8 ways to fight the 'system' -- and profit

(MoneyWatch) Sick of hearing how big banks pay their execs gazillions of dollars while they manipulate interest rates and blow money on securities trades without any consequences -- all while being stingy in making loans to people and businesses? Mad as hell because the people working on Wall Street line their pockets while shaking you down? Frustrated with all the political blather over health care? Think that big companies are more interested in their profits than your well-being?

Sure seems as if the system is rigged against decent, law-abiding citizens, doesn't it? And certainly that sentiment is reflected in the public's decliningtrust in the financial system. But while I wouldn't blame you if you're feeling powerless, that's no excuse to give up and do nothing but whine and complain. There's a perfectly legal, democratic, and distinctly American way to get even: Vote with your feet and your pocketbook. 

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To that end, here are eight ways you can fight back against the system and still benefit financially:

Get-even tactic 1: Instead of banking with a multinational conglomerate, bank with a credit union or local bank. These institutions often offer higher interest rates on savings and better terms on loans, and they usually don't pay exorbitant bonuses to their execs.

Get-even tactic 2: If you don't want to enrich Wall Street any more than you have to, save for retirement through your company's 401(k) plan. Most companies spend money to operate their plans -- they don't make money from your savings. Invest in low-cost index funds that minimize investment management fees -- and resulting Wall Street profits. If you don't like the funds offered through your employer's 401(k) or your employer doesn't sponsor a 401(k) plan, open an IRA or regular investment account at Vanguard; it charges the little guy some of the lowest investing fees in the financial world.

Get-even tactics 3, 4, and 5: Here's a way to deliver a triple whammy. Follow these tactics, and you'll give less money to the health care system, reduce your subsidies to big pharma, and get back at the execs of large agribusinesses.

Ready? Stop going to fast food restaurants that fill you full of fat, sugar, and sodium. Don't buy meat that's drenched in chemicals and hormones. Eat about 25 percent less food; by doing so, you'll immediately give 25 percent less money to the food industry. As much as possible, buy your food at local farmer's markets, where you can support businesses in your own backyard. Better yet, grow some of your own food, so you'll have more control over what you eat.

While you're at it, get more exercise. Work out at your gym, sign up for a yoga or pilates class, or take golf, tennis, or ballroom dancing lessons. At the very least, take a 45-minute walk in your neighborhood every day of the week. These actions will help you lose weight, be healthier, and possibly wean yourself off costly medications for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes.

Get-even tactic 6: Don't like big oil or power companies? Ride a bike, walk as much as possible, use public transportation. Buy a car that gets 40-plus mpg and drive it into the ground. Turn down your thermostat, reduce the number of times you turn on your air conditioning, and find other ways to use less electricity.

Get-even tactic 7: Are soaring college costs for your kids threatening your retirement? There are plenty of great state universities that don't have bloated athletic budgets and will give your children a college education as good -- if not better -- than the big-name schools. If you don't like what you hear in the news about a particular university, don't send your kid there. There are other choices.

Get-even tactic 8: If you're tired of buying cheap goods made in overseas sweatshops that mistreat their workers, stop! Then start buying good quality, second-hand clothing and other items from thrift stores run by local charities. It's a good way to recycle perfectly good items and support the charity of your choice. Or buy from local stores or boutiques where you know the source of their products.

You get the point. There are any number of ways you can stop supporting the "system" if that will give you satisfaction. My wife and I have taken many of the steps described above, not really because we're trying to get even with the world, but mainly because these strategies help us spend our money more wisely so we'll have a more enjoyable retirement. I know these steps -- and more -- are possible.

It just takes a commitment to break out of old habits and spend your money in harmony with your beliefs. This demonstrates my firm belief that the best "revenge" in any situation is to live a good life; don't let anybody prevent you from living your best life.

If getting even gives you the motivation to make positive changes in your life, then get even! In the process, you'll spend less on stuff you don't need, you'll save more money for retirement, you'll be better able to afford retirement -- and maybe even sooner than you thought -- and you'll be healthier and happier. Life can't get much better than that!

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.