MoneyTimes - December 29, 2010

Posted by Jill Kerby on December 29 2010 @ 09:00


I doubt that too many people are going to miss the year 2010 – at least not from a financial perspective.

Yet we’ve all come away from it with an important, life-changing revelation: that no matter who or what you are – like a bank, or even a country – wealth and financial security doesn’t come from borrowing and spending.  It comes from hard work, saving and investing. 

Next week I’m going to look at the key personal finance actions that you should consider to get through what will still be a very gruelling 2011 for many people. These will include some very practical steps you, your family and your close friends can and should take to make sure that no-one you know falls through the financial cracks.

Until then, these post Christmas days can be used to reflect on not just what happened over the past year, but on how we can benefit from what has happened, and maybe even take away a few ideas that will re-energise our own finances and those of our communities.

At least the blinkers are off and we can go forward with a more realistic view of the future.

We all know now that the Irish banks have failed utterly. The fact that they don’t exist in a vacuum is also well known by now:  the entire European banking system is in serious trouble and 2010 revealed just how interdependent and vulnerable they are to each other’s debt problems.

Most people who read this column regularly know by now that leaving all their wealth in shares, or in property, or in paper euro, (or any other fiat currency backed by a country that is also heavily in debt), is not a good thing.  They’ve shifted their money to solvent, non-Irish banks and shifted some of their euro cash to other stronger currencies (or currency funds) and even to ‘real money’ like gold and silver.

There will be no surprises in 2011 about the failed nature of our political state. Handing over our lives to inept, amateur politicians and faceless bureaucrats and expecting them to act in our best interests has been shown to be as foolish as thoughtlessly handing over our money to a bank manager, stockbroker or investment manager and expecting them to act in our best interest.

2011 will  - hopefully – be the year the Irish people grow up.  No more ‘social partners’ protecting their vested interests. The €20 billion budget deficit that we built unaffordable and unsustainable welfare, public service, health and education structures.

And it isn’t just us. Margaret Thatcher’s famous quotation, “Socialism only works until you run out of other people’s money,” has been proved correct in every indebted, social democratic state from here to Greece, back to the UK, France and Germany and even to the much envied Scandinavian countries.

The events of 2010 has forced all of us (some, like spendthrift politicians and trade unionists -  who are still kicking and screaming) back to the realisation that in the real world you need to live within your means.  End of argument.

As for business opportunities that have arisen in 2010, I’m looking at one right now: snow.

By the time you read this, The Great Thaw of 2010 may be underway – or not – but as someone who spent the first half of her life living in the greatest winter city in the world – Montreal, Quebec – believe me when I say there’s money in snow.  There is a whole new industry of retail and service opportunities for this country if “Winter, the Season” really is back: 

-       Winter tires. Duh.

-       Snow boots. Ditto duh. The latter need to be warm, light and waterproof. We (me, the husband and child) bought our latest ones in January and these are even lighter, warmer and more waterproof than the old ones. The brand is ‘Vista Pro-Tex’ and they are made in Italy.

-       Spiked cleats.  These mini-crampons clip onto shoes and boots of all sizes. They have steel plates ridged with sharp teeth and are perfect for walking on icy surfaces. Shoe shops, outdoor and hardware stores stock them.

-       Lightweight, sharp bladed aluminium snow shovels. These come in all sizes to clear everything from narrow footpaths to driveways.  My family in Canada swear by the 24 inch Jackson Aluminium Ribbed shovel. The Irish hardware stores that gets these in stock will make a fortune.  (Check out these reviews at http://reviews.canadiantire.ca/9045/0596934P/jackson-jackson-24-in-aluminum-ribbed-snow-shovel-reviews/reviews.htm)

-       Canadian Tire (the Canadian equivalent of Woodies DIY) also carries a brilliant winter safety kit ($39.99). It comes with a collapsible shovel, jumper cables, gloves, hand warmers, flashlight, whistle, candles, matches, etc.

-       In Montreal, every landscape gardener has year round work - in the winter they fit a heavy snowplow shovel to the front of their trucks and clear suburban side roads of snow, both on contract to the city and/or separately to resident’s associations that want an extra service.

-       Enterprising young Montrealers make spare money through the winter shovelling footpaths and driveways.  They also deliver newspapers groceries on sleds and I’ve seen kids selling hot chocolate from thermoses for a buck a cup from little stands they set up outside their houses.

-       Montrealers can’t use conventional baby strollers for six months of the year so they invest in little sleighs with plastic covers. Baby goods suppliers take note! (See the Pelican Baby Sleight Shield at www.canadiantire.ca)

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