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Preparing for Hard Times

David Spero

October 22, 2008

I’m proud of my 31-year old son. He’s kept in touch with his high school friends. For the last two weeks, he’s been inviting them to a meeting to prepare for what the economic and social future holds. A whole bunch of them came to talk about sharing resources—who owns land, who has money, who has skills, who has knowledge that could help in a depression or a breakdown of social order.

I don’t know if everyone needs to go that far. But it seems tougher times are coming, and most of us are having a hard time as it is. Especially for those of us with health problems, it makes sense to prepare.

Prepare for What?
Nobody knows what’s happening with the economy, but we know the U.S. (and, to a lesser extent, Canada, Australia, and Europe) has been living beyond its means for some time. The U.S. government owes $10,000,000,000,000 (That’s $10 trillion. I thought all the zeroes looked cooler than the word.) Mortgage debt is at least $7 trillion, and U.S. consumer credit card debt is over $1 trillion and rising. And U.S. corporate debt is nearing $3 trillion, with over 13% of those loans described as “problematic,” according to the Federal Reserve.

Much (not all) of the government debt has come from trying to run a military empire on borrowed money. No one has ever tried to start wars and cut taxes at the same time before, and it doesn’t seem to work.

The consumer debt has come from living in a culture that promotes “buy, buy, buy,” while not paying workers enough to purchase what they see on the ads, then handing them credit cards with huge interest rates. What this means is that most of us are going to get poorer in the coming years. But we don’t know if this will take the form of a depression, inflation, or both.

What Can You Do?
Set priorities. Food and shelter come first. Find cheaper places to find healthy food (like farmers’ markets). Grow some of your own (good exercise.) Shop smart in restaurants. One idea is to use fast food’s marketing strategies against them. Go to a fast food place, super-size the sandwiches and potatoes, and split them two or three ways. (Not the sodas—bring your own water or juice instead.) It’s also OK to register with a food bank and volunteer there. There’s no shame; it’s a chance to help others and help yourself at the same time.

Housing. As we speak, tent cities are going up across the U.S. because so many have lost their homes. If making mortgage payments or paying rent is a problem, you might want to share space by taking in a roommate or two, perhaps a family member, a friend, a student, or someone who might become a friend. My wife and I have done that for the past year, and it’s been great.

Medicines. You probably already know about asking for generic drugs, or about being prescribed a double dose and cutting it in half. You may not know about getting drugs for free from manufacturers. Most drugmakers have such programs, although some make it easier to qualify than others.

Some pharmacies are cheaper than others, too. Costco and Wal-Mart tend to be much cheaper than Walgreens or RiteAid. Even cheaper might be to buy online, possibly from Canada or India. It has been cheaper for me, at least. Of course, if you can hook up with Medicare (by going on disability or growing old), Part D makes most drugs quite affordable.

Getting Together
I think that the most important strategy for surviving hard times is to get together with other people, as my son is doing. For example, carpooling/ride-sharing saves a lot of money and helps the environment. Getting together with others for meals shares the work of cooking and saves money on food. Joining with others will also reduce your stress and maybe even lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, as I shared in my book Diabetes: Sugar-coated Crisis.

It is even possible that hard times can be good for some people’s health. this New York Times article reports research showing people get more exercise and spend more time with their families when money is tight, leading to better health outcomes.

Who knows? If things get bad enough, we might need to join with friends and neighbors to fight for our rights or to defend ourselves.

This is just for starters. What ideas have you heard or tried for saving money or coping with hard times? Share them with us by commenting here.



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