Financial Industry Extracting Values from Us

Financial industry, if we shall even call it industry, as it is now, does less than contribute values to the general community. That much is clear.

I am not saying they cannot turn a profit. I really don’t mind them making profits, even off from me. We all need to make a living after all because money buys us food, shelter, and all. But moderation is always the virtue and what they had done and are still trying to do is by no way reasonable.

What is a concrete example you may ask? Well, look here.

trans_fee

This is the result of a transaction through Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (oh what a long name) that I must use in order to deal with company’s restricted stocks. Instead of one reasonable transaction fee, we got Commissions, Other Fee, Transaction Fees, and Service Fee. And this is not including the Proceeds Delivery Fee of $25 if I had chosen to do a wire transfer to my own bank account. Instead, I choose to be patient to receive the proceeds by mail.

My question is, why all the fees? And commission with service fee on top? How much did they do for me? We all know all these are done electronically now. Sure, you need to pay people to maintain the systems, but instead of being sensible charging one single reasonable transaction fee, we have all these. And this is exactly what our financial industry, our banking system does. On top of interest, they charge all sorts of fee for all sorts of occasions and transactions, or just about any time money passes hands, to drive up profits unreasonably and forever.

But we all know perfectly well that nothing in this world can go up and grow forever.

This is exactly what has driven the market to the ground. In a nutshell, the banks and investment firms make billions off transaction fee for creating/underwriting CDOs ranging from 1-1.5%. So they went nuts to lend out mortgages, and then hype up the demand and price of CDOs backed by these [unreliable] mortgages (bubble) to sell and exchange a shit load of them so then they get those fee. In between, banks and companies add financial products such as credit swaps and insurance for these derivatives which result in even more profits through fee while providing them the illusions that they are protected from the CDOs’ risk… But finally they run out of people to lend mortgages, plus unreliable lenders start defaulting, plus themselves and others realizing this cannot go on forever and BAM. (I may not be fully accurate and politically correct with these terms but this is the gist of it.)

Until CEOs, bankers, and all these investing “experts” and “gurus” and “managers” learn to be reasonable and sensible, or be replaced by ones who are, we are in it for a turbulent ride where they will do anything and everything to hoard and extract money.

I say in this blog title that they extract values not simply because they hoard money. They extract values from society because:

  • They are hoarding money beyond enough for themselves, meaning either they have little to no values or they are destroying them in process of hoarding.
  • To hoard, they would make others not have enough money, and how much energy, time, and money can people afford to develop values when they are preoccupied about surviving.
  • Eventually, they would have destroyed money, wealth, values, and lives for everyone including themselves.

And let’s be honest with ourselves, beyond a certain amount of money for food, shelter, other life necessities, and perhaps some indulgence, what more do you need money for?

These are things that will never be taught or promoted by mass media, social institutions because as of yet, our so-called economy is kept alive by irrational and excessive consumption. Enough and reasonable be damned. Intelligent populace aware of how everything works and are inter-connected be damned.

Originally posted 2009-12-16 01:27:40. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

What the Heck is Retirement

I said I will address the topic of retirement. As a man of my words, here it is :)

Ah, retirement. Can’t you feel this warm fuzzy feeling from the dream which the word may offer?

Now take a minute, imagine yourself retired. What do you have in your mind? Feel free to write it down. Below are probably things that came to people’s mind…

Not working. (Duh!)
Having enough money to lead a comfortable, or hopefully, luxurious life.
Travelling around the world. (Sipping martini on various beaches?)
Lounging at home watching TV for most of the day, perhaps half naked.

And whatever you may have in mind. Or maybe you have never contemplate thoroughly what you intend to do in retirement. Well, you should consider doing it. Over and over again, I have mentioned awareness on this blog. One main thing about awareness is knowing yourself. Wouldn’t it be nice for all of us to know what the heck we are giving our life for?

Undeniably, many of us spend much time planning and working so hard for retirement. It’s an oh-so-wonderful topic on personal finance blogs. Moreover, even the objective for starting business or joining startups frequently is to make it big at once so they can retire. It’s the next destination after we graduate from college. Sometimes it only comes to mind after we get hitched.

Well, I say, retirement is overrated. Yes, perhaps there is a time in life that we want to, or have to, stop working. That’s fine. But until then, why are we working just so we can stop working? Doesn’t that sound a little silly? Perhaps it’s more productive to think about what you want to do with your life instead. More on that later.

Here is what I see retirement has become, what is inferred by it.

Essentially, as it is now, we have turned retirement into a kind of nirvana, salvation. Stealing a quote from 40 year old virgin, we have put retirement on the pedestal.

How did it get like this? Please allow my simple minded hypothesis below.

As we have been turned into “consumers,” like many other things, retirement is a concept that had been sold to us over the past century just like the “American Dream”… Ah, the power of gradualism. Over time, marketing drove it into a home run now, where it is an unquestioned concept. How they are making money off this? Well, look at all the retirement homes, retirement community, vacations/resorts, the amount of money being poured into the market through 401k and IRAs (not saying we shouldn’t take advantage of them).

But all in all, the reason how retirement has come to mean is not that relevant.

More importantly is, like countless other illusions we have in life, when we focus our eyes entirely on retirement, we forget to live. We forget now. We forget to appreciate and cherish what we have now. We live solely for the day of retirement as if we are immortals.

Please understand, I am not saying retirement is bad and we need to throw it out the window. Instead, it would be well for all of us to explore the reason(s) to desire retirement. What is important is the intention behind the action.

I say,
Find what you love doing, that in one way or another…
contribute to the world as a whole.

Note: I said the world, meaning not just contribute to the human race. Now is time for everyone to step beyond thinking only about ourselves.

When you have done that, you can gradually transform your life into doing what you have found, instead of what you are told about retirement. At that point, retirement is no longer needed. You no longer need the salvation. When you are doing those things, you have found the bliss in your life.

Financially speaking, it is about knowing what is enough. When you know enough, you can be free, not just financially. If you look on the Wall Street, there are tons of people with abundant money, yet a majority of them continue to work and work to accumulate more. Some may learn “enough”. Some never will. Probably just a small fraction outside of that majority is working because they enjoy it or they want to contribute.

Also, I never buy into the argument that you need to accumulate enough nest egg to maintain the same income in retirement. I say, why do you need to maintain that kind of income? Presumably, if you do retire, your home should be paid off by then. Plus, when you stop working, a lot of expense goes away along with it. And how about finding yourself and peace which implies a simple lifestyle? And how about learn what it means to be healthy so you know not to destroy it that leads to all those medical bills? After all those impacts, it means you really requires just a fraction of your previous income in retirement.

Food for thoughts.

Originally posted 2009-04-28 22:42:37. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Living in the Moment

Living in the Moment…
What does it really mean?
Does it mean to live it up, festivity and party every night?
Does it mean to live like there is no future and seek pleasure day after day as an hedonist?
Does it mean to spend all your livelihood for a trip to the Bahama resort at a whim?
Aren’t we living and breathing every moment? Aren’t we already living?
What exactly does it mean to live in the moment? It sounds so…cliché.

You may have your own thoughts on what it is. Below is what I understand about living in the moment.

Living in the moment means having awareness in the here and now. If you are unclear about what I mean by awareness, why don’t you read my previous post on awareness and zen first. Like I said before, awareness is inside of all us and therefore, we can all learn to live in the moment. Living in the moment can also be described as simply being, simply doing what we do in each moment, with awareness. Not letting our egotistic thoughts and emotions dominate us. Stop regretting about the past. Stop worrying about the future. This helps us to appreciate each moment, along with all the small things within each moment.

Sounds simple enough? Not so fast… Not so easy…

What happened is that we learn NOT to live in the moment as we are growing up. When we are kids, we can’t wait to become teenagers. When we are in high school, we can’t wait to get into college. When we are in college, we can’t wait to be working and making money. When we are finally in the corporate world, some of us want to go back to school and some of us get bored and can’t wait for retirement. When we are single, we want to find a girlfriend or boyfriend. When we are finally hooked up with someone, we want our single life back. By this point, we are all safe to say WTF. Additionally, from day 1 after birth, we are bombarded by advertising that conditions and always tells us this one more thing that we need to be happy and to keep up with the trend and the Jones.

If only I buy this LV bag, I’d be happy…
If only I afford this Lamborghini, I’d be happy…
If only I own a house, I’d be happy…

As it goes, we are constantly thinking about and longing for the next place we want to be, the next thing we want. We constantly chase these ideals that are thoughts in our heads instead of doing what matters.

On the other hand, we need to be cautious about our memory, as our past can become another form of ideal or baggage where we hold on to the happy times or stuck dwelling on the bad ones. Your past has contributed to what you are today, accept it and do what you can with what you have now.

Living in the moment is simply sitting if you are sitting. It is simply doing whatever you are doing. It does not involve thinking about the past. It does not involve thinking about the future. It only involves awareness and whatever that you are doing. As described above, our behaviors have been trained to do just the opposite, myself included, we need to practice in order to get better at it, just like everything else in life – practice makes perfect.

Meditation is a pronounced method to practice living in the moment and also awareness. Living in the moment and awareness go hand-in-hand. Moreover, I’d say awareness is a pre-requisite because it lets you see your thoughts as you start thinking about past and future. Now, it is not that you cannot learn to live in the moment if you don’t meditate. Meditation is a method that allows a faster pace of learning because you are only sitting during meditation instead of being in motion (i.e. It is quite hard to concentrate if your boss is talking to you). The stillness of just sitting makes it easier to practice awareness and notice your thoughts. As you sit, you maintain awareness and pay attention to your body, its tension, and the emotions and thoughts that appear in your mind. As you let the body relax and the thoughts come and go, you learn to simply sit and you come to understand better what it means to live in the moment.

Meditation is merely practicing awareness so that it becomes natural to you, so you are present in the moment everywhere you go, whatever you do.

Of course, there are other things we can do to practice living in the moment. In fact, things such as listening to music, playing the piano, dancing, drawing, riding motorcycle, playing a sport, etc., we are inherently able to do them as if we are living in the moment. As I listen to music, it’s easy for me to simply listen. As I used to fence in college, I simply fence. In those moments, the only things that exist are my opponent, myself, and our blades. There is no room for external thoughts. It is easy to be in the moment in the favorite activities. Now we must do so in the non-so-favorable ones.

You can practice living in the moment by applying this “simply doing” concept on other things. For example, when you are talking to someone, you listen and focus solely on the conversation partner, instead of thinking what to eat for lunch or which candidate you’d vote for president. Even if your thought starts to drift, your awareness will let you see that you are thinking about something else and then you can shift your focus back to your conversation partner. As for me right now, I am writing this post and its my only focus, which should allow me to write it to the best of my ability. In other words, an analogy can be drawn between “living in the moment” and “doing the best in what you are doing in the moment”.

Don’t mistaken “living in the moment” as in giving up thoughts, past memory, and plans for future. Living in the moment can provide a new sense of appreciation and enjoyment in everything we do everyday. If you learn to live in the moment, you learn also to find peace and joy in every moment, and thinking and worrying less about past and future.

And why else do we want to find peace and joy like said? Because then we can have a good time without chasing material goods and learn not to be dependent on external means to be happy. Kinda like knowing how to have a great time without being drunk.

As any topic in Zen is quite difficult to write about and my principles and philosophy center heavily about Zen, my writings may lack certain clarity. Please feel free to contact me if you have any question.

Originally posted 2008-02-05 00:38:36. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Is There A Time in Your Life When You Finally Get It…

I share with you this article that I stumbled upon that I truly enjoyed.

… when, in the midst of all your fears and insanity, you stop dead in your tracks and somewhere the voice inside your head cries out…ENOUGH!

Enough fighting and crying and blaming and struggling to hold on.

Then, like a child quieting down after a tantrum, you blink back your tears and begin to look at the world through new eyes.

You realize it’s time to stop hoping and waiting for something to change, or for happiness, safety and security to magically appear over the next horizon.
You realize that in the real world there aren’t always fairy tale endings, and that any guarantee of “happily ever after” must begin with you… and in the process a sense of serenity is born of acceptance.
You awaken to the fact that you are not perfect and that not everyone will always love, appreciate or approve of who or what you are… and that’s OK. They are entitled to their own views and opinions.
You learn the importance of loving and championing yourself… and in the process a sense of new found confidence is born of self-approval.
You stop complaining and blaming other people for the things they did to you – or didn’t do for you – and you learn that the only thing you can really count on is the unexpected.
You learn that people don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say and that not everyone will always be there for you and that everything isn’t always about you.

So, you learn to stand on your own and to take care of yourself… and in the process a sense of safety and security is born of self-reliance.
You stop judging and pointing fingers and you begin to accept people as they are and to overlook their shortcomings and human frailties… and in the process a sense of peace and contentment is born of forgiveness.
You learn to open up to new worlds and different points of view. You begin reassessing and redefining who you are and what you really stand for.
You learn the difference between wanting and needing and you begin to question the doctrines and values you’ve grown up with, or should never have bought into to begin with.
You learn that there is power and glory in creating and contributing and you stop maneuvering through life merely as a “consumer” looking for your next fix.
You learn that principles such as honesty and integrity are not the outdated ideals of a bygone era, but the mortar that holds together the very foundation upon which you must build a life.
You learn that you don’t know everything, it’s not your job to save the world and that you can’t teach a pig to sing.
You learn that the only cross to bear is the one you choose to carry and that martyrs get burned at the stake.

Then you learn about love. You learn to look at relationships as they really are and not as you would have them be. You learn that alone does not mean lonely.
You stop trying to control people, situations and outcomes.
You learn to distinguish between guilt and responsibility and the importance of setting boundaries and learning to say NO.
You also stop working so hard at putting your feelings aside, smoothing things over and ignoring your needs.
You learn that your body really is your temple. You begin to care for it and treat it with respect. You begin to eat a balanced diet, drink more water, and take more time to exercise.
You learn that being tired fuels doubt, fear, and uncertainty and so you take more time to rest. And, just as food fuels the body, laughter fuels our soul. So you take more time to laugh and to play.
You learn that, for the most part, you get in life what you believe you deserve, and that much of life truly is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You learn that anything worth achieving is worth working hard for and that wishing for something to
happen is different than working hard toward making it happen.

More importantly, you learn that in order to achieve success you need direction, discipline and perseverance.
You also learn that no one can do it all alone, and that it’s OK to risk asking for help.
You learn the only thing you must truly fear is fear itself. You learn to step right into and through your fears because you know that whatever happens you can handle it and to give in to fear is to give away the right to live life on your own terms.
You learn to fight for your life and not to squander it living under a cloud of impending doom, realizing that a positive attitude is a choice you make every morning when you wake up.
You learn that life isn’t always fair, you don’t always get what you think you deserve and that sometimes bad things happen to unsuspecting, good people… and you learn not to always take it personally.
You learn that nobody’s punishing you and everything isn’t always somebody’s fault. It’s just life happening.
You learn to admit when you are wrong and to build bridges instead of walls.
You learn that negative feelings such as anger, envy and resentment must be understood and redirected or they will suffocate the life out of you and poison the universe that surrounds you.
You learn to be thankful and to take comfort in many of the simple things we take for granted, things that millions of people upon the earth can only dream about: a full refrigerator, clean running water, a soft warm bed, a long hot shower.

Then, you begin to take responsibility for yourself by yourself and you make yourself a promise to never betray yourself and to never, ever settle for less than your heart’s desire.
You make it a point to keep smiling, to keep trusting, and to stay open to every wonderful possibility.

Finally, with courage in your heart, you take a stand, you take a deep breath, and you begin to design the life you want to live as best you can and are extremely thankful for all the blessings in your life.

Author Unknown

Originally posted 2009-01-24 00:15:50. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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