As the saying goes, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."
The recent government shutdown forced many people to reevaluate their financial situations. Whether you were someone whose pay check stopped coming or you heard the difficult stories of other people struggling to make ends meet, it has been an eye-opening experience all around. We'd be smart to take away some lessons and apply them to our own lives.
1. No job is permanent.Even government employees, who consider their jobs to be among the most stable, discovered this the hard way. You never know what can happen, so it's best to be prepared for the worst. Says Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar, "You should always take steps to ensure that your life remains secure even if the next pay check doesn’t arrive."
2. You need an emergency fund.
You should have at minimum one month's worth of living expenses in a savings account at any given time. Build this up by having it automatically deducted from your pay check and being diligent about regular saving. If you have a working partner, set up your joint lifestyle so that you can live off one salary, while the other is saved aggressively. Avoid having to use a credit card to support yourself in emergencies, as these have notoriously high interest rates.
3. Stop spending on superfluous things.
Hamm points out that, if you struggle to amass an emergency fund, you're living beyond your means and need to answer some tough questions: "If you don’t want to eventually suffer a financial meltdown, you have to change something significant about either your income or your spending – or both."
Erin Turingan, writing for The Financial Diet, says almost losing her job in the healthcare field forced her to confront bad spending habits:
"Living in New York City and in the first year of my student loan repayments does not leave me with very much disposable income, yet I still manage to eat out too much, use Amazon Prime late at night, and 'treat myself' to post-work happy hours. When there was the slightest chance I may not have a job, I immediately became acutely aware of my current level of frivolous spending."
4. Always be improving yourself professionally.
Unless you're in a perfect dream job (and in that case should be trying to make yourself as indispensable to your employer as possible), don't hesitate to climb the career ladder and use your current position as a springboard to advancements. Keep your resume dusted off; Hamm recommends updating it monthly. Work on cultivating your professional network. Focus on improving your marketability and skill sets.
5. Keep a 'hobby job' on the side.
The trendy term these days is 'side hustle' or you could think of it as diversification of sorts. This is a secondary source of income that takes some of the pressure off the primary one and has potential to grow, should you put the time and effort into it. This could be anything – music gigs, yoga instruction, child care, hiking guide, cooking for others, personal training... you name it.
Mark Avallone wrote in Forbes, "If you are already working a 40-hour week, working more doesn’t exactly sound like fun. But if you can combine a personal passion with earning extra income it may actually be enjoyable."
The most valuable takeaway is that upheaval can happen to anyone, when you least expect it; and being strategic about your money now could save a whole lot of difficulty down the road.