Prepping for Hard Times: 5 Questions to Help You Prepare for the Unexpected

As you may well already know, almost all of my posts here on the blog are inspired by something going on in my life here on the TreadlingHome-stead.

Well…today we got the news that my husband might be getting laid off from his job. While this sucks to a degree I find hard to express, we aren’t stressing because we know how to set ourselves up for success even in the most trying of times.

When faced with a situation such as this there are 5 main questions to ask yourself before you can start panicking…I mean planning:

  1. How long do I have?
  2. Am I eligible for Unemployment Compensation?
  3. How much do I have in savings and how long will it last?
  4. How much room do I have to store items I will need until this passes?
  5. How can I get the most out of the money I do have to help me through this time?
The answers to these questions will very dramatically depending on your specific situation, so don’t worry if you answer differently than I do.

Now that we know there is an issue coming up we can tackle each of these questions head on and come up with an actionable plan that will help us manage the stress of the time to come here on the homestead. For us, this will be the time between when Josh gets his layoff notice and when he is able to find another job or recalled to his current position.

So lets take a look at each of these questions and see how our answers to them can either help us prepare for, or respond to a situation we didn’t see coming. Of course, some form of prepping is always encouraged by us here at TreadlingHome (see my article 5 Easy Steps to Help You Prepare for Life’s Craziest Times to see how we do this), but we also acknowledge that not every has the luxury of knowing how to do this, or the time for that matter.

Knowing how long you have to start preparing is key for any situation.  See how we calculate that here.

I personally think this one is the hardest. The answer to this question can be anything from, “I just got called in the office and let go without notice” to months or even years (in the case of retirement).

For us, we currently know that the steel plant Josh works at has the potential of getting “idled”, a term that is feared by anyone who works in a plant and/or grew up in the Rust Belt. When a plant is idled it is shutdown with the intention of someday restarting; however, that future date is rarely, if ever, given and this is usually the first step to shutting a facility down.

A good example of this would be the Lordstown, OH Chevy plant where they used to make the Cruse. It was idled (shut down and closed until further notice) with no information given to the employees or community about the future of the facility or their jobs. This has lead to the people who worked at that plant either moving for relocation within the company or staying in town and hoping the plant opens back up soon. Instances such as this are devastating to local economies which are usually built around a large employer.

The small town I grew up by was built around the plant my husband currently works at and it is economically crippled every time something happens at the plant (layoffs/shutdowns/lockouts…). Because of this, both my husband and I have learned how to prepare for the financial hardships of a plant closure.

Currently, we don’t have an idle date, but we do know that the company is contractually obligated to give the employees a 90 days notice of a plant idle or shutdown; so we know we will have at least 90 days to prepare our finances for this upcoming hardship.

This has not always been the case for us and we have been caught in the situation that we have tapped out our savings and had to go into credit card debt to stay afloat. It’s not fun, but you can come back from it. I’ll be going over that in another article coming soon.

Are you eligible for Unemployment Compensation in your state?  Check out this simple advice on how to find out.

What is Unemployment Compensation?

Unemployment is a public program run by the individual states that is built as a safety net for those who loose their long-term employment. You file in the state that you work, not the state you live in. For instance, we live in Ohio, but my husband works in Pennsylvania, so he will be filing for unemployment compensation through Pennsylvania when the time comes.

To be eligible for Unemployment, you have to have worked for the company for a minimum of 4 months in the last 12 months and have paid into the program. The unemployment system is essentially a savings fund you and your employer pay into in case of a rainy day. Every employer with full-time employees is required to pay into the unemployment system and must pay you benefits if you are found eligible by the state.

Please remember that Unemployment Compensation is not a government handout. It is something you have paid into and you are entitled to when you need it.

It’s relatively easy to find out if you are eligible for the unemployment benefits in your state. A simple Google search will allow you to find your local unemployment office and their contact information. Please check with your state to check your eligibility for benefits as they do vary slightly from state to state.

If you are eligible, apply as soon as you are able as most states require what is called a “waiting week”, where you have to wait one week before you start receiving benefit payments. After this week, you should receive your benefit payments every two weeks just like a paycheck.

Unemployment benefits can be the difference between eating mac and cheese or ramen until you find a new job.

Do you know how long your savings will last?  See our simple tips for building savings quick and how long it will last.

After determining if you will be receiving unemployment benefits is the time to look at your savings account. Most Americans today live paycheck to paycheck, putting little to nothing into savings with hopes nothing bad will happen to them. If you are in that boat, don’t worry, starting with even a couple of dollars a week until you have enough to open that account will help you prepare so much quicker than if you don’t have any at all.

For those of us who have been luck enough to build some sort of savings, this can be used to get us through until our unemployment benefits start coming in or until we find new employment if we are ineligible for unemployment benefits. Even a small savings account can help keep you out of credit card debt you will have to struggle with later.

A great way to avoid issues is to start putting money aside as soon as you can, even if there is no impending financial disaster for you. We started by putting $5 a week aside until we were able to build a nest egg that can now get us through several months of our base bills (mortgage, phone, electricity, ect.). Starting small is better than not starting at all!

After determining how much you have set aside in your personal safety net, take a look at your monthly bills and see where you can cut costs as soon as possible. Are you subscribed to five different streaming services? Maybe cut back to 1 or 2 that you actually watch. Buying all organic foods? Try buying conventionally grown items or making those convenience items yourself.

I’ll be making another post going over several of my favorite ways to save money along with some of my favorite homemade replacements for those convenience foods that trap us all. I’ll link that here when it’s published.

Struggling to find space to store your emergency prepping items?  Find out how we did it in a small apartment and in our current house here (summery).

This question comes after you determine what your financial outlook is so you know how much money you have to stock up on the essential items. Ideally, you will have been putting aside a little extra in terms of non-perishable items when you were stable enough to, because we all know that we will have that day when everything gets pulled out from under us and we will have to fend for ourselves for a while.

This question is one of the hardest ones to answer for most people. Some of us are lucky enough to have a pantry and/or full basement to store as many supplies as we will need. We also have a full size deep freezer along with a mini deep freeze for additional longer term storage of perishable items such as produce and meats.

Because of how I was raised, I have always made it a priority to find a space to make a pantry, even if that wasn’t it’s intended use. For instance, I used the closet under the stairs in our old apartment for food storage. We had a tiny kitchen with little to no storage space in our first apartment and since we had a second bedroom for storage of large items, I decided that the under stairs storage (think Harry’s cupboard under the stairs) would be perfect to keep food and paper products long-term because it was always cool and dark.

Get creative and think outside the box with food and other essential product storage. No pantry and no basement with limited cabinet/closet space? Have a utility room or other place where the hot water tank is stored? Make some shelves, even if their small, to fit in the corners of that space, or between the heater and the walls. There is always space to be found if you are looking for it.

Now that you know how much money you are working with and the amount of space you have for storage, it’s time to make a list of items you will need to fill your prepping pantry.

Want to know how to get the most out of the money you have, even if it's not that much?  Check out this section!

Well, this happens to be my specialty. How to get the most bang for your buck when you are on a shoe string budget. I have quite a few recipes and articles addressing this issue specifically (2 of my favorite feed you for days recipes are Dum’s Chicken and Dumplings and Slow Cooker Ham and Beans).

Non-Food Necessities

The first step to figuring out how to get the most out of the money you do have is taking inventory of what you already have on hand. Start by making a list of everything you’re going to NEED; such as soap for dishes and laundry, cleaning products, personal care items, toilet paper and so on. This list will NOT include things such as hobby supplies, books for leisure reading, gaming supplies, fancy items that are unneeded at this time.

After you have taken inventory of the non-food items you have on hand, take time to evaluate if this will be enough for at least six months. If not, maybe consider increasing your on-hand stock. Most of these items I buy 6-12 month supplies of because it tends to be WAY cheaper in the long run than buying it as needed. For instance, I got about a year supply of hand soap from Amazon for under $20, where if I would buy it every time I ran out it would be at least double that amount.

I also get my toilet paper in bulk from Amazon. Since we have a septic system here on the TreadlingHome-stead it is important for us to be very selective with the products we use. Our local stores stopped carrying the brand of toilet paper that we liked, so instead of being forced to buy an extremely expensive brand that we don’t like, I took to the internet to find something that we do like at a better price. Now we buy about a 6 months supply for $58. That’s less than $10 a month!

The best way to make your money stretch for the non-food items is to again, get creative and look around for the best deals on what you are looking for…even if it means you become that Millennial who orders everything online and waits for it to come to your door like I have.

Non-Perishable Food Items

After you have taken stock of all your non-food items it’s time to take a look at your pantry and freezers to see what you have on hand and what else you will need. These items should be staple items that can be used to make several types of foods and recipes, NOT quick cook items that take up a lot of space and can only be used for one meal.

Staple items that should be included in this list are: flour, sugar/sugar substitute, rices, dried/canned beans, multi-use canned soups (all cream of’s, tomato and broth bases), soup starters (not bullion, but base), potato flakes, spices, condiments, favorite types of noodles, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, canned veggies of all types, oat meals, corn meals…

The main thing to keep in mind when looking at the foods you want to stock up on is what your family will actually eat. Also keep in mind that these are staple items that can be used to make many things from scratch and will not be convenience foods. When you are out of work you don’t have the luxury of convenience items of any sort really, so practice cooking in bulk batches and meal planning ahead of time to get used to making things at home rather than going out to eat everyday or buying expensive pre-made items at the store. The best example I can think of for this is cut veggies and meats. Don’t get the packaged ready to eat cut veggies: instead get a variety of veggies your family actually likes and cut them up yourself. It takes less than 20 minutes and saves you a ridiculous amount of money.

Think of where you found room for storage as well when compiling this list. How much extra room do you have and how much can you fit in there? Do not buy more than you can responsible store. By this I mean don’t buy 5 cases of crushed tomatoes when you only have a small cabinet that is going to be used for prepping. Rather buy half a case each of your favorite canned veggies and some rice and pasta that can be easily stored together.

Pro tip: take the pastas, rices and other dried items out of their packaging and put them into airtight containers. You will fit almost double the amount of food in the same space, even if it’s just bagged beans and rice. Trust me on this one!

Perishable Food Items

For our prepping purposes we will define perishable food items as any food that is not dried and/or canned. This includes pretty much everything in your refrigerator and freezer(s).

I touched on this quickly in the previous section, but it bears repeating; do NOT buy prepackaged foods if you need to make your money go farther. It is not good for your wallet or you health. Buy bundles of salad greens and prep them yourself instead of buying the bins. Compare the prices of your local farmer’s markets to the store you usually shop at as well. You’ll often times find great deals towards the end of the day at markets when the vendors just want to offload their extra inventory. This is when you buy in bulk, prep and store the produce in your freezer. I got 12 3 packs of fresh garlic the other week for under $3 because it was the end of the day and I was nice to the guy.

If you are looking for veggies and fruits but are having a hard time finding fresh at a reasonable price, get frozen. The frozen produce is often times better quality than you will get if you buy it fresh for out-of-season items since they are picked and frozen during the height of their harvest season instead of grown in a greenhouse and shipped across the country. Now this is of course assuming that you’re not growing your own food, in which case we will address that in another article.

Get started prepping with these helpful questions to help you get the ball rolling.

I will be going more in-depth on how to store items long-term in coming articles. For now, I hope that this helped and gave you a starting point to help keep you from loosing your mind when something bad happens, like the loss of a job.

Please let me know what your thoughts are and if you regularly practice preparedness for disasters of all types, natural and financial alike.


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