What resolutions can you and I make to contribute to a positive future for us and for others?
Sounds like a real thumb-sucker question doesn't it?
In fact, our personal decisions can have a major impact on the larger world. Here is my list of personal resolutions that can impact the Big Picture:
Stay Healthy. The better we take care of ourselves, the longer we are likely to be functional and healthy. This is more important than whether we contribute a little or a lot to our 401(k) plans, pay off the mortgage in 15 years instead of 30, or whether our contributions are committed to equities or fixed income.
Stay healthy and you can choose how long you want to work, what you want to do, and where you want to do it. This can mean staying in your current job, starting a second career (or just starting to work in a new field), or selling everything you own and heading off to live in Mexico or Costa Rica.
We can't outrun our genetic predispositions but we can maximize the odds for staying healthy. We can do this by improving our diets, by engaging in regular exercise, and by increasing our level of physical activity.
The payoff can be dramatic. If you visit the Microsoft MoneyCentral website and check the life expectancy calculator, you'll find you can add (or subtract) years from your life simply by whether you smoke, drive so that you have tickets, weigh too much, or spend all your time in front of a TV set.
Nor is it a simple matter of life expectancy. The same decisions also affect the quality of the years we have. No amount of investment success can compensate for lost health.
Keep Working. While the politicians carp over how and why to change Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the blunt realities continue to move in our direction. Our population is aging. The ratio of working people to retired people is declining. People are living much longer than they did in the past. Retirement, for some people, will be nearly as long as their working years.
We can reduce the burden by changing the profile of our own lives so that we work longer and spend less time in retirement. It means we will pay more in lifetime taxes even if we draw benefits as early as possible. This will happen because both our earnings and Social Security benefits will be taxed. Even if you are using Medicare insurance while working, your employment taxes will contribute to the financial strength of the program.
If you are looking forward to retirement because you don't like your work, start looking for new work that you will enjoy.
For several decades most Americans have been retiring before the full retirement age of 65, some by choice, and others by way of corporate downsizing. We can make a dramatic difference in the security of these programs simply by continuing to work and contribute until, say, age 67. At that age the average person can expect to live another 16 years or so--- hardly a short retirement.
National Security. Our most dangerous exposure continues to be the Middle East and our dependence of imported oil. Oil exports bring billions of dollars into the Middle East, providing the means to buy armaments in great quantities and to finance armed conflict. While energy conservation in our homes has little impact on energy imports, what we choose to drive can have an enormous impact.
Try no oil imports from the Middle East. According to calculations done by energy guru Amory Lovins, if we had only continued to improve average fleet efficiency at the same rate as we did from 1975 to 1985 to the present we would no longer be importing OPEC oil.
How do we get there now?
Simple. Next time we buy a car, calculate the amount of fuel our current car consumes. Then buy a replacement car that consumes half as much fuel.
Scott Burns is the retired Chief Investment Officer of AssetBuilder, the creator of Couch Potato investing, and a personal finance columnist with decades of experience.