The pandemic has undoubtedly caused financial stress for people all over the world. Very few countries have escaped. However, we had already a crisis of our own. The pandemics just added poison to the wounds. With the global economy taking a hit, many people losing their jobs, and businesses forced to shut down, the scenario in the next few years seems grim. In such a situation, it’s essential to learn from those who have coped well with the financial stress and made it to the other side, at least covering basic needs during hard times.
This is something we should deliberate on a little bit.
What exactly are “necessities”?
If someone works his backside off for a decade or more, to get a high-end education and feels he/she needs and deserves a yacht, a one-million-dollar McMansion, and a Maserati with custom paint, so be it. For the remaining 95 %ers, our “necessities” are surely much more humble and achievable. We would prefer function over form, for starters.
I’ve seen this a lot. I witnessed very close this case: a hard-working, but uneducated laborer who works in a kitchen cabinet manufacturing company and whose largest aspirations are a Chinese 150cc motorcycle and an iPhone. But his two kids don’t even go to school.
Sadly, this article is not universal. Maybe city dwellers probably won’t find it as useful as those already owning a patch of land to grow some stuff if things go South. But keep reading nevertheless: the information should encourage you to keep pursuing a patch of productive land to suit your needs.
However, if you are in a city, it means you have (or should have) a much better salary than those in small towns or the countryside. Use that advantage to your favor: put some money aside to get a few acres even if you have to drive 4 hours to the middle of nowhere.
Highly advisable if you have to do that to arrive there, if you ask me.
Of course that some sacrifices shall be made. But I’d rather drive a 15-year-old car for the next 3-4 years than get in debt to buy a newer one and have nowhere to go if anything happens in the cities.
What are the people around me doing differently?
I recently had the opportunity to talk with some country and small-town folks down here who I have known since childhood. Through our conversations, I could extract some valuable information on how they coped with the financial stress caused by the pandemic.
The first and most significant thing I learned was that these people produced an estimated 60% of their daily diet in their place. This means they grew their vegetables, raised livestock, and in general, were self-sufficient when it came to food. They did not have to rely heavily on grocery stores or restaurants to feed themselves and their families, which helped them save a lot of money.
This was a big deal when you couldn’t find staples like pasta, rice, or cornmeal for arepas, one of the most sought carb sources in Venezuela. We are lucky regarding some basic items. We have coffee plantations nearby (and in my cabin, I have some plants and space to increase production in the next few years).
The second thing I learned was that they cut expenses to extreme limits. They only spent money on the absolute necessities and saved the rest. Savings would be mostly for medical emergencies, indispensable car or machinery parts, spares, and such. This meant that they were always prepared for any unexpected expenses that might arise.
These three things – producing their food, cutting expenses to the extreme, and having a productive patch in a place with a strong local economy – were the key factors that helped these people cope with the financial stress caused by the pandemic. Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors and see how we can apply them to our own lives:
Producing our own food.
One of the most significant expenses for most people (down here in Venezuela, at least) is food. Eating out or buying pre-packaged meals can quickly add up, especially if you have a large family group to support.
This is common sense though; one way to cut down on food expenses is to produce whatever food you can.
Now, it is understandable that not everyone has the space or resources to grow their food. However, there are still ways to produce some, even if you live in an apartment or a small house. But have to be prepared to cover your walls from floor to ceiling with growing lights and PVC racks if you are serious. Very likely, you will only grow enough for a salad or two or enough tomato salsa for a pizza or a lasagna per week. It all depends on how much you master the methods at the end of the day.
You can start by growing herbs or vegetables in pots or on a windowsill. You can also join a community garden or find a local farmer’s market where you can buy fresh, locally-grown produce. Or, if you live near public land, research how to grow a guerrilla garden.
Producing some food helps to save money, but this also ensures we are eating fresh, healthy food. This means more resistance to disease and a better general improvement in our health. It’s also a great way to learn new skills.
This initiative in Latin America is unlikely, as the mechanisms like these programs don’t exist as far as I know, and the cultural approach is very different. But in other countries, there exist community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs. These initiatives allow you to buy a share of a local farmer’s harvest, which ensures that you have access to fresh, locally-grown produce throughout the year. You can also look for local farmers’ markets, where you can buy fresh produce directly from the farmers themselves.
Cutting expenses to the extreme.
Cutting expenses to the extreme is not always easy, but it’s necessary if you want to save money and be prepared for any financial emergencies that may arise. One way to start is by creating a budget. Take notes carefully of your expenses in a booklet, and at the end of the month, then decide which ones are necessary and which ones you can cut back on. This way you know where your money goes. It sounds obvious, but doing it is harder than expected. For example, do you need that expensive cable package or can you get by with a cheaper streaming service? Do you need to eat out every week, or can you cook at home more often?
Another way to cut expenses is to look for cheaper alternatives. For example, instead of buying brand-name products, try buying generic or store-brand products instead. You may be surprised to find that they are just as good, if not better than the more expensive brands. This is especially true when we consider cleaning products, in our experience.
Having a productive environment.
The third thing I learned was that their places were already productive before the crisis hit, and some of them already with a solid network of clients to buy or trade their excess. This means they had established a strong local economy, where they could sell or trade their excess produce with others in the community. This not only helped them make some extra money but also ensured that they always had access to the things they needed, even when times were tough.
Having a productive place with a strong local economy is all about building community and supporting local businesses. This means buying from local farmers, artisans, and entrepreneurs and supporting local events and initiatives. I have yet to visit a cobbler that someone told me makes shoes and boots. This is interesting enough. Real Venezuelan leather surely lasts much longer than Far-East fabrics and rubber.
Another way to support your local economy during hard times is by buying from local artisans and entrepreneurs. This could mean buying handmade crafts or jewelry from a local artisan or buying from a locally owned business instead of a big box store. I have seen already people using wooden tubs instead of those plastic ones you can get in the supermarkets, for things like carrying wet clothes to tend on the line. Just have to dry it very well after using it. By doing so, you are not only supporting your local economy but also helping to build a stronger, more resilient community.
In addition to buying local, it’s also important to get involved in your community. Attend local events, volunteer for local initiatives, and get to know your neighbors. Building strong community ties is essential for building a strong local economy and for coping with financial stress. For some reason, this seems harder in Latin American countries. My initiative for some people to get involved in the fabrication of biodigesters has been received with little enthusiasm even though many people have the means and would get good benefits from doing this. On the other side, people I found out with direct experience doing this (something that is amazing for me) simply couldn’t care less to promote the biogas generation in their communities. I believe I don’t need to mention what political wing they come from…
Downsizing your household.
Additionally, you must consider downsizing. Do you need a big house or a fancy car? Downsizing can not only save you money but also free up your time and energy for things that matter more than material possessions. I do know a couple of cases that decided to get rid of a few things like houses, locals, and cars, and decided to put that money to work. They are now semi-retired and can now pull their weight: medicines, treatments, and even help their immediate families now and then. It was not easy. This economy is not one where you can just start a business and expect to get rewards overnight. I have seen many people going bankrupt, without recovering not even the initial investment. But that shouldn’t discourage people. Other businesses have been slowly thriving, somehow, even under these poor conditions.
It is understandable that these steps may not be feasible for everyone, and it is sad to acknowledge it. But I do struggle every day to provide indications and encourage others to look to strengthen their independence and self-reliance.
The time to prepare is now.
Disclaimer: This is not financial advice by any means. It’s just a compilation of experiences I have collected from some fellows, with a pinch of common sense of my own. Experiences from people I have known personally for ages, and thanks God, they’re doing fine. We talked briefly, and they were kind enough to tell their stories.
What are your thoughts?
Do you see any similarities in your community? What steps do you think you can work on in your life? Do you have any advice for these situations? What’s your takeaway?
Let us know in the comments.
Jose is an upper middle class professional. He is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He has an old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls. Jose is a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela. Jose and his younger kid are currently back in Venezuela, after the intention of setting up a new life in another country didn’t go well. The SARSCOV2 re-shaped the labor market and South American economy so he decided to give it a try to homestead in the mountains, and make a living as best as possible. But this time in his own land, and surrounded by family, friends and acquaintances, with all the gear and equipment collected, as the initial plan was.