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Government Shutdowns, Late Paychecks, and Real Motivation

This article was written by in People. 19 comments.

People who work for the federal government are concerned today. A shutdown of the federal government due to the lack of functional ability within the Congress might result in delayed paychecks for many government workers. Worse, if the furlough affects workers who handle Social Security payments, people relying on the government for income will not receive money when they need it.

Are you prepared if your source of income were to be delayed? A year out of college, I worked for a small non-profit organization that handled large projects, and the threat of there not being enough money in the business to send out the following week’s paychecks was always a concern. There was no overt discussion about the group’s cash flow problems, but there were paycheck delays in the past and all employees were well aware of the company’s financial status. This was particularly troubling for me, as I was living paycheck-to-paycheck at the time, or worse, growing deeper in debt when my only expenses were commuting to work, very low rent, and looking for a different job.

Without any savings, I was not prepared. Thankfully, my paycheck cleared the bank every week. If any one check bounced, I would have been in deeper financial trouble.

Building an emergency fund requires discipline, but it requires money, too. If you’re growing deeper in debt every month and are not spending money on anything non-essential, having enough savings to last a few weeks seems out of the question. Forget about having an emergency fund big enough to last three to six months or one month for every percentage point in the unemployment rate. These are great goals, and so often touted by financial authors and gurus, that it’s easy to forget how difficult it is for a family to reach that point.

No government worker, Social Security pensioner, or anyone else who relies on every dollar of their income to meet their basic expenses can afford to be working without some kind of emergency funding plan. it’s easy to blame the government or the non-profit organization that doesn’t pay you enough for your problems if you need to go a week or two without your income, but if you’re prepared, you don’t have to blame anyone.

Getting to the point of preparation is difficult, and extreme situations call for extreme actions. I’m a big fan of moderation, but that’s a luxury available to those who can afford not to focus intently on saving every possible cent. This is where financial gurus will offer motivational encouragement, like, “You can do it if you really want to and you try hard enough!” and “Just trim 10% off your expenses at first — it’s easy!” In reality, for many people in a paycheck-to-paycheck or worse situation, that’s not going to happen, and motivational speeches are meaningless. The best real motivation is living through the consequences of your financial circumstances — hitting “rock bottom.” For some people, accepting financial failure and seeing the results materialize in your life — being left by a loved one, losing your house, resorting to illegal actions to improve your finances, perhaps even going to jail — is the only trigger. And the truth is that some people will never recover. Changing your life around requires the change in mindset that one sometimes goes through when they live at rock bottom.

Those who have hit rock bottom often use their story to try to help others before it’s too late, but ironically, they often use the same motivational techniques that didn’t work for them initially. There’s not much else that can be done, however.

Published or updated April 7, 2011.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

You should always be prepared with an emergency fund. The better question is will Congress and their aids continue to get paid even though 800,000+ workers will not? It wasn’t the workers fault Congress didn’t do their job and pass a budget!

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avatar 2 rewards

Like every employee, one should always consider the trust worthiness of their employer public or private.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

This is a tough perspective Flexo. Perhaps you are right, we may need to hit rock bottom before we change our behaviors.

In the meantime, my blog post from yesterday does offer a proactive solution for government employees that is actionable now.

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avatar 4 OrchidGirl

I don’t know if someone has to necessarily hit rock bottom. My own friends’ bad choices and the consequences were motivating enough for me. I can’t imagine living without enough of a cash cushion that if one paycheck got delayed, it would be a major problem. But then again, some of my friends can’t imagine using a budget. To their credit though, as more financial problems come up, they are getting more serious about learning about personal finance.

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avatar 5 skylog

i agree with a lot that you say. i did not really have any issues myself, but i was not on the path i needed to be. when i did eventually “get it,” and started making the right decisions, it was just as much about what i saw around me as it was seeing something in myself.

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avatar 6 Anonymous

Flexo, the same thing goes for changing many behaviors. Over eating, drinking too much, smoking.
It is difficult and the motivation needed to make the changes is different for everyone. Some smoke on their deathbed from emphysema in their fifties.

New moms frequently quit the day the stick turns blue…If we could only find the “easy button” quicker…

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avatar 7 wylerassociate

I think the great recession that we have been in since 2008 should have changed people’s behaviors because it changed mine. Let’s face it we live in america and most americans are incredibly arrogant and ignorant who just don’t get it. I for one hope that there isn’t a government shutdown.

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avatar 8 skylog

a fairly large generalization about americans…but one that i sadly more or less agree with.

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avatar 9 Ceecee

Congressmen still get paid even if there is a shutdown—-that beats all. Maybe they are trying to tell us to be the people making the rules!

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avatar 10 Donna Freedman

Good advice, Flexo: No one can afford to be without an emergency fund. Friends of mine are being asked to take week-long furloughs. One of them had real problems with that. I wouldn’t be WILD about missing a paycheck, but I could absorb the loss. If it’s kosher to post links, I did a post for Get Rich Slowly about how to pull together an EF on a shoestring: link

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avatar 11 faithfueledbennetts

While an emergency fund does sound like the perfect solution, it is for sure not realistic for everyone. My mentally ill great uncle & elderly grandma come to mind when you mention social security. There is no way they scrape the bottom of the bucket any more than they already are. I find it sad that the downfalls of our government hurt the people who need help the most-ESPECIALLY the families of our troops who are in active duty! It is awful to think that while a person in uniform is risking their life for a country that will not put it’s foot down for a military family and meet their basic needs such as food on the table & ensuring a paid roof over their head!

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avatar 12 Anonymous

Had some good news yesterday. Navy Federal Credit Union, providor of financial services to many military families, will pay all service membrs their norma allotment on the 15th, if there is a shutdown. That is amazing customer service. They are gambling that the shutdown (if it happens) will be brief, and the Government will back-pay accrued benefits when it is resolved.

Also, being a Navy family, I have been tuned into how this will impact is. Our commissary will close. No groceries! This may not be a big deal to those of you out of the military loop, but cheap groceries are a key benefit for us.

Let’s hope they work it out today.

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avatar 13 shellye

Kudos to Navy FCU on their committment to exceptional member service! I think it’s shameful the way our government has treated its own military and their families with such shoddy wages for the outstanding job they do in protecting our country and defending our Constitution while making enormous personal sacrifice. I can’t say enough good things about the military hope this shutdown will be brief for many reasons, but supporting our military and their families is the biggest one.

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avatar 14 Anonymous

I don’t necessarily think a person needs to hit rock bottom. They already know they are in trouble.What they need is a solid plan; someone to sit down with them and show them how to calculate a reasonable budget based on their own expenses and income. A lot of times the reason they are in trouble (and I know this first hand!) is because they have no clue how much they spend each month – the money literally flies out the window. Once they see their basic expenses and income on paper, they begin to realize they do have enough money, they’ve just been spending it in the wrong places; like eating out, magazines, cell phone plans with internet, etc. Money doesn’t come with instructions, but there is lots of information out there that can help.

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avatar 15 Luke Landes

Little House,

It’s hard to say what anyone needs. Different people need different things. What you suggest won’t work with some people, unfortunately. You can sit someone down all you want, but if they’re not in the right mindset, it will be a useless exercise. It can be eye-opening the first time you get a good look at the numbers as your money flies out the door, and that can be enough to motivate some people. For others, numbers are abstract and have no meaning unless there are physical — or even painful — manifestations of what those numbers are.

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avatar 16 Donna Freedman

@Little House: If the money “literally” flies out the window, those folks need to put up screens. The word “literally” means it actually happens. I am a charter member of the Stop Mis-Using The Word “Literally” Foundation.
I take your meaning, though: People don’t realize where their money goes because they don’t track spending or even pay attention to how they’re spending. And I’m with Flexo: People have to be READY to hear that they need to get a handle on their spending. Ask any financial planner who has suggested budgeting and you’ll hear stories about people who found a reason they absolutely couldn’t do without certain (unnecessary) items. One CPA told me that she eventually tells such people, “I can’t help you if you’re not willing to do the work. Come back when you have no choice but to budget.”

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avatar 17 Anonymous

It’s always sound advice that folks should take greater personal responsibility and save for the unexpected, like the loss of a job, but your assessment of the current crisis in Washington is a bit off. Socical Security checks will still go out, the mail will still be delivered and life as we know it will hardly be interupted. Of 4.4 million federal employees, only about 800,000 will be impacted. The rest of us will barely be inconvenienced.

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avatar 18 tigernicole86

Hey Flexo, this gov’t shutdown could affect those in the military. I have 3 sibs in the Navy. The elder 2 are well prepared and have EFs that will tide them over for the next year(God forbid that their pay be delayed that long) but the baby, she just has 1 month of expenses saved up seeing as how she’s only been in the military for just over 6 months and on occassion, (hate to do this to you, Donna) will literally spend like a sailor on shore leave. And she called me panicking a little about the delay in her paycheck(it could be a week, it could be a month or more). For us civvies, not much will change unless you didn’t file your taxes or you have a federal trial going on. In both cases, good luck!

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avatar 19 Cejay

They say that the most prolific preacher of anything are the people who have been reformed from that habit. And I am living proof of that saying. I used to live in fear that my car might tear up, I was not able to call in sick and go to the doctor when I needed to or anything like that. All because I did not have an emergency fund and HAD to work every hour that I was scheduled and needed every penny of my money. So now I preach about emergency funds.

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