The economy has been a frightening subject lately. Bank failures, government bailouts, mortgage crises, bankruptcies, plunging stock markets … it’s enough to make anyone quake in their boots.

The average person who hears and watches this financial chaos is probably scared spitless. While stocks rise and fall, while banks fail or get absorbed, we the citizens are being buffeted by hurricane-force winds, battered and bruised and terrified, knowing good and well that we – individually – can do nothing to stop, change or alter the course of financial history now taking place.

Folks, it’s time to batten down your personal hatches. If you’re planning on riding out a hurricane, you’d better prepare.

One of the problems of my generation is we’ve always taken abundance for granted. Having never lived through hard times, we were probably bored with our grandparents’ intense frugality that resulted from surviving the Great Depression. Why save aluminum foil or keep hairpins beyond their functional use when all you have to do is … buy more?

That’s become the solution for most Americans: buy more. Everything is plentiful.

We are a nation of individuals that have completely and utterly lost the ability to take care of ourselves. Some call this self-sufficiency. Lest the term be misunderstood, let me explain that I’m not talking about holing up in the mountains with a bristling arsenal of guns and a they’re-gonna-get-me mentality (though learning to shoot is a valuable skill). I’m talking common-sense preparedness.

I’m not an economist. I’m a wife and mother. My primary concern is for our safety and security. When I sense a threat, I do what I can to brace my family.

Recently, my 10-year-old daughter overheard my conversation with a neighbor about the spiraling economy, and she questioned whether we were heading for another depression.

I told her, frankly, that I didn’t know. But we discussed what people can do to get ready for (or at least lessen the impact of) an economic meltdown.

It’s a question worth examining because, in my opinion, it’s never a bad thing to be prepared. Believe me, if the stuff hits the fan, my husband and I are going down fast, because the last thing people will be buying are wooden tankards (which is what we make for a living).

Let’s put it this way: If you knew that a Great Depression was just around the corner, what would you do to prepare? What if your grandparents could have foreseen the circumstances in 1929 while it was still 1928 – what could they have done to get ready?

Remember Y2K? Well, my husband and I prepared extensively for that. We had an infant and a toddler depending on us – believe me, there was no way we were going to compromise their safety and security because we were too lazy, too stupid, too embarrassed or too much in denial to treat it seriously. Yes, we prepared.

And yes, we were prepared to be wrong. Those who didn’t get ready were not prepared to be wrong. Think about it.

That’s how I’m viewing our current economic concerns. I’m preparing to be wrong. Can’t hurt, might help.

So, how can we brace ourselves for something as momentous as a depression? First, you must understand that few people can prepare to the extent that a depression won’t affect them in a profound and personal way. The best we can do is to minimize the impact.

I googled “preparing for depression” and reviewed several articles summarized as follows:

  • Store some food. Six months’ worth is good; a year is better.
  • Grow some food. Urban farming is becoming all the rage.
  • Live in affordable housing. If your mortgage is scary now, imagine how you’ll feel about it later.
  • Develop some skills. If your only talent is to find $300 shoes on sale, now is the time to start focusing on something more useful. Sewing, mechanics, first aid, carpentry, canning … pick something.
  • Live below your means. Shop in thrift stores. Buy in bulk. Whenever you whip out that credit card, consider whether you’re buying something you don’t actually need.
  • Pay off debt. Yeah yeah, I know. Easier said than done.
  • Save up some money (ditto).
  • Don’t incur new debt. Duh. Put that credit card away.
  • Learn to do stuff on your own. If everything from your meals to your laundry is prepared or provided by someone else, now is the time to start fending for yourself.
  • Diversify your income. In rural America, it’s common for people to make a living wearing several different hats (farmer/ mechanic/ backhoe operator, for example). Maybe you should do the same. That way if one source of income dries up, you won’t be left destitute.

None of these suggestions are novel or unusual. It’s what the financial conservatives have been preaching for years.

It does no good to stick your head in the sand and pretend not to see the hurricane on the horizon. The economy is too important – and too powerful – to ignore. It can wipe you out if you’re not careful.

The principal thing to remember is, do what you can. If you live in a high-rise apartment in New York City, then you won’t be stacking six cords of firewood or planting a two-acre garden. But there are things you can do. So do them. Now.

And please don’t go for the mindset of “I don’t have to prepare – I’ll just come live with you.” Anyone who takes this issue seriously already has a laundry list of close friends and relatives we’re willing to take in. We don’t need to take care of you too. Sorry, you won’t be welcome. Grow up and be responsible.

Like Y2K, the concerns about the economy could be exaggerated. But like those of us who had no regrets about preparing for Y2K, don’t you think that preparing for an economic downturn will bring you greater peace of mind … than not?

Don’t delay. Get going.

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