Say what you will about the Occupy Wall Street protesters, but at least they’ve gotten people thinking and talking about our economic mess.

While I can’t say I agree with their demands (at least, as I understand them), and I could do without all the name-calling that’s swirled around the discussion, I like the passion they’ve stirred up.

If we can clarify and unify around some actual solutions to our country’s economic woes (some big ifs, to be sure), maybe – just maybe – some lasting good can come from our economic tough times.

But before we’ll have any hope of that, we have some work to do at home.

Taking An Honest Look in the Mirror

Among the articles I’ve read about Occupy Wall Street, a sympathetic one in the Chicago Tribune claimed the protests were “hitting home with everyday Americans.”  The writer said, “Many people…feel like they’ve done all the right things: worked hard, tried to save a little money in 401(k) accounts, put a roof over their families’ heads, and paid the bills, even if they weren’t as careful about debt as they now know they should have been.”  And then they had the rug pulled out from under them by corporate greed and governmental missteps.

Please don’t shoot the messenger, but I have issues with that article.

It’s true that many corporate leaders have been outrageously and even criminally greedy.  And many generations of elected officials have put our country on shaky financial ground.

However, many people on Main Street have not done all the right things.  In fact, they’ve shunned the use of a household budget, saved far too little, bought way more house than they could afford, and been reckless in their use of debt.

Reforming Our Own Finances

Before we can credibly demand governmental or corporate change, many of us need to make some changes. Here’s my three-step “platform” for household financial reform:

Use a budget to guide the use of your household income.

Avoid all debt other than a reasonable mortgage. That means using credit cards responsiblyand breaking the habit of financing vehicles.

Consciously set your financial priorities, putting generosity, savings, and investing ahead of spending.

Households that operate by these principles will be in the best position to stand strong no matter what happens in corporate America or Washington.  And they will be the most credible voices calling for corporate or governmental changes.

Changing the World With Our Dollars

Every dollar that we give away, save, invest, and spend, is a vote.  It’s a vote in favor of the organizations we support, those where we keep our checking, savings, and investment accounts, those that we invest in, and those whose products we buy.

These are very important votes that stand a better chance of bringing about change than the slogans on a placard, so let’s place them thoughtfully.

If you believe your financial institution is greedy, take away your vote by taking away your business.  At last count, that’s what more than 70,000 people at least said they were going to do by or on November 5th.  They were part of a movement called Bank Transfer Day, a grass roots effort to get people to leave their banks and move their business to non-profit credit unions.