I’m not an economist. I am a bit of a worrier, though. Plan for a train wreck, they say, and you’ll be ready for anything. Being prepared for tough economic times or a full-on recession is an exercise in self-reliant living. If times get really tough, knowing how to provide for ourselves is crucial. The next Great Depression might not be looming, but if we can learn to thrive on less, downturns will be easier to bear.
With the world in a bit of a turmoil these days, it seems that there’s a lot of worrying going on, and not just in my own head. Here’s the thing: I find that when I’m worried about something, being able to take positive, substantive action makes me feel like I’m a bit more in control. This is true when speaking about preparing for natural disasters. It’s true for dealing with medical issues. And it’s true when fretting about the economy.
Is a recession coming?
Did you know that the times between a recession — called an economic expansion — have never lasted more than a decade in the United States since they’ve been recorded? I did not know this until recently. (There’s a great chart here, though the article is a couple of years old.) We’re in an expansion period now, and have been for about seven and a half years. Whether current events cause us to decline quickly into a recession as this article suggests they will, or we stay the usual course, there’s a recession in our future. How drastic that recession will be is to be seen. I’m pondering “out loud” not to scare anyone, but rather to get us all thinking. I’m hoping that you’ll share your insights and suggestions in the comments below, so we can all learn from one another.
[As an aside: Within days of starting this post I learned of two families I know being hit by job loss. This is not to say ohmygoshwe’reallgonnadie! but to reiterate that we just never know what’s going to happen.]
Preparing for tough economic times
I started wondering about the people who survived the Great Depression. In hindsight, how would they have prepared themselves? If they had known what was coming, what would they have done differently? What did they wish for in the midst of their survival efforts? Maybe I’ve been reading too many apocalyptic novels, but these are questions that are concerning me lately.
These days, we’re so conditioned to jump in the car and run to the store whenever we need (or want!) something. What would our world look like if that couldn’t happen? What if we lost our jobs or our savings account disappeared? No money for fuel, no money for shopping, and then what? What if things were even more bleak and began looking more like the Great Depression?
Instead of worrying, let’s talk about making some changes to our daily lives that will benefit us in case of tough economic times.
Brainstorming how to survive (and thrive in) a recession
Economists will start by saying the best way to combat tough economic times is to get rid of debt. That’s a great plan, but sometimes it’s not always feasible. The reason people get into debt in the first place is that they don’t have that kind of money laying around. While I agree that getting rid of as much debt as you can is a good plan, I’ll leave that to the experts.
I want to talk about how we can set ourselves up to be as self-reliant as possible in situations that strain our resources. These are the items that I’ve come up with so far:
- Go camping. Some of you might laugh, but think about the last power outage you dealt with. There were the people who just took it in stride and there were the people who moaned about it until power was restored. I’d bet you a sandwich that the people who took it in stride had camping experience. Camping (and I’m not talking generator camping, here) teaches us to get by with less. Less water for washing dishes, less light in a day, less access to stores. It’s good practice for lean times.
- Learn to live without electric light. In a financial pinch, you’ll want to eliminate any excess expense, and lighting a home after dark is a luxury that isn’t so hard to cut out. Invest now in some good solar lanterns and you won’t have to do without light entirely. Think of it as mood lighting.
- Cook at home. Knowing how to cook simple meals from inexpensive ingredients will serve your bank account well now and help you stretch a meager food budget if you need to. Beans and rice are your friends. Embrace them. Invest in a pressure cooker if you can. It shortens cooking time, making home cooked meals more feasible for busy families. Another bonus? Tough (less expensive) meat becomes very tender when cooked under pressure.
- Stay warm. You can save on heating costs by turning the heat way down, but you’ll need a plan for staying warm, especially if you live in a really cold climate. Heavy clothing and blankets will serve you well. Another thing to think about is an alternative source of heat. A wood stove doesn’t require electricity or gas, but you’ll need to identify a source of firewood.
- Grow some food. In tough economic times every little bit helps, and being able to harvest some of your own food can cut costs. Even if you have no desire to maintain a seasonal garden, plant some fruit trees and perennial vegetables now. Fruit trees can take several years to provide a harvest, but here are a few fruit trees that produce more quickly. If you do want to dive in and start gardening, even on a small scale, there’s a lot of information here. And be sure to consider calories. A person can’t survive on lettuce alone!
- Pass on perfection. Shiny red apples are the norm these days, but it’s not reality. While the perfect apples go to market, the culls — the ones with scars and bruising — end up in applesauce or juice or vinegar. They’re not inedible; they just don’t pass the beauty test. Knowing how to use less-than-perfect food (limp carrots in soup, dried out bread as bread crumbs, fallen fruit) will save money and broaden our perception of what’s acceptable if “perfect” isn’t an option.
- Learn to forage. There’s an amazing amount of edible food growing in open spaces and parks and probably your backyard. Learn to identify the edible vegetation. Even if you’re not compelled to use it right now, that knowledge could be incredibly useful if you really need to stretch your food budget.
- Plan for menses. Ladies, this one’s for you. Personal hygiene products are expensive. When money gets tight, who wants to spend it on disposable items that cost a small fortune? Keep a menstrual cup on hand. You might hesitate to adopt this method while you have some disposable income available to you, but in a pinch you’ll be happy to have it.
- Earn extra cash. When pennies count, having a little extra income can help. During the Great Depression, women took in laundry or ironing. I can’t see that happening these days (who irons anymore?) but the idea is still sound and might help you get ahead. Houses these days are quite large. If you own your home, maybe converting an extra bedroom into a studio apartment makes sense? Offer your skills to people who can use them. Sell some of your garden abundance. Teach a class.
- Meet your neighbors. Take them a cake. Be nice. You never know when you’ll need help and they might be able to offer it. If you need to barter skills, trade abundance, or share tools, your neighbors are a great place to start.
- Learn some skills. If you’re one of those people who hires a professional when something breaks, it could get interesting very quickly if you no longer have cash to pay a trade person. Try tackling simple repairs yourself so you can learn some basic skills. Learn how to safely operate a drill or a saw on a fun project; if push comes to shove, you’ll be ahead of the game. Here’s a list of basic skills to tackle.
- Think about water. Of course this is a “bleak situation” concern, but what if water stopped flowing from your tap? Do you know where there’s a natural spring? Can you set up a catchment system?
- Keep some cash on hand. During the Great Depression, many people were shut out of their banks, unable to access their money. They had it, but they couldn’t get it. If we dive into really tough economic times, having access to cash can provide some breathing room.
- Build up emergency supplies. Invest a little bit of money each week in building up your pantry. If money gets tight, you’ll appreciate having some back up food on hand.