Garbage, the Financial Markets and Preparedness: What’s the Connection?

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Goldman Sachs has upgraded Waste Management stock from a sell to a buy as a safe place to invest in a downsizing economy. At first read, this made little sense to me, as I think of a recession as a time when you hunker down and buy less, thereby creating less garbage. But maybe it’s a well-run company in an era of companies that produce goods and services that we can actually do without, making it at least a necessity of sorts.

This week  the interest rates on 5-year Treasury notes fell below those of 3-year notes, and the fear is that the same will soon be true of 10 and 2 year notes. This latter inversion of the yield curve has preceded every recession since 1955. Investing for the long haul is typically more rewarding than for the short, but investors are beginning to question the health of the long-term. While the “official” numbers on employment, productivity and economic growth are doing the “happy dance,” these could change in a heartbeat. After the news of the inversion, the stock market took a huge dive.

The Fed plays an important part in this, but the consumer/and or investor plays a bigger part. If we lose confidence in the market, the Fed, the government, and the health of the economy in general, you will continue to see market volatility and investors unwilling to invest. You will also observe the effect of consumers unwilling to spend on non-essentials as their own hedge against harder times. The effects of a trade war may include tariffs which add to the cost of everything we import, which unfortunately is too damned much. 

I have lived through down periods, and I have never ceased doing the same frugal, preparedness sorts of things I did when I was responsible for a family. Nothing is wasted. I buy good quality food on sale. I used to use coupons; now I download specials onto my store card from its website. I bought a small freezer so that I could take advantage of the buy one get one (or two) free offers. And if I can’t use the extra one or two, I know people who can. If I have coupons I won’t use, I look for someone at the store, typically a mom with kids who looks like she could, and ask if she can.  

I still put up canned goods like tomatoes and dehydrate others like bananas and vegetables that are discounted because fresher replacements are on the shelves. Can I afford the best? Yes, I can. Do I? No I don’t, because I have never forgotten what it’s like to not have enough food in the house or how to survive and thrive using food finds at lower prices. Call me a cheapskate. Please. With one trip to buy extra flour, sugar and coffee, I could easily survive for a year on my stores, like the Mormons, who incorporate this practice into their lives. As long as the lights don’t go out. But that’s another issue for another day.

The last time my daughter (who does a bit of “putting by” herself) visited, she offered to make dinner and began going through my cupboards, where she found every ingredient she was looking for. She commented, “Once a hoarder, always a hoarder,” in good fun. I’m glad my children get it.

All I’m saying here is that it isn’t a bad idea to live as though things are going to get rough, because they might. Thinking about stocking up, planning a garden, repairing and reusing, becoming more minimalist, are worth considering. It’s that Boy Scout motto again.

I have included an image of “The Gleaners,” an oil painting by Jean-Francoise Millet that shows three peasant women gleaning the remains of a field of wheat after a harvest for food to feed their families. Millet was sympathetic to the lowest ranks of French rural society, but the painting was received poorly by the upper classes, because like our own 1%, they never had to scrimp on necessities like food. 

Gleaning can also mean taking bits of information and cobbling it together to form opinion. It’s what I try to do with this column, use experience and gleaned knowledge to present a helpful and accurate picture of who we are and where we are going. Come along for the ride.

Sheila Velazquez is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in more than 100 newspapers and magazines. Her awards include two from the Society of Professional Journalists for a syndicated column. Feel free to e-mail her at sheila@greylockglass.com.

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