(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed
are her own.)
By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK, Feb. 21 Investors have no shortage of
things to fret about these days. An aggressive stock slump,
emerging markets in turmoil, an agonizingly slow jobs recovery.
But what if things really hit the fan?
As in, a total financial system breakdown? Or runaway
inflation, on the heels of money printing by the Federal
Reserve? Or some unforeseen black swan, like overwhelming
natural disasters or armed conflict?
Then you might want to give David John Marotta a call.
(Assuming your phone still works.)
That's because the Charlottesville, Virginia, founder and
president of Marotta Wealth Management has a plan in place.
In response to clients who kept sending him panicked emails
about dystopian futures, Marotta put together a series of
articles about what to do with your finances if we are ever
actually faced with TEOTWAWKI ('The End of the World as We Know
"We have a number of clients who read disaster-oriented
newsletters, and are always sending them to us because they are
worried and can't sleep at night," says Marotta, a 53-year-old
married dad of two. "What I found is that these newsletters
usually give really bad financial advice."
"It just doesn't make sense if the world is ending. And it
makes even less sense if the world isn't ending."
To be clear, Marotta doesn't actually believe that the End
of Times is nigh.
Instead, his end-of-the-world pointers are much like when
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently provided
tips on how to deal with a 'Zombie Apocalypse.'
Obviously, the government agency doesn't believe that
rampaging zombie hordes are imminent (presumably, anyway). But
CDC staffers saw it as a tongue-in-cheek opportunity to get
people to talk about emergency preparedness - which they did.
In the same spirit, Marotta decided to dole out financial
advice for so-called 'Doomsday Preppers,' those folks who want
to be fully prepared for whatever craziness is headed our way.
The typical advice to stockpile gold, for instance? He
thinks it's a dumb idea; if there really is a societal breakdown
and people have more immediate needs like food and water, having
a few shiny bars in your basement is not going to be super
Should you sell all paper assets like stocks and bonds, as
some Preppers suggest? Nope, Marotta says - they should retain
their inherent value, except in the most extreme scenarios. How
about buying your home outright? Again, no - a 30-year fixed
mortgage at today's low rates is an excellent inflation hedge.
Other typical end-of-the-world advice, though, Marotta sees
as not so terrible.
Should you get out of credit-card debt? Sure, that's always
a solid strategy, whether or not the sky is on fire. Should you
achieve a measure of self-sufficiency by generating your own
energy and growing some of your own food? Absolutely.
And you should always have extra supplies around to last
your family at least a couple of weeks, like food, water and
medical gear. Such preparedness could come in very handy for
lesser emergencies that happen all the time, like floods or
hurricanes or power blackouts.
Think of such personal preparedness as part of a high-stakes
chess match. In fact Marotta was a child prodigy at the strategy
game, playing for the State Department team as a teenager (his
dad worked there) and almost going professional.
In chess, you have to think multiple moves ahead, analyze
all possible outcomes, and know that the ultimate result could
be determined by seemingly insignificant decisions you make
early on. So it is with both life and the stock market.
"The stock market is like chess in slow motion, but the
prize money is much better," says Marotta, a fan of chess greats
like Bobby Fischer and Anatoly Karpov, who started beating his
dad at age six. "You have to be a student of history, and
analyze past games. You also have to be very patient."
"As a young chess player, I learned to ask myself four
questions: 'What just happened, what might happen, what can I
do, and what should I do?' Those four questions are valuable for
almost everything in life - including the stock market."
When Marotta's musings about a potential financial
apocalypse went viral - thanks largely to being picked up by the
popular website The Drudge Report - perhaps no one was more
surprised than Marotta's own family.
"I would have never guessed it," says Megan Russell,
Marotta's daughter and a systems analyst at the firm.
That's because the central irony of Marotta's newfound fame
is that he may be one of the least-prepared folks in his own
office. He doesn't consider himself a survivalist, and he's not
armed to the teeth against the invading hordes.
Heck, he doesn't even have a 'Bug-Out Bag,' the sack of key
supplies that almost all Preppers have ready for when they need
to get out of Dodge in a hurry.
There is one thing, though, that he plans to have on hand if
the world ever does fall apart.
"The liquid assets that will be most valuable at the end of
the world will probably be bottles of Jack Daniels," he quips.
"It tastes way better than gold - and there will be much higher
demand for it."
(Editing by Lauren Young and Bernadette Baum)