[COLUMN] The good book on money

WHEN something goes wrong regarding personal finance, our mental default setting is that we need someone else to help fix the problem.

But if we stop and think about it, there is really nothing new under the sun, as Ecclesiastes says.  Our guidelines for how we should live then as now, come from the Good Book and those the Holy Spirit has chosen and guided to explain and interpret its doctrine in the context of modern life.

These days, we click on Google and make it our personal adviser, our own impersonal Yoda.  For anything we need to know, we’re just a click away online for mountains of information from financial experts to inundate us.

It can all be disconcerting and confusing. It’s like tackling the Library of Congress in one go. Don’t despair. There’s hope yet.  We can simplify and refer to that old why and how-to manual for all times and seasons.

The sub prime mortgage mess in 2008 was a sorry and foolhardy attempt by liberals in the government power structure to democratize what was never meant to be a level playing field.

This made it possible for millions who could not afford and should not qualify for a mortgage to be approved for loans they could not carry.

A little known phrase in the Book of Proverbs for those who put up “security for debts” serves as stern warning, “… your very bed will be snatched from under you.” If only we took heed of the wisdom of the ages written in the Bible, we could have saved ourselves a lot of grief and gnashing of teeth.

Strive to live relatively debt-free. Financial guru Dave Ramsey is a proponent of this strategy. There are other views on the opposite side of the spectrum but Ramsey has the chops to prove his strategies work.

Sharply define what is a need and what is a want. For most things, frugal guys tell us to buy only when we have the cash for it. Don’t mortgage your future for a mere whim, particularly for stuff that strokes your ego.

Debt can have you in a stranglehold. Many have found this out a tad too late when the recession hit at the time. We are back to square one again.

The economy is in deep trouble once again. Runaway inflation and a recession, among a host of serious other problems, are upon us as top current leadership use the country’s  depleted coffers as a blank check to spend, spend and spend in order to hang on to power at all costs.

On the matter of investments, steer clear of scams particularly from high places and on the internet. Stay away from what you do not understand.

Remember Madoff? That name ought to be a cautionary tale for the ages.

Bernard Madoff is the biggest Ponzi convicted scammer who had a Wall Street address. 65 Billion dollars in all. Yes, that is with a B. He had a steady gaze and an air and demeanor of respectability and trustworthiness belying a heart of darkness. He conned 37,000 investors in 136,000 countries. He was a Jew who conned the Jewish community.  Most scams start as affinity schemes.

He got a 150 year prison sentence but died of kidney disease and other illnesses in prison in April 2021 days before he turned 83 years old. His plea for clemency to die outside of prison was denied.

But greed went both ways. Madoff’s victims did not question why they were getting consistently great returns of 12% to 15% on their investments for as long as their phony statements were rosy year after year for decades.

Then the financial bomb exploded when the US and the global economy ground nearly to a halt and no new investors can be suckered in by the monumental Ponzi scheme scam king Madoff and his cohorts hatched. Built on a big fat lie, it collapsed like a house of cards.

What a monstrous mess it was and still is. The tedious efforts at clawing back some of the money spent on a shamelessly luxurious lifestyle was as grueling as pulling teeth from a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Many of his victims never recovered.

One of Madoff’s sons, unable to bear the shame and ignominy sadly hung himself with a dog’s leash in his Manhattan apartment leaving behind a wife and children who would like to escape the stigma of the Madoff name. The other son died of an illness.  Both sons died at 48 years old. They blew the whistle on their dad.

Was there something from the Good Book to caution us about this? The one that comes to mind intended for scammers like Madoff and his ilk, is of course, “Thou shalt not steal.”

Scams are no more than sophisticated thefts generated these days from the comfort of one’s computer in the guise of legitimate sounding paper and lately, quite easily, electronic communication like the Nigerian scam or identity theft or scams from boiler room operations from far off places.

This is the modern version of a hooded, masked robber using a gun in a dark alley. New laws on tracking and enforcement procedures are decades away from dealing with this worrisome social phenomenon that seems able to breach all kinds of barriers. The antidote: continuous education, a smidgen of cynicism and a ton of common sense.

What’s the mantra worth remembering and repeating to one”s self particularly during these days of tight money when scammers are getting more creative and brazen?

Of course, tt’s still that one that says: “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” Well this one isn’t in the Bible but it might very well be. A similar quotation from the Book of Proverbs bears reiterating: “The naive believes everything, but the sensible man considers his steps.” In a word, “THINK.”

The fictional character Gordon Gecko in the film “Wall Street” asserted that to be rich, “Greed is good.” Not so, said the Bible…  Jesus was clear on the subject. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Life is a journey and the heavier the luggage, the shorter the distance covered. Though that’s the physical explanation of energy required to carry the luggage weighed down by gravity as we travel, it has some bearings about a spiritual journey towards eternal life.

Getting far too attached to material wealth and all its trappings makes one lose his focus of the journey’s real goal.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Nota Bene: Monette Adeva Maglaya writes for Asian Journal. Email [email protected] for comments.


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