This week, as I visited various stores and malls, I noticed that shoppers seemed to be unusually grumpy. It appears that the February blues came earlier than expected. People had sour looks on their faces as they rushed around purchasing gifts for their family and friends. The only place I saw cheerful people was in the post office. This was surprising as the postal employees are facing massive layoffs and facilities consolidations. These postal workers managed to put their problems behind them when they served customers at the counter. My hat goes off to them for their cheerful attitude.
This Christmas season, we should focus on the many good things that are happening around us. The best gift this Christmas is that the Iraqi war is officially over. Many of our troops can now come home, some in time for the holidays. Lets ensure that each of our returning servicemen and women have a proper homecoming celebration. They served their country and risked all to preserve our way of life. At the very least, if you see a returning service person, shake their hand and personally thank them. We live in a free country because these Americans were willing to fight and die for it.
Instead of complaining about all of the problems we face let's count our blessings. It is time to walk on the sunny side of the street, no matter how bad things seem. There really is a silver lining in every storm cloud. Let me give you some examples, starting with the housing market. The housing market is distressed. Prices are low and there are a record number of foreclosed properties saturating the market. I do not see this as a bad thing. Rather, I see it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for those who have saved a little bit of money and have a good job to buy their first house or to move up to a nicer house. Interest rates are at or near historic lows. As a result people can buy more expensive houses with lower mortgage and interest costs.
Some people are complaining about the unemployment and how difficult it is to find a job. Recent numbers indicate that the unemployment rate is starting to decline. Several people I know have picked up part-time work that they could not get two months ago. Hopefully these jobs will expand into full-time work. Some areas of the country are doing very well, specifically Montana, and North and South Dakota. Thanks to the Bakken oilfield development, these are boom states. These jobs are in the old-fashioned oil and gas industry. Green energy has not and will not produce meaningful job growth regardless of how often the president tells us that this is the way to go. Clearly, we the people want gasoline not electricity to power our cars.
Here in Pennsylvania, we have the Marcellus shale that contains both oil and gas. These petroleum fields are creating many new jobs. There will be many more new jobs to come as the fields are further developed and businesses expand. This is a great opportunity for workers to find employment in a growth industry. More jobs will be created as we build the pipelines needed to deliver energy to markets on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Rather than complaining about the economy, it is time for businesses to start hiring the people they need. In a few years, there will likely be a labor shortage as many experienced workers retire. Smart companies are hiring now while unemployment is high so that they can have the best staff when the recovery comes.
As I write this article, the stock market is falling for the third day in a row. While others are concerned about their losses, I think this is the best time to invest. America is not a land of losers. We have good times and we have bad times but we always do well in the end. History shows us that those who believe in American companies and purchase American stocks do very well over time. Every time the market crashes, smart American investors select good stocks from the ashes of the down market, purchase them and hold them until prosperity returns. It is time to take advantage of the low prices and invest now for the future.
With Christmas approaching, consider buying children some stock instead of a toy. A share builder account at a brokerage firm can be started with as little as $50. You can also start a Roth IRA for them or fund an Education Savings Account. Make the children part of the decision so that they can learn good investment habits. It is best that they learn to invest at an early age, even with very small amounts of money. Those small amounts will grow over time. Often, children get more toys than they can play with and the toys end up stuffed in a box in the basement. Money properly invested can give the children a good start in life, one that many of us did not have. Give them a few toys and encourage friends and relatives to contribute to their education accounts. The children can open the envelope, deposit the money and even help select investments. Teaching your children to save their money is one of the best gifts you can give them.
While waiting at the mall, I heard many parents screaming at their children. One parent pleaded with them to be good and invoked the fear of Santa Claus. If the children were not good, Santa would not bring them anything for Christmas. The children were obviously smarter than the parent because they kept yelling and screaming. They knew that Santa Claus would still come with many wonderful gifts. Bribing children is a foolish practice. Instead we should teach them to respect their elders. I've never seen Amish parents yelling at their children, and Amish children seem to obey their parents.
Based on my observations, the spirit of Christmas has not arrived. I've seen many people out Christmas shopping, but they seem to be driven by the need to buy things for others rather than the true meaning of Christmas. My special wish is that they will slow down and let the spirit of Christmas catch up to them. It is not just a special day; it is a special time of year. For a few weeks, let us be kind to each other and respect those of different faiths. It is time to say Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah. There will be plenty of time to be mean and miserable in February when we are struggling through six inches of snow. For now, let us all sit back and be thankful that we can enjoy the spirit of Christmas again this year.
© 2011 Gordon Smith - All Rights Reserved