Regardless of what you think of the methods and political goals of the Occupy Wall Street protestors, if you’re like many Americans, you may share some of their frustrations with corporate power and greed. But while some of the protestors’ signs literally demand an end to that greed, I suspect it will be around for a while. In the meantime, there are things we can do to resist that power in ways that don’t involve camping out in parks (especially for those of us who still have jobs):
1. Remember, it’s your money
Many of the Occupy Wall Street protestors were labeled as hypocrites for denouncing corporations while wearing designer jeans and texting on their iPhones. Of course, it’s practically impossible to function in our society without purchasing things from corporations. The problem is that we’re bombarded every day by advertising and marketing messages telling us that we need to buy the newest trend in fashion and the latest technological gadget.
Instead, take some time to reflect on what’s really important to you and make sure you prioritize accordingly. If that’s wearing the most trendy clothing and sporting the latest gadgets, go right ahead. But you might find your top priorities to be making sure your family is taken care of in case something happens to you, being able to send your children to the college without going into debt, or retiring early enough to spend quality time with your grandchildren.
2. Don’t send your hard-earned dollars to the credit card companies
When you prioritize your spending, paying interest to credit card companies is probably at the bottom of that list. Yet the average American household with credit card debt has a balance of about $15,800 and pays an average of 13% interest. If they only pay the minimum payment, they would pay over $27k in interest by the time those credit cards are paid off and that’s not counting any new debt that’s added. Paying that debt off and avoiding any future interest payments would do more to protest those companies than all the marches in the world.
3. Think globally but bank locally
While checking and debit card fees may not cost as much as credit card interest, we’re essentially paying to use our own money. The good news is that many community banks and credit unions not only still offer free checking, some also pay much higher interest rates than the big banks since the smaller institutions aren’t subject to the new debit card regulations that have contributed to the higher fees. When it comes to banking, small really is beautiful.
4. Create your own bailout plan
One of the things that unites many Occupy Wall street protestors with their Tea Party counterparts is antipathy to the government bailouts of many of the Wall Street companies that arguably helped get us into the financial mess. Unfortunately, none of the millions of people who lost their jobs were too big to fail. That’s why we need to construct a personal bailout plan consisting of adequate insurance and emergency funds to protect us if we or our families should ever suffer our own financial crisis.
5. If you can’t beat them, join them
One of the reasons that the top 1% is so much richer than the other 99% is that they own companies that earn profits while most middle-class Americans have the bulk of their wealth in their homes, which haven’t appreciated nearly as much as the stock market over the long run. The problem isn’t necessarily real estate. After all, even famed real estate investor and Rich Dad, Poor Dad author Robert Kiyosaki calls your home an expense rather than an investment. The key is to own assets that produce a return above just having a place to sleep, whether in the form of rent from real estate or dividends and capital gains from corporate profits. Perhaps there’s no better way to occupy Wall St than to own them.
6. Invest according to your values
You can take that a step further by investing in companies that reflect your values. For example, if protecting the environment is important to you, why not choose stocks of green companies? Just be sure to stay diversified. One way to do that is by choosing from among a growing number of mutual funds that specialize in various forms of faith-based and socially responsible investing. Some also engage in shareholder advocacy to encourage companies to engage in more practices that promote values like environmental stewardship, consumer protection, human rights, and diversity.
7. Understand that knowledge is power
The common factor to all these steps is taking more control over your own money and you can’t do that without financial knowledge. Just as the literacy movement made it much harder for greedy individuals and companies to take advantage of the illiterate, a movement for financial literacy can serve the same purpose today. The more people understand about money and the way it works, the more power they will have over their money, their lives and in turn, their country.