“‘Join the military,’ they said. ‘Have a guaranteed paycheck,’ they said.” This was a text I received from my frustrated husband — a soldier — regarding the recent government shutdown and potential resulting impacts.
Presently, the military is still getting paid, but there is a great deal of uncertainty happening at the federal government level. Other government offices that support the military aren’t getting paid, which may, in turn, cause a trickle effect. Even though you’re still getting paid, here are some important things to do in the meantime while the rest of the government isn’t open.
Are you ready for a potential financial emergency? Would you last a couple weeks, a couple of days, or are you in full-on panic mode?
Immediate Impacts Are Felt
As an Army wife who lives on base, I encountered a few immediate impacts, as no one knows what may happen next:
- Parents who have just spent extra money on holiday gifts are counting on the next coming paychecks to cover credit card bills, regular expenditures, and pad their bank accounts again.
- Concerned couples who are both government employees were getting furloughed, yet had mortgage and car payments to make.
- My husband and I discussed purchases that could wait and decided to only spend if necessary. (This means a lot less eating out, and a lot more meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking.)
What are your discussions? Concerns? I tell you — you don’t want to be caught off-guard.
7 Ways To Be Government Shutdown-Proof
No one enjoys the feeling of insecurity or uncertainty. Although we can’t always control the big picture, we can control what happens in our households. This realization of power, no matter how small a level, feels pretty good.
Consider these tips to safeguard your military family:
- Pad an emergency fund. If you don’t already have one, establish a savings account or money market. Set up automatic transfers into this account during each pay period with the philosophy of “pay yourself first.” Chances are, you won’t even miss the money unless you need an emergency account later and it doesn’t exist. A good place to start is with a $1,000 goal, then 10% of your annual income, and then once you’ve reached that, $10,000. Consider allocating a portion of your upcoming tax refund to this emergency account, so that in the future, you can borrow from yourself and pay it back once funds are available.
- Stock up on basic food/household items. Don’t get caught needing to shop with an empty bank account. Stocking up on some non-perishable essentials such as toilet paper, canned beans, fruits and veggies, rice, nuts, granola bars, and pasta, buying shelf-stable milk, and even freezing a loaf of bread can help when push comes to shove. This is a good tip for any emergency situation, and you can keep this “survival kit” in its own box or container for storage.
- Have an emergency credit card. The key to this tip is to use your card for emergencies only. There is no need to accrue unnecessary debt with frivolous spending, but in an emergency situation, if your bank account is low, you can utilize this card to cover necessary expenses. Look for deals online or check with your financial institution, and then pay back the amount as soon as paychecks roll back in.
- Purchase gift cards for emergency use. This suggestion has two purposes — in case you need them for yourself or want to gift other military families who are struggling. The key to the gift cards is to keep them in an envelope in a safe place so that they won’t get lost. Ideas include cards for gas, Amazon, drug stores, grocery stores, fast food restaurants, and pizza places. You can also ask family for these as gifts throughout the year and keep them in your emergency envelope.
- Swap goods with other families. Just because cash is short doesn’t mean goods are. Say you need diapers, your friend needs toilet paper, and you can arrange a trade. Plan a day with friends to bring in excess items, or set up a Facebook group with your friends and neighbors and organize free trades online.
- Plan potluck meals. Just like in the film “Friday” when Craig “never has two things that go together,” e.g. Kool-Aid but no sugar, peanut butter but no jelly, ham but no burger… you get the picture. Combine ingredients with friends and neighbors to help fill in the gaps and fill up the table. This relieves you from full cooking duties and is also enjoyable. Keep this idea in your pocket for fun — financial crisis or not.
- Embark on a side hustle. Do you have a special trade, talent, skill or desire? Now is a great time to enroll in those online classes for your degree, launch your photography business, pet sitting, or finally start promoting your cake baking skills. As simple as it sounds, a way to be government shutdown-proof is to bring in income from a source other than the government. Now is as good a time as any to go after your dream.
Luck Favors the Prepared
Imagine how successful you will feel next time in the event of an emergency, by making small sacrifices now, saving instead of spending, and planning ahead. Some of your friends and neighbors may say, “You already have food? You guys have an emergency fund? Lucky you.”
Luck had nothing to do with it. You made choices to safeguard your family and you will reap the benefits.
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