This week, we have a head-to-head match-up of blog carnivals. Who will win this battle of the titans?

First, the 189th Carnival of Personal Finance hosted by Taking Charge. Taking the field alongside my post about Obama’s priorities we have Tough Money Love giving his take on the new stimulus package.

On the opposide, we have the Money Hacks Carnival hosted by Little Miss Know It All.  Taking the field alongside my advice for finding a real estate agent, we have Home I Own with his update on renters expenses. He’s talking about Australia, but the expenses are the same in the U.S.

I’ve been a long-time gym-goer, but my visits have been known to drop-off in January. Not because I’m lazy, but because the gym is ridiculously crowded at the beginning of January. The gym returns to its regular levels by the end of January. Here are a few more reasons why you should wait until the end of January to start your fitness goals.

Swimsuit Season is Closer
Sometimes you need a better motivation than “get in shape.” On New Year’s Eve, swimsuit season seems light years away. Now, with spring a mere six weeks away, swimsuit season is looking pretty darn close. If you start now, you’ll have a good four months to achieve your fitness goals before you don a swimsuit.

You Can Get Deals
Lots of gyms offer deals in early January, but they’re also high-pressure. Wait until the end of January when they’re trying to meet sales goals. If you can come up with non-gym fitness activities to keep you busy for a month, then the end of February is probably the best time of the year to get a deal. You’ll be signing up while everyone else is trying to cancel.

You Can Use the Fitness Equipment
If you go to the gym the first Monday in January, you’ll have to wait in long lines to get access to them. Start now and you’ll be able to get on most of the equipment quickly.

It Doesn’t Feel Like a Resolution
There’s something about calling it a New Year’s Resolution that sets us up to fail. If you wait until February, then it’s just a new fitness goal. A goal doesn’t carry the same mental blocks as a resolution, so you’re more likely to succeed.

It Might Be a Tad Warmer Outside
If you want to exercise outside, some areas start to see a turn in February. Even though the possibility of storms remains high through February, most states are coldest in January.

You Might Actually Be Able to Find a Wii Fit
Wii Fits were pretty scarce this holiday season, but now the rush is over and more stores are likely to have them in stock without a long wait in line. If you already have a Wii, then the Wii Fit can help you get started on a fitness routine. If you’re already fairly fit, then it may not provide you quite as much benefit. Still, $90 for something that doesn’t require you to leave home may be a better deal than $40 a month for a membership to a gym you can actively avoid using.

If It’s Convenient, It Will Become a Habit
Going to the gym in January is inconvenient – it’s crowded, the parking lot is full, it’s raining/snowing/freezing outside. In February, it becomes more convenient and convenience is a great motivator.

If you want to get in shape, start now. Set your fitness goals in baby steps, with a final goal several months away. Once you blow through that first fitness goal, you’ll be motivated to keep going. The key to reaching the goal? Starting in February, or really any month except December or January.

As I said last year, I don’t actually do Valentine’s Day.  It’s crowded, gift prices go up, and no one really has enough time and space for romance. This year will be even worse, because it falls on a Saturday that is also part of a holiday weekend. Cue the mad dash to a romantic getaway. Except that everyone else will be going to those same places. Yuck. Here are eight frugal Valentine’s day ideas that will help you avoid the crowds.

Skip It
Seriously. I know Valentine’s Day is supposed to be the big romantic day, but I prefer to make the rest of the year more romantic instead of loading up one single day with the duty.

Stay Home for a Nice Dinner
Since I know some people (i.e. women) can’t give up the idea of Valentine’s Day, why not stay home? Light a fire in the fireplace, cook a romantic dinner, and then play a game together. It will be much more romantic then sitting in traffic for an hour to reach a crowded restaurant.

Delay Valentine’s Day a Week
Last year I recommended delaying it a day if you plan to go out to eat, but this year you should probably delay it a week. Because it falls on a Saturday before a holiday, you could be stuck eating whatever the restaurant has leftover if you go out the next day. It may also still be crowded if you live in a touristy area. If you wait a week, the restaurants will be empty, the prices will be normal again, and the food will be fresh.

Skip Presents
Do you really need Valentine’s Day gifts? Won’t a simple card do? I much prefer a card to some trinket or pack of love coupons that will just be shoved into a drawer and forgotten. At least I can recycle the card. If you must get presents, but them the next day when they’ll be marked down to half price.

Enjoy the Outdoors
If it’s warm enough, pack a picnic. If it’s too cold, then go ice skating, take a wintery walk, or drive up into the mountains. It’s romantic, it’s alone-time, and it will probably be less crowded.

Have a Romantic Movie Night
If you’re not big on cooking, then load up your DVD queue with romantic movies. Or go rent a few at the local store (tip: rent them Thursday or Friday so the good titles aren’t taken already.) Then mix up a big batch of popcorn and settle in under a toasty blanket together. Bonus points for not making it all the way through the first movie!

Make Truffles
Don’t feel like paying $3 for one chocolate truffle? Make 18-36 for about the same price. You can flavor my truffle recipe any way you want.

Don’t Bother Getting Out of Bed
Isn’t “bed” really the main event of Valentine’s Day anyway? So why not just stay in it all day? Make breakfast together, then eat it in bed. Read the paper or books together. Bring the laptop in to watch DVDs. Have a lunchtime picnic in bed, and then later follow it up with dinner in bed. People pay hundreds of dollars to do the same exact thing in some trendy bars or restaurants. You can do that nearly free at home. At home, you can also do whatever else it is you enjoy doing in bed without being arrested.

Do you have other frugal Valentine’s Day ideas? If you do, share them in the comments. As a non-celebrator, I don’t have all the inside scoop on making it a cheap yet romantic day.

My husband and I just applied for a mortgage this week. After the broker ran our credit, he informed that the new minimum credit score for mortgage underwriting is an astounding 740.

That’s no problem for us — our scores were around 800 — but that could be a problem for many prospective homebuyers. The average credit score is 723. That’s not to say that you can’t a mortgage if your score is under 740, just that it will be a lot harder and cost you a lot more. If you’re above 740, mortgage issuers are more likely to take the risk on you in this frozen credit market. Perhaps once the market thaws, things will improve.

How Can You Get to 740?
There are a few ways you can get your score to 740.

  • Don’t apply for new credit at least six months before applying for a mortgage.
  • Clean up newer delinquencies.
  • Wait to apply for a mortgage until delinquencies near the 7-year cut-off fall off your report. Ten years if you have serious blackmarks like bankruptcies.
  • Pay all bills on time for a year before applying for a mortgage.
  • Check your report for fraudulent collections and have them removed.
  • Use current credit cards every few months to keep them active.

If You Can’t Get to 740
If there’s nothing really wrong with your credit, but you don’t have enough history or high enough limits to get to 740, then you need to instead focus on saving up a larger down-payment. Banks really prefer to see 20% down these days. If it takes you an extra few months to save more money to reach that target, you’ll have a much easier time qualifying for a mortgage.

If you’re curious, you can learn more about how credit scores work on my previous post. If you want to know your scores, go to MyFico.com to order them all at once. While you’re at it, check your credit reports.

With Obama in office, the movement toward a greener economy will continue. With the recession continuing, we’re going to need to save money. Fortunately, you can do both. This weekend’s LA Times reported that the recession is slowing the contributions to our nation’s landfills because we’re buying less stuff. Let’s hope these 100 ways will continue that trend.

  1. Buy less stuff. Less stuff = less packaging, less production, less waste. And it doesn’t cost a dime.
  2. Shop less. Saves money and the gas driving to the store or delivering packages to your house.
  3. Think before you buy. Do you really need that item? Wait a few weeks and see if you still want it
  4. Buy less packaged goods. Packaging costs money, so focus on simpler products. They might even last longer.
  5. Fix rather than replace. Many electronics can be repaired rather than replaced to save money and the planet.
  6. Turn up/down the thermostat. Being a little warmer in summer and cooler in winter will save money on your electric bill and reduce your energy usage.
  7. Buy CFL lightbulbs. Yes, they’re more expensive at the start, but they save serious cash later.
  8. Make your own cleaning products. They’ll have fewer chemicals and be cheaper.
  9. Turn off the lights. When you leave a room, turn off the lights, TV, etc. Watch your electric bill shrink.
  10. Unplug unused electronics. Turning them off isn’t enough. For serious savings, you need to unplug.
  11. Turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth or wash your face.
  12. Use rags, sponges, and towels rather than paper towels to clean.
  13. Use cloth napkins.
  14. Replace the air filter in your house. When your A/C or heat is on, it will run more efficiently.
  15. Close the drapes at night. Keep the warm air in or out, depending on the season.
  16. Open the drapes during the day. Reduce indoor light use by relying on the sun.
  17. Choose energy-efficient appliances. They cost slightly more at first, but make up the cost quickly.
  18. Insulate your home. Again, it costs money at the outset, but saves a ton of energy.
  19. Plant native plants in your yard, rather than non-native water hogs.
  20. Don’t wear shoes inside the house. It will reduce carpet dirt, requiring less cleaning and allowing a longer life.
  21. Cover wood floors with throw rugs. In the winter, it will make your home feel a little warmer.
  22. Check the doors and windows for drafts and repair them.
  23. Check for gas leaks.
  24. Buy a water heater blanket or a tankless water heater.
  25. Buy a solar phone charger.
  26. Shower faster.
  27. Build a rainwater system for your garden.
  28. Trade the bounty of your garden with friends and neighbors.
  29. Make your own sauces, jam, jelly, and preserved fruit.
  30. Turn off your junk mail.
  31. Install low-flow toilets, faucets, and showerheads.
  32. Shower less. How dirty do you really get in a day? Consider a morning shower only unless you work out in the afternoon or evening.
  33. Reupholster worn but sturdy furniture. All you need is a sewing machine and access to good, cheap fabric. And lots of time.
  34. Ladies – buy a DivaCup. No more tampons for ten years.
  35. Wear less makeup. Less packaging, less water to wash it off, less energy to produce it.
  36. Buy or make mesh produce bags. You can buy tulle for $1-2 a yard. Use the bags for fruit and veggies.
  37. Carry tote bags. Take them to the grocery store. Keep one in your car for errands.
  38. Say no to plastic bags. If you forgot your bag and carry it in your hands, say no to the plastic.
  39. Only run the washing machine when you have a full-load.
  40. Resole your shoes.
  41. Repair seams rather than replacing your clothes.
  42. Be gentle with your clothes – they’ll last longer.
  43. Handwash clothes in bulk. If you have bras or handwash clothes, wash them in order from lightest to darkest in the same tub of water.
  44. Use towels for a week before washing them.
  45. Wash your clothes less often. You can go at least 2-3 wearings before washing them unless you worked up a sweat.
  46. Use the right amount of detergent. You don’t need to use the whole capful! Use the right amount for your washer.
  47. Drive less.
  48. Use mass transit.
  49. Walk.
  50. Ride a bike.
  51. Get your car tuned up to reduce pollution and fuel usage.
  52. Turn off your car when waiting more than a minute (lights not included).
  53. Ask to work from home. Reduce your company’s energy cost and your commute cost.
  54. Carry an aluminum water bottle with you.
  55. Bring a mug, plate, and silverware to work.
  56. Bring your lunch to work in a reusable container.
  57. Plant a vegetable or herb garden.
  58. Compost. Free fertilizer, less waste!
  59. Recycle. Not a money saver, but it doesn’t cost money either.
  60. Don’t buy bottled water. Either drink regular tap water or buy a sink filter.
  61. Use a clothes line or drying rack instead of the dryer.
  62. Don’t buy carbon offsets. I know, organizations push them, but I think they’re ineffective. Instead, donate your money to an environmental charity with a proven track record.
  63. Have fewer children.
  64. Switch to cloth diapers.
  65. Buy fewer plastic toys. Or really, fewer toys in general.
  66. Share kid’s clothes or buy used. They grow so fast that their clothes are usually in good shape.
  67. Share toys or buy used.
  68. Breastfeed.
  69. Make your own baby food.
  70. Don’t be afraid of dirt. Dirt is natural. Kids who aren’t exposed to it tend to have more asthma and allergy. Let the dirt in to reduce the need for medications.
  71. Eat at home. Less carry-out waste, less wasted food, more cash in your wallet.
  72. Eat less. Your wallet, your waist, and the planet will thank you.
  73. Learn to cook from whole, natural foods.
  74. Eat less meat.
  75. Don’t buy packaged food.
  76. Reuse plastic butter tubs and other containers.
  77. Use up all your food before it goes bad.
  78. Use a refrigerator thermometer to set the temperature right. Saves energy and reduces food waste.
  79. Don’t buy more food than you need.
  80. Learn to love leftovers to avoid food waste.
  81. Learn to use your freezer to avoid food waste.
  82. Reuse baggies.
  83. Buy from local farms. Many farmer’s market vendors are organic or sustainable even if they legally can’t use the “organic” label.
  84. Quit coffee. Can’t do that? Buy reusable filters or take your own mug to Starbucks.
  85. Buy local clothes and goods. Local goods are often cheaper because there’s less shipping involved.
  86. Entertain at home. You’ll reduce your energy use at movie houses and restaurants, and save money.
  87. Reduce your gift lists. Prepare now to trim down birthday, Valentine’s Day, and holiday gifts. Not only will you save money, but you’ll contribute to less waste from wrapping paper and stuff no one wants.
  88. Read rather than watch TV. Reading requires only the energy from your lamp. TVs, especially flat-screens, are real-energy hogs.
  89. Don’t watch TV (or watch less). No TV means no cable and no commercials. It also means less keeping up with the Jones.
  90. Borrow books from the library.
  91. Use Paperback Book Swap.
  92. Read your news online.
  93. Print coupons online, and only the ones you need.
  94. Don’t smoke. If you do, quit.
  95. Think before you print.
  96. Shred your mail and use it as mulch during winter.
  97. Print on both sides of the paper.
  98. Steal used paper from work and print on the other side at home.
  99. Get a spouse or a roommate. Shared electricity, food, etc.
  100. Live a simpler life. Enjoy activities close to home with family and friends. Fill your heart, not your home.

Okay, that’s 100. Some are cheaper than others. Nearly all will save you at least some money. They’ll also help you do your part for the planet, without being the smelly guy who only eats lettuce and wears hemp everything. Got more ideas? Post them in the comments.

This post is for the ladies. Men really only have one birth control method available to them: condoms. Women have many more options available, but as most women can tell you, birth control isn’t typically cheap. If you want to save a little money without risking parenthood (or another child), here are some cheap birth control options that are also reliable.

Generic Birth Control Pills
If you can tolerate a generic brand of birth control pills, then they may actually be a frugal option. Now before someone argues that generic medications are just as effective as non-generics, that is true of generic birth control pills. However, from personal experience and my doctor’s experience, I can tell you that generic versions often produce negative side effects. One of my doctors refused to prescribe generics because she had too many patient complaints.

Free Sample Birth Control Pills
If your OB/GYN is nice, she may agree to give you free packs of pills every few months. They receive tons of samples, and are usually willing to give them to patients who ask. Since most non-generics cost at least $35 a month, several months of free samples can save you serious cash.

Fertility Awareness Method
Once you know the method and have a basal body thermometer, this method is free (well, you’ll need a pencil and paper, too.) Basically, the Fertility Awareness Method (AKA Natural Family Planning, NFP, or FAM) tracks your morning temperature and other fertility signs like cervical mucus and cervix position to determine when you’re fertile and when you’re not. You either avoid sex or use a backup method like condoms when you’re fertile.

Note, I only recommend this birth control method for committed couples in long-term relationships because it does carry a higher risk of accidental pregnancy if you misread the signs or get carried away by the moment. If you want to learn more, read Taking Charge of Your Fertility  (the library should have it.) You can also check out Fertility Friend for free online tracking, or Ovusoft for affordable software ($39 one-time.)

The advantage to this method is that you can immediately start using it to help you conceive once you’re ready to have a baby. You’re also not pumping artificial hormones into your body.

This is not the same as the Rhythm Method. That relies solely on the calendar. Since most women don’t ovulate on exactly the 14th day of their cycle and sperm can survive up to five days in the female body, it’s also very ineffective. You also can’t get by with taking your temperature only. Your temperature confirms ovulation, but it doesn’t predict ovulation. You must use both temperature and mucus tracking to be accurate.

Condoms
Condoms are pretty cheap and are 98% effective when used properly. Unfortunately, most of us do not use them properly. Read the instructions on the box to see whether you’re actually using them right. If you are, then they’re a perfect option for you. If not, start using them correctly.

Those are pretty much all of the cheap birth control methods. Some people will also mention Withdrawal, but I don’t recommend it. Some couples choose to combine the Fertility Awareness Method with the Withdrawal method (during fertile times.) Teenagers are also foolhardy enough to use this method. Technically it’s free. However, it is also frequently results in pregnancy. Abortions or babies aren’t free. Don’t use this method. Don’t even think about it.

Diaphragms, IUDs, implants, and cervical caps are generally effective, but they’re not cheap. They may be cheaper than non-generic birth control pills, though. An IUD is about $150-$500 to insert, but it lasts for several years. If you plan to use it for more than five years, then it starts to become a cheap birth control method.

Obviously, if you’re not in a committed, long-term, monogamous relationship, then condoms are your only safe option. It’s a good thing they’re pretty cheap. If you’re not willing to risk a baby, then the Pill is more affordable than other options. If you and your partner are willing to accept a slightly higher risk of pregnancy and are comfortable with your body, then FAM is the best cheap option.

It’s a new day, a new life, a new Pres, etc., etc. One thing (okay many things) didn’t change though. It’s time for a blog carnival round-up!

First, the Carnival of Personal Finance #188 hosted by Pecuniarities. This week, my rant about claims that we have an obligation to spend was an editor’s pick. Thanks! I also recommend Free From Broke’s Just Enough is Not Good Enough – we all need to make an effort to go above the minimal expectation.

Second, the Festival of Frugality#161 hosted by Money Ning. In addition to my post about IOUSA, I recommend The Well Run Dry’s post about the media’s War on Frugality.

Last, the Money Hacks Carnival #48 hosted by Pimp Your Finances. In addition to my post about frugal winter projects, I also recommend Secrets of Money’s ways to reduce your energy bill.

Mortgage brokers have gotten a bad rap in the last year. Unfortunately, many unscrupulous brokers steered borrowers into expensive loans with large kickbacks and helped fuel the current crisis by failing to properly disclose all information. Fortunately, most of them are now out of business. The brokers who remain are usually reputable people who are interested in helping borrowers find appropriate and affordable loans.

Why Should You Use a Mortgage Broker?
A mortgage broker has much more experience and knowledge than you could ever hope to. A good broker will:

  • Have a better understanding of your needs
  • Have a better understanding of your mortgage options
  • Have a better understanding of the current market
  • Explain all loan elements, options, and fees
  • Have access to a wider selection of loan products.

Mortgage brokers have access to loans from wholesalers, which means they may be able to get a better rate than you would receive from a traditional bank.

Cons of a Mortgage Broker
There are reasons to use a local bank instead of a mortgage broker, however. The primary reason to avoid brokers is the Yield Spread Premium. This is a bonus paid to the broker by your lender after the loan closes. The fee may be paid in addition to any other fees you pay the broker directly. The YSP has led some brokers to recommend loans with higher rates or worse terms than the borrower actually qualifies for.

With the collapse of the housing market, most of these brokers have been forced out of business, but the YSP is still a concern. On the other hand, if the broker got you a lower rate than your bank offered, the YSP may not be a concern.

How to Find a Mortgage Broker
Just a year ago, you probably heard and saw ads for brokers all over the radio and TV. Now that most of those players are out of the way, you have to work a little harder to find a broker, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Here are the top three ways to find a broker:

Referrals from friends – ask your friends who they used. If they weren’t happy with the broker, they wouldn’t offer the recommendation.
Referrals from real estate agents – most agents work with brokers, so your agent probably already has a list handy.
Online search – just search for a broker in your area or one of the larger online mortgage brokers like Lending Tree. (This is not an endorsement.)

Questions to Ask a Broker
Before you hire a mortgage broker, ask the following questions to be sure you’re working with a licensed, reputable broker:

  • How many years of experience do you have?
  • What is your license number?
  • How are you paid? Do you receive a YSP?
  • How long does funding usually take?
  • Will you guarantee your good-faith estimate?
  • Do you fund your own loans? (It’s okay if they don’t, but it’s important to know whether they’re actually a broker or are a direct lender.)

Once you’ve told the broker about your specific financial situation, including credit scores, salary, etc., ask the following questions about any loan offers the broker produces:

  • Which loan is best for me?
  • What is the APR?
  • Is the rate fixed or adjustable?
  • If it’s adjustable, what are the terms of adjustment? What’s the most my payment could be after the first adjustment?
  • What are the points and fees?
  • What are all the costs?

Comparing Costs and Offers
A mortgage broker will most likely return a couple loan options. Review them carefully, and then approach a couple of consumer lenders directly to see if you can get a better deal. Use Bankrate to find local lenders and mortgage rates.

You’re not obligated to use a mortgage broker even if they go through the process of approving a loan. You don’t want to scout too many brokers or banks because each pull on your credit report does reduce your score, but it’s worth your time and money to request three offers from three sources before making your final decision about a loan and a broker.

If you’re getting ready to buy a home, then you’re most likely looking for a real estate agent. Some people use sites like Redfin to look for homes themselves, but I prefer to use an agent who can guide me to the right home and help me work through all the fine points of the deal. Finding real estate agents is easy. This is how to find a good real estate agent.

Step 1: Find Real Estate Agents
I know, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the first step is just collecting lots of information about different agents. Here are four ways we’re looking for agents:

  • Go to open houses and collect cards from agents you seem to connect with.
  • Ask friends for referrals.
  • Search online for agents who specialize in your prospective area.
  • As you drive through your prospective neighborhood, write down the names and phone numbers on for sale signs.
  • Look at online listings and note the agent representing them.

Step 2: Whittle Down Your List
Your next step is to whittle down your list. First, look at the agent’s website. How many listings do they have? How many years of real estate experience do they have? Do they indicate a specialty? How many recent sales do they list?

Exclusive buyer’s agents won’t have listings, but they should show the number of recently closed deals on their website.

Step 3: Interview Three Prospective Agents
You can interview more, but three seems like a reasonable number. Use this time to get a feel for the agent’s style and to see if you feel comfortable with him or her. You should ask at least these ten questions:

  1. Are you a full-time agent?
  2. How do you inform clients of new listings?
  3. How do you guide me to the right homes for me?
  4. What’s your typical commission?
  5. How often do you close a sale for less than list price?
  6. How do you handle offers?
  7. How many houses will I see before I buy a home?
  8. Do you have references?
  9. Do you have a list of recommended vendors?
  10. What else do I need to know?

Step 4: Call the References
Most agents won’t provide you with unhappy references (you wouldn’t do this with an employer, either.) Don’t expect to hear a list of complaints. Instead, ask the reference what it was like to work with the agent. How were concerns addressed? How quickly did he or she respond to phone calls or emails? Was he or she on-top of the offer and closing process?

Step 5: Choose Your Agent
Choose the agent who best suits your needs. The agent may request a contract, but it’s not required. If this is a sticking point for you, choose a different agent. Then sit down to discuss your needs in a home, potential neighborhoods, and price range.

Your real estate agent is both a partner and a guide in the home buying process. You should be comfortable with your agent, but you also want someone who is professional and experienced. A home is the most significant purchase you will ever make (unless you collect Picasso’s), so take your time finding the right person who will help you find the right home.

Yesterday at 12:01 PM, President Barack H. Obama was sworn in. He then gave a 20-minute inaugural address. Like most speeches of its kind, it was large on grand phrases and hope, but a little light on solid promises. However, it did present a good picture of the direction we can expect our country to go during the next four years. It also held some promises for the economy. Read the full text online for yourself.

“Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.”

He’s laid our problems bare, and hinted that his focus for the first year will be on finding solutions to these three primary issues: the financial collapse, healthcare, and renewable energy. Repairing all three will improve our economy within the next few years. It will also put us on a more solid footing for the coming decades. As he said, we can’t wait to act any longer. If there’s one silver lining to this economic collapse it’s this: People don’t want to change when the economy is sailing along, even if it’s sailing on imaginary money. Only when we face a crisis are the people willing to risk and even embrace dramatic change. We need dramatic change to right our course.

“…we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

He will work across both party lines to find the best ideas to restore our economy and the world’s faith in our nation. He won’t let partisan tomfoolery derail his plans or delay the changes that must be made. I hope he’s able to keep this promise.

“Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed.”

In my view, it means he’s not focused on his own political aspirations or on making choices that will guarantee his re-election. He’s focused on fixing our nation’s many problems promptly, even if they cause controversy or short-term difficulties.

“The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.”

This is an outline of his economic recovery plan in much prettier words than a formal government proposal. He’s not thinking of the quick fixes that Congress usually relies on to bring money to their districts and hold onto their offices. He’s thinking in terms of the grand plans that transformed our nation. A new New Deal if you will. Like the New Deal, he will have opponents, but hopefully he’ll stand firm against them.

“The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”

Again, you can see some real promises in here. Yes, programs will be cut, but they’re not working now anyways. Other systems will have to be reformed. There will be no more pork and no more government giveaways to corporations that fail to report back on their progress.

“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility…”

I hope this translates into new regulations that will prevent our financial system from running amuck again. I also hope it translates into programs or policies (even if just from a PR standpoint) that will encourage saving and frugality again.

I’m not so pie-eyed as to think that Obama will fix everything right away. I don’t think he’ll get all of his plans through. Politics will always get in the way, and some of his ideas may not even be best for the country. I do believe however that he is ready to make the hard choices that are right for the nation, even where they’re opposed to his personal ideology. I do believe that he’s the right President for right now.

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