In 2007 a cousin of mine bought a five bedroom house on a half acre out on the far edge of the metroplex. It was her dream. It was her husband’s dream. I knew their economic situation so before they bought the place I sat down with them and expressed my concerns. The house was way too expensive. The numbers didn’t add up. They were clearly irritated with me. Didn’t I believe in them? Didn’t I want them to be happy? Why did I have to rain on their parade? You know how that ended, right? They came out the other side of the 2008 crash much worse for wear and they still haven’t recovered. They’re well in to middle age now and it’s unlikely they’ll ever get back most of what they once had.
How do you live a resilient life? I’m not talking about the kind of resilience associated with Doomsday Preppers or fundamentalists awaiting the Apocalypse. I mean, how exactly do you live a normal mainstream life in a way that also happens to allow you to ride out an unexpected storm – be it natural, economic, medical, or political?
Here are a few basic guidelines.
1. Leverage is not your friend.
Debt is the process of pulling consumption forward at the expense of future freedom. It’s a form of voluntary servitude. And remember, most of the big items we buy on loan come with all sorts of ongoing obligations (insurance, maintenance, utilities, taxes, fuel) in addition to the debt service itself.
2. Have reserves on hand.
Living hand-to-mouth is no fun. I’ve been there and it’s demoralizing. Having reserves provides a cushion that allows you to coast for a while in between more prosperous times. Keep a deep pantry of shelf stable foods that will let you live for many months without taking too many trips to the grocery store. Keep some extra money on hand so you can pay your bills if your income should diminish or expenses spike for any reason. This will be easier if you’re carrying very little debt.
3. Practice multiple redundancy.
Think about alternative ways of continuing your current set of arrangements if external circumstances wobble beyond your control. If you lose your job do you have some other means of earning an income that you could fall back on quickly? Could you carpool, take a bus, walk, or ride a bike to all your essential daily destinations if you really had to? If the power went out could you somehow keep the house warm, operate a few lights, and still put dinner on the table without utilities?
4. Keep it simple.
Modern society has a strong bias for complex and expensive solutions for everything. Simpler cheaper options are always better. Grow a veggie garden. Plant some fruit trees. Add insulation to your home.
5. Have a Plan B.
Don’t assume everything will go exactly to plan. It’s great to have dreams and to strive towards them. But understand that reality has dictates of its own. Have a backup plan for how you’ll live a good life anyway even if Plan A falls apart.
6. Family and community are incredibly important.
Your personal connections are your greatest asset in life. This doesn’t necessarily need to be your blood relatives. But you need people around you who you care about and who care about you in a deep and durable way. Get to know your neighbors. Make friends. Reach out to the people around you and cultivate community for good times and bad.
7. Be open to other perspectives.
My goals and priorities have remained constant for decades. But I’m always exploring different ways to achieve my particular objectives. Mix it up a bit. I’ve found my best role models and practical solutions from unexpected sources well outside my usual comfortable group.
8. Have fun.
If whatever you’re doing feels like drudgery than you aren’t going to keep doing it for very long. And you may not have anyone there doing it with you. If it isn’t a genuine pleasure you need to stop and work out a new plan.
(Top photo by Benjamin Combs)