With all that is being written about the national economic collapse, people seem to be waiting for some huge event.
However, for many North Americans, the collapse is here. This isn’t relegated to only lower income neighborhoods. As an article from a Cinncinnati new station stated, “Hunger doesn’t know a zip code.”
For many people who were formerly financially comfortable, the economic collapse has already happened, in the form of a job loss, hours that have been cut back due to Obamacare requirements for employers, an exorbitant medical bill or other crushing debt, or simply an inflation rate that has outstripped your pay increases. Despite all of the warnings, many people are still going to be absolutely blindsided.
For many families, personal finances have reached a catastrophic level – they are left to make terrible choices:
- Which utility can I live without?
- Should I walk away from my mortgage?
- Should I eat something so I can work harder or should I skip meals so my kids have food?
- Should I use the grocery money to take my child to the doctor or should I wait and hope he/she improves without medical intervention?
- Do I risk the IRS-enforced penalties by forgoing enrollment in Obamacare or should I skip that whole grocery shopping thing so I can pay the monthly premiums and enormous deductibles in order to stay in the government’s good graces?
These are the kind of decisions that people across the nation are grappling with every day.
I’m talking about good people, hardworking men and women who have always been employed and paid their bills. A personal financial crisis does not just strike those stereotypical “welfare queens” with the long manicured nails, Gucci knock-off purse, and a grocery cart full of EBT-funded lobster.
I’m talking about the person next door, who seems to have it all together. I’m talking about that quiet family that sits two rows in front of you at church. I’m talking about that two-income family with two children and a car in the driveway that takes them to work and school 5 days a week. I’m talking about people just like you and me.
What is a personal economic collapse?
A personal economic collapse is a little different than the major crises you see all over Europe right now, where huge segments of the population can’t feed their children or stay employed. It is a crisis that just hits your family due to a given set of circumstances. (In actuality North Americans are on the brink of the kind of collapse that is occurring in Europe, but because of easy access to credit and a buy-now, pay-later society, many of us still have the appearance of prosperity.)
Here are some signs that you may be in the midst of a personal economic collapse:
- You can only afford to pay the minimum payment on most of your bills.
- The same dollar amount you used to spend on groceries doesn’t buy enough food to feed your family for the week.
- You can’t afford to go to the doctor when you’re sick.
- You are taking dangerous steps to “stretch” needed medications because you can’t afford the prescriptions.
- Your utility bills are past due and your power is in danger of being cut off.
- You skip meals in order to save money or to have enough food for your kids.
- You’ve lost your job or had your hours cut.
- You have lost property due to foreclosure or repossession (such as your home or your vehicle).
Surviving the crisis
Times are tough but you can survive this.
1.) First you have to see exactly where you are.
It’s time for a brutally honest assessment of your finances. If you use your debit card or credit card for most expenditures, you’ll easily be able to see what you’re spending and bringing in.
Print off your bank account statements for the past 2 months. On a piece of paper, track where your money is going. List the following
- Car payments
- Vehicle operating expenses (fuel, repairs)
- Credit card and other debt payments
- Telephone/Cell phone
- Extracurricular activities for the kids
- Extracurricular activities for the adults
- Dining out
- School expenses
- Recreational spending
- Miscellaneous (anything that doesn’t fall into the above categories gets its own category or goes here)
Don’t say to yourself, “Well, I usually don’t spend $400 on clothing so that isn’t realistic.” If you spent it, then it’s realistic. You are averaging together two months, which should account for those less common expenses. Brutal honesty isn’t fun, but it’s vital for this exercise.
So….what do you see when you look at your piece of paper with your average monthly expenditures for the past two months? Are there any surprises? Did you actually realize how much you’ve been spending? Most of us will immediately see places that we can trim the budget. Those $1-$5 purchases can really add up. Reining them in may just allow you to take care of an important need that you thought you could not meet.
It can’t continue like this. The economy will not withstand it. Step one is to see where you can cut things out right now from the above expenditures. Can you reduce your grocery bill? Slash meals out? Budget more carefully for gift-giving and school clothes?
2.) Rethink necessities.
If your finances are out of control, the best possible reality check is a stark look at what necessities really are. It is not necessary to life to have an iPhone, a vehicle in both stalls of your two-car garage, or for your children to all have separate bedrooms. People in Southern and Eastern Europe right now will tell you, as they scramble for food, basic over the counter medications like aspirin, and shelter, that necessities are those things essential to life:
- Food (and the ability to cook it)
- Medicine and medical supplies
- Basic hygiene supplies
- Shelter (including sanitation, lights, heat)
- Simple tools
- Defense Items
Absolutely everything above those basic necessities is a luxury.
So, by this definition, what luxuries do you have?
3.) Reduce your monthly output
Reduce your monthly payments by cutting frivolous expenses. Look at every single monthly payment that comes out of your bank account and slash relentlessly. Consider cutting the following:
- Cell phones
- Home phones
- Gym memberships
- Restaurant meals
- Unnecessary driving
- Entertainment such as trips to the movies, the skating rink, or the mall
4.) Waste not, want not.
We live in a disposable society. Food comes in throw-away containers. People replace things instead of repairing them. If you throw out more than a couple of bags of garbage each week, that’s a very good sign that you may be wasting resources.
Before throwing anything away, pause and think about how it might be able to be reused.
- Food: Many times small amounts of leftovers can be recycled into a brand new meal. Meat bones can be used to make broth or stock. Small amounts of veggies or grains can be frozen and added to a future soup or casserole. Leftovers can be frozen in meal-sized portions to take to work for a brown-bag lunch. (Learn more about repurposing leftovers HERE.)
- Clothing: Clothing that is torn or damaged can often be repaired with only rudimentary sewing skills. If it has been outgrown or cannot be repaired, often the fabric or yarn can be reused for other purposes, from cleaning rags to fashionable accessories like scarves and headbands, or home items like throw pillows, potholders or rag rugs. When all else fails, the fabric can be used for cleaning rags or patches to repair other items. Keep jars full of buttons, elastic, and other notions that can easily be removed before you throw a clothing item away or relegate it to the rag bag.
- Electronics: Obviously, initially you should attempt to repair (or have repaired) electronic items that are not working. If this is not feasible, are there components of the item that can be reused, either now or in the future? What about hardware such as screws or fasteners?
- Containers: Most food comes in a container of some sort. Before throwing the container away, consider whether or not it might be useful. Glass jars, plastic tubs, and plastic bags can often be reused to store food in your refrigerator or to contain food in brown bag lunches. Clean aluminum cans can hold all manner of items, from hardware and tools in a workshop to sewing and craft supplies. Use your imagination.
5.) Take control of your food budget.
The price of food is skyrocketing. Who hasn’t been to the grocery store recently and been shocked at the high price of that cart full of groceries or at the mysterious shrinking food packages that are the same price as yesterday’s larger ones?
- Stockpile: Create a stockpile of nutritious, healthy staples at today’s prices to enjoy when the cost goes even higher tomorrow. (Learn how to create a frugal food stockpile HERE.)
- Preserve: Learn to preserve food yourself when you come across a windfall. Pressure canning, waterbath canning, freezing, and dehydrating can allow you to take advantage of great sales or end-of-season scores.
- Eat less: This suggestion isn’t for everyone, but many of us could stand to shed a few pounds. Perhaps now would be a good time to cut back a little and shrink both your waistline and your weekly food bill. Lots of people eat for the sheer entertainment of it or out of habit. Next time you’re watching TV, grab some mending or a crossword puzzle instead of a bag of potato chips. Dish out slightly smaller servings at dinner time to leave enough to stretch the leftovers for a brown bag meal the next day.
- Drink water: Skip the beverages and drink water instead. At less than $1 per gallon for purchased water you simply can’t beat the price. It’s better for you, also, than sugar-y drinks. If you are lucky enough to have well water or access to spring water, your drinks don’t have to cost you a penny.
- Focus on nutrition instead of convenience: Buy the best quality of food you can, and skip the processed, nutritionless convenience foods.
- Grow your own. In the summer, grow the biggest garden you can. In the winter, or if you are an apartment dweller, put some sprouts and greens in a sunny windowsill to add some fresh produce for pennies.
6.) Reduce your dependence on utilities.
Energy rates are skyrocketing. As the prices begin to rise, more and more people will be unable to pay their bills and eventually their power will be shut off. Check your bill each month and as prices increase, use less power. Try some of these ideas to reduce your reliance and drop your bills.
- Hand wash your clothing
- Hang clothes to dry
- Cook on a woodstove or outdoor grill
- Can foods to preserve them instead of relying on a large chest freezer
- Turn the heat down a few degrees and use non-grid methods to keep warm
- Use rain barrels to collect water
- Direct the gray water from your washing machines to reservoirs
- Turn off the lights and open the blinds
- Use solar lighting whenever possible
How do you intend to weather the storm?
There are bleak days ahead. Have you planned for this? What strategies do you intend to use to weather the financial crisis that is coming for all of us? What suggestions do you have for families who are undergoing their own economic collapses?