Personal finance | Alex Veiga

Be prepared if the end is near (or not)

Mayan sages held a ceremony in Cuba last week to mark the end of the Mayan calendar. But end of world or not, planning has its pluses.
Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press
Mayan sages held a ceremony in Cuba last week to mark the end of the Mayan calendar. But end of world or not, planning has its pluses.

The Mayan calendar is supposed to end next week, and some believe we’re on a countdown to the end of the world. The gambling website puts the odds of the world’s ending on Dec. 21 at 300 million to 1. But that’s not keeping some believers from stockpiling food and preparing to flee urban areas.

Whether you fall into that camp or are decidedly more skeptical, being prepared, for a worldwide cataclysm or a hurricane, begins with getting finances in order.

“Before the disaster strikes is the time to start getting prepared, in terms of financially getting yourself out of debt and establishing some savings and supplies,’’ says Arthur Bradley, a NASA engineer and author of ‘‘Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family.’’


But that is only the beginning. A calamity could render the banking system inaccessible, something for which Americans aren’t prepared, certified financial planner Louis Scatigna says. Here are some tips on how to prepare financially:

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 Hold cash. Access to credit or investments may not be available. Stocks may suddenly drop in value. Lenders may reduce or eliminate credit lines overnight.

‘‘Your money is just bytes in a computer,’’ Scatigna says. ‘‘It’s very, very important for people to have cash on hand.’’ How much? Bradley recommends $1,000, in $20 bills so it’s easy to make change.

 Get out of debt, beef up savings. A mortgage, car payments, credit cards, medical bills — all limit the amount one can set aside. Start by slashing credit card debt, and use plastic only if you pay off the bill each month. Bradley recommends gradually setting aside enough money to cover all expenses for six months. Having trouble? Cut down on expenses like dining out and use coupons.

 Stash some gold and silver. Many investors have put money in precious metals as a hedge against the declining value of the dollar. When the dollar declines, gold prices rise.


That’s fine as an investment, but in a financial crisis, it might be difficult to cash that in, the experts say. So they advise that anyone who is concerned the dollar could decline dramatically look into owning some gold and silver.

Expect to pay a 6 percent premium on gold coins and a 10 percent markup on silver coins, Scatigna says.

Also, it’s important to have a mix of gold and silver coins because, in the event of a dire emergency, silver coins can be traded for less expensive items.

 Set aside things for bartering. Take stock of items around your home that could be valuable to others in an emergency: things like food, water, medicine, liquor, coffee, chocolate, candles, and batteries.

  Buy supplies now. Ask anyone how much a bottle of water or a gallon of gas cost after a hurricane. Disasters drive demand and prices for critical goods higher. So prepare well in advance, but gradually.


  Keep end-of-the-world concerns in perspective. The biggest disaster many are likely to face is losing a job. Yet many who fear the automatic spending cuts and tax hikes — the fiscal cliff — may feel their anxiety rising.

So evaluate your savings and have your records in order. If the time comes, you’ll be able to determine which expenses you can cut quickly.