I was in a state of shock last month as I watched the news of the government shutdown that felt like it would never end. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one! Indeed it was the longest shutdown in American history and it affected one too many families.
Many people continued living their life as normal, but thousands of government employees had no source of income backing up their accounts for at least 35 days.
I was born in Argentina, where the government is known to be unstable. Living with the uncertainty of not receiving a paycheck is almost expected there. But America is supposed to be different. People envision a country of wealth and the American dream being fulfilled in every person. I do believe this is a great county but the truth is, no government is perfect. Whether you live in the United States or elsewhere, you are not guaranteed everything you may deserve- in this case, a paycheck, especially if you work for the government (ironically enough).
My heart goes out to all the 800,000 federal employees and their families who struggled to make ends meet last month. Although Congress passed a law that they would be compensated, there’s no clear answer as to how soon they will receive that money.
Recent headlines predict another shutdown on the horizon. This is projected to occur on February 13, 2019, and just like the previous shutdown, no one knows how long it could last.
A recent poll on the Washington Examiner asked readers whether or not they believed another shutdown would occur in 2019. As of February 7th, an overwhelming 77% believed that it would.
Shutdown or no shutdown, these events should warrant concern for the American people.
You don’t need to be a federal employee to be cut off from your monthly paycheck. Anyone can get fired overnight. A company can declare bankruptcy. Etcetera, etcetera.
These situations should become wake up calls that teach us how to stop living month-to-month, or paycheck-to-paycheck as a great majority of the American population is living right now. It’s not only stressful but irresponsible to spend more money than you have.
So, how can you prepare for another government shutdown?
1. Revisit your budget and spending habits
Many people don’t realize how much money they spend every month because a lot of it goes on a credit card. Based on your expected monthly income and your monthly expenses, examine what you are overspending on.
Prioritize your bills. A mortgage, car payments, and food are absolutely necessary but perhaps a weekend concert or movie is not. Instead, watch a movie at home.
Where can you adjust your budget to save some extra bucks this month? Check out some tips on this blog where I discuss ideas on how to start an emergency fund on a limited budget.
Start making new lifestyle changes today that will benefit the security of your financial future. Make a budget and stick to it!
2. Delay any large expenses that you can avoid this month
Hold off on any home remodeling projects or car maintenance that can be delayed for a few weeks. Save this money for now until you’re certain that you no longer risk financial instability.
3. Take inventory of your belongings
Look around your home for any items of value that you no longer use or want. Keep these items as a back-up option in case the government shutdown forces you to have to sell them as an additional source of income.
4. Stockpile on food and make a meal plan
Food is expensive. I know a lot of people who only buy the name brands or organic food, but when you’re on a tight budget, it wouldn’t hurt to prioritize filling your belly with a regular portion than to go hungry because you can’t afford to buy groceries.
Consider going to the local Asian or Latino market, which oftentimes sell produce and other food items at a considerable low cost. If that’s not an option, buy the store brand version of food items, use coupons, and buy food that is currently on sale.
Remember, this budgeting period could be temporary so reconsider your short and long-term priorities.
5. Hold a household meeting
Get together with your family (of appropriate ages of course) or whoever you share your bills with. Get everyone on board with the budget decisions so that you can keep each other accountable.
6. Get a second job
I know this isn’t a possibility for everyone, but if you’re able to take on a second job that isn’t related to a government position (even if it’s part-time), then do it. Perhaps you can do some housekeeping, babysitting, or take care of your neighbor’s garden. Any additional cash-flow will ease the stress of not receiving a paycheck for an undefined period of time.
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7. Rent a room in your house
Since the shutdown could last from a couple of days to more than a month, consider renting an available room in your house. List the room on Airbnb and rent it out for as long as necessary. This gives you the freedom to un-list it when you feel the financial strain is no longer a burden.
8. Identify the resources available in your community
If you’re having trouble getting money for food, contact your local food shelter. If you need help with other resources, call 211 or go to their website 211.org, where you can find more organizations that help people during times of need. Another popular organization is feedingamerica.org.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to religious charities, such as the Salvation Army and the Catholic Charity, which also provide many forms of assistance. Many organizations are also available to single moms, be sure to check those out!
9. Talk to your co-workers
Get insight into how your co-workers survived the last government shutdown. Perhaps they can offer advice on any additional tips that are not mentioned here.
Also, consider joining other families in a similar situation as you to purchase items of greatest need (such as food and toiletries) in bulk. Buying in bulk can be costly for one family, but purchasing it in combination with other people can actually become a cheaper option than buying it at the grocery store.
10. Reach out to friends and family
There’s no shame in contacting loved ones during a time of need. We’re meant to support each other in difficult times. Ask someone you trust to help you monetarily if they’re able to. Once you get paid, you can pay them back.
11. Contact your landlord or mortgage servicer
If you’re renting a house, send a letter to your landlord asking for a payment extension due to your circumstances. Perhaps you’re able to offer them partial payment or a service in return for a part of the rent, such as painting the house or maintenance upkeep. Hopefully, they will work with you and waive a late fee for this time period.
If you own a house, contact the bank or mortgage company and ask them what options you have so your credit score won’t be affected by a late payment.
12. Contact your credit card company
Ask them if they offer any hardship programs. Sometimes your company will reduce your monthly payments or your interest rates until you’re able to continue your payments as usual. This also goes for student loans.
A better idea would be to resolve to get out of debt as quickly as possible. Debt is a huge burden on many American families but it could take some time to pay it off.
13. Apply for a home equity line of credit
Use this as a last resort option since it costs money to do and takes some time to get approved. By the time you receive an approval, the shutdown might be over (hopefully).
Being on a tight budget is difficult all on its own. Being on hold to receive a paycheck (especially if you have to work without compensation) is even more difficult. It’s clear though that there is a lot of tension in our political atmosphere, so it is possible that a shutdown can occur again.
In order to protect yourself and your family from any added stress and uncertainty, make wise decisions now on how you should be spending your money, and where you shouldn’t.
Even if you haven’t been personally affected by the government shutdown, use it as a good reminder to evaluate how much money you have saved up in case you are let go of your job or are unable to work due to another type of situation.
We’re not immune to emergencies, so being prepared is the only way to overcome some of life’s challenges. Don’t let those challenges take you by surprise…it could end up costing you more that way!
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