After 35 days, federal government workers are finally back at work and are expecting to get their back pay.
For many, it was a terrifying experience. Most government workers, particularly the ones that were affected by the shutdown, don't make a lot of money. Most live paycheck to paycheck. To make matters worse, few, if any leaders in Washington, seemed to understand the effect of the shutdown on real lives. From the Coast Guard and TSA to the IRS and the Justice Department, real people found themselves trying to figure out how to pay their rent or their mortgage.
It was stressful and depressing and the temporary fix will only last until February 15. But there were some bright spots. Some of the nation's biggest lenders put together programs to help government workers.
Here is a short guide to surviving the next government shutdown and sadly there will be one at some point.
- Talk to your creditors now - Call your mortgage company, landlord, and even credit card companies. Let them know that you work for the federal government and that you're on the list of "non-essential" personnel. If there is another shutdown, you will be furloughed and not getting paid or will be working, but won't even be eligible for unemployment. Ask them to put a note in your records so that if you have a problem later, they are already aware of it.
- Pay rent/mortgage in two payments - Your mortgage company won't care and it will save you money in the end. Speak to your landlord about paying your rent in two payments each month. This way, if the paychecks stop, you have a 50% chance of having half of the month's housing paid for.
- Pay down one credit card - Pay down one credit that has a decent credit limit. Then lock it away. Let that card be your emergency card. Take it out and use it once a quarter so that the credit card company doesn't close it. The rest of the time, you don't have that card. It will be there to get you by for a few weeks.
- A second job on standby - Try starting a side hustle, like Uber or online freelancing, now. If the government shuts down, you can increase your hours. If you start now, you'll be in a position to just increase your income when there's a problem. If you wait until there's a shutdown, it will take too long to get something started. Uber, for example, requires vehicle inspections and background checks. These things take time. Get it done now.
- Talk to your creditors as soon as it happens - This last shutdown was a mess. If there's another shutdown, call your creditors on day 1 and call them every week after that. Ask them how they can help. Let them know that you're good for the money. Nothing makes creditors more nervous than not hearing from the people who are supposed to be paying them. Talk to them and be honest. Most will do what they can.
There will be another shutdown. That much we can count on. There are things that you can do now to make money when that happens.