saving money

How to Survive in Troubled Times

The events of the past few months and especially this week are disturbing and troubling at best. Food and gas prices are rising faster than they have in a long, long, time. The value of our retirement accounts are on a wild roller coaster ride and our incomes are not keeping pace with inflation. It’s a scary time and one night I was wondering if there was anything that we can do to calm our fears and help us sleep at night?

The other night I was particularly restless and decided to go downstairs and started watching The Matrix. I watched the movie, the scene selections, listened to the audio commentary and viewed every piece of footage on the DVD. Then I stumbled across the strangest scene of all – it must have been a ‘deleted scene’ that didn’t make it into the released version of the movie. In this scene Morpheus was explaining to Neo how to survive troubled times. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and even felt the back of my head for one of those ‘Neural connectivity ports’.

The scene opens with Morpheus sitting across from Neo as a thunderstorm is raging outside.

Morpheus: Welcome Neo. I’ve been searching for you for quite some time.

Neo: Morpheus?

Morpheus: Yes. Do you know why you’re here?

(Neo stares with a confused look on his face)

Morpheus: Let me tell you why you’re here. You have a nagging feeling that something isn’t right with the world. The economy is all mucked up and you’re afraid you 401K will be worthless in a few short months. You can’t explain it, but you know something is wrong with the markets, our banks and our energy policy. You worry about these troubled times, and you can’t sleep at night. You’re searching for an answer, Neo. It’s like a splinter in your mind.

Neo: Yes, yes.

Morpheus: But it’s the question that’s driving you, Neo. You know the question, don’t you?

Neo: How does one survive troubled times?

Morpheus (smiling): Yes, Neo

Morpheus: Surviving troubled times is something that cannot be explained. I’m going to have to show you. But, I have to warn you. Once we begin, there is no going back. If you take the blue pill, you wake up in your bed and believe what you want to believe. Take the red pill, and I will show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. (pause) I only offer the truth. Do you still want to know what it is?

Neo: Yes (Neo takes the red pill)

Morpheus: Good. Then let us begin. Your strategy for survival should consist of ideas that are focused in three areas:

1. Your budget – find things you can implement today to improve your finances

2. Your career – plot a mid-to-long term strategy to earn more cash

3. Your family & self – strategies to satisfy your soul and improve your relationships

Neo: I’m listening

Morpheus: Cut out the incidental expenses. This is an action you can take right now. Bring your lunch to work instead of going out. Do you really need that expensive Grande-triple-shot-non-fat-one-pump-vanilla late? You will be surprised by how much you can save in a month.

Neo: Interesting – I bet I could save $40/month

Morpheus: Cut the nice-to-haves from your budget. In this category of budget savers, take a look at any recurring expenses that are nice to have and ask yourself “are they truly essential”. There’s a big difference between something being truly essential and something being nice-to-have. These items may hurt more than other money saving tips, but you what are you most interested in? Saving your house or owning a fancy iPhone? I know two families that don’t have cable – and they’re doing just fine. Do you have an unused gym membership? Do you really need a newspaper subscription? You can get all the news you need and more from the internet. And don’t forget your local library.

Neo: wow you’re right, I forgot about that gym membership. I could save another $50/month

Morpheus: Call your credit card companies and ask for a reduction in your interest rate. This really does work. Give it a try. Now. I’ll wait.

Neo: Really? I’ll call now.

Morpheus: Shop for cheaper auto insurance. Insurance companies are constantly changing their rates and it’s up to you to shop around for the best deal. I’ve noticed a pattern where I’ll get a lower rate when I first sign up, but after a year or two I’m hit with increases. But, I switch again and take advantage of lower rates. You may want to check with your employer – they may offer group discounts for auto insurance as well as homeowners. Check out for a comparison of various types of insurance.

Neo: Got it. Now what’s the name of the insurance company with the lizard?

Morpheus: Do something outstanding at work. Now we’ll shift gears and discuss a few things that are designed for longer term benefits. By focusing on your career, you want to put yourself in the best position as possible for a raise. It’s time to become a top performer and let your boss know your contributions. Many people have their reporting manager in another city and rarely talk to them? It’s up to you to inform your manager of your performance – they typically have too many people to take care of, to do an adequate job of performance rankings. I know there are many, many dynamics that impact someone getting a raise – and some of them are not be fair. But, if you’re a top performer, you’re at least in the running for an increase and it gives you ammunition if you don’t get one.

Neo: Hmm…but I’m in a dead end job. What do I do now?

Morpheus: You have a couple of choices, none which are easy. Start a second income. This one will take a lot of work but it may turn out to be very rewarding in the long run. As Johnny Bunko learned “There is no Plan” when it comes to career progression. There are plenty of people that started something as a hobby which grew into a rewarding, satisfying, full time job. Have you ever dreamed of starting your own business, writing a book or building something? Take a good look at your situation, your interests and skills and decide once and for all, to commit to your dream. Start small while you have the security of your day job. Yes it’s going to be difficult, but anything worthwhile is usually not easy.

Neo: Start my own business? Hmm..I always wanted to become a …… (Neo drifts off into dream land)

Morpheus: NEO! Pay attention. There will be plenty of time to plan your future once our little talk is done. We don’t have much time, the next tip is thes: Look for a better job. What’s holding you back? The best way to get a pay increase is to switch jobs. Yes, it’s risky, scary and puts you out of your comfort zone. But maybe that’s what you need.

Neo: ok, I’ll update my resume today

Morpheus: Keep learning and apply your new found knowledge at [work, home, play]. This has worked particularly well for me through the years. I spend a lot of time learning new skills and taking different assignments – some of them very uncomfortable. But, in the long run you increase your knowledge, experience and confidence. All these things make you more valuable. Think about it: If you owned a company, would you want your employees to stagnate or would you want them to be constantly growing and learning?

Neo: learning is fun

Morpheus: Good. Now listen up, we’re changing focus again. The 3rd dimension that needs to be addressed is ‘Self & Family’. My advice to you is this: Let your soul shine. It’s time to focus on the positive things in your life. Are you secure in your job? Are you and your family healthy? My wife called me while I was on a business trip recently and mentioned the bills we received in the mail that day and a few other not-so-fun-things that happened around the house. I then mentioned that we’re lucky to not be one of the people we know in our neighborhood that have breast cancer. We’ll pay the bills and deal with the other stuff, but those are mere annoyances compared to being seriously sick. Remember to put things in perspective.

Neo: yea, you’re right

Morpheus: Learn to stop worrying and start living. These are the words and book by the great industrialist Dale Carnegie. If you haven’t read his book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”, I highly suggest you do. It may just save your life. Many of us spend time worrying about things that may never happen or are beyond our complete control. Also, the act of worrying will not solve or change the problem you’re worrying about. Think about it. Instead of spending time worrying about something, spend the time to make a plan to counteract the problem. Only then will you be able to sleep at night. Carnegie’s formula to eliminate worry is simple:

1. Determine the absolute worst outcome

2. Prepare to accept the worst

3. Make a plan to counteract the worst

All of a sudden I woke with a start, staring at the main menu of the Matrix DVD. Still in a sleep induced state of confusion, I slowly realized that I must have been dreaming. But what a dream. I have to write this down before I forget everything…

This post was written by Victor Stachura.