This article is by editor Linda Vergon.

This week, Phoenix, Arizona, had extreme flooding and, before that, Napa, California, experienced a 6.0-magnitude earthquake. Landslides, earthquakes, extreme heat, floods, hurricanes, severe weather, space weather, thunderstorms and lightning, tornadoes, tsunamis, volcanoes, and wildfires are just some of the natural disasters that can plague us in a given year. Yet “nearly 70 percent of Americans have not participated in a preparedness drill or exercise outside of fire drills at their place of work, school or home in the last two years,” according to Gwen Camp, director of FEMA’s Individual and Community Preparedness Division.

September is National Preparedness Month, and the theme this year is “Be Disaster Aware: Take Action to Prepare.” Throughout the month, FEMA will be helping individuals and communities understand the risks and gather the tools they need to be more resilient in the face of natural disasters and other emergencies. They are sharing information and resources to community leaders, schools, houses of worship, and businesses that want to organize preparedness training events twice a year in April and September – and you can get involved too. Each week they will help people take some sort of action to prepare themselves for an emergency because, as we all know, many of these events come as a complete surprise.

Most all of this activity will culminate on September 30 in America’s PrepareAthon, when a lot of communities across the nation will hold some kind of event designed to provide information or even train people on what to do when disaster strikes. Some events may occur in later weeks. It all depends on a community’s overall calendar of events, but FEMA’s website, Ready.gov, shows when and where these events will be occurring: America’s PrepareAthon Event Map.

If you can’t participate in an event, FEMA’s site is a great resource to help you plan for all kinds of emergencies from pandemics to winter storms too. Their Natural Disasters web page is an excellent resource to understand about each of the disasters listed above, as well as how to make a plan, build an emergency kit, and help your kids deal with disasters too. For those that are interested, Red Cross has a number of natural disaster applications for your smartphone too. Teach your kids and elderly family members how to use them!

FEMA wants you to learn about your local hazards and take action by practicing plans and participating in a PrepareAthon event. And I think this is an important part of emergency preparedness that is often overlooked. Participating in such an event is a good way to get involved with your community programs, houses of worship, schools, and workplaces. When you make yourself known to people in the emergency preparedness community, they will recognize you as someone that has training and is reliable to offer assistance to others in need. So often when disasters strike, people are offended when a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or other individual doesn’t accept their help. But honestly, if they do not know you, they can’t in good conscience enlist your support in any way. And without proper training, you can be a potential hazard to them in their effort. Make yourself known to the emergency preparedness workers in your community, so at a minimum they are aware of your ability to help and your intentions.

Do you know which disasters could happen in your community and what to do to be safe and mitigate damage? Will you participate in your community’s disaster planning efforts?

This article is about Planning

There are 6 comments on this post.

Did you enjoy reading this article? You can receive free full-text articles from Get Rich Slowly in your email inbox daily by entering your email below. Along with this daily subscription, you’ll also receive personal finance advice selected by our MoneyRates.com Network financial experts. Also become a Facebook fan or follow us on Twitter.

This article is by staff writer Kristin Wong.

(This is Part III in a series about challenging traditional measures of financial success. Part I was The “Ivory Tower”: Reconsidering the college investment. Part II was Challenging traditional measures of financial success: Homeownership.)

It was the first semester of my first year of college. My friend and I were driving around our small town, looking for something to eat. But we didn’t have much money, so our options were limited. Chili’s sounded good, but neither of us could really afford it.

“It’s weird to think one day we won’t have to worry about this,” my friend said. “In a few years, we’ll graduate, and we’ll have jobs that pay us like, $30,000 a year and we can go to Chili’s whenever we want.”

This was 2001, so it wasn’t just a crazy dream.

I imagined working 9 to 5, in an office, where I had a desk and salary with benefits, and at the end of the day, I went home and did whatever the hell I wanted with my life. At 19, that seemed almost too good to be true. I was really attached to the idea that, someday, I would earn tens of thousands of dollars a year and be able to more or less spend money the way I wanted.

My point is that was the idea back then: Go to college and get a steady, 9-to-5 job.

Years later, I’m starting to question this paradigm — and I’m not alone. We already talked about the way college is changing, but the workforce has been changing a lot too.

Questioning the stats

We read that jobs are being created and unemployment rates are decreasing. For example, the Labor Department recently released data showing that 209,000 jobs have been created in the past six months. But while the unemployment rate has increased slightly from 6.1 percent to 6.2 percent, overall, it’s been on a steady decline.

The GDP has been significantly and steadily growing since the recession, but unemployment remains a lingering problem. You’ve probably heard the argument before – Huffington Post contributor Mark Gongloff explains it well:

“Technically speaking, unemployment is the percentage of people in the ‘labor force’ who don’t have a job. To be counted in the labor force, you have to be looking for a job. One reason unemployment has fallen so quickly in recent years, from a peak of 10 percent back in 2009, is that a lot of people stopped looking for work. They took themselves out of the labor force. Once they stopped looking for work, they stopped being counted as ‘unemployed.’ Voila, the unemployment rate goes down.”

Gongloff argues that the small increase in unemployment is actually a good thing — it might indicate that more people are returning to the workforce but they’re just not immediately finding work. But the good news is, they are returning. Even if you argue that his assertion is questionable, it is still possible.

It will take time to truly see how employment has changed. But for now, it seems we’re a country in transition.

The rise of self-employment

When I was laid off last year, I considered going back to a full-time, 9-to-5job. But after being a freelancer for so long, and especially after losing one big client, I liked the idea of having multiple baskets in which to put my eggs. That was my biggest concern — if I accepted a full-time job, could I still freelance? I wanted to make sure I had a backup plan.

This way of thinking, explains Forbes’ Kate Taylor, might be the norm for people my age. She writes:

“Millennials entered the job market in the wake of the recession … Millennials are conditioned to expect economic disruption, and have thus become risk adverse … job turn over and exploration of more flexible labor sources reveal Millennials’ fear of putting all their (career) eggs in one basket.”

Not only that, but I couldn’t even find a 9-to-5 job. Most jobs I interviewed for were part-time freelance gigs. And, sure, that probably comes with my industry — writing gigs are easier to get than writing jobs. But on the whole, freelance/self-employment seems to be increasingly popular lately.

A few years after the recession, the rate of self-employed workers significantly increased. According to Economic Modeling Specialists International, the number of self-employed workers increased from 1.3 million since 2001 to 10.6 million in 2012.

Yes, those numbers have since dropped. But experts say it might be less that people are returning to the traditional 9-to-5 job and more that they’re working part-time jobs and then supplementing income on the side. So they’re not exactly self-employed, but they’re not working full-time either. Maybe it’s not as easy as it seems to gauge the way people are changing how they work.

The “grey economy”

And then there’s the “grey economy,” the idea that unemployment rates are dropping because many people simply work under the table and off the books. Nik Theodore, an urban planning professor at the University of Illinois, recently told the Los Angeles Times:

“This segment of the labor market is a barometer for the economy as a whole. As employment insecurity spreads across the economy, more and more workers are being forced to turn to the street, to odd jobs, to becoming on-call workers. The question is whether this is a cyclical change, a blip or a signal of something much more fundamental.”

Technology is another important factor to consider. We’ve been talking about this for years, technology replacing jobs. But it may become a more pressing concern in the near future. At a recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, Bill Gates said:

“Twenty years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don’t think people have that in their mental model.”

Between the economy, the post-recession mind-set and the role of technology, the traditional 9-to-5 model of earning a living is being challenged. In short, we’re adapting. But where will we go from here?

When I started writing this series of posts on challenging traditional models of financial well-being, it started off as one post. I just wanted to write about how we’re in transition — how college and homeownership and the workforce are changing.

But there was a lot of information and points of discussion in each of those areas — and so much of it is debatable. Unemployment is a complex issue; and while I feel like self-employment is the way of the future, not everyone agrees with this. Some think unemployment is on the mend and people will return to the paradigm.

What do you think: Will we return to the traditional model of earning income from one steady source or will we adapt to the point that full-time jobs are no longer the norm?

This article is by staff writer Holly Johnson.

Last week I was out walking with a friend when she admitted she was scared she would never have kids.

“We’ll never be able to afford them,” she said as we made our way around the block and up the next street. She and her husband are about our age (and not getting any younger), and I could tell she was worried.

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” I said as I tried desperately to change the subject. That was terrible advice and I knew it, but it was the same advice someone had given me several years before. (And probably for the same reasons.)

When it came to having a baby, I’m glad I followed bad advice

Having a baby

It has been over six years now, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was working at my old job in the mortuary and surrounded by a bunch of senior ladies who made up our widow’s outing group. We were chatting up a storm when the conversation turned to kids and if I ever planned to have them.

“I honestly don’t know,” I said.

We didn’t have maternity insurance through work at the time, and I knew it was prohibitively expensive. I also knew that we weren’t saving much at all, which was a shame since our income looked good on paper. As I explained my concerns to the women, they simply smiled and nodded. I wanted kids, I told them, but I was afraid of what it would mean to our bottom line.

Strangely, it was as if they already knew what I was going to say before I said it.

“Please just have children,” said one of the ladies, laughing as she spoke. “You’ll thank us later.”

The entire table then broke into a fit of laughter as I sat and listened to a group of women who seemed to know something I didn’t.

“Don’t wait for the perfect time,” said another friend. “It doesn’t exist.”

Throwing caution to the wind

And that’s exactly what we had been doing. We were waiting for the perfect time to come without realizing that we might end up waiting forever. So after some soul-searching, we decided to go ahead and try for our first child. And after applying for several types of maternity coverage, I finally found a plan that would accept me. Finally.

Then I waited nine months until my coverage became “active” so that my pregnancy would indeed be covered by insurance. (This was in 2008 — before the passage of the PPACA and when pregnancy was seen as a pre-existing condition.)

The wait was awful, but I was lucky. Within a few weeks of trying for a baby, I found myself pregnant and spending the majority of each day with my head hanging low, trying not to throw up as I hobbled through my responsibilities at work and at home.

I was sick – very sick — but I was soooooooo happy.

Unfortunately, I was also clueless. The truth was, I only had a vague idea of what having a baby would cost us. And sadly, I was in for a rude awakening. For starters, the maternity rider on our insurance climbed to over $500 per month at the one-year mark of my coverage. And that was just for the maternity rider. It didn’t even include our regular health insurance coverage.

Second, my insurance deductible was over $4,000, an amount of money that we barely had saved at the time. And third, I hadn’t even considered the cost of daycare, formula, or what kind of pay cut I would take during maternity leave.

With all the balls up in the air

Fortunately, the ladies were right — things actually did work themselves out.

Due to some minor miracle, we got raises around the time our first child was born. Christmas bonuses from work paid our insurance deductible for the hospital stay, and we managed to absorb the cost of daycare and everything else without too much trouble.

On the other hand, we weren’t doing as well as we probably should have been. We still had student loans, car loans, and credit card debt after all, and we also lived in a fairly large home that cost a pretty penny to maintain.

In a lot of ways, we were barely keeping all the balls up in the air — robbing Peter to pay Paul, raiding our meager savings to pay for basic necessities, and sacrificing tomorrow in order to afford today.

But then, all of a sudden, everything changed.

Two mouths to feed

Before I knew what hit me, I was pregnant with my second child. The clock was ticking. We made it work the first time, but now things would be different.

We once again had that $4,000 health insurance deductible to pay, and I would once again need to go on maternity leave at half-pay. But now I would have two kids in daycare, two mouths to feed, and two children to care for financially and emotionally. Something had to give.

So we embarked on a journey to get our financial house in order. We started by creating a zero-sum budget to track and monitor our expenses and we whittled our monthly bills down to only the bare necessities.

All those small things made such a huge difference to our bottom line that debt repayment became nearly painless. And over the next few years, we paid off $60,000 worth of unsecured debt, paid down our mortgage to a reasonable level, and stashed away a cash emergency fund for the first time ever.

What I gained from following bad advice

It’s pretty amazing when you think about it: The biggest financial gains we have made during our marriage came at one of the most expensive times. In a sense, our kids actually made us snap into reality and take our financial lives seriously. They gave us a purpose; they gave our marriage meaning. And I now realize that they were the motivation we needed to straighten things out.

Did my friends give me bad advice? You bet they did.

But now I realize that it was the only advice that made sense.

Just as I suspected, they knew something I didn’t. They knew that having kids has a way of changing everything. They knew that seeing my children’s innocent faces would force me to take life seriously in a way I hadn’t before. And they knew that there truly is no perfect time to have children; but that if you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way to make it work.

And most of all, they knew that it would all be worth it — every dollar spent, every tear shed, and every sleepless night.

And they were right.

Have you ever made an important decision based on bad advice that turned out for the best? Do you think there is a perfect time to have children?

This article is by staff writer April Dykman.

Some personal finance advice is just plain ridiculous. I’m talking about the kind of advice that’s great for filling up a webpage but that had neither saved nor made anyone money ever. Or maybe you could follow it and save money, if you wanted to hate your life.

I’m not entirely innocent, I admit. I’m sure I’ve espoused my share of well-meaning-yet-impractical advice in the last seven years. (Okay, stop searching the archives right now!) But I do try, people. I really do.

So today I wanted to talk about one of these questionable nuggets of advice that I frequently come across: Pay off debt faster by starting a garden.

I think this is a terrible idea. I’ve read it over and over on too many sites to count, and in my head I always think, “Really!?!” (And in my head, it sounds just like the “Saturday Night Live” segment with Seth Meyer and Amy Poehler, which I’m going to blatantly rip off in this post.)

So, starting a garden to pay off debt? Really!?!

And here’s why I’m highly skeptical that it can work.

So starting a garden has zero start-up costs? Really?

Okay, so let’s pretend you have a plot of land or at least room for some pots. This advice is saying that you can actually come out ahead by starting to grow your own food versus buying it from the grocery store. It also implies that you’re a beginner at gardening, since a gardening pro who has the space to garden is probably already doing it.

So if you’re new to gardening, you’ve got a lot to learn. I’m a novice gardener, and in addition to all the free information on the web, I’ve bought a few books specific to my region. For instance, when should you start tomato seeds when you live in Central Texas? Knowing stuff like that increases your odds of success. I’d estimate that I’ve spent about $40 on books so far. (And sure, you can borrow them from the library, but when the leaf-footed bugs were attacking my cherry tomato plant, I sure was glad to have my reference books nearby.)

Speaking of start-up costs, if you’re a novice, you’re probably going to have to spend some money on things like tools, pots, soil, soil amendments, mulch, and fertilizer — not to mention plants and seeds. There are some low-cost ways to take care some of these things, but I don’t see how you can get around buying things like a shovel and some pots and the actual plants. That stuff adds up quickly.

And really, all new gardeners are successful right from the start?

If you’re new to gardening, you’re going to make mistakes, or at least not do everything the most optimal way. You can expect to learn a lot in the beginning about soil amendments and pruning and all the ways to maximize yield (and therefore savings on grocery bills). I’ve also been learning which varieties produce the most and which produce very little or require more care.

Newbies also will learn about garden pests in the first year. Pests like the squash vine borer, which will completely destroy your fairy tale pumpkin vine before the pumpkin you’ve been excitedly waiting for can mature (I’ve declared war). So if I’m looking at gardening solely by the numbers, I lost money on that one. I also had a raccoon jump into my keyhole garden (pictured above) and destroy my Bulgarian carrot pepper plant. Not to eat it, but just to be a little jerk, I guess.

If you’re digging your way out of debt, is gardening really the best use of your time and resources?

Gardening is time-consuming. In addition to the reading and researching I’ve done, there have been many hours spent shopping in nurseries, creating garden beds, weeding, watering, pruning, etc.

I have no idea exactly how many hours I’ve spent on my garden; but as longtime readers will recall, GRS had a garden project series in which J.D. and his then-wife Kris tracked their time, expenses and harvest for a year. From January to May, they spent about $300 and 20 hours of time, and hadn’t harvested anything yet, since the seasons have a say-so in this gardening thing too.

But the weather warmed, things started growing, and they finished the year with $606.97 in harvest and $318.43 in expenses. That’s about $288 in profit. So if we divide their profit by the 60 hours of work total, they worked for $4.80 per hour. That’s not even close to minimum wage.

Also keep in mind that they were already gardeners who had learned (and bought) a thing or two before that year-long project began. Your results will vary — I know mine sure have! I haven’t diligently tracked my time, expenses, and harvest, but I am certain I’m nowhere near $4.80 per hour.

So in summary, this “start a garden” tactic will probably require $300+ in start-up costs, hours of work, and any payoff is uncertain and unlikely. And that’s a good way to pay off debt faster? Really!?!

Gardening is still awesome. Really.

I contend that most new gardeners will not see any savings with gardening. Which isn’t to say that it’s impossible — there are plenty of gardeners who grow the majority of their produce. I hope to get to that point too. But it takes time, experience, and resources to get there.

I garden not in hopes of some big reduction in my grocery bill, but simply because I like it. I like getting to know my half-acre of land. I like having a reason why I have to get outside every day. I like growing aubergines and making aubergine caviar, knowing it all came from right outside my door. As Kris wrote in her December 2009 garden update, “For me it’s a relaxing hobby, a great way to spent my summer evenings and weekends connecting with my piece of the planet.”

So I encourage anyone to start gardening if they have the inclination. But not if they’re trying to pay off debt and hoping to save money on groceries. I mean, really.

Readers, what do you think? And what other bits of personal finance advice do you take issue with? Let me know in the comments!

« Previous PageNext Page »

See Archives