Proverbial rainy day is here

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By Vince Luecke

It's not rained in these parts for weeks, but for those smart enough to have socked away money over the past few years, the proverbial rainy day is here. Those with savings are better able to deal with a national financial crisis, including higher food and fuel costs.

Sadly, I fear it's going to be raining economic hard times for a long time.

With the amount of money it takes to fill the gas tank and grocery cart, lots of wallets are pinched and that's one reason why so many Americans are rolling their eyes at the idea of a $700 billion bailout of financial institutions. Many of us are mad as hell at the executives who drove their companies and shareholders off the financial cliff, taking billions of dollars, and big chunks of our retirements and sense of economic security into the abyss.

With all the political chatter about "conservative" and "liberal" policies, I think all of us wish the bosses at Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual (seized by the government Thursday night) and AIG would have been more conservative in their wheeling and dealing.

I don't like the idea of taxpayers pulling troubled private companies out of the fire. I believe markets correct themselves and people and businesses either survive by making the right decisions or they fail and are replaced by competitors who will.

But our financial markets swing on sentiment. Financial panics of the past did lasting damage and the government needs to nip this one. That probably can't be done by a speech or two by the president or a treasury official.

I don't want to experience a second Great Depression and that means government intervention and (hopefully, effective and limited) federal regulation.

What we all need is a return to the 1950s and 60s, when Americans socked away money in savings accounts so they could afford a 20-percent down payment on a new home or a family vacation without the use of credit cards or a home-equity loan.

I have friends who used their homes as ATMs, pulling out equity for campers, boats and trips. People thought home prices wouldn't stop climbing. They have and are actually going down.

I read recently that the average American's savings rate has dipped into negative territory. That means many of us are spending more than we make, putting nothing away for a rainy day. Sadly, the rain has set in and some people's financial health and security will be swept away. But those with nest eggs will be better able to weather the storm.

While in the Omaha airport a couple of weeks ago, I picked up one of the dozens of books written about famed investor Warren Bufffett, who lives in Omaha. He became one of the world's wealthiest individuals not through leveraged buyouts or raiding other corporations, but by investing in good companies - or buying them outright - at the right price.

His Berkshire Hathaway has local holdings, including the parent company of Webb Wheel Products in Tell City.

Buffett reassured the markets, at least a little, last week by investing $5 billion in Goldman Sachs, but fears that politicians would dawdle over the planned bailout had markets headed south again Friday.

I'm do my best to save a little more and I know plenty of others are doing the same, boosting the amount of money we kick in to our retirement accounts each payday. I've put my December vacation plans on hold. I'd rather deposit that pot of money to a savings or retirement account.

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I enjoyed Sarah Chinn's guest column in the Sept. 11 issue of the Evansville Courier and Press. She talked about her love of Tell City and the unique names of the city's streets.

She also talked about the city's founding and this year's sesquicentennial.