The 35-day mega-shutdown that affected 800,000 federal workers has been over for weeks, but the damage it caused will likely be felt for months, if not years. And with a follow-up shutdown potentially on the horizon, those whose finances took a tumble in January might be in for a world of additional pain.
Nearly half of federal workers fell behind on their bills during the last shutdown, according to Prudential. Meanwhile, more than 25% missed a rent or mortgage payment, and 13% fell behind on their student loans. And that's bad news, because missed payments are a quick way to send an otherwise solid credit score into unfavorable territory.
What's equally disturbing, however, is the fact that 62% of workers who had emergency savings depleted all or most of those funds. Without those cash reserves, those same workers are apt to find themselves out of luck the next time they're stuck with an unplanned bill -- or the next time the government decides to shut down and withhold their pay.
If you used up your emergency fund during the last shutdown, it's imperative that you replenish it before you really end up needing that money again. Here's how.
1. Curb your spending -- immediately
Whether the government shuts down again or not, you still need emergency savings for life's unknown expenses. A good way to build your cash reserves back up is to examine your budget, identify those expenses that are nonessential, and cut back to the extreme until your bank account is made whole. That could mean canceling your cable package, limiting yourself to home-cooked meals, and sticking with free entertainment until your savings are in a more solid place.
Is that a fun way to live? Absolutely not. And it's also no way to live on a long-term basis. But on a temporary one, it's a worthwhile sacrifice if it prevents you from falling behind on bills or racking up debt the next time an emergency strikes.
2. Sell some of your stuff
We all have things lying around the house that we can live without. If your emergency fund recently went from healthy to nonexistent, part with a few of those items and use the proceeds to pad your savings. You can sell the old laptop you hardly bust out, the handbag that rarely leaves your closet, or the kitchen gadgets that, let's face it, are really only taking up space you'd rather have back.
3. Get a side hustle
One of the most efficient ways to boost your cash reserves quickly is to get a second job and bank the income you earn from it. Even if you're not willing to work a side hustle on a long-term basis, doing so for a number of weeks or months is a good way to bring your bank account balance up to a more robust place.
If you're not sure where to begin, see if it's possible to consult in your current field. For example, if you're a web developer and your contract doesn't prohibit you from freelancing, try scrounging up some clients in need of new websites. Or you might fall back on some of the jobs you did as a kid, whether it's babysitting, dog walking, or shoveling snow. Your side hustle doesn't have to be a career move -- it just needs to put some cash in your pocket sooner rather than later.
Incidentally, all of these tips work if you're facing a host of bills you're behind on paying, too. By slashing expenses in your budget, selling belongings, and working a side gig, you'll boost your near-term cash flow to get yourself into a better spot financially -- even if you're still reeling emotionally.
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