Everything beyond the basics is gravy

This post is going to be about decision-making and personal responsibility, especially in difficult or “crisis” situations – without any sugar-coating.

The reality in America is people who live buried in personal debt is the norm and a whole lot of businesses have made a fortune perpetuating the belief that “building your credit score,” which is code for accumulating personal debt is sensible personal financial management and the ticket to prosperity. I have believed for a long, long time that is a total lie. It’s a road to being indebted to other people your entire life and it eats away at your hard-earned money, leaving millions of people worrying about how to make ends meet and struggling to figure out how to juggle debt payments.

I am not a financial adviser or an expert on personal finance, so this is strictly my opinion. It feels weird to even be writing about financial stuff and emergency preparedness, because when I started blogging I wrote about politics, foreign affairs, culture war stuff, and the constant spin information war, that’s creating non-stop chaos in our politics and fueling the culture war.

Of course, I’ve heard actual financial advisers talk about how to manage credit and debt responsibly, but a whole lot of people believe that if a credit card company tells them they “qualify” for a certain credit limit or even more deceptive is they offer you a higher credit limit, that is a sign you are great at managing money. You’re really just great at building up personal debt.

My late husband and I had completely different views on personal finance – he didn’t mind racking up consumer debt and he believed your credit score is some magical number to the good life. We had many disagreements about money-management over the years. There are lots of couples where there are differing financial management views. Here’s how I see it – personal debt means you owe someone else money for items you purchased. You don’t own anything you bought on credit- you owe money (and interest) on all those things you purchased on credit. You end up with a lot of stuff you don’t need, don’t use, you end up owing a lot of money, and you end up living beyond your means.

When my husband was placed on home hospice care in 2020, he was too ill to even discuss personal finance stuff, so I decided to pay off the credit cards and I paid off the mortgage early. I wanted to be debt-free. I’m glad I did that.

I expect that as more people become alarmed at the rapidly deteriorating economic situation, especially the cost of gas and the chaos in the retail supply chain, that more people will begin hurriedly stocking up (panic buying), spending money they don’t have (buying on credit) or can’t afford (pulling money from savings).

According to some surveys, many Americans don’t have enough to cover a $400 expense. Others will charge up more to try to maintain their same lifestyle or to try to make ends meet with the soaring inflation. The interest rates will go up and credit will tighten, which is going to leave millions of people financially decimated, especially people carrying high amounts of consumer debt.

The idea about preparedness that seems to take hold among many of the prepper people online (especially men) often sounds like they have role-playing visions of gun-wielding to survive in a post-apocalyptic world or they think they’re going to be the hero facing down the hordes of desperate people trying to steal their stuff. There seems to be a focus on pricey items from lots of guns, ammo, and a whole lot of expensive technology. None of those things is a bad thing to have stocked up, but prioritizing necessities is crucial and food, water, shelter, basic security are critical needs.

As more and more people, who never gave a single thought to “emergency preparedness” become alarmed at the economic crisis (and likely summer of civil unrest – as promised by far-left activists, while the DHS is warning mostly about far-right violence), the panic-buying will likely move into high gear.

The thing is when people who make impulsive (or careless) spending decisions ordinarily become panicked, they’re likely to rush around and make really bad spending decisions stocking up in a crisis. I worked in my local Walmart Supercenter for a number of years and it always amazed me to watch people rush around to buy emergency supplies as the hurricane warnings progressed from a week out to landfall. Most people flooded the store as the hurricane moved closer to land and often shoppers had no clue what items they really needed, but were just grabbing items, because other people were grabbing them.

I have always stocked up extra food and supplies, because I feel more peace of mind that way. As a teenager I babysat a lot and one experience stuck with me. I babysat for a couple with two small children, who then got divorced. After their split, the lady called and asked me to babysit for New Year’s Eve. She was going out with friends. Shortly after she left the two kids started saying how hungry they were. I was alarmed that there was only a bottle of Cold Duck in the refrigerator and a few packs of venison in the freezer. There was no milk or eggs, no canned goods, no flour, no bread or crackers, not even a jar of peanut butter.

I called my mother and told her the kids were hungry and there was no food in the house. My mother told me there had to be something and I told her I checked the fridge, freezer and all the cupboards. My mother brought food for the kids to eat and she was fuming about that lady going out when she didn’t have food in the house to feed her kids. That house operated differently when the couple was together – there was always food there. I never babysat for that lady again.

When I had kids I wanted to make sure I was never in the situation where my kids were looking at me and saying they were hungry and I had no food to feed them. It’s a terrible feeling to have a hungry child asking for something to eat and you have nothing to feed them. I felt alarm when I looked through that lady’s kitchen, because I was thinking, surely I could make some pancakes or something easy for them to eat, but there was nothing, except a bottle of Cold Duck and a few packs of frozen venison, which I had no idea how old that was.

Along with urging people to stock up on food and basic supplies, it’s important to urge people to pay off debt and to not charge up more. Charging up supplies to prepare for an economic crisis is insane, but I expect that’s exactly how a lot of people are stocking up. And there will be the many preppers online blaring warnings about this shortage or that dire event and they’ll be telling you that you need all these expensive items to be prepared.

I’ll keep repeating, staying calm and thinking through situations should be at the top of your survival skill-training – especially living in a world filled with so much news media and social media noise bombarding us daily. Even though it’s important to stock-up basics, that doesn’t mean you should rush out and stock up every time there’s some warning about another item that will be in short supply or the price is skyrocketing.

Now more than ever, it’s important to focus, by thinking about the “big picture” of your financial footing and budget vs. the “little picture” of the latest breathless “crisis warning.” I fell for this when I first started watching online prepper videos and began doubting how I had been preparing for emergencies my entire life. I bought a lot of “must-have” prepper things in 2020, but then I started thinking that many of the online preppers are basically just prepper gear salespeople and I stopped reacting and started taking more time to think about purchases.

The worst thing to do is to get in the habit of jumping in the car and running to the store, every time you hear a new warning about specific shortages items or empty shelf warnings. That is a panic reaction and it will leave you mentally-exhausted, plus you’ll be wasting a lot of gas and money. I am trying to limit my grocery store spending, because I have stocked up a lot and I make a list. Some people online act like they’re on a mission to give shortage updates and video of empty store shelves constantly, but that’s not really useful information unless you shop at those stores and know more details about the shortage situation at that particular store.

You still have time to do some price comparisons and also many of the bigger chain stores have online purchasing and either pick-up or delivery options, so you can check the out-of-stock situation at your particular store online before going on mad dashes based on the latest social media rumor mill or some person on social media claiming to have “inside sources.”

I don’t have any “inside sources” and rely on news media, where I don’t really have a lot of trust in their reporting either. I’ve been trying to look through my home, especially my food storage and shopping there first.

I actually expect a lot of overstock situations of non-food items and even the more expensive food items, as inflation climbs and hits people’s pocketbooks harder. Non-essential spending will decrease, as more and more of our budgets will have to go toward essential items. A lot of people will be selling all sorts of stuff as the economy worsens, so waiting to purchase non-essentials might lead to some real bargains. Yes, that sounds opportunistic, but that’s the reality – I was alive in the late 1970s.

We’re heading into a serious economic crisis, so everyone should be looking carefully at their own finances and trying to batten down the hatches for the coming economic “hurricane” as the JP Chase CEO referred to it the other day. I think it makes more sense to pay off as much debt as you can, as quickly as you can. Focus on the basics first – food and water, keeping a roof over your head, making sure you can heat/cool your home. Everything beyond the basics is gravy. That’s the truth.

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Filed under Emergency Preparedness, General Interest

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