You might be ready to survive for weeks in the bush, but are you prepared to survive an emergency financial situation? Even if things are great now, and you’re feeling confident on your hike or hunt – or in your finances – what if the weather turns for the worse, you get lost, or sustain a serious injury? Are you ready? Really?
If you are experiencing financial stress, “living on the edge” already, or worried about the future, then this “how to” boot camp is for you. Here we’ll cover 10 concrete steps you can take, along with tons of tools & techniques you’ll need to not only survive, but thrive in the financial jungle. (Or desert, if you’re really short on cash.)
Related Article: How Ready Are You? Take Our Financial Survival Quiz
Overview: 10-Step Boot Camp
Step 1: Develop A Survival Mindset and Skills Step 2: Quickly Assess Your Situation Step 3: Apply First Aid and Medical Triage Step 4: Ensure Your Water Source (Income) Is Safe Step 5: Make An Emergency Shelter (Fund) Step 6: Conserve Your Energy and Food Step 7: Build A Fire & Invest Your Money For A Return Step 8: Stay Put Step 9: Wait Out The Storm Until All Is Clear Step 10: Constantly Learn & Prepare Well For Your Next Trip
Step 1: Develop A Survival Mindset and Skills
Survival isn’t something you wing in the moment (unlike in the movies). Survival is something you prepare for, think about, train for, accumulate the right skills and gear, and are always improving yourself. A survival mindset means being able to keep up adaptable traits even under severe duress: creativity, awareness, intuition, initiative, problem solving, optimism, communication,and leadership.
The exact same thing goes for basic financial survival and financial success, mindset is extremely important. If you want to get to where you want to be, financially, you’ll need to acquire the mindset, skills and tools needed for success. Optimism combined with realism, focus on the future, keeping your priorities in perspective. Always strive – even become obsessed with – improving yourself to be successful. And be ready for financial storms as they will happen – the weather is not sunny 100% in the world of personal finance any more than during your outdoor adventure trips. This is the mindset of a survivor.
Step 2: Quickly Assess Your Situation
When you are in an emergency situation, the most important thing to use is your head, and not panic. The last thing you want to do is make things worse – which is easy to do when the situation is already sliding downhill. Your job is to arrest the fall, so to speak, and get things back on a positive track. habit.
UCSF School of Medicine
First, assess yourself. Are you injured in any way (even a small cut) that warrants immediate treatment, so it doesn’t get worse and compromise you further? Next assess members of your party, natural leader that you are. Are others injured, or hypothermic, or in shock? Does anyone need urgent professional medical care?
What supplies, gear, clothing, water, food, and shelter do you have on hand, and what condition are they in? Who has how much energy and their wits about them, to assist with the well being of the group?
PRO TIP: Assess not only the current status, but also anticipate where the situation is going so you can figure out the best strategies possible. How much time before dark? Will it get colder and darker faster (e.g. on north side of a ridge) even if sunny and warm now? What if the weather turns for the worse – are you prepared? Realistically, what’s the soonest a rescue party could reach you?
Just like sizing up your situation in the wild, you’ll want to assess your financial situation before making any moves. You can do this quickly, it doesn’t have to be a huge exercise. Are you in a strong position, with a solid credit rating, money saved and
invested? Or, are you swimming in debt that you can’t pay back, barely hanging on to financial survival? Do you need urgent professional assistance to get back on track?
Here are the steps to get the pulse of your financial situation: • Assess Your Assets & Debts (Try our Worksheet). So you have the terms, your total Assets minus total Debts is called your Net Worth. In the financial world this assessment is called a Balance Sheet.
• Know your Credit Rating. There are many services that will sell you your credit rating and report, but for a quick read check and see if your credit card or bank provides it free of charge which many do – at least your credit rating if not your full report.
• Assess Your Income vs. Expenses (Try our Worksheet). This is important to understand your cash flow, and whether you are running at a surplus (called Disposable Income – what’s left to spend after things you can’t avoid such as housing, food, transportation) or a deficit.
PRO TIP: Assess not only your current financial state, but also forecast a bit ahead so you can anticipate your best strategies. Are you saving fast enough to meet your next goal? Are you depleting your credit or savings? How much time until you run out? Any big life changes on the horizon? If so are you prepared?
Step 3: Apply First Aid and Medical Triage
If you or anyone in your party is injured, even slightly, take care of it
immediately. Even a small cut can become infected, tapping your body’s strength and compromising your ability to survive. Stabilizing a major injury might seem obvious, but know your skills well beforehand. A backcountry medical class will serve you forever. Always carry a recently
stocked backcountry first aid kit and medical booklet with you. Even someone with a major injury such as a broken leg, if well tended to, can contribute to problem solving and the group’s overall prospects. Check out this great article 6 Reasons Wilderness First Aid Is For Everyone, by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).
Likewise, treat your financial injuries as soon as possible. Doing so will not only stem the financial bleeding, it’ll set you up for a better credit rating and financial future. Just like a real injury, you’ll find it very hard to take other financial steps until you’ve treated your injuries. Immediate financial first aid actions to apply:
• Stop using of high interest rate (over 10-12%) credit cards, cut them up if you have to, and pay off or at least pay down the
balance. Same thing for credit lines and other high interest accounts. Yes we mean cold turkey stock -this will help reduce paying money to others that you should keep for yourself.
• As a little motivation consider this – if you carry only $5,000 in credit card debt at a high 20% rate, for example, that’s $1,000 in interest a year! Wouldn’t you rather have some nice new gear that you could purchase with those same dollars?
Transfer your balance to a 0% on balance transfer credit card to save money and pay it off faster. Just be sure to know the terms – most of these transfers cost 3-4% right up front. But if you pay it down before the deadline, you’ve saved whatever your current interest rate is less the upfront fees. Just be sure you know the timeframe, as the new card will have a higher interest rate kick in after the 0% offer expires. And, the 0% is usually only applicable to the balance transfer, not to new purchases.
Check your bank fees, and make sure you’re not incurring frequent Non-Sufficient Fund (NSF) or other fees or charges you may not be aware of. These can add up!
Take the top 3 actions suggested in your credit report.
• Consider a debt consolidation loan to reduce your interest and pay it off faster.
• Seek credit counseling and work with a debt reduction agency.
Step 4: Ensure Your Water Source (Income) Is Safe
After medical treatment, water is your # 1 if you have a limited supply. You can live weeks without food, but only several days without water (especially under stress). It’s also important to know your water source before making shelter, so you don’t build a shelter too far from your water source which would needlessly waste your energy.
Of course, you need to ensure a pure water source – preferably already pure and not stagnant, such as directly from an underground spring or well above the tree line. Mostly likely you’ll need to find purify it – boil, treat, or micro-filter your water to avoid illness causing parasites such as giardia or bacteria.
In the wild, you’ll go down quickly if you drink contaminated water. Giardia for example, present in most water sources worldwide, will not only give you nausea, fatigue, stomach cramps and gas, but can quickly lead to dehydration from severe diarrhea. This will quickly put you into a tailspin emergency, if you’re not already in one. You won’t be in a position to do anything else – build your shelter, find food, etc. Instead, you’ll immediately be put in a compromised, defensive position.
The financial equivalent of a safe, clean water source is securing your income, even increasing it. Your income is literally your financial life blood. If you don’t have sufficient income to cover your expenses, it’s great to talk about saving and investing, but you won’t make it very far.
You’ll want to be able to save, invest, and enjoy your money more like we discuss below. If you don’t have sufficient income, and at the same time spend too much, you’ll continually wade through the proverbial swamp and have a hard time getting onto dry land to really enjoy the benefits of a strong financial position. Here are ways you can increase your income:
Kick it up a notch at work, demonstrate your dedication, increase your skill level, ask to take on new responsibilities, rotate to try a new job and become more valuable. • Ask for a raise at work, even a promotion if things are going well Take on a side gig or 2nd job • Change jobs to increase your wages or salary
Step 5: Make An Emergency Shelter (Fund)
Making any old shelter like a lean-to might seem easy, right? Think again! As any survival expert will tell you, making a really good, weather-proof, durable, warm shelter that’s not too hard and doesn’t tap your energy too much will take training and patience. The shelter will be your most important survival tool – you can survive without food for a while, but insufficient shelter will leave you not
PRO TIP: Even if you have a great tarp, rope, and hatchet or saw to cut saplings and make a sturdy shelter, don’t forget to use lots of leafy branches and vegetation if it can be easily acquired. Leaves or needles on branches – whether alive or dead – make great insulating bedding below you, camouflage around you, or insulation and water-shedding above you.
only unprepared for the incoming rain or snow-storm, but also worsen your prospects (shorten your lifespan) considerably. Be sure to know how to make a shelter well, and know specific designs for different situations, lengths of stay and effort to build: including lean-to, yurt-style, platform, tepee, igloo, or even a small cabin design.
The financial equivalent to making a shelter, is saving for a rainy day – building an emergency fund.
PRO TIP: Financial pros recommend stashing away about 6 months of expenses. Think of it as your financial emergency shelter. This gives you not only enough to weather finding a new job if needed, for example, but also peace of mind that you have something to fall back on if your vehicle is totaled, medical, big home repairs, or other emergencies.
Survivalists think constantly about how much energy they are expending relative to how much food they have. Calories consumed must meet calories expended – or at least calories spent must be minimized if rations are dwindling while your stay in the wild gets longer.
If you were thinking ahead, you packed lightweight contingency rations that are needed for just this kind of situation. If you didn’t, you are kicking yourself because you knew better, and now you’re playing defense instead of offense.
Either way, you must ration your available food for the timeframe you expect to be in survival mode. And, if you can do so without expending too much energy, secure new food to supplement what you could carry.
If you run out of rations (or to extend your rations), there are 4 ways to secure food:
. pick it (edible plants and berries /fruits),
. catch it (fish / seafood), . trap it (snares, deadfalls, pits, etc), or
. hunt it. We listed these in order of increasing energy expenditure (give or take depending on the situation), to help you prioritize how you go about securing food.
More food sounds great, but if it’s too hard to obtain, you’ll need to be scrappy so you don’t spend more energy than you gain. You might recall one of the contestants on the popular survival show, Alone, who built quite a few deadfalls and snare traps focused on catching field mice and small game. The amount of energy he expended was way out of proportion to the very few calories gained, ending this contestant’s stay rather quickly. Twice, when he came back another season. Other contestants focused on easier to catch fish and were able to sustain themselves longer.
So, first know your plants for the area and climate and time of year you’ll be out – what’s good to eat and what to avoid. Being able to
load up on hand-fulls of berries, for example, is a great way to gain calories, electrolytes and vitamins at low energy cost (assuming you don’t need to hike too far). Trapping or catching food
(such as fishing) is preferable as the next stage, because you can stay relatively still while doing so. If you do decide to hunt, know exactly what animals you are pursuing, how to trap or hunt them effectively, and only spend the energy if there is fresh sign of their presence.
If you are able to acquire enough food to exceed your daily caloric intake, find ways to preserve it to eat a day or two later. This will help you save energy and focus on other tasks such as getting found. Preservation methods include drying, smoking, burying, submerging in cold water, and hanging out of reach of nocturnal animals (especially agile raccoons, bears, etc.).
Financially speaking, it works exactly the same way. You need to take in as much or more than you spend. So first things first, carefully monitor your income vs. expenses so that you are always bringing in more than you are expending. Just like calories, try to avoid tapping into your emergency reserves.
Related Article: Check out These Apps Save On Purchases.
If you are forced to tap your emergency savings account (like your backup rations), do everything you can to cut expenses and increase income to avoid depleting your savings. If you are forced to tap into your savings, just like a good first aid kit, be sure to restock it when you can.
If there’s one thing that every financial advisor can agree on it is this: you are really only going to grow your net worth (or save for a key goal such as your fishing cabin or boat) unless you get out of too much debt, manage your debt and expenses vs. income well, and SAVE SAVE SAVE. Think about conserving your money the same way you’d make smart choices about what you eat in the wild.
Related Article: Check out These 4 Apps Make Saving Easy
Step 7:Build A Fire & Invest Your Money For A Return
Fires boost morale, keep you warm to prevent hypothermia, cook food, ward off predators. However, you may have noticed that building a fire is pretty far down the list. Unless hypothermia is pressing, take care of your immediate needs first. Then get your fire going.
You can save energy by gathering firewood as part of setting up camp and building your shelter, rather than as a separate foray.
Carry lightweight fire-starter material in your survival kit, and learn how to start a fire under damp and even soaked conditions. If dry, manage the risk of your fire spreading with a fire ring away from flammable materials, inside a ring made of rock or stones, and keep it a slow burn to prevent sparks from floating away from the fire.
The financial equivalent of lighting a fire is investing your savings in stock funds so it can grow more and you have more in the long run. Feed it with regular weekly or monthly deposits, just like you feed a fire every 20-30 minutes with new branches and logs.
Keep it invested (burning) as long as you can, so it grows over time by compounding year over year returns. The more you do, the more money you’ll have later on. Just like you should take care of immediate needs before
you light a fire, only invest after you’ve first set up your emergency fund, secured your income, and started a regular savings program.
While the stock market returns more than a savings account will, over the long run, there is always the risk of a periodic downturn. You can manage your risk by choosing an appropriate fund for your level of risk (e.g growth vs. value funds), and keeping your funds invested as long as you can. You should always plan ahead how long till you need the money – the sooner you need it the lower the risk you should take on.
Related Article: Read up on Best Apps To Invest Easily.
Step 8: Stay Put
One of the key survival principals is to stay put until you are found, in order to stretch your resources as far as possible and avoid the many risks of moving. If you do attempt to get out yourself, you must be absolutely certain you know which direction is the way out, and clearly have the ability to make your way out.
The risks are just way too high to overestimate the situation. Pulling up and moving on may seem heroic – like in the movies – but will actually cost you a lot of energy, risk injury, risk getting even more lost, and makes it harder for rescuers to find you.
Much better to be cautious, monitor your situation, and set up signals for rescuers to spot you. You can make an SOS signal out of rocks, greenery in your fire to create smoke, or periodic mirror flashing if sunny.
The exact same applies to money. People who are smart with their money know how to save it, keep it in place, and make smart choices on their purchases to avoid tapping it.
Likewise, they are continually monitoring their status, so they know how much they are spending relative to how much is coming in, and how much they are saving and investing. The key point here is you need to leave money in place, just like staying put in a survival situation, to come out ahead.
So try to get past living paycheck to paycheck. The best thing you can do is be meticulous about spending less than you make. Then keep it in place – save and invest and let it grow.
PRO TIP: Keeping your money in place will grow it the most when you get compounding to work for you. This happens when it earns a return such as interest from a savings account, bond, dividend yielding stock, or an appreciating asset such as stocks or real estate. Compounding works the best over years – the longer the
Step 9: Wait Out The Storm Until All Is Clear
Of course, if you could have easily walked out by now, you would have done so. If rescuers don’t reach you immediately, prepare for inclement weather especially if you are staying put overnight or for multiple days. Here’s how:
• Assess your risk from trees coming down in wind, landslides, mud slides, snow slides, avalanches – are you in a location that isn’t subject to events triggered by the storm
• Rain-proof your shelter with water shedding leaves & branches • Dig a water-diverting trench around your shelter • Stockpile firewood and kindling under cover, in or within reach of your shelter • Orient your shelter to retain and reflect heat while still releasing smoke • Wind-proof your shelter with extra lashing and stabilizing guidelines • Gather extra water and food to the extent possible • Take measures to protect your sleeping bag and clothing from moisture • When you get a break or it clears, repeat all of the above before another front rolls in
Likewise, you’ll be glad you prepared for a financial storm well ahead of time. Here are some examples of financial storms and ways to manage them: • You took on too much debt, and interest payments are soaking up much of your income. You’re just spinning your wheels and can’t seem to get ahead. Your credit rating is tanking. Here’s what to do:
– Reduce your expenses every bit you can
– Increase your income if possible – Pay down the highest interest rate credit cards first
– Take out a debt consolidation loan to reduce your payments – Transfer credit card debt to a card with a 0% interest rate (limited duration)
Seek credit counseling services – Carefully monitor your credit rating • You’ve done a great job saving, and investing, and it’s paying off – you have a great little nest egg forming. However, then a major market downturn hits, such as a recession. You’re investment account is down 20-30% or even more, and your losing faith in the market. Here’s what to do:
– Don’t panic, and don’t pull your money. You can’t time the market, and as soon as you pull it you may miss a major surge back up. – Consult with your investment advisor, and know what allocation of riskier or less risky investments makes sense to preserve what you have, given your own risk tolerance and how much time you have till you need the funds. • Stick with it. Invest MORE when the market is down, this will help you buy more at lower prices (called Dollar Cost Averaging) which will pay off big time when the market heads back up. • We can’t emphasize enough: stay put until the market outlook improves. Don’t sell out when the market is down, wait till it is up. No one is smart enough to time the market, so don’t try.
Step 10: Constantly Learn and Prepare Well For Your Next Trip
Survivalists are constant learners. Always upping their game, learning new skills, reading up on the latest gear, preparing for the next awesome trip which will be even better than the last.
Financial survivalists do the same. You’ll go through financial cycles in your life, some better, some worse. Constantly learn by reading, and assessing your experiences, and you’ll be that much ahead next time around
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