Even the most news-averse amongst us cannot help but notice the dark times ordinary Venezuelan people are currently going through. Those of us within the relatively financially cheerful Western world don’t quite understand the plight of other human beings who simply live in another part of the world.
But what exactly is the problem, and why am I writing about it on a personal finance blog?
The point was driven home by a couple of news articles recently that it really ultimately doesn’t matter how prepared you are to weather financial storms with emergency funds, if the country falls apart around you in spite of your 1-6 months of expenses sitting in your bank account. When your currency is worth less than the paper it is printed on, or the inflation rate so sky-high that the 30% pay rise you got in the morning means you still can’t afford a loaf of bread by the time you finish work in the afternoon (assuming you can find one in the first place), really what can you do?
Venezuelan people, particularly in the poorer regions, are literally starving. They cannot get medicine, and they wait in lines from 3-4am until late into the evening, just trying to get enough staples to keep themselves fed sufficiently so that they have enough energy to get up and do it all over again in a few days time.
It isn’t just Venezuela, either. Although this is an extreme example, Greece was and still is going through much the same thing. And Greece is much, much closer to home.
The Food Has Run Out!
The conventional wisdom of an emergency fund still holds true. It will get you out of any number of bad events, or protect your house and your family while you get a new job. But take what is happening in Greece, in Venezuela, and in any of a dozen other countries right now. Then what? It is not outside the realms of possibility for what is happening to them, to happen to us. Your normalcy bias may scoff at the mere suggestion, but really what is so different to us than them? Venezuela has more oil than Saudi Arabia. Greece had a bigger tourism trade than most of the United Kingdom put together. Two very prosperous nations that lost their way through very little fault of the people on the ground.
Take the emergency fund idea one step further, and it may allow you to do what many are now having to do by necessity. The governments are saying ‘you must grow your own food’. ‘We can no longer guarantee you will see food in the supermarkets’.
Just stop, for a moment, and imagine if David Cameron appeared on television after many many months of falling food availability in our supermarkets, and saying “we give up. You are on your own”. After the initial riots and looting die down, then what? How much food do you have in your cupboards? In your freezer? In your fridge? If you’re really lucky, it might be enough to get your family through the next couple of weeks. Most people live day-by-day, popping in to their local supermarket on the way home from work. What they have in stock may be half a loaf of bread, 2 eggs, and a tin of baked beans.
Grow Your Own
Venezuelan people are trudging up mountains, on foot, to get enough fertile soil to be able to grow their own produce. There are no garden centres for them to be able to buy soil from any more. And even if there were, they couldn’t afford it anyway. There are no seeds to buy, and no herbicides to protect their crops. It is really, really hard. The lucky ones have been able to seed from items they’d already purchased (think tomatoes, potatoes, and so on), but everyone else is now scrabbling around in the dirt without even the slightest real clue how to do what their government is telling them that they must to survive. The problems they face are compounded by their need to eat now, but foods you grow take several months to be edible or ripe or at a size worth harvesting.
Depending on which person you listen to, the chances of such an event happening here falls somewhere between “never ever” and “dead certainty”. I am of the mindset that you can never really say ‘never’, and the only dead certainties in life are death and taxes, so why not grow your own, now? How much of a hardship is it to plant an apple tree. Or two? Grow your own potatoes and tomatoes and carrots and herbs and anything else you fancy. All of them can be done in pots on balconies or patios if you lack a garden proper. At the very least throw a couple of bags of compost and some seeds in the shed.
If nothing happens, then you have something to eat with your meals that doesn’t get any fresher than picked or dug up or pulled an hour before dinner is served.
If disaster does strike, you already have an established garden from which to pull valuable calories and nutrition for you and your family.
It’s a Calorie Emergency Fund.