Unless you’ve been living under a rock in Outer Mongolia you know that our government was shut down for over a month until just this last Friday. What that means is 800,000 Americans were either furloughed or forced to work WITHOUT pay for over a month! The stories were increasingly painful and we saw them on the news every day. Thousands of families are still scraping by on next to nothing because backpay will not be received until the end of this week most likely. If you are a federal contractor, tough cookies on that back pay. And this ain’t over folks. Trump has threatened to do it all over again in 3 weeks if he doesn’t get his wall money.
Selling personal items, going to food pantries and driving Uber are the popular stop-gap measures now. If you are a federal worker in this predicament, my heart goes out to you. I’ve been where you are financially, so I know how it feels. You can never really understand what this feels like until you’re looking down at the bills on your kitchen table trying to decide whether to eat, pay the utilities or the rent.
But as shocking as these scenes are, they should come as no surprise. Wake up America! A 2017 survey by Career Builder revealed that 78% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. What that means is 78% of our population (and even more when you add the people who count on them to provide) is just one paycheck away from disaster. They have NO savings whatsoever. In fact, USA Today reported as recently as last year that 40% of Americans don’t even have enough in savings to cover a $400 emergency! Yes folks, this is normal in America today. In my opinion, that’s the national emergency.
Here’s the thing that’s getting lost in the sauce though. While any employer, including the government, has an obligation to pay its workers for the work they do, emergencies like sickness, injury, house and auto repairs and job losses can and will happen. It is only a matter of when. That becomes your responsibility and yours alone to prepare for. Imagine how different this scenario would be for these federal workers if they all had 3-6 months of living expenses stashed away, no debt and other sources of income? Let that sink in for a moment.
It is possible for you though. Yes, you can take ownership and control over your life. You can choose to leave normal behind and become abnormal, ready to face life’s curveballs. And there are concrete steps you can take to shield yourselves from these inevitable storms. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of 5 action steps you need to take immediately to protect yourself and your family in the future. Or the next person standing on line at the food pantry could be YOU.
Actions Step #1- Build an Emergency Fund Now! I have written extensively on the need to have an emergency fund in the past. I’ve even given tips on how to build a $1,000 beginner emergency fund in a hurry here. Suffice to say, an emergency fund is that thing that keeps the wolf away from your door. Because when you don’t have one, Murphy will come and visit often. Sometimes it might seem that he even set up a bed in your home. $1,000 won’t catch every emergency, but I can say that it has caught all of ours including car repairs, furnace breakdowns and plumbing emergencies. In time you can bump that up to a fully-funded savings of 3-6 months, or more, of living expenses.
Action Step #2- Build Another Stream of Income. Everyone has heard the saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” When you rely on one source of income, that’s what you are in effect doing. Because when your boss decides he no longer needs your services, or your government decides it’s no longer going to pay you, you need a backup plan. The time is now to think about side hustles. Direct sales, selling real estate on the side, turning a hobby into a stream of income or starting a business are just a few choices for diversifying your income. Pick one, two or several. The more the better. When your bank account has multiple sources of income, when one dries up it’s not such a big deal.
Action Step #3- Get Out Of Debt. Nothing eats away at your ability to build wealth like carrying debt. And there has to be a correlation between the fact that so many Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck and the fact that debt levels continue to rise. Nerdwallet reported that in 2018 the average US household with credit card debt had a balance of $6,929. So, 40% of us don’t have cash to cover a $400 emergency but we continue to charge burgers, jeans and vacations at a rapid pace. This is insane. If you have $1,000 in income, but $200 of it goes out the door to pay debts, that’s $200 less you have to build your emergency fund, save for retirement or pay for monthly household expenses. The only way to stop that madness is to stop going into debt and set up a plan to pay it all off and become debt free. It’s not hard. Millions of Americans are doing it and living like no one else because of it. You can too. Just decide to change. Today.
Action Step #4- Get On a Written Budget. Oh no! I said the ‘B’ word! Most of us don’t like being told what to do. And most of us don’t like being told no. And that’s how most of us view a budget. It’s limiting, it takes away the fun, it’s hard to stick to. That’s what “normal” people think. And sadly, most people are wrong. Listen, a budget is all in how you view it. You can see it as a thing that limits your spending and takes your joy, or you can view it as a powerful tool for telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went. The truth is, if you have too much month at the end of your money, you need a budget. If you have no savings, you need a budget. And if you are scratching your head wondering where your money went before the next payday comes, you sure as heck need to get on a budget. Guess what? Millionaires use budgets, broke people don’t. What would you rather be?
Action Step #5- Take Ownership of Your Situation. So many of us have excuses for not doing well with managing our money. I don’t make enough. Taxes are too high. My parents didn’t teach me. I’m just not good with money. Blah, blah, blah. I recently heard something on the subject of excuses by retirement expert Chris Hogan. He said, “Excuses are lies dressed up as an explanation.” Nothing could be truer. Excuses are the lies we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better or look better to other people. But I’ve never seen a wealthy or successful person who got where they were by making excuses, putting the blame on someone else and half-stepping through life. It’s your life. Not your boss’, not your mom’s, not your spouse’s and darn sure not your government’s. So, own it! Be an ownership hero, not an excuse loving zero.
So, what would you rather be? Normal, living paycheck-to-paycheck? Or abnormal, financially fit and ready to live like no one else? Granted, these steps are not the cure-all for your financial problems. I’m not some pie-in-the-sky positive thinker. But they are intended as a good start. And no, it won’t be easy. But what in life that’s worth it ever is? If you want the easy life, it’s there for the taking. But be forewarned. It comes with money woes, food pantries and eviction notices. But if you choose to be different, if you dare to choose ownership, you can live like no one else. You can live a life of extraordinary accomplishment. All you have to do is decide that you want it. 4