I found an interesting article today that discusses the ideas of wealth and investment in light of the current economic situation, and actually has some practical advice:
Money ... is not wealth. It's a social mechanism for distributing wealth. It means nothing unless there's real wealth – actual, nonfinancial goods and services – to back it up. In a healthy market economy, there's a rough balance between the amount of money in circulation and the amount of real wealth produced annually, and so the confusion between money and wealth can slip by unnoticed. When money and wealth get out of sync with one another, problems sprout...
... put your money into something that will actually be useful: training in practical skills that will make you employable in a deindustrializing economy, for example, or extra insulation so you can keep your home livable with less energy. At this point in history, the belief that it's possible to have your money make your living for you is basically a delusion; it's likely to be a fairly persistent one, but those who can shake themselves free of it and adjust to life in a radically different economic reality are likely to do better than those who keep on chasing the prospects of an age that is ending around us.
from The Archdruid Report
Sure, dollars in the bank are great. But what happens when the 'things' that those dollars are supposed to represent change in value? When food or fuel becomes more scarce, and therefore more expensive? Will you feel 'wealthy' when the dollars don't mean what they once did?
One of the comments on the Archrduid's blog expressed that particular idea very clearly:
I was, after all, a billionaire at age 10, and at the same time I had to wait in long lines for bread, (cooking) oil, etc.; hyperinflation combined with shortages will make that sort of thing happen. (Yugoslavia, early nineties.)
Ah, yes, Yugoslavia. And Russia before that. I fervently hope that we do not see such times as those anywhere again, and yet I find that hope alone is not enough to help me sleep easy at night. I can't change the way the big picture is going to play out, so my actions have to be close to home. For our family, action means working hard to pay off debts while the dollars still have their accustomed meaning, building up our infrastructure with possible changes in fuel or electrical availability in mind, and growing our skills in food production and preservation while we still have Safeway for backup in case we mess up.
Not everyone lives on a little farm like we do, so what you do to help ensure security for your family may look different. For inspiration, think about how things were for our grandparents and great grandparents: around here, just about everyone had a little garden, canned food in the fall, and shopped locally from people they knew who had bigger gardens, or dairy cows, or chickens. Nothing stops us from doing those things again, and shopping at your neighbour's place or local farmer's market means that you're encouraging local growers to keep doing what they are doing. That in turn means that if some day, for some reason, the trucks can't make it to your supermarket, well, you already have a source for eggs and zucchini.
(Okay, you're right, the problem is not going to be where to find zucchini, it's going to be figuring out where to get rid of all the extras you grew! Hint: grated zucchini dehydrates really well.)