Life changing personal disasters come in all sizes and forms – it doesn’t have to be the collapse of our country’s economy, a war, or a solar flare that knocks out the power grid. The Great Depression was a huge shift event that affected nearly the entire world. 2007 to 2012, and for a lot of us is still going on, has been referred to as the Great Recession.
But look at the shift events in our personal lives – job loss, divorce, death of a loved one, a major illness. A week long power outage, the water coming out of your faucet is unusable, a tornado rips apart your town, these are all shift events. Your ability to create a personal disaster recovery plan and your attitude during these events often determines how you get through them or even if you get through them.
Just recently we had a local man commit suicide. He had been through divorce, but the children chose to stay with him and they were very close. A farmer, he lost most of his land in the divorce. He started a trucking business just as the Great Recession started, but that failed too. He was well respected in the community having been a First Responder and Volunteer Fireman, and was from a very large, close knit family and had many friends.
Lord only knows what all was happening in his life the fateful morning he called a close friend and told him what he was going to do and to please find him before the kids did and hung up. The friend raced over to stop him, but it was too late. The man apparently felt the only option of leaving something for his children was to commit suicide, so that they would have an inheritance. The children, barely of legal age would have preferred to have their father than the money. And this is not an unusual story in the Midwest farm families where the farm has been in the family for generations.
So, attitude during a personal disaster is, to my mind, paramount. If you are in a personal disaster, what can you do? I would like you to think about the kind of person you would like to have beside you going through… A night without electricity? Three days without heat in the winter? A week with no electricity or other services and no way to leave – think of a tornado that has devastated your town? A month without income? A 3 month totally debilitating car accident? Six months of one thing after the other going wrong – engine blows on the car, break a leg, lose your job, etc. all one on top of the other? A year of unemployment and prospect of never getting a truly good paying job again? Total disability and you are now on a fixed income for the rest of your life that is barely subsistence level? The loss of a child?
Pretty gut wrenching scenarios, aren’t they? We may not go through all of these in our lives, but I personally know individuals who has gone through circumstances like this. But the question was: “Think about the kind of person you would like to have beside you going through…?”
Everyone’s answer is going to be different here, so I will just give you my answers. I would like a partner who has a positive attitude, can keep a sense of humor during tough times, be caring, compassionate, work as a team to get through things, and be there to the end.
I know, big lofty ideals, but how does that look in practice?
- A night without electricity? Hey, let’s have a campfire or dine by candlelight and play games or cards. Maybe go out and see if we can spot the different constellations in the stars.
- Three days without heat in the winter? Let’s camp in the living room under a plastic tent, bring in the solar lights in the yard, hook up the Mr. Heater Big Buddy camping heater and test our preps!
- A week with no electricity or other services and no way to leave – think of a tornado that has devastated your town? Time to camp and see what we can do to help others who are in worse shape than we are.
- A month without income? Hey, honey, why don’t we use this time to see how little we can get by on?
- A 3 month totally debilitating car accident? I love you, I care about you, we’ll get through it, and I will take care of everything else, get you back and forth to the doctor and we will be okay.
- Six months of one thing after the other going wrong – engine blows on the car, break a leg, lose your job, etc. all one on top of the other? This happens… And at some point all you can do is smile and say, “This too will pass.” And make the best of it.
- A year of unemployment and prospect of never getting a truly good paying job again? Maybe we need to totally reevaluate our lives and look at other alternatives in jobs, careers, self-employment, where to live, how to live, and other means of financial survival.
- Total disability and you are now on a fixed income for the rest of your life that is barely subsistence level/retirement? I now have time. And if I’m very careful I can survive. But what can I do to feel useful and fulfilled? What can I do to bring happiness to others?
- The loss of a child? Devastating to any parent and often breaks up a marriage. X is no longer here, but you are and the other children are. We can honor X by, and know that our time with each other is finite and we need to be as good as we can to one another every single day.
- The next question is, can YOU be that person? No expectation of perfection here, but can you meet most challenges with a positive attitude, keep a sense of humor about the situation, and be capable enough to make the cuts, change the course, and look for new options?
Attitude in a crisis situation is often the defining factor between those who survive and thrive and those who don’t. Our attitudes is something we all have control over.
How to Overcome Personal Financial Disasters
In my humble opinion, this is what it’s all about – dealing with shift situations. So, whatever it is, job loss, illness, retirement, natural disaster, it means cutting back. And my hope is that YOU will help me fill this out a bit in the comments. So, let’s take job loss as we’ve all been through that situation at one time or another, and it can go from bad to catastrophic very quickly.
You will find another job and this is a temporary cut back situation. Make the best of it and use this time to re-evaluate your skills, aptitudes and desires. Live in FAITH not FEAR – Pray for knowledge of God’s will for you and the power to carry that out. Now it is time for you to be good to yourself and your family and friends.
Let everyone know you are actively seeking employment in an upbeat way. Doom, gloom and fear will actually keep you from getting a job offer. Spend at least three hours a day, every day, looking for work, preferably before you ever lose your job.
Perhaps it is going back to school, but for most older folks that is not a viable option if we are thinking about 2-4 years of schooling, debt, and only working in that field less than 10 years before retirement. However there are a number of short schooling options, often as little as 9 weeks, that could set you on a new career path. Examples would include nurses’ aid training and home health care, or even a tax course for seasonal work. These are also wonderful options for additional income after retirement.
Yes, you can volunteer in hope of getting a job, but there are money making opportunities out there that are classed as volunteer activities and will not be reflected as income. Around here we have a state agency that reimburses people to drive other people to doctor’s appointments. It reimburses anywhere from 55 cents a mile to a dollar a mile. I know one gentleman who makes almost $1,500 a month doing this and he expenses the mileage on his car, car repair bills, etc. for this volunteer work. And we have people who slap a $15 magnetic sign on their car and charge $1 a mile to haul the Amish and others around. And I think Meals on Wheels reimburses mileage for delivery.
Working Off the Books
For cash you can
- clean houses,
- mow lawns,
- shovel sidewalks and roofs,
- plant flowers and
- do handyman jobs
- You can babysit neighbors’ children and even your own grand kids.
- Or going to other parent’s homes as an on-call or regular nanny?
- You can make salable crafts or sell at the local farmers’ market your extra produce. Do you have a sumptuous pie or lasagna recipe? People pay for food they don’t have to make or delivered food.
- What about a skill? Do you can or landscape or paint portraits? Consider teaching a class and charging fees to share your knowledge.
- Relief milking is a popular side job in farm country as is cleaning out fence rows, taking down and putting up fences, and driving tractors during spring planting and fall harvest.
What are the needs in your community and remember that if you are working for cash you can work for half the money you would if you have to report it. Just beware of the dreaded 1099 form where someone is keeping track of the cash they are paying you and using it as a deduction.
Besides looking for work, this may be just the time to start thinking about creating yourself a job. After 50 it becomes harder to get a decent job with benefits. Yes, there are various programs out there to help, but employers often misuse them and you are out of a job in six months after you were hired.
What skills do you have? If you are good with computers, you can actually set yourself up a little business fixing other peoples’ computers from your home or remotely. Do you know how to program those darn smart TVs? That is a skill that people will pay for – I would if I could find someone! What about in-home pet boarding? Or contact your local vet and offer convalescent care for pets that don’t need vet care anymore, but do need all day watchfulness. Or how about shopping? If you go to the grocery store once or twice a month you could take someone elses list, add 20% or 30% and do their shopping for them.
All you need are some business cards that you can print off your computer or purchase inexpensively, under $20, from Vista Print. Perhaps you do J&J Enterprises and just list a whole bunch of stuff you are willing to and capable of doing, and start networking with anyone and everyone! Church, friends, give the convenient store clerk a card, and the person who is checking you out at the grocery store – word will get around.
AmeriCorps & the Peace Corps
These may well be viable options for you if you have the health and ability to travel. And with AmeriCorps, you may not even have to travel. There are opportunities from working on a communal farm with people who are disabled, for any number of reasons, to reading to children in your local school, and there is even a FEMA division of AmeriCorps helping with national disasters. These programs are becoming increasingly popular with seniors as they provide a stipend to live on, travel opportunities, and a way that you can put all of that life experience to use. Just another option to check out.
Whether you are between jobs, disabled or retired there are potential grants out there for a wealth of programs. You may be able to write yourself a grant in conjunction with a non-profit for a job that you would love to work for! My job for 5 years as a Sustainable Farmers coordinator was grant funded. Write the grant to get and maintain your job. Right now I am writing a grant to fund an art project I would like to try my hand it. Will I get it? I don’t know but I have the time to write it and have lost nothing if I don’t get it and can always reapply the next round.
Around here the first thing that always gets cut is the groceries, then any unnecessary trips in the car, then any unnecessary electricity use, then the TV cable, then the thermostat goes down and down and down, sometimes all the way to 40 degrees which is its lowest setting. And any “unnecessary” bills don’t get paid – can’t get blood from a turnip is the old saying. But how far can you cut expenses?
To a large degree this is dependent on your family. Just before Bob and I got divorced there was absolutely no way he could live without ESPN, meat at every meal, and the heater cranked up to 85 degrees in the bathroom for his shower. We split up and on his own he didn’t even bother to get cable TV, ate a lot of meatless spaghetti and goulash, and kept his house trailer thermostat at 60 degrees and didn’t have a space heater for the bathroom – hmmm… When HE had to pay for everything he chose not to. He is now back in the lap of luxury, but it taught me a valuable lessen. He doesn’t make the decisions about what gets cut, I do.
Groceries are the first thing cut and I have an adequate pantry to tide us by. If he wants meat, then he brings it home. And when the kids were young and there was no man around, I had no problem harvesting and cutting up that freshly killed deer outside my door by the road. Flavorful and attractive meatless meals and soups are your friends along with inexpensive and abundant eggs. You may even want to experiment with becoming a vegetarian. It’s all about attitude.
TV goes. Hopefully you can still get your local channels. If not there are DVDs and YouTube. I raised my children to the age of 14 without TV. After a couple of weeks of getting accustomed to being without it, you may never want to go back to 220 channels with nothing to watch. Quiet evenings playing games, doing puzzles, writing, sewing, and doing art, or playing cards with friends can be so much more enjoyable than another night of mass programmed TV.
Telephone in this day and age can be very controlled just by purchasing a $10 trac phone and paying by the minute for necessary calls. Maybe you really do need that fancy internet phone or it is the only access you have to internet, but look around for different plans as they are quickly coming down in cost.
Internet is now available FREE at most libraries and if you have a laptop computer you can often pick it up near cafes and schools. Another option, if you live in a town or suburban area, is to check for local networks. If you can figure out who has a WIFI network you can tap into, offer to pay half their internet bill for access or trade them for access to their WIFI.
Electricity has a lot of phantom use. When the TV is off it is still using almost 40% of its power usage to stay on the ready setting. Unplug everything you can even if you don’t think it is using power. That spare TV that you only use once a day or for the toaster, and other kitchen appliances, consider investing in a power strip that you can simply flip the switch and turn off – $5 this month could save you $60 over the next year.
Need to cut more? Consider going down to the breaker box and turning off entire rooms. Do NOT use your drier, air dry your clothes. Cut your washing down to once or twice a month by hand washing underwear and stockings in the sink. Bring in solar yard lights that recharge during the day for ambient lighting at night. Use candles and oil lamps. The refrigerator is one of your biggest energy users and you probably aren’t using it all. Get a dorm fridge and pull the plug on the big beast until times are better. If your freezer isn’t full, can what is in it and unplug it. Need to cut more? Leave only the breaker to your furnace and bathrooms on.
Need to cut even more? Try out your survival skills and preps and throw the whole house breaker off. Much easier to do during the summer. Spend a month or three like this and invest in some used solar panels, a marine battery or two, and an inverter. Look around for used or inexpensive 12v ovens, refrigerator/freezers (or propane units), coolers, fans, and heaters. Check out camping supplies and truck stops for these items and you will be prepared for almost anything, use 1/3 the electricity you did before and appreciate it immensely.
I knew a family with teens who’s father lost his job and rather than lose the house he shut off the electric and everything that went with it for six months. They hauled their laundry to town and water back home. They bathed at the local state park showers and did hand baths in between. Dug a pit and built an outhouse. Mom cooked on the grill and food was kept in coolers. They kept the house and when dad got a job, EVERYONE appreciated the electricity coming back on again. But they survived and grew closer as a family because they knew what they were sacrificing for. And yes, I have lived without electricity, no TV, no running water, no central heat, and only had a grill to cook on – so it can be done.
And if worse comes to worse with the bills, bankruptcy no longer wipes the slate clean with bills, but you can often DIY bankruptcy, keep your home and an older car and get solvent again.
Spare Bedroom – That spare bedroom or upstairs or basement can be rented out for a week or a month or longer to a friend, a relative, or an acquaintance without the hassle of applying for rental property.
Spare Garage – The garage or a spare garage can often be rented out for classic car storage or motorcycle storage.
Space to Park Campers – Do you have enough space in the backyard or driveway to rent out storage area for campers or RVs?
Foster Parents – If you like kids, or at least can tolerate them, be good to them, and pass a background check, being a foster parent can be rewarding and provide extra income and company.
Utilizing and Evaluating your Preps – Hard times are when you really need your preps and can evaluate how well you have prepared. How is your preparedness pantry actually holding up compared to how you think it would do? Need more spices? Not enough canned fruit? Have enough bean recipes so that you just don’t want to throw up if you see another pinto bean? How about TP, shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste? Are you aware that common household items like baking soda can be used as deodorant and toothpaste if you run out? Or you may even prefer them.
Can you keep yourself healthy without going to the doctor or the dentist? Have enough reference material on natural remedies, gardening, and wild edibles? Are you gardening and canning? No space? Consider a community garden space, these are available in almost all towns and cities now.
Are you using the knowledge you have gained from reading and researching about preparedness? Are you using your inexpensive emergency blankets on the windows to block heat and keep your house cooler? Or turn them around shiny side inside and reflect the heat back inside?
If it is summer have you made a solar cooker and used it? Have you made a brick rocket stove and used it to cook instead of turning on the burner to your stove? Are you using your alternative heat source and how is it working? Are you bringing the solar yard lights in at night? Have you washed and rinsed your clothes in five gallon buckets with a plunger? Are you eating survival soups? Are you walking or riding your bicycle more places? Are you recharging your batteries with a small solar array – many solar lights use AA batteries and can recharge them.
Those guns you had to have can be sold for cash pretty easily as well as the ammo. They actually make a tremendous investment bought right. Which leads me too…
Sell STUFF – We all have “stuff” we don’t need. Garage sales and Craigslist are virtually free options to get rid of stuff you aren’t using or don’t absolutely need and bring in some much needed dollars. I’ve known people who have made a living going to garage sales and auctions and reselling what they have found. Teach yourself how to sell on eBay and charge others a commission for selling their stuff on eBay.
Swallowing Your Pride – Those tax dollars the government has been taking all of these years, well, it may be time to get some of that back in the way of food assistance (the food stamp card and food shelves), heating assistance and whatever else you can find to help you through these rough times. It seems like plenty of people use them that don’t necessarily need them, might as well belly up to the trough when you need the help – you’ve already paid for it!
Worst Case Scenarios – Oh Lordy, it can happen. You can find yourself homeless. It doesn’t take too many missed mortgage payments to be foreclosed on and now what do you do? AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps now look like good options.
But if you know that this is a possibility, for the cost of a few mortgage payments or less, you can purchase a camping trailer and own a home on wheels. Yes, people can live in RVs and camping trailers even in Minnesota in the winter. Often a relative or friend will allow you to park it in their backyard and hook onto their electric in exchange for help around their place mowing grass, shoveling snow or whatever.
And if you have really done your prepping and outfitted yourself with a 12v solar system you don’t even need their electricity, just a place to park your camper. Yes, you may have to go elsewhere to shower in the winter and do your laundry, you may have to haul water and haul out waste, but it is better than being homeless.