Over the last year or so, my wife and I have gotten into the "survivalist" shows. Learning how to survive in extreme situations and putting your body and mind to the ultimate test really shows some of the amazing things about the human spirit. The "will to survive" is something we are all born with, but rarely are we ever put in situations that require us to tap into that hidden strength. If you were going to put your skills to the test, and you were dropped off in the middle of a desert, what would you do first, second, and third? What would you look for to build a shelter? How do you build a fire? What can you use to carry water and what can you use to boil it? Where would you look for food, and how would you obtain it? How do you protect your body from the elements? Where are you traveling to in order to have the best chance for help? How would you signal for help once you got there?
These are not things that we have to think about on a normal basis. Most of us live within 10 or 15 minutes of a Chick-fil-a. The most we have to do to "fight" for food is wait in the drive-through line that's wrapped around the building. We live in a society where everything we need can be delivered to us within 48 hours. Compared to most countries, we all have it pretty good here in the U.S.
Back in February of 2021, one of the largest energy producing states in the U.S. lost water and power for days. How many Texans were prepared for that? There were stories of people sleeping in their cars, traveling to different states to rent hotel rooms, going to local parks to fill up water containers, and some even died from the elements. Most people were caught off-guard, and even some of those who felt like they had a "plan" if something like that were to occur, were struggling through that time as well.
There's a great quote from Mike Tyson - "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth" - that I think embodies this theory of "preparedness". No matter how prepared you think you are, when life happens, it's how you react that makes all the difference.
Just like in the examples above of surviving in an extreme situation, we have to be prepared to survive different extreme financial situations. Over the last year, many people were dealt those cards where they had to figure out how to survive when their finances took a turn for the worst. Back in April and May of 2020, the U.S. had one of the highest unemployment rates since World War II, and some believe even higher than the Great Depression1. How would you survive a job loss? What happens if that job loss lasts longer than you expected? How long could you go without an income? What could you do with your assets to produce an income?
During a health pandemic, many people faced challenges with their health, some even having to take time off of work for extended periods of time because they were sick or had family members sick. If you are not working, how do you still make sure your bills are paid? How do you generate income? Do you have a contingency plan for medical expenses or your health insurance deductible? How long can you go without income? What happens to your savings? Can you access your retirement accounts? How would dipping into retirement accounts affect your ability to retire one day?
These are just two simple examples of how people had to put their financial "will to survive" to the test within the last 12 months. I'm not here to talk about how to survive in the woods if you got stuck there for a period of time, but I do want to share a few ideas on how to become a financial survivalist. We need to build your finances so that you can survive as many of the potential "financial disasters" that people face every year.
In surviving the elements, you've probably heard about the three keys to survival - food, water, shelter. Well, in finance, there are also three keys to survival - protect, save, behave.
In order to build a prosperous financial future and achieve financial independence, we have to make sure we avoid financial failure along the way. If we think about our most precious financial resource, most people would agree that is their income. Their income provides all the resources for them to be able to spend, save, invest, and give throughout time. Income is our water supply. We may be able to go without water and income for a short period of time, but if that time drags on, the consequences become dire. So what are some of the events that can lead to financial failure?
- A job loss?
- Not saving enough/spending too much?
- Bad investment decisions?
- Unexpected medical bill?
- Home repairs?
- Caring for children and parents at the same time?
- More income subject to higher taxes?
- Getting sick and being unable to work?
- The death of a spouse or high family income earner?
- At the wrong end of a lawsuit?
If you just take a moment to reflect on your personal finances, how would each of these things impact your finances today and what you may be able to build for the future? What happens if two or three of these things happen back to back to back?
One of the tough things about planning is that you have to prepare for things you hope never happen. You have to make sure that your life will remain as close to normal regardless of the circumstances you are dealt each year. No one wakes up in the morning, hoping any of the items above will happen to them that day, yet we hear about these things happening to people all the time. Many of those things have happened to my wife and I within the last year. Fortunately we had planned for them, but that Mike Tyson quote from above is still relevant. We got punched in the mouth on three of those things within 6 months and it put us in a tough situation for awhile. We had to find our "will to survive" financially, and we did. It wasn't easy at every turn. There were some tough conversations that we needed to have, but ultimately we came out of things with a new perspective on life and appreciation for the important things.
One of the ways that we were able to weather some of those storms in our life last year was because we had always done a good job saving. As my clients know, I put a big focus on achieving certain savings goals. Everyone knows that they need to be saving money, yet often times people feel like they just aren't saving enough. I have a bias towards holding more money safe and liquid than others might, but that is just my personal preference. Some of my clients hold very little in a safe, liquid bucket, and have more of their money in risk-based assets. That is just their preference, and that is perfectly fine as long as they understand what the risks are in doing that.
Saving money is like our food source. Can you get by for a few months without saving? Sure. You could even go a full year without saving. As mentioned above, as long as you have income, that allows you to survive in the short-term. At some point though, we have to begin saving. We have to find food to replenish our bodies and give us the nutrients and calories so that we have energy to make progress. Saving money gives us the opportunity to turn one income stream into two, and two income streams into four. It provides us with a resource to make progress.
Financial behavior is another critical aspect to financial success. Oftentimes, it's our environment that shapes our decision-making and builds our habits. If those are good habits, that's great, but if those are bad habits, that can be devastating. Just like how we must find shelter to protect our bodies from the elements, we must build the right habits to protect us against our financial environment. The fact is, finances are one of the biggest stressors within someone's financial life, and can be one of the biggest reasons for a couple separating.
Who do you surround yourself with? What have they accomplished financially? Are you way ahead of them, or way behind? Do they have good financial habits, or do they stress about money? Do they build you up, or put you down? Do you share ideas freely with each other?
I'm not telling you to get new friends if the answers to those questions aren't what you like, but I am telling you to be careful who you receive advice from. Is it wise to take business advice from someone who has never owned a business?
You may not see the impact of the financial habits you build today until years, or decades, down the road. You don't want to look back and wish you had done something different, because in many cases that's the point in time when you realize it's too late. Start behaving today like the financially successful family or person you want to become tomorrow. Build those good habits early on, so when life gets more chaotic and complicated later on, you already have a foundation in place. It's not an easy task, but it can be done with the right environment and the right coaching.
Becoming a financial survivalist is something that everyone should strive to do. It's the foundation that your future is built upon, and it helps you accomplish the little things early on. Once that is built, then the fun begins!
Check out more of my resources on www.mblakemiller.com and schedule a meeting to learn more about what you can do to get to the next level.