The COVID-19 panic has given us all a major wakeup call: we are only human.
The virus has dominated media airwaves and personal conversations for the better part of five months, and the effects have been far-reaching—medical impacts, crippling government and personal debt, overstretched health-care and supply chains, and radically disrupted social and workplace dynamics.
And COVID is not the only disaster out there. We live in a hyper-political country with a heightened threat of conflict. We regularly face natural disasters like the earthquake that recently struck Utah, wildfires that ravage the western United States, and tropical storms that sweep through the Gulf and Atlantic states.
We are surrounded by constant reminders of our fragility in the face of chaos. But it does not have to be this way.
There are other options. With smart planning and sound decisions, Americans all over the country are choosing to build resilient lives—piece by piece, layering in components, until they are ready to adapt to any challenge. It’s all about resilience.
Resilience cannot just be turned on and off like a light switch. Resilience has a place in nearly every aspect of your life. Here are some tips to build resilience that you can start following today.
Budgeting: Any financial resilience plan starts with a solid budget and budgeting system. By keeping track of exactly what money you have coming in and where that money goes each month, you spend less, save more, and get prepared for if something goes wrong down the line. You are your own best budgeting tool, but you can use various apps and programs to help you, and many of them are free.
Saving: With better budgeting comes better saving. Savings can be a lifesaver in an economic disaster like COVID-19, but many people can’t or don’t save enough. Once you have a budget, cutting costs can put more money in your savings account and give you more peace of mind. Instead of saving six months of expenses, you may be able to accumulate 9-12 months.
Investing: If you are not investing at all right now, you should consider starting soon, because the most important part of investing is starting early. It’s possible to start with very little money, but the earlier you start, the more likely you are to see results.
It’s also time to start thinking a little bit smarter about how to invest, and what qualifies as an investment. If you have the inclination, get some additional education that can help you further a career, or begin a small side business with part of your investment money (see below).
More and more people are setting up self-directed IRA accounts, where they can get tax breaks for investing in their own real estate or other ventures. Investing in precious metals is another time-tested protection against volatile markets and unbacked paper currency. The point is, blindly ordering off the menu of mutual funds and company sponsored 401(k)s isn’t enough.
Additional income: In this day and age, it’s an increasingly bad idea to rely on a single 9-5 job as your sole source of income. There are options to supplement this income.
- Freelancing: While freelancing is some people’s full-time job, it’s also a great way to add a little extra money in your pocket on your own schedule. Platforms like UpWork and Fiverr make casual freelancing much more accessible.
- Side hustles: There are plenty of ways to supplement your income doing things you might be doing anyway. Like to paint? Sell some paintings on Etsy! Like to cook? Find a part-time job in a kitchen on the weekends. Make your time work for you. It can be something simple that generates an extra $1,000 a month, or if you have a little bit more time and ambition, perhaps a side hustle can eventually grow into a legitimate, full-time business.
- Service-based business: People like things quick, cheap, and easy. From dog walking to cover letter and resume services, there is a service-based business for your skills. If you need help getting your wheels going, check out Task Rabbit, a simple service marketplace.
Physical Fitness: A healthy body is a resilient body. According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death in America. Getting in shape through smart dieting and exercise can solve a lot of medical problems. And many healthy habits also save you money! For example, eating healthy meals at home versus eating out.
Address Problems Quickly: Whether it’s for a chronic condition or a lingering ailment, or just to get your annual checkup, don’t put off seeing the doctor if you need it. Adults should get a yearly physical (covered by nearly every insurance plan) and quickly make an appointment for any new concerning condition.
Digital security: We spend a huge portion of our time on the computer, and even more than usual as a result of COVID-19. Here are some things you can do today to make your digital world more resilient.
- Better passwords: It’s easy to get lazy about passwords given how many we have to keep track of, but the best way to keep your passwords secure is to have a new one for each purpose. If you make your passwords up, you can write them down in a very secure location in your home in case you forget, but do not keep them on a file on the computer in case your computer is ever stolen. Another option is an automatic password generator, like LastPass.
- Backup important documents: Frequent and thorough backing up can keep your documents safe and save you a lot of work and stress if disaster strikes. A terabyte of Microsoft OneDrive storage is included with most Office subscriptions, but it’s important to store documents in multiple secure places in case of disaster. Keeping a thumb or external hard drive containing your important documents gives you an additional layer of resilience.
Firearms and training: Responsible gun ownership can give you and your family increased safety and resilience. Check the laws in your state and maintain proper records and registrations for your firearm. You should also consider creating a modest supply of ammunition, as you never know when there might be a shortage.
Storage: Most families don’t store water, assuming their sinks will always work, but water problems happen, and it’s important to be prepared for them. Water storage solutions can include slowly accumulating bottled water from the supermarket or using larger containers to store greater quantities of water. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you are using products designed for long-term water storage. Incorrectly stored water can become toxic or carcinogenic.
Filtration: A good water filtration system (for example, Berkey) helps make sure the water you drink is always clean, and can give you the power to use other sources of water like rainwater.
These systems aren’t necessarily bulky. LifeStraw is a personal water filter that comes in a pitcher, water bottle, or even a straw to let you drink from natural bodies of water.
Resupply: In case the water in your home is ever turned off, there are other options for securing water. Once you have a good filtration system, natural sources like rainwater or rivers and lakes become good last-resort options. For a more permanent solution, you might also consider looking into digging a well on your property (many houses are already fitted with a well).
Storage: There are many ways to store food long-term depending on your family’s needs. Freezing radically extends the life of many foods. Other options are storing canned foods, dried foods, or freeze-drying. Kits from camping suppliers can contain up to six months of nonperishable food. These can be stored for up to 25 years.
Production: Nothing says resilient like growing your own foods. Not everybody is a serious gardener, but there are options for growing some food that are very low-maintenance, right in your backyard. For example, fruit and nut trees or berry bushes.
Perennial food crops like garlic or rhubarb will come back every year. Even more difficult-to-grow annual gardening can be made easier with methods like Back to Eden or Square Foot Gardening. Canning and preservation of home-grown foods can then increase their shelf life well beyond the growing season.
Generator: Many of us have noticed the one house in the neighborhood with a generator during a blackout and been a little bit jealous. This could easily be you with a bit of planning. Owning a small generator for your home can protect you during a short-term power outage like those caused by hurricanes and winter storms.
Solar and battery backups: A solar battery backup can provide an extra boost of reserved power during an emergency, and it recharges every time the sun comes out. Battery systems can only provide so much power, so you may not be able to dry your hair, keep the AC on, and have TVs blaring in every room. But a backup battery could be the difference between being in the dark and being able to function decently during a blackout.
You can add resilience to your life by making some deeper, lifestyle-level changes over time. Here are some bigger things to consider.
Reskilling yourself: A variety of skills are worth knowing to improve your resilience and ability to handle a catastrophe. Some of these include:
- Construction and home repairs
- Auto repair and maintenance
- EMT training (or at least basic first aid)
Relocating: While it’s not always possible to move exactly where you’d like, think critically about where you live. Are there threats built into your environment because of where you live—do you perhaps live in a very densely populated area with a high crime rate? Or do you live close to a place with a lot of potential for unrest or conflict?
Consider moving to a more resilient location. Or even look for or build a more resilient home within your current location. Resilient architecture is a major trend in modern homes. Maybe now is the time for you to discover your own resilient homestead. The most important thing is to live somewhere you and your family can feel safe and you are able to cultivate a self-sufficient, resilient lifestyle.
Divorcing mainstream media: While we all rely on newscasts and newspapers for information, it’s important to look critically at our sources. All news has some sort of angle or bias, however slight. But you can take it upon yourself to factcheck and contextualize the stories you hear. There are tools online that can help you (although, of course, be critical of these as well!).
No man is an island, and nobody lives forever. It’s not realistic to think we can prepare for every eventuality and replace every feature of a well-functioning society with resilience strategies. But with some intentional planning and perhaps a slight shift in mindset, you can accumulate layers of resilience in your life to carry you and your loved ones through hard times.