Federal government employees are out of work, and so are numerous contract workers who count the government as a client. And then there are people like Steve Silberberg, 52, based in Boston and the owner of Fatpacking.com, which specializes in fitness backpacking adventures throughout the country.
"Since our destinations are primarily national parks and national forests, we can no longer operate," Silberberg says.
Surely Silberberg is exaggerating a little. Can't his operation go somewhere other than a national park or forest? Not as easily as one might think. First, his guided trips are typically 40 to 100 miles long, and although state parks are an option, hiking through a national park is part of the allure of his business. Silberberg also needs to apply for permits to lead his hikers (usually about 12 per trip) and camp in the parks and wilderness areas within national forests, and the permitting offices are closed. When they do open, he doesn't expect to get his permits quickly since the offices will likely be backlogged with paperwork.
If the shutdown continues and Silberberg has to begin refunding money - an early November trip in Arkansas is now in jeopardy - he figures three of his contract employees will lose $1,000 each. Silberberg expects he will lose $10,000. "I know this isn't much for many people," Silberberg says, "but I promise you, taking people backpacking is no way to start an invincible financial empire."
So if you're losing your livelihood or significant income in the government shutdown, what should you do? Here are some ideas.
Don't panic. Yes, every friend, family member and personal finance writer tells this to anyone in a bad situation (usually while they try to think of some useful advice), but there's a good reason not to freak out. First, the government shutdown may not last long; this could be a brief vacation of sorts for you.
Secondly, "making sudden financial moves based on fear and emotion usually leads to poor decisions," says Brent Pittman, a Los Angeles-based personal finance coach and blogger who writes OnTargetCoach.com.
And this isn't the time to raid your retirement account or take out a loan just yet, Pittman says, especially if it turns out that this shutdown is brief.
Long before you go that route, Pittman suggests taking inventory and looking at your emergency savings (assuming you have some) and considering what possessions you might be able to sell if you need to. In other words, if you're at all concerned, it might be time to have that garage sale you've put off for years. It's worth considering even if your bank account looks healthy for months to come. You could be productive and pad your account.
But whatever you do - whether it's collecting aluminum cans or enjoying a staycation - this is a chance to think strategically about your plan of action if things do go badly.
Get a little mad. Email or call your congressperson or the White House and explain that you aren't pleased that the shutdown is affecting you. You can find contact information by going to the following websites:
Do the obvious. In other words, this isn't the time to schedule an expensive getaway to Europe. If the shutdown lasts longer than a week and doesn't appear to be reaching a resolution soon, people "would need to behave just like the laid-off workers from our recent recession," says Mac Clouse, a professor of finance at the University of Denver. "Cut back on the discretionary spending, especially things like entertainment, luxury items, unnecessary car trips, high-priced food items and so on. Belt-tightening will be required."
Don't get a part-time job just yet. After all, you still have a job, and maybe you're in the position of working full-time but knowing your paycheck may be delayed. In any case, if you aren't working, check with your employer to see if working elsewhere temporarily will get you in hot water.
"It's always very important to review and cross-reference all the guidelines laid out by someone's primary employer to be sure that there aren't any conflicts of interest or policies being broken," says Janette Marx, a senior vice president at Adecco Staffing.
Still, for some contractors who don't work for the government but depend on government clients, seeking work elsewhere might be a smart move. Silberberg, who spent years as a software contractor before starting Fatpacking.com, is considering looking for a part-time position as a software programmer, but he recognizes that it's easier said than done.
"It can be difficult to find a company that needs a software contractor for exactly three to six months, with my particular expertise, and that starts now," Silberberg says.
Creditors may be kinder than you think. You won't know until you ask. During the government shutdown of 1995-1996 (it started Dec. 16 and ended Jan. 6), some banks and credit unions offered low-interest loans to furloughed federal workers. Yes, it may have been a self-interested, somewhat hollow gesture; the banks were, after all, offering a product they would make money on. But a gesture is a gesture, and with the government shutdown likely to remain the top story for some time to come, you may find that creditors are willing to work with you, at least a little.
Keep an eye out for furlough deals. During the 1995-1996 shutdown, Delta Air Lines slashed its prices by 50 percent and later 60 percent, and other airlines followed suit. Granted, with fewer passengers flying, the airlines were forced to do something to drum up business, but based on history and logic, retailers may begin offering government shutdown sales and special deals aimed at furloughed workers. Already, at the Daily Dish, a mom-and-pop restaurant in Silver Spring, Md., owners Zena Polin and Jerry Hollinger are promoting their "Government Shut Down Special."
Regulars will likely appreciate the sentiment, an idea Polin devised the morning of the shutdown. Any federal government worker who visits the restaurant during the shutdown is entitled - at least, as of the time of this writing - to a free cup of coffee.
Make that almost any federal government worker. As Polin and Hollinger make clear on their website: "Members of Congress pay double."
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