rocking chairs

Let’s Occupy Our Own Streets

Say what you will about the Occupy Wall Street protesters, but at least they’ve gotten people thinking and talking about our economic mess.

While I can’t say I agree with their demands (at least, as I understand them), and I could do without all the name-calling that’s swirled around the discussion, I like the passion they’ve stirred up.

If we can clarify and unify around some actual solutions to our country’s economic woes (some big ifs, to be sure), maybe – just maybe – some lasting good can come from our economic tough times.

But before we’ll have any hope of that, we have some work to do at home.

Taking An Honest Look in the Mirror

Among the articles I’ve read about Occupy Wall Street, a sympathetic one in the Chicago Tribune claimed the protests were “hitting home with everyday Americans.”  The writer said, “Many people…feel like they’ve done all the right things: worked hard, tried to save a little money in 401(k) accounts, put a roof over their families’ heads, and paid the bills, even if they weren’t as careful about debt as they now know they should have been.”  And then they had the rug pulled out from under them by corporate greed and governmental missteps.

Please don’t shoot the messenger, but I have issues with that article.

It’s true that many corporate leaders have been outrageously and even criminally greedy.  And many generations of elected officials have put our country on shaky financial ground.

However, many people on Main Street have not done all the right things.  In fact, they’ve shunned the use of a household budget, saved far too little, bought way more house than they could afford, and been reckless in their use of debt.

Reforming Our Own Finances

Before we can credibly demand governmental or corporate change, many of us need to make some changes.  Here’s my three-step “platform” for household financial reform:

Use a budget to guide the use of your household income.

Avoid all debt other than a reasonable mortgage.  That means using credit cards responsibly and breaking the habit of financing vehicles.

Consciously set your financial priorities, putting generosity, savings, and investing ahead of spending.

Households that operate by these principles will be in the best position to stand strong no matter what happens in corporate America or Washington.  And they will be the most credible voices calling for corporate or governmental changes.

Changing the World With Our Dollars

Every dollar that we give away, save, invest, and spend, is a vote.  It’s a vote in favor of the organizations we support, those where we keep our checking, savings, and investment accounts, those that we invest in, and those whose products we buy.

These are very important votes that stand a better chance of bringing about change than the slogans on a placard, so let’s place them thoughtfully.

If you believe your financial institution is greedy, take away your vote by taking away your business.  At last count, that’s what more than 60,000 people have said they plan to do.  They’ve joined a movement called Bank Transfer Day, a grass roots effort to get people to leave their banks by or on November 5th and move their business to non-profit credit unions.

This is a powerful example of voting with your wallet.

Changing the World With Our Votes

In national elections, less than two-thirds of eligible voters typically vote.  If we have issues with our politicians, the best way to bring about change is with the votes we place on Election Day.  In between elections, we can be in touch with the politicians who represent us, letting them know why we favor this issue or that.

Do you typically vote?  Do you know who represents you in your state and at the national level?  Do you know how they’ve voted on issues that matter to you?  Have you ever sent them your thoughts on the national deficit or other issues?

Celebrating Our Freedoms

I love this country and am thankful for the freedoms we enjoy, including the freedom of speech and the right to “peaceably assemble” that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are exercising.

But perhaps the greatest freedom in the U.S. is the freedom to make something of ourselves – the freedom of opportunity.

Those who are best at tapping into that freedom are those who take personal responsibility.  They don’t feel entitled; they feel empowered by the opportunities around them.  They don’t blame others for their difficulties; they blame themselves.  And when they make it, they don’t take all the credit and they don’t keep all the cash; they share.  Not because they have to, but because they want to.  It’s the best way they know to express their gratitude for the freedoms that gave them the potential for success.

I’ll say more about that last point – generosity – next week when I take up one of the Occupy Wall Street protesters’ central issues: wealth inequality.

For now, what are your thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street Movement?

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8 Responses to Let’s Occupy Our Own Streets

  1. Matt Bell October 25, 2011 at 9:17 PM #

    Dave – I agree that First Street (where the U.S. Capitol is located) might have been a better choice for a protest site than Wall Street.

  2. Dave October 25, 2011 at 5:26 PM #

    I just don’t get the anger toward Corporate America. Maybe I am missing something, but a corporation either survives or it dosen’t by offering a product or service that people want or need. If they do it efficiently, they make a profit and if they don’t they eventually go out of business. They have to perform and play within the rules.
    Our federal government officials tax people who are productive (the more productive you are the more you are taxed) and then they spend money that far exceeds what was collected by borrowing 40 cents of every dollar spent with no plan to change that.
    Now explain to me why we are so upset at the corporate world?

  3. Em in Philly October 25, 2011 at 1:03 PM #

    Just a quick comment. The city taxpayer tab in Philadelphia in “support” of the “occupiers” is nearly $425k as of today (overtime for police, safety, sanitation, etc.)

    How in the world is this helpful? I think each of them should be handed a bill for a thousand dollars (or two or three). The city is already revenue-strapped, and these folks are using resources without paying for them.

    Complete hypocrites, I say.

    Sorry for the rant – but I just saw the pricetag on the news this morning, and I’m infuriated as a working (under $50k) and homeowning (i.e. wage AND property tax-paying) citizen of Philadelphia.

    Who’s going to foot the bill for the occupiers? Take a guess.

    • Matt Bell October 25, 2011 at 9:15 PM #

      Good point, Em. I think I saw some protesters in Chicago scrubbing the sidewalks around the park they were occupying, but that seemed to be an isolated case.

  4. Dr. Jason Cabler (@DrCabler) October 25, 2011 at 12:49 PM #

    Wow, I could not have said it better myself.

    People have to realize, banks do share part of the blame for all of this, as does the government. But they fail to recognize that none of this could have happened without us acting irresponsibly as well.

    We ran up the credit cards, we bought houses with no down payment on adjustable rate mortgages, we spent more than we made, we let our families get just as overleveraged as the banks and now we blame everyone else.

    We have to remove the log from our own eye first.

    I have a great post on my blog today entitled “Dear Occupy Wall Street, a Letter by Dave Ramsey” that goes even more in depth about all of this. You can find it here ( This one is getting a ton of traffic so it has obviously struck a nerve.

    I posted another one last week that is a letter from a college student that takes issue with the whiners and tells what hard work and good decisions he has made in order to start succeeding in life. You can find that one here (

    I teach participants in my Celebrating Financial Freedom course that we as Americans have to start practicing the personal responsibility and common sense that was the standard in decades past and stop blaming everyone else for our own messes.

    Keep up the great writing Matt!

    “When you help me with money, you help the world prosper”- J.M. DuMont

    • Matt Bell October 25, 2011 at 9:11 PM #

      Thanks for writing, Jason. Something else that would help people make more responsible financial choices is if our public schools taught personal finance. Kids need to grow up learning how to navigate our economy wisely.

  5. Patricia Caswell October 25, 2011 at 12:13 PM #

    I agree that it all comes down to personal responsibility with one caveat. All persons that enjoy the freedom and opportunity in this country need to pay their fair share. Corporate America does not do so. The upper income echelon do not as well. Let’s close the loopholes and even the playing field.

    Yes, vote with your dollars! Unfortunately, America is for sale as long as our politicians are supported by Corporate America. Perhaps that needs to change as well?

    • Matt Bell October 25, 2011 at 9:09 PM #

      Patricia – I agree that one thing that’s needed is some serious campaign finance reform. The system should not allow politicians to be swayed by corporate support.

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