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The change we need

Posted: November 25, 2008 10:42 p.m.
Updated: November 26, 2008 4:59 a.m.
For the past two years of the presidential campaign we've been overwhelmed and plastered with calls and slogans for "Change We Can Believe In." As the economy subsequently crashed, and then crashed harder, the "Change We Can Believe In" surged and morphed into a desperate plea for "The Change We Need."

Whether mortgage-created, bleeding-heart-Democrat created, profligate-Republican created, greedy-Wall Street-criminal created or even over-obsessed-negative-press-reporting created - the financial meltdown has been one giant "Heck of a job, Brownie" affair.

And thanks to whoever or whatever, we're now all in one big world o' hurt.

Sad faces abounded around the Starbucks table last Thursday. One community pillar hunched over his brew, outing the sad story of how over the decades he'd socked away 12,000 shares of Citigroup.

Over the course of the stock market debacle, he's seen his $700,000 Citigroup retirement pilfered down to $60,000.

To his credit, this community pillar attempted to show "chin up" - but the chin appeared to me to be facing an uphill climb around the smile lines.

Having seen their parents and grandparents burnt over and again, the Hispanic members of our field staff grew up with a well-earned distrust of financial institutions - and especially of stocks.

It took considerable persuasion to talk many of these folks into participating in our 401K retirement matching program. And when they did, nearly to a one, these now incredibly smart-looking conservative investors stashed their cash where it was safest - in the stodgy fixed-income accounts.

Growing up south of the border, they didn't get those compelling lessons you and I heard about "investing in stocks for your future."

So today, while me and my smarty-pants friends at the coffee shop are getting our clocks cleaned in equities, our salt-of-the-earth field staff is happy as ever, sitting pretty and grinding out 3.5 percent year after year while having lost nary one cent.

The Good Book says, "The meek shall inherit the earth." In our day it's coming true as we wheeler-dealer investor types forfeit our inheritance day by day while humble savers see the value of their saved dollars grow as asset prices plunge.

And so the other day, lamentable was I while reposed at the kitchen sink, drowning sorrows in tap water shots.

Sad eyes cast their way about the room, wondering how long I'd be able to maintain my standard of living and hold onto my treasured stainless steel culinary clutchings of wealth.

When across my glance came to focus a particular ceramic cup resting on the counter. Not an ordinary cup, this vessel was filled to the top, brimming full with change. Real change, not metaphorical - this change is the residual metallic currency of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters remaining from the many, long-forgotten transactions of our lives.

"There must be 10 bucks in that cup!" I yelped. Wealth rediscovered!

"And there's the large jar of coins left over from the kids, upstairs in their bedroom. And the jar that's been out in the garage for what what's likely been a decade!"

All of it - cold, hard cash, impervious to stock crashes - just sitting, waiting and waiting for its bright and shiny day in the sun. Waiting to be found and loved and spent and sent back into the economy for which purpose it was originally minted and born.

In the glistening of those coins a realization crystallized: This indeed is "The Change We Need." Forget the bailouts. Forget the Fed. Forget the stimulus checks.

Check your sofa and love seats. "You betcha" there's five bucks hidden underneath all those cushions in your rooms.

But the very best place to find the change you need is almost certainly in the official family change jar.

Every family seems to have at least one, likely tucked away in your kitchen, in your closet or on some dresser, someplace around the homestead.

The coin jars across our great nation have been quietly beating the holy bejeebies out of the stock market through this entire economic fiasco.

Our spare change earned exactly zero interest, zero appreciation and zero growth - but more importantly, absolutely zero losses since the day the first coin clinked into its respective jar.

Coin jars are up over Wall Street 50 full percent this year, and that's a heck of a return when times are so tough.

Brother, let me give you some investment advice. Don't lose your dollars stepping over your dimes. The forgotten pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters of our lives are the change we can believe in and, indeed, are the change we need.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Full Speed to Port!" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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