, do I just immediately start to lose money? Or will this be like getting in on the ground floor, just in time for the economy to begin some sort of recovery?
Word out of Washington and Wall Street is not encouraging.
Unless you're the CEO of one of the big, federally bailed-out corporations like AIG or Citibank, times are tough for all of us. Regular folks are not going to receive generous, no-strings-attached, don't-even-have-to-really-have-a-recovery-plan bailouts from the government. Instead, we're going to watch our jobs and wages cut, our retirement savings shrink, and, if this downward slide really gets chugging, a cut in our standard of living.
So why on Earth should I start paying into a 401k now? Frankly, I don't feel like I have any other particularly good options, and simply not attempting to save for retirement feels like a supremely bad idea.
Still, this has to be one of the worst times in a very, very long while to be jumping into adulthood and an attempt at financial prudence.
I worry, too, that the economic downturn will be used by moneyed interests as an excuse to forgo real efforts at developing viable alternative energies, cracking down on pollution, and generally trying to clean up our act before things really go to shit. The argument will be something along these lines: "We simply cannot afford to put money into those things that are unproven and/or prohibitively expensive when people are in such dire need of services right now!"
But people are in dire need of a healthy planet on which to continue living right now, too. And for all the billions (if not trillions) of dollars that are being pumped into the creaking, bloated, poorly-run corporations, we could instead be spending that on things like creating a whole slew of new jobs in alternative energy, green technologies, infrastructure improvement, education, and health care. Those are the things that are most crucial to creating and maintaining a viable economy and populace in the future. Not just investment banks. Not just car companies that actively block legislation that would have made them improve their games and perhaps even avoid their current dire straits.
I can only hope that we get enough of the right people into enough of the right positions to steer our country in a better direction. I am optimistic about an Obama administration, but even if they do manage to live up to their lofty rhetoric, they alone cannot make the difference that's needed. It takes a village, and all that.
In the meantime, I'm going to attempt to get my financial ducks in a row, and muster up the patience to see all of this through, despite any market or personal hiccups that are likely to come along the way.