Philosophy Week, Post 4

By | Thursday, December 17, 2020 Leave a Comment
Are you ready?
My wife and I picked up a saying from a friend a few years back: if you stay ready, you don't have to get ready. (I suspect she cribbed it from Suga Free.) It's similar to the old Boy Scout motto: be prepared. The idea in both cases is that, if anything unexpected pops up, you're okay to deal with it.

There's actually three aspects to that, though. First, can you handle the expense? The most recent statistic on this I've seen said that roughly 60% of Americans could not cover a $1,000 emergency, and the same study found that the average emergency -- the type that affect a little less than a third of people every year -- is actually more like $3500. That's not even getting into health care coverage issues. So to stay ready here, how much should have socked away in your emergency fund?

The stock answer is six months of living expenses. If you spend $3000 a month on rent, utilities, groceries, etc., that means your savings account should have $18,000 in it. The thinking is that, if you suddenly lost your job, you'd still be able to cover your bills for six months until you landed a new one. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most people are able to find a job in about one month -- but I think that's absolute horse shit. My current job took a month and half just for the interview process. I think six months is WAAAAY too conservative a number. I've seen more than a few financial experts say an 8-10 month emergency fund makes more sense, and a full year would be ideal. But regardless of what number is "right" here, the idea remains that you should try to set up some financial cushion in case you're hit with some unexpected expenses.

The second aspect to staying ready/being prepared is your knowledge and skills. Do you have at least the knowledge, if not the pracitised and honed skills, to deal with whatever gets thrown at you. This one is, admittedly, a little ambiguous because there's an infinite number of different types of emergencies you have to face, so what could you learn and/or practice to be ready for anything? Dealing with a stalled car on the highway is obviously a radically different problem than getting bitten by a snake on a hiking trip. Both of which are also radically different than having to put together a new resume after a sudden company-wide layoff, which is radically different again than the power going out on your block for a week. So what do you prepare for? How do you narrow your focus enough to what's "most useful"?

Honestly, I don't have a good answer for that. I think one of the things that's helped me over the years was being adept at applied knowledge. That is, I can take learnings from one book or situation and apply them in a meaningful, practical way somewhere else. I'm no electrician by any means, but I did learn about circuits back in school so I can deal with some basic electronics issues. I knew why it was important to hook up jumper cables on your car in a certain manner well before I had to actually do it, thanks to that basic education for example. The other thing that's helped me here is that I keep trying to learn new things every day. Whether that's through YouTube videos, or "Instructables" articles online, or just good, ol' fashioned practice, I keep trying to pick up whatever I can because you never know when something might come in handy.

The third aspect to staying ready is emotional. If you suddenly have to face some emergency, can you keep your head well enough to deal with it? Certainly, taking care of the first two goes a long way towards this third, and not having those first two makes this third one insanely more difficult. And it doesn't even factor in whatever emotional baggage you might be stuck with thanks to PTSD or domestic abuse or something equally (or even more) horrible. But it's absolutely a consideration. All the money in the world and all the skills in the world won't do you a lick of good if you're in a state of panic.

I think this can at least partially be addressed in your considerations for the knowlege/skills area. If you think about which emergencies you might need to prepare for, you can also mentally work out some of your plans in advance (even if you haven't gotten the skills part down yet). By reviewing what you'd like your reaction to be in a variety of emergency situations, you've already started steeling yourself for the event itself. If you think about how you should react if you ever find your house on fire, you're less likely to be frozen in place when it does happen as you try to assess all your options in a matter of microseconds.

Of course, there's always something that can come completely out of nowhere and blindside you. But the more situations you've planned for -- financially, intellectually, and emotionally -- the more you're able to roll with things as they start getting thrown at you.
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