By the author of Be Ready for Anything and the online course Bloom Where You’re Planted
How do you survive an economic collapse? When you think about it, do pictures of Venezuela and Greece run through your head like a movie? Desperation, hunger, dirty faces…it’s like a third world country, right?
It doesn’t start out like that. It ends like that. There are many years of downward spiral before you ever reach that point. And if you’re paying attention, there are a lot of lifestyle changes you can make that will help your family become more “collapse-proof.” These changes are practical and realistic – and some would say, downright boring.
Many people would argue that the economic collapse of America began many years ago. After all, the cost of living has gone up exponentially, while incomes have either dropped or remained stagnant. Some families are still doing okay, but for most of us, that could change in the blink of an eye because we don’t have the same savings that people had in previous decades. It’s entirely likely that Social Security won’t be there for many of us. In fact, quite a lot of middle-aged people are now saying that they’ll work until they die. Retirement is a far-fetched daydream for a lot of Baby Boomers, and Generations X, Y, and Millennial can just forget about it. Something as simple as a missed paycheck or a trip to the emergency room could cause our delicate financial situation to crumble, leaving us broke, stressed, and unable to get back on our feet.
The suggestions below aren’t one bit glamorous. They don’t involve gadgets to make your gun sexier, fully stocked bunkers over an underground stream, gas masks, an off-grid retreat in the Rocky Mountains, or any other prepper paraphernalia that costs more than your kidney would sell for on the black market.
Many of you who are reading this are already living by these recommendations, but for others, these changes may be brand new life-changing new ideas.
Live more simply.
Sometimes when we look back with envy at the affordable lives of earlier generations, we’re missing a very big part of the picture. They owned homes and cars, paid their bills easily, and had enough extra to put some back for a very comfortable retirement. Heaven, right?
But what we don’t think about is the fact that they lived a lot more simply than we do today. There was, in many cases, a lot less waste of money. The things folks spend on now are things those generations wouldn’t have even imagined.
Spa days, going to the gym, weekly mani-pedis, bi-annual tropical vacations, eating out every day for lunch, $5 foo-foo coffee, a hundred bucks a month for television, a nice dinner at a restaurant a couple of times per week, fruit already peeled and chopped up for you, a separate phone for every member of the family that they carry with them everywhere … this stuff would have blown their minds. And yet for many Americans, this decadence is a way of life that seems completely normal.
The way we live now would look positively outrageous to our parents or grandparents, yet many today would feel shortchanged without at least some of the things mentioned above.
But we can exempt ourselves from a great deal of that frivolous spending without feeling like we’re living a third world existence. A lot of the folks reading this already have, and if you aren’t there yet, here are some links that will help you tone things down. You’ll be astounded at how much money you can save by making some cuts.
- The Cheapskate’s Guide to Living Beneath Your Means
- 30 Frugal Living Tips: Small Changes That Result in Big Savings
- Cheap by Choice: When Frugality Means Freedom
Change how you eat
The way Americans eat is taking a toll on both our wallets and our health. There are folks who go out to lunch every single day with coworkers. On average, Americans spend more money eating out than eating at home. Many people eating at home end up microwaving a prepared meal from the freezer or adding water to the contents of a box. It doesn’t have to be like this.
The first change you should make is to eat in tune with the seasons. The produce that is in-season is far more abundant and less expensive, but for some reason, people feel that it’s perfectly reasonable to eat blueberries in December or asparagus in November. By purchasing produce when the price is the lowest, you can drop your grocery bill dramatically. You can even take it one step further and raise as much of your food as possible in your backyard. It doesn’t get more seasonal and local than that!
Secondly, stop going out to eat all the time. Take your lunch to work and read a book instead of going out on a daily basis. Spend some time on the weekends making meals that you can freeze, then thaw so that you can have a tasty homemade dinner in a fraction of the time. Don’t underestimate your crockpot for providing a hot meal that is ready as soon as you walk in the door. You can even make a rotisserie style chicken in it, with all the fixings.
And speaking of eating at home, if you aren’t cooking from scratch, it’s time you started. If you’ve never really done it, it is so much easier and less threatening than it sounds. These tips can help you get started with scratch cooking and these tips can aid you in doing so in a fraction of the time. Be sure to keep the right pantry basics on hand for your made-from-scratch meals.
One thing that I’ll bet a lot of folks living through an all-out collapse wish they had done is stock up on supplies. The extra food that you purchase today can see you through all manner of difficult times. I had a couple of incidences of job loss back when I was in the corporate world. (Downsizing and cutbacks make this all too common.) The food and supplies that I had put back meant that I didn’t have to spend my savings on groceries and could spend it to keep a roof over our heads. There are loads of ways you can eat from your stockpile when you don’t have the money on hand to buy groceries.
Building a food stockpile doesn’t have to be an outrageously expensive undertaking. I am a single mom and have managed to have a pantry that would feed us for many months even though I have never been rolling in money. In fact, when I relocated from Canada to the United States, I had to completely start over with a bare cupboard and in just a few months, managed to acquire a year’s worth of healthful food. You can read all about it in my book, The Pantry Primer: A Prepper’s Guide to Whole Food on a Half Price Budget, in which I share all of my shopping strategies and stockpiling tips.
Another addition to your long-term stockpile should be buckets of food. Yeah, I sell them here at my online store, but that’s not the reason that I’m telling you to get them. They are professionally packaged to withstand years on the shelf. Yes, you can do this yourself, but will you? Most people won’t, or they won’t do it correctly. I have enough buckets stacked up to get us through quite some time of financial difficulty or shortages. This is an important, long-term investment that I strongly recommend if you can swing it.
And remember, the stockpile method isn’t just for your pantry. You should also be adding all the things you normally use that you can buy in advance. Bandaids, toilet paper, feminine hygiene supplies, shampoo, toothpaste. You get the idea. There are two reasons. The first is that if you run into personally difficult times, it will be extremely helpful to have all the basics on hand so you don’t have to spend your thinly-stretched money on them. The second is that in a really bad economic scenario, you could be dealing with both shortages and hyperinflation. These items won’t be accessible during a time like that. Here’s a list of 50 important non-food things you should be stockpiling.
Pay off debt
Debt in America is at an all-time high. By the time folks end up paying things off, they have often paid the original purchase price several times over. If you have credit card debt, store cards, and unsecured loans, chances are that you are paying epic amounts of interest every month.
If you’re in debt, take a look at the snowball method to help pay things off quickly. I’ve used this technique in the past when I used credit to help us through some difficult times.
What about your home? Similar to credit card debt, many people end up paying several times the cost of their original mortgage due to the interest that accrues over a 20-30 year term. If you can, start applying money to the principal of your loan each month. As well, by setting up bi-weekly mortgage payments, you can end up paying your mortgage off about 5 years earlier without any other extra payments.
Another big monthly expense for a lot of folks is their automobile payment. There are a few things you can do with this. Can you pay your vehicles off so you don’t have those payments? Can you dial back to one car? Can you possibly get by without a vehicle at all? (That won’t work very well for people living in the country or suburbia, but city dwellers can save a bundle by using public transportation.
Reduce your living expenses
Finally, this is the biggie. You need to slash your expenses so that if you end up experiencing a financial SHTF event, you will be okay. It’s time to audit your spending on just about everything and see how much you can reduce your budget. Some of these changes may be radical, but many folks have found they were able to reduce their expenses by half when they took the plunge. Get radical about cutting your costs and you can change your life.
Is your home reasonable and affordable for your family? Maybe it’s too big, too expensive, or in an area with outrageous property taxes. This isn’t a cut that is practical for everyone, but you might want to look into moving to a less expensive place if you can. You could live in a smaller home, one in a smaller town, or rent out a room to a college student to help cover the costs.
Are you as thrifty as you should be regarding utilities? If you keep your air conditioner and heater cranked, you’re throwing away money. Learn to adjust to the weather by piling on sweaters and using these other tips, or using strategies to keep cool without running the AC nonstop. Utilities can be completely out of your control in certain parts of the country, but these black-belt frugal tips for reducing your utilities can help. When I lived in California, even in a home without air conditioning, I was spending up to $500 a month on my electric bill, no matter how frugal I tried to be. Now in Virginia, my bill is regularly under $100 and I am not even as careful as I was previously. Some areas have times of day when utilities are less expensive. If your local utility is like that, choose off-peak times for things like laundry, dishwashers, and other tasks that use lots of power.
If you’re still paying a cable bill, it’s time to cut the cord. As long as you have internet, there are numerous streaming services out there which cost less than $15 a month and allow you to watch all sorts of TV programs and movies anytime you want – and without the annoying commercials. We haven’t had cable for years and have been with Hulu, Netflix, and/or Amazon Prime.
Here are some other ideas for reducing your fixed expenses.
What changes can you make?
The way to survive the economic downturn is to dial back the clock to simpler times and focus on preparing for those rainy days that are coming. The bonus to this is that many of the things recommended here to help you survive an economic crisis will help you through other types of emergencies as well.
By changing your lifestyle, you can change your future. When the economy goes downhill – whether it’s just something that affects your family or a larger, nationwide collapse – you will be in a far better position to survive than those who go about their days frivolously ignoring the warning signs. Your costs will be rock-bottom and you’ll have the skills you need to survive with aplomb while others are panicking.
How can you go back in time a few decades and cut some of the fluff from your budget? If you’ve already slashed your spending, what are some recommendations you can make for others who want to get their financial lives under control? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.