The 4 Things You Need

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In the last couple of weeks, I've had a lot of serious questions about the direction of the U.S. economy and actions being taken to "fix" it, and let's just say I'm concerned. I'm worried that the U.S. government might be well on its way to become increasingly insolvent, and I've argued for some rethinking of the Obama administration's economic policies for fear their current direction will wreak additional havoc on our economy.

There are some scary possibilities afoot.

Economic deterioration
Consumer spending is 70% of the U.S. gross domestic product; the fact that for years (decades, even) it's been growing at an overheated rate due to increasingly easy credit and risky debt (and of course, this also relates to the housing bubble, homes as "ATMs" and the big bust) meant our current economic correction was always destined to be a whopper.

Don't get me wrong, allowing the economy to correct on its own would have been painful -- but for all who have asked what my solution to the economic crisis would be, well, as you probably guessed, I've been in the do-nothing camp the whole time when it comes to Bailout Nation. That may sound crazy to many people, but the government's repeated interventions are exacerbating the situation. Good money is being thrown after bad in bailing out failing (or failed) enterprises like AIG (NYSE: AIG  ) , Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) , Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) , and General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) . In case you haven't noticed, these aren't one-time rescues -- they're beginning to look an awful lot like bottomless money pits.

That means there's less capital for actual healthy companies. Welcome to the zombie economy, folks, and that devours the healthy. Meanwhile, the government's deficit-ridden spending plans give plenty of reason to be skeptical in these precarious times.

The specter of worthless currency
Word that the Federal Reserve is firing up the printing presses heightens my anxiety. Google "Weimar Republic" to get an idea of what might be in store. And of course, Zimbabwe is a modern-day testimony to hyperinflation. (Here's a great article that explores the question as to whether we're on the road to being like deflationary Japan or hyperinflationary Zimbabwe.) Last but not least, Iceland is a timely example of an actual national-level economic collapse in the here and now.

And if you think people are scared or unhappy now, imagine how they will feel if they're paying, say, 40% more for staples like milk and bread. 

I know I'm not the only one out there entertaining the notion that things could get far, far worse before they get better. Several of the bloggers in our Motley Fool CAPS community recognize the dangerous precipice we may be teetering on. (Here are two recent posts that hit on some of these themes: Gun Craze and Haven't Seen the Bottom.) While I can only hope that things won't get so dire, I am of the opinion that dismissing such concerns out of hand is a mistake. I'm sure many lost or faded civilizations over the course of history had citizens utter something along the lines of, "It could never happen here."

Those four things ...
It's not out of the realm of imagination that social unrest could occur in some urban and industrialized areas if joblessness and general outrage become bad enough, and of course, add in the possibility of hyperinflation, and things could get nasty.

I'm certainly not hoping everybody's going to go cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, as panic does none of us any good; however, we could be one flippant "Let them eat cake"-type remark away from "viva la revolution!," or maybe just some run-of-the-mill semi-apocalyptic social mayhem.

With that in mind, here are four things people need to insure they have at all times:

  1. Food: Most of us know that having stores of canned goods and bottled water never hurts. That goes for the possibility of natural disasters as well as less natural events. We might all want to think about upping the ante of what we have stocked up, just in case, including necessary medicines.
  2. Shelter: Your home is your castle. Moats aren't exactly in these days, but it might be a good time to think about upgrading locks and security systems. Some might even want to consider relocating to less populated areas, or even have an RV.
  3. Transportation: Keeping your car well maintained isn't a bad idea, either, with a half a tank of gas at all times just in case. It's also a good idea to have bottled water, blankets, and non-perishable snacks in the trunk. There's always the possibility that you might have to flee and there won't be time to stop at ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) for a fill-up and a snack.
  4. Security: All you have to do is glance at the stock charts for Smith & Wesson (NYSE: SWHC  ) or Sturm, Ruger (NYSE: RGR  ) to see something's up; in fact, in the first couple months of this year, there was a 26% rise in the number of Americans who bought guns. Some gun purchasing is probably related to fears the current administration will pass more stringent gun control laws, but very recent spikes make me wonder if many people are packing heat because they believe they may have to defend themselves and their property or even hunt for food.

It's better to be safe than sorry
Believe it or not, I am still not outright rejecting the idea of investing right now; that may be testament to how I believe in bravery in the face of scary times (or it could simply mean I have some sort of cognitive dissonance disorder that might require medication). However, I do believe that there are opportunities in hard times, although the trick is identifying them.

Of course, those with the stomach for investing should be very careful, looking for survivor companies with little or no debt and strong businesses that will withstand forces that could knock a ton of weak companies out of the running.

Most important, though, your own well-being is first and foremost, which underlines why those four things above are things to consider. And as always, nobody should invest money they actually need for near-term expenses. Things are so ugly right now, I think now more than ever long-term investing can't be defined as a year or two.

I hope my dire fears don't come to pass, and then I will be able to just laugh about how imaginative and paranoid I can be; I also believe tough times can prove what we are all made of, and allow for ample opportunities to help our neighbors and invent and create new things despite adversity. On the other hand, I think it's important to contemplate worst-case scenarios and do a little contingency planning.

As the old saying goes, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Read up on some related Foolishness:

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (25) | Recommend This Article (54)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2009, at 5:47 PM, translator999 wrote:

    Wish there was a way to give a rec to BellasPosting's comment above.

  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2009, at 5:54 PM, lmcswfl wrote:

    BellasPosting, Thanks for bring some sense to the paranoia that seems to be in the drinking water at MF.

  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2009, at 9:30 PM, Whatmeworry2 wrote:

    You guys can listen and believe Blowbamma all you want, it's a free country, still, I think.

    I believe the ship is sinking and the domestic situation could get ugly.

    I've been in 100% cash for 15 months except for a retirement fund that I can't touch as it is "managed" and it of course is sinking.

    Today I purchased my first stock in 2 years; I loaded up on Canadian gold stocks and may buy more. It's been a long time since I've owned a gun, but I'm going to start looking for one. I don't think there's a rush for the gun where I live, but where do you think desperate people are going to go to steal things in order to get money for food or drugs, to the projects?

    I'll also get some water and food, just in case. I will continue to add to my reserve cash on hand under the mattress. I see this all this as insurance. If I'm wrong, I'll eat the food, keep the gun, sell the gold stocks and take the cash out of the mattress and put it into my brokerage account. Not a problem.

    If I'm right, my family and I will be just fine. I have a lot more faith in myself than in our President and Congress. Call me insane if you want to, but let's take another look in 6-9 months. I KNOW I am not going down with the ship.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2009, at 12:19 AM, motleyanimal wrote:

    I got some pitbull puppies for sale.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2009, at 2:59 AM, xetn wrote:

    Since the inception of the Fed and the Income tax in 1913, the value of the dollar (adjusted for inflation) is now 3 cents. This is what the govenment has done to your purchasing power through creating money out of thin air and adding trillions of dollars through fractional-reserve banking. If about 15 % of the the average banks depositors wanted to close out their accounts, the bank would be unable to comply. They are only required to keep about 10 % of your deposits in reserve and can and do lend the difference. The only thing that has kept the dollar from going the way of the Zimbabwe dollar has been the fact that most banks have decided to build their reserves so have parked their funds with the Fed and are receiving income in the form of interest with little or no risk.

    So, what will you do when you cannot buy a loaf of bread with a $100.00 bill? Think it cannot happen?

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2009, at 10:44 AM, TarHeelMoe wrote:

    I am a new fool and I am very dissappointed that the editors allow such gibberish on the site. I am not here to indulge your paranoia as I assume you have a long history of apocolyptic thoughts.

    This website is about making money not pontification about the boogie man. Aberrant thinking like that got us involved chasing ghosts in Iraq.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2009, at 10:54 AM, tskasp wrote:

    I think Motley Fools should undertake a survey of the general public to determine what percentage of people trust business management.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2009, at 12:36 PM, Systag wrote:

    This article reminds me of the last hurricane they had on the Texas Gulf Coast (the one right after Katrina). The news was telling people in DALLAS to stock up on food, water and hunker down for the big blow. There has NEVER been a hurricane that made it as far north as Dallas. It was complete absurdity, but people actually bought into it. The stores were overrun with frantic, hysterical people. These kind of articles promote the hysteria and paranoia that adversely affect the market, much more than anything else ever will.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2009, at 2:25 PM, wilduxdat wrote:

    Yes, we all know that there will always be naysayers as well as yeahsayers in our world. Our new Commander-in Chief has as many issues to deal with...argueably more than any recent president I can recall. Once being in the Boy Scouts of America, I cannot help but remembering their timeless motto: "Be Prepared". I cannot see our world degenerating to a "viva la revolution" attitude..we are better than that. But I also feel that there is a need to "Be Prepared" for any emergency. Maybe not to the extent of running out and buying a handgun. Let's all pull together and make a run at this Foolish time for investing for our kids and grandkids.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2009, at 4:11 PM, shanejd wrote:

    You don't have to embrace the whole doom & gloom pessimism to rationalize prudently getting some insurance against things getting much worse than currently imagined. Laying in a stock of food and supplies, buying in bulk, could both save you money and be a great peace of mind even if the world did not fall apart. For instance, if you lost your job, you'd at least not to have to worry about food and toilet paper for a couple months while looking for another. Or, for any number of natural disasters, it'd be prudent to have had extra food, water and fuel already on hand. You used to be labeled a survivalist nutcake to have a generator at home, now it's chic. As far as weapons and ammo, if you won't learn how to safely and proficiently use them, don't get any. But, if you do and buy right, it'll be hard to ever lose money on them. Lead (in the form of ammo) is becoming the third precious metal behind gold and silver. Speaking of which, I'm also glad to have been acquiring both silver & gold for close to decade, ever since they were a third of what they are now. Anyways, bottom line, you don't have to go over to the dark side to prudently diversify and insure your family, and you could actually save and/or make money doing so besides gaining peace of mind. Finally, many would be surprised at the growing numbers of white collar professionals, close to the financial mess swirling around, who are now doing much of the above today for their families just-in-case.

    Got God, Grub, Guns & Gold?

    Panic Early, Beat the Rush!

    - Shane

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2009, at 9:00 PM, crafty2002 wrote:

    I live in Danville, Virginia. It's on the Dan river.

    Home of the Dan River Mills we all so much loved the fabric they made.

    They had a 3,500 person work force. They sold to a company over seas and Now they are selling the bricks from the buildings. DRM, inc. GONE.

    Durham Hosiery made socks and knited fabrics that we all wore. That was sold and all the machines moved to India. GONE.

    Corning Glass. They are setting up to close the doors as I speak. Gone.

    GoodYear Tires has a plant here that just laid off and it looks as if they will shut down. Shortly it will be GONE

    When are the sheeple going to see the writing on the wall???

    If you don't buy what you need to survive long term now, you are going to be in a world of hurt later.

    I am lucky in one since. I have about 58 acres I can use and am gaining friends to help plant it and raise chickens for meat and eggs, goats for meat and dairy products, and pigs for the bacon, ham, etc.

    But I am disabled and can't do but so much. That has given me time to study the situation and as I said, brothers and sisters, the writing is on the wall but you must slow down to read it.

    You can think this is a false alarm if you want to. It is completly up to everyone of you.

    But I am telling you, TSWHTF and it isn't going to be long before it does.

    We have done passed 25% unemployement but the MSM says we are 7.2%.

    No body can find a job here if they don't have one, if they do, the job may end any day, and even then, they are putting dang near everyone on short hours.

    All I can say is lock the homestead down and grown some food.

    Next winter is going to be a bad one.

    My wife told me last night, why do you always have to say didn't I tell you when you are right.

    That was about Corning Glass shutting down.

    Fact is I am always right. Wish to God I wasn't, but the writing is there if you will open your eyes and look.

    I sure wouldn't want to be in a home that don't have a gun. Ya gonna need it.

    Of cource this is JMHO. But ya can take that to the bank. Better use the money you have to buy what you need while the money is still in the bank.

  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2009, at 4:31 AM, translator999 wrote:

    Wow, you people should listen to yourselves. Why is that Americans in particular are so prone to hysteria? People in other countries read these comments and hear the news from the US and can't believe their eyes and ears. I tell my foreign friends that it's all true, that there really are a bunch of people who thrive on extremist views to this extent. They don't believe ME either though. Take a deep breath and repeat to yourselves, "we will get through this, we will get through this, we will get through this." I am very disappointed in The Motley Fool for pandering to these extreme views and even encouraging them. I, for one, will NOT be buying guns, or laying in a store of food, or booby-trapping my property, or barricading my home with barbed wire, etc. I'm spending my money on the stock of good companies. We'll see who makes the wiser choice.

    Note about factories being shut down and the equipment shipped off to India being a sign of the apocalypse: that could easily have been avoided if Americans were simply willing to work for $3 a day. They aren't? Well, then, let the Indians HAVE the equipment - what good is it to us? When Americans ARE willing to work for $3 a day, the factories will come back.

    I leave you with FDR's words:

    "Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2009, at 10:48 AM, shanejd wrote:

    In my business these days I'm getting more calls for disaster prep consultations from financial professionals and Fortune 400 individuals, including some names many here would recognize.

    (I'm not soliciting business here by giving my contact info, but we know what we are talking about and have been written up in the WSJ, NYTimes, USAToday, etc., and interviewed on CNN, etc.)

    These are sharp people calmly hedging their bets establishing a Plan 'B' just-in-case man-made or natural disasters should ever disrupt services. They do so without hysteria in an attitude of simply acquiring insurance for a changing world and then go on with their lives.

    Dismissing any that prep as being extremists booby-trapping their property and barricading their homes with barbed wire would be a mistake.

    Assuming that nothing bad can ever happen to you and yours that preps might help alleviate could be an even greater mistake.

    Got God, Grub, Guns & Gold?

    Panic Early, Beat the Rush!

    - Shane

  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2009, at 11:39 AM, translator999 wrote:

    Profiting from the hysteria seems like an excellent plan. Good for you! Way to work the crowd with your scary posts. However, I humbly submit that you may not be the most impartial person on this subject.

    Old Italian saying:

    Never ask the barber if he thinks you need a trim.

  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2009, at 12:00 PM, shanejd wrote:

    Old Biblical saying;

    "A prudent man foresees the difficulties ahead and prepares for them;

    the simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences." - Proverbs 22:3

  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2009, at 4:25 PM, dudemonkey wrote:

    Can I reuse the duct tape and saran wrap that the DHS told us to buy in 2002?

  • Report this Comment On March 28, 2009, at 5:16 AM, translator999 wrote:

    LOL, Bible quotes. Ah yes, seeing as how you've got God on your side, you must be right. Anyway, I truly do admire your entrepreneurship and honesty. Not everyone would have the guts to admit that they're trying to exploit people's fears and turn a buck on the current situation. Bravo!

    Just one question: if Armageddon does not come to pass, will you be offering a cash refund to your clients? Definitely seems like the Christian thing to do.

  • Report this Comment On March 28, 2009, at 12:04 PM, shanejd wrote:

    I'm not claiming God on my side any more than you are claiming Italian barbers on your side.

    Wisdom is wisdom, regardless of the source.

    Do you get or expect a cash refund from your fire insurance when your house does not burn down?

    Have you raved against your insurance agent lately for "exploiting people's fears and turning a buck"? Maybe you oughta, cause I don't know any that give you back your premium if no insurance claims were made during the life of the policy.

    Most of what I've suggested above is better than insurance and eminently reasonable, such as stocking up some food, consumable supplies and fuel, stuff we all need and use every day. If nothing bad ever happens, great, you can always eat or use it. You have not lost anything and may even have saved money buying some in bulk now and especially if higher prices later.

    I'm a little stunned at the knee-jerk hostility here to proposals for simple basic family preparedness, especially after Katrina showed all the govts inability to sweep in and rescue all against life's normal potential for natural or man-made disasters to pop up anywhere anytime.

    BTW, you should be glad for all that do prepare their families now as they will be a few less people then standing in line in front of you at the FEMA or Red Cross food and water hand out station after the next disaster.

    Got God, Grub, Guns & Gold?

    Panic Early, Beat the Rush!

    - Shane

  • Report this Comment On March 28, 2009, at 4:30 PM, BLLane wrote:

    There's no point kicking a dead horse, but everyone in this country needs to apply a little critical thinking to America's current situation.

    1. Debtor nation-twin deficits(Bad)

    2. Private Federal Reserve(For those who don't know The Federal Reserve is no more Federal than my dog named Washington) Where is all those trillions you and me are going to be paying interest on.

    3. Monetizing our own Debt(That's like you or me already neck deep in debt using our Citi bank card to pay our American Express bill, and thinking we're rich)

    4. Printing money(a country can't print money without suffering a serious inflation problem---if you believe the federal reserve can stop it, please don't bother doing anything FEMA camps are a good place for you) When you print money you devalue all the money in circulation period--sorry folks that's economics for stupid idiots

    Wake up, there's a real problem with a government that actually thinks it can fix this. Hello, governments don't create wealth or long term value, they simply collect tax revenue and redeploy that same revenue on projects that should promote public good. They should not be running banks, car manufacturers, investment banks, and printing money like drunken sailors and then telling everyone it's ok. Look at the situation in California, Arizona, Nevada. States are broke, the problem with the states is they don't have access to a printing press like the feds. Think about it. Our federal government is in worse financial shape then any of the states listed above, but they think they have money because they can run the presses. This is not good.

  • Report this Comment On March 28, 2009, at 10:47 PM, cantafford wrote:

    In April they will be voting on this carbon tax. It is going to affect all of us. Rich and poor. Gasoline, electric, food.

    Best to have your homes stocked with food so that when the prices go way up, you will still be able to stay within your budget.

    I would invest in physical gold one can hold vs. paper gold. I just don't trust the stock market.

    Call you Congressmen today.

  • Report this Comment On March 28, 2009, at 10:57 PM, cantafford wrote:

    The companies are leaving the US because of the talk of increases of corporate tax. And how much will the unemployment tax go up on corporations? Yeah, they have to pay that too. And also the increase in the cost of electricity.......Can you blame them? I can't.

    I asked my husband what he would do if we still had our business. He said, "He would shut down asap, there would be no way he would be able to stay in business"

  • Report this Comment On March 29, 2009, at 5:21 PM, selfdestruct2 wrote:

    Maybe some of us are overeacting. Can you say Y2K ?

  • Report this Comment On March 31, 2009, at 10:14 AM, Chromantix wrote:

    Dear Gardner brothers,

    Thank you for allowing people to exercise their right to free speech. There are individuals who would ask you to censor the views of those who do not agree with their own theories. These people may even try to coerce you by threatening to cancel subscriptions, or burn an effigy of the TMF logo in their back yard.

    Don't pay attention to them.

    In all likeliness, they will do little but continue to sling threats on the Internet - this is their lot. When a differing opinion is not acceptable is when tyranny has won.

    Think for yourself.

    Your subscriber,


  • Report this Comment On March 31, 2009, at 9:18 PM, Atrossity wrote:

    Mongshang Lin,

    I believe you are a good citizen of these United States but I have to wonder why you would threaten to severely undermine the Gardner brother's finances ;) by retracting your donation to their newsletter in order to silence another citizen of our great nation.

    I had to go to urban dictionary to find out what a rethug was, it turns out it is a insulting word. Now if you are going to be calling people names, the least you could do would be to provide evidence to back your assertions up.

    According to urban dictionary a rethug is "Low-life criminal element of the republican party;

    See republican/repugliCON. 'On-the-take', liars,

    cheats, thieves, hypocrites, sneaky, azzholes,

    scoundrels, self-serving, self-righteous, scumbag,

    indicted, in-office, criminal, disreputable,

    unethical, unscrupulous, shyster".

    I don't know if that's what you meant, but since you are using slang, that makes it difficult to know. Your calling her that name makes me demand you define your terms and then provide quotes of hers that support your contention. If you do not, I feel it is my duty to report your comment is so far from being Foolish that it is abusive.

    In the spirit of the free exchange of ideas, I will not express how I feel about your attack on Ms. Lomax and what I feel that says about your qualities. That is not material.

    I personally don't believe Alyce is a Republican as what I've followed of hers seems more indicative of Libertarianism and others have concluded the same.

    If you are not willing to provide an argument to back up the name you called her then as a gentleman or gentle lady you will no doubt feel better about yourself if you apologize.

  • Report this Comment On April 01, 2009, at 10:17 PM, wisconsin2001 wrote:


    I read your comment on my comment.

    I fully support the democracy of our country and often listen to other views and have no intention to censor anyone's view.

    Here is my problem. My primary draw to is pure and simple, the sound investment advice, and that's it. If I like to read politics, there are plenty of websites that I could drown myself into. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't see the point of writing an article like that in a financial site.

    I believe democracy is not free. It comes with a responsibility!! Free speech is a fundemental right that I cheerish very much. However, writing or commenting a policy or your friends/relatives/co-workers based on paranoid or outlandished "facts" is not a responsible act of a grownup. I wouldn't do that in my life, would you? To me, it is just like yelling fire in a crowded theater, which I don't have a stomach for it.

    Enough say. Both of you are entitled to have your oppinions aired, and I deserve mine, in a democratic society. After all, I choose not to have my hard-earned dollars supporting someone that I don't feel having a "fair and balance" view, again, in a democratic society. That's one of sexy parts of USA.

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