The unemployment rate is at 10% in the US. The global pandemic that is the coronavirus has pulled the global economy to a halt, and the US is one of the countries that has been hit the hardest. Small businesses are closing left and right on Main Street. Is there a complete economic collapse coming our way? Or we already seeing it happen in slow motion, right before our eyes?
Survival and the Coming Economic Collapse
We can all agree that 2020 has been a rough year for practically everybody. While other countries have begun to recover, the prolonged effect of COVID here in the US has crippled the economy and it doesn’t seem like things will go back to normal anytime soon (at last until there is a vaccine). Meanwhile, everyday working people are suffering and businesses both large and small are cutting costs (except for those that got fat bailouts).
While the stock market hasn’t reflected the underlying economic pain that the country is facing (yet), it’s clear to any of us who live in the real world how bad this recession (or depression?) is going to be.
All I know is that walking down Main Street in the small town I live in, it seems like half of the businesses are shuttered and about half of those have closed up shop for good.
I don’t necessarily think that this will lead to a complete economic collapse, but it does bring home the idea that disaster is always looming right around the corner… and that even though we didn’t see the complete collapse of the US economy this time, its entirely plausible that such an event could occur in many our lifetimes.
So, we do the same thing that we always do on this site – if we anticipate a disaster, we plan for it, prepare for it, and then hope it doesn’t happen. This doesn’t change just because it’s an economic collapse rather than, say, a massive hurricane or earthquake. The survivalist philosophy applies just the same. As the saying goes, “hope for the best and prepare for the worst”.
Before we get to the list of preparations that you should make if you anticipate a coming economic collapse, we’ll mention that at the end of this article, there is an explanation of some of the causes of economic collapses that we’ve seen in history. If you don’t understand why the system sometimes breaks down, its worth reading our explanation as a way to brush up.
Economic Collapse Preparation List: 10 Preps to Survive
1. Start with the Basics: Build up a Stockpile
This is probably the most straightforward thing you can do if you want to prepare for a disaster, and that includes a financial disaster/economic collapse. Build up a basic cache of supplies that will help you meet your basic needs, at least for a couple of months at minimum. Your basic needs are
A) Breathable air
(Read more about this order of priorities in our article about the survival rule of threes).
An economic collapse isn’t going to make the air toxic, so you’ll be fine there. I’m assuming that you currently have a home, and we’ll tackle how you can provide shelter for yourself in some of the other points below. So that leaves water and food.
For water, it’s probably smart to have some amount of stored water – perhaps a large tank of safe drinking water. More importantly, you should have a way to filter dirty water in reasonably large amounts. We’d suggest that you buy a bunch of survival water filters – each one can filter quite a large amount of water, and source of unclean water aren’t hard to find – lakes, rivers, even just rain from the sky can all be sources of water for you in a real survival scenario.
Food is more difficult. Most people these days don’t produce their own food – they buy it, and unlike water, it doesn’t just come through a tap in your kitchen. There is no “food distribution system” built into your home that you can turn on and off at a whim.
In an economic collapse, the food supply could be severely affected, meaning rows of empty shelves in grocery stores and supermarkets (alternatively this could mean that these stores are simply shutters and no longer operating). Either way, that means you won’t have easy access to food. Additionally, your money will either be worth substantially less (if we’re talking about rampant inflation) or you’ll be earning less (or no) money due to the economy tanking, leading to pay cuts and mass unemployment.
So, how do you combat this? You use the money you have today to buy food for the future. Meaning you build a stockpile of shelf stable, long-lasting food that can feed you and your family if the economy gets so bad that food is unavailable. You might think that this is an unrealistic situation, but it’s happened before – during the great depression, a great number of families struggled to acquire enough food.
We don’t go in depth into what food you should stockpile – you can go read our article on the best survival foods if you want to learn more about that.
The point is, in a true economic collapse, either food will become extremely expensive, or you’ll have no income, or the places you can buy food will be severely limited (or a combination of all these things). So you want to stock up on food now – we recommend building a stockpile of food that can last you at least 2 months, and some choose to build stockpiles that can sustain them for as long as a year.
2. Add to Your Stockpile: Get a Stash of Survival Gear
Once you’ve got your food (and water) stockpile set up, the next thing you want to focus on is tools. The thing that sets humans apart from animals is our ability to use tools to make our lives easier. From the wooden spear to the personal computer, the history of tools is the history of human development.
If you foresee an economic collapse, then you want to arm yourself with the same type of tools that were used prior to our current industrialized economy. With an economic collapse, it’s likely you’ll need to start doing things yourself – whether its skinning and butchering your own meat or fixing things that are broken around the house (rather than paying for a specialist).
We mentioned above that shelter should be near your list of priorities, and in an economic collapse, who knows what might happen to your home (unless you don’t have a mortgage, your living situation could change drastically if the economy collapses). What’s a tool that can give you shelter in dire circumstances?
So add that to the list as the first tool you should get. Cover all your bases, don’t assume that you will have access to shelter, and get yourself a portable shelter that you can take with you if an economic collapse leads to you losing your home.
Other important survival tools that should be in your stash:
- Survival knife (a knife is the most important survival tool overall)
- Multi tool
- Survival shovel
- First aid kit
- Over the counter drugs (stock up on the basics)
- Wiring (for DIY, snares, fish hooks, – wires are almost as versatile as cordage)
- Hatchet or machete
- Portable wood stove (in case they cut off your gas/electricity)
- Generator (more on this later)
- Anything else you can think of that you might need when you no longer have the ability to pay for things or pay people for services
Remember, we’re planning for an economic collapse, not the literal end of the world. That means a return to a more traditional way of life, meaning more manual labor, more work around the house, and less access to modern conveniences. This list would be quite different if you were preparing for some kind of natural disaster.
You might want to check out our list of the top 20 survival tools for more ideas.
3. Simplify your Life (now)
If you truly want to prepare for an impending economic collapse, then the responsible thing to do is to start preparing for it now by making real changes in your lifestyle
(If you’re living paycheck to paycheck then this doesn’t necessarily apply to you).
Cut back on luxuries. Downsize your home, trade your car in for something cheaper. Stop paying for cable. Start focusing on simpler, less expensive foods. Spend less on eating out, on delivery, and so forth. Basically, pare down your lifestyle (and the costs associated with it).
You’re doing this for two reasons. Firstly, by simplifying your life now, you’ll be quicker to adapt in the future. While others panic or mourn over the difficult times up ahead, you’ll be able to keep moving forward without missing a beat.
Secondly, all the money that you save by simplifying your life now can help you prepare better in various ways. You can use this money to boost your stockpile of food, to get more tools for survival. If you put the money you save in your budget back into preparations, you’ll reap the rewards later – other folks will be desperate but you’ll be able to keep your family safe and fed.
Think of it as an investment of sorts – or perhaps a more apt comparison is insurance. Think of any money that’s redirected into preparedness as “insurance” against a future economic collapse.
4. Hedge Against Inflation: Precious Metals & Cryptocurrencies
A true economic collapse can be unpredictable. We don’t know which regions or industries will be affected the worst. We don’t know how long things will take to recover. We don’t know if the cause of the collapse will be rampant inflation or excess consumer debt (or something else). There are three things that are virtually guaranteed in a genuine economic collapse. The first is that a lot of people will lose their jobs. The second is that the stock market will plummet. The third is that the price of gold will rise.
Don’t get us wrong – if the country (or the world) truly descends into chaos in a SHTF, apocalyptic type scenario, then gold might not be worth much while you’re fighting for your life.
However, in the case of an economic disaster – one where our political and social institutions are still largely functional – the price of gold (and other precious metals) will likely rise. Gold prices rise when the economy is suffering, and in particular when the economy is suffering due to inflation.
We have a whole breakdown of the different types of survival scenarios and whether or not you should buy gold in this article: Buying Gold and Silver for Survival (in SHTF)
The key takeaway here is if you want to prepare specifically for an economic collapse in the vein of the great depression or what happened in the Weimar republic, then stockpiling some amount of gold is a very good idea. This will shoot up in value when the crisis comes, and you’ll be able to capitalize on that, which will go a long way towards helping keep your family safe and sound.
Another thing that you might want to look into is investing in cryptocurrencies (in particular bitcoin). This one is more nuanced – historically gold has always been valuable to humans, so when we say you should stockpile or invest in gold if you expect an economic collapse, we expect a rise in the price of gold because it’s just a matter of how valuable gold will be relative to the US dollar (or your home currency). If the value of the dollar falls, the price of gold will rise and in a depression, the value of the US dollar will likely fall. Plus, people buy gold when they don’t have any good options for investing, and in a recession where the stock market is down, people will move their money into gold.
With cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, there isn’t a long track record. It’s a bit of an experiment, and it could be the case that when push comes to shove and there’s an economic collapse on par with the great depression, people abandon the experiment of cryptocurrencies in favor of genuinely “hard” assets that you can see and touch. After all, in the last great depression, cryptocurrencies did not exist.
That being said, is the idea of cryptocurrencies interests you at all, they’re worth taking a look at. In recent years, bitcoin has performed extremely well whenever people have been worried about inflation, plus it has also gone up because more and more people are getting comfortable with the idea.
Along with its limited supply (the math behind bitcoin sets a very strict limit on the eventual supply of bitcoin), many libertarians and survivalists are fans of it because it truly belongs to you – no government or company can lose your bitcoin, or freeze your bitcoin. It can’t be taken away from you and can’t be accessed without your agreement. Obviously, you could still be coerced to give it up. However, unlike the cash in your bank account (if the bank goes under, and the government guarantee behind the back doesn’t pay out, your money is gone) – cryptocurrencies don’t need to be stored on your behalf. You can store them yourself, and so they truly belong to you.
Obviously, if we’re anticipating that it will be difficult to access electricity, that might mean you no longer have the internet or have a way to use the computer, in which case cryptocurrencies might be useless to you. It depends on what kind of scenario you’re picturing.
So – in summary. If you anticipate an economic collapse, gold (and/or silver) is almost definitely a good idea, and cryptocurrencies (and bitcoin in particular) are worth looking into.
5. Additional Things to Stockpile for an Economic Collapse: Barter Items
Along with gold and other precious metals, you’ll also want to get your hands on some stuff that other people will find valuable. In truth, everything we’ve mentioned so far will likely be extremely valuable and therefore barterable (food, tools, gold/silver). We’ve also already mentioned first aid supplies and common medicines. On top of these, a few items that will likely be useful:
Guns and ammo – not the magazine, but physical firearms and ammunition. We’re not necessarily talking about a situation that involves mass violence breaking out – but even so, people will want guns and ammo, and if the dollar is becoming worthless, this demand will only increase.
Seeds: If folks can’t afford food or the grocery stores have gone out of business, then people will go back to growing their own food. That means they’ll need seeds. Pick seeds of plants that are both easy to grow and reasonably filling – think beets,, potatoes and beans (as opposed to “light” foods like lettuce or difficult to grow plants like corn)
Livestock: Similar reasoning to the above. In particular, it’s not unrealistic to learn how to raise chickens, even with limited space. Chickens also produce eggs which will also have value. Raising rabbits is another possibility. Obviously, with livestock, you’re committing to doing this now (as opposed to seeds, where you can simply keep the seeds for bartering).
Vices: Things like cigarettes and alcohol will likely still be in high demand no matter how bad the economic collapse (one might even imagine that the demand will increase as people try to drown their sorrows)
We have a list of the best barter items to stockpile here which goes into more depth about the various items and commodities you should think about stockpiling if you want to be able to barter for goods and services in an economy where the dollar has no value.
6. Self Sufficiency: Grow Food Yourself
For a lot of people, if the economy collapses, there are two main areas of concern. The first is that you’ll no longer have a home (if you can’t pay the mortgage or rent). The second is you won’t be able to feed your family. If you know how to grow your own food, and if you make a habit out of cultivating a survival food garden in whatever space you have, then you’ll never be without food, eliminating one of the biggest worries you might have about an economic collapse.
The kinds of things you choose to grow should be determined by how easy they are to grow and how filling the resulting food product is. For example, potatoes are both reasonably easy to grow and very filling – so they’re an excellent thing to learn how to grow. Spinach on the other hand, is not filling and is difficult to grow – a gardener or a vegetarian might get excited about the challenge or growing spinach, but for you, the focus should be on what’s most practical. Learn how to grow your own food and your family will always have something to eat.
7. Prepare for Economic Collapse by Learning Survival Skills
We carved out growing food as its own thing above, but really, other than stockpiling different kinds of resources, the best thing you can do to improve your ability to make it through an economic collapse is to learn new wilderness or urban survival skills.
Every DIY skill you master is something you don’t have to pay someone else for, whether it’s plumbing, electrical, carpentry or anything else.
If you learn how to make activated charcoal and make your own water filters, then you’ll likely never have to worry about not having clean drinking water.
If you know modern food storage methods, or if you know how to smoke and dry meat, or how to ferment vegetables to increase shelf life – all these skills will help you keep what food you have edible for longer, eliminating waste and making more of what you have already.
The point is, the broader your arsenal of survival skills, the more self sufficient you’ll be. The best survivalists don’t need worry about the potential of an economic collapse because they know that if push comes to shove, they can just disappear into the wilderness and they’ll be able to provide for themselves – they don’t need to rely on “the economy” to survive.
Not to mention the fact that if you know how to do things other people don’t, you’ll be able to “barter” those skills for additional resources. For example, if you can help a neighbor preserve the meat that he has because you know how to dry and smoke meat to safely extend its shelf life… That’s a valuable service that you’ve provided. You could probably negotiate a cut of the meat (that would have gone to waste) or something else entirely in exchange for this service.
8. Protection Against Rising Crime: Home Security
If there is an economic collapse, you can bet dollars to donuts (maybe you’d prefer to have the donuts in this case) that crime will rise, particularly in dense urban areas and economically stunted rural areas. If it becomes known that you’re the family that has a stockpile of food, water, and medicine… well, things could get ugly real fast.
Ideally nobody finds out that you’re well prepared – but just in case they do, you’ll want to start thinking about improving your home security.
In terms of home security, it doesn’t need to be anything fancy – but reinforcing doors and windows, making sure the locks are sturdy, having a firearm or (non-gun self defense weapon) – these are all good ideas. You can even use one of these low cost home defense tactics if you’re on a tight budget.
The point here is that you want to deter potential burglars from even attempting to rob you by making it seem dangerous and difficult.
9. Just In Case: Backup Electricity (Generators)
This one will depend on your circumstances and how badly you think the country will suffer if there’s an economic collapse. If you believe that things will get so bad that a lot of people won’t be able to pay their electric bills – then who knows if the power company survives. If the power company goes under, you might not have easy access to electricity, even if you are one of the few people who can afford it.
So get yourself a generator. Personally, we like the idea of something solar (we actually have a list of the best portable solar generators right here) – however, depending on where you live, a solar generator might not be appropriate, in which case you’ll want to get a fuel generator (its a good idea to stockpile some fuel to go with it).
As a rule, a generator is a good thing to have if you consider yourself a prepper. Obviously access to electricity makes life a lot easier. We understand that they can get expensive and not everybody can afford one, but if you have room in the budget (perhaps from the savings that have come from simplifying your lifestyle), then definitely get yourself either a fuel or a solar generator. They’ll let you do a wide range of potentially life-saving things that other people can’t if there’s no access to electricity.
In terms of economic collapse, a generator isn’t the top priority, but it could still come in useful and if you want to be prepared for a range of disaster situations then a generator is a must.
10. Prepare for What’s Coming: Get Debt Free (If You Can)
If there is an economic collapse and many people lose jobs, unless the entire system is overturned, a lot of people will be evicted or foreclosed on. If we’re talking about a genuine collapse like the great depression then this will be even worse than what we saw in 2008.
One way to avoid this is to be relatively debt free. Obviously this is not possible for everyone, we understand that money doesn’t grow on trees. But working to free yourself of debt could mean that you keep your home while others don’t. Pay off your credit cards first, then other loans, then your home loan. Don’t borrow additional money, and in particular, never borrow money to buy unnecessary stuff (e.g if you have a working car, don’t borrow money to buy a better one. Don’t take that 0% financing deal on a piece of furniture).
There is an argument to be made that if the economic collapse is caused by out-of-control-inflation, that debt won’t matter (because the amount of money you currently owe will be worth much less). However, not all economic crises are caused by inflation, and from a survival perspective, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
11. The Last Resort in an Economic Collapse: Exit Strategy
In an economic collapse, things are likely to get bad. While you’re not necessarily preparing for a complete societal breakdown, an economic collapse certainly makes a societal collapse more likely. So it would be wise to have an exit strategy. Make sure you have a passport, and that it’s always valid to travel on. Have a general sense of what you might do if an economic catastrophe turns into a full on SHTF situation. Whether it’s Canada, Mexico, or just hiding out in the woods, you should have an exit strategy in case things go from bad (economic collapse) to worse (war, mass starvation, martial law, etc).
What Causes an Economic Collapse?
A number of things can cause economic collapses. Broadly speaking, these events fall into two categories.
Exogenous (From the Outside) Shocks Leading to Economic Collapse
The first is something that happens outside of the economy that then has an effect on the economy – for example, a global pandemic, or a massive earthquake that destroys a lot of property. These types of shocks to the economy happen because something tangible occurs that stops people and businesses from being productive. For example, if a factory that produces t-shirts is caught in the middle of an earthquake and destroyed, that factory is no longer going to be producing anything.
Something of value is being produced, but has now stopped being produced – that’s damage to the “real” economy, meaning the total amount of stuff we make (and stuff we do) has shrunk. As a country, we’re making less T-shirts, and so the economy has shrunk.
If an earthquake was big enough and destructive enough to destroy every factory and store in America, that would definitely cause an economic collapse.
An even more extreme example – say an asteroid hits the earth and kills 95% of the population. In this scenario, the “economy” would obviously collapse. Economically productive people and property have both been largely destroyed.
It’s obvious to anyone that in this kind of situation, the world economy would shrink by more than 95% (likely the modern idea of the economy would cease to exist altogether and we’d revert to tribalism). That’s what we mean when we say an external shock – something outside of the economy destroys some percentage of our ability to produce useful stuff.
Endogenous (From the Inside) Shocks Leading to Economic Collapse
The other category of event that can cause an economic collapse is something that happens within the economy itself. A good example of this happening is the 2008 financial crisis.
A bunch of bankers made huge bets. Those bets didn’t work out for them, but they were large enough that the banks they worked for couldn’t pay them off. Banks all borrow and lend money to each other, so when one bank has no money, this affects a cluster of other banks that might have lent them money. If multiple banks collapse, then ordinary people start trying to pull their money out of the banks, which then causes a run on banks, further worsening the situation.
The above is basically a very simplified explanation of what happened in 2008. It may sound silly – after all, no “t-shirt producing factories” were destroyed in the process, so we didn’t actually “lose” anything valuable in terms of our productive output.
Historical Examples of Economic Collapse (Due to Rampant Inflation)
However, if you look back in history, economic missteps by governments and financial shenanigans are much more likely to prove the ultimate demise of an economy than any real physical disaster.
For example, one of the reasons why the Weimar Republic collapsed after world war 1 was that the German government of that time owed a lot of money (in the form of German Marks) to other countries. This was a kind of settlement for the damage caused in World War One, as agreed to in the treaty of Versailles.
The German government’s solution to this crippling debt that they owed was to just print a large amount of German Marks to pay off their debt. Unsurprisingly, this led to hyperinflation (where a currency essentially loses all of its value), which then ravaged the German economy. After all, if your entire life savings can’t even buy you a loaf of bread, then something serious has broken economically.
The financial mismanagement during the Weimar Republic led to the collapse of the German economy…and in turn eventually led to the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party.
Similar situations have been seen in:
Zimbabwe: Where there was a banknote for 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollars issued
Venezuela:Where some people have turned to “farming” video game money because it is worth more than Venezuela’s official currency – this situation is ongoing to this day. Cumulative inflation from 2016 to April 2019 is estimated to be 53,798,500%
Peru: In the 1980s through the first part of the 90s, inflation ran rampact. At one point, 3.2 billion Peruvian soles were worth 1 US dollar.
This kind of inflation also affected the ancient world. Ancient Rome experienced this problem (along with many other problems) in the third century AD.
A succession of emperors devalued the Roman currency by literally mixing in less valuable metals like bronze and copper with precious metals like gold and silver when producing coins. They did this in order to create more coins so that they could pay the armies more. It was a time of political instability in Rome, with the title of emperor changing hands frequently, and so every new emperor that came in would essentially “bribe” the army with this newly produced coinage to keep them loyal.
Over time this led to runaway inflation, which exacerbated existing problems with trading networks across the empire, and eventually led to people losing faith in Roman currency altogether. As trade became more dangerous and less viable, people started focusing on producing food and other basic necessities for their own families and local communities. This eventually developed into the serfdom that existed in the middle ages.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Given the many examples of economic collapses in both ancient and modern history, if anything we should be even more wary of the economy collapsing due to mismanagement and issues from within rather than external shocks.
Is there an Economic Collapse Coming Due to Uncontrollable Inflation?
Many people actually believe that we’re seeing that mismanagement right now – the US government certainly owes a lot of money, the deficit isn’t getting any better (in fact it has grown since president Trump was elected), and the modern Federal reserve certainly printed large amounts of money in the recent past (once to stimulate the economy after 2008 and once in 2020 to reduce the effects of COVID).
Will we see a collapse of the US economy? In fact, why haven’t we seen it already? The US isn’t in that different of a place then the Weimar Republic was after all – large and growing debts, and an affection for printing money to pay it off.
The main difference here is the value of the US dollar as it relates to demand from people and governments in other countries.
Hyperinflation occurred with the German mark because the supply for marks grew massively while demand remained the same (and eventually shrank as panic set in). That’s because German marks were primarily used in Germany and nowhere else.
With the US dollar, because it is a currency that is not only used in the US, but is also used internationally by governments and businesses all around the world, demand has (so far) kept up with supply. Foreign businesses (and regular people) are often happy to transact in US dollars, and foreign governments are (for the moment) still happy to buy up debt from the US government.
If this situation were to ever change – if, for example, most of the world decided that they trusted the Euro or some other currency more than the US dollar – given the way the country is being run these days, it is likely that inflation would pick up rapidly and we’d be quickly on the brink of an economic disaster.
This kind of event can happen in the blink of an eye – the nature of modern economies is that everything is interconnected – so all it takes is one thing to go wrong (for example, a major ally decides it no longer trusts the US dollar as a currency and makes it obvious) and suddenly everybody’s panicking and the whole thing collapses like a house of cards.
So, if everything can go from normal to disastrous in just a few days or weeks, how do you ready yourself for an economic collapse? You do it by preparing ahead of time by arming yourself with useful stuff and useful skills.
Ultimately, if we do experience an economic collapse, most of those who have prepared for it will come out the other side in better shape financially and physically. If you think it’s a realistic possibility in the next decade or two, then it makes sense to start preparing for it now.
Here’s a parting thought that hopefully will bring some comfort to you – humans have existed before the conception of the modern economy ever existed, and (some) humans will likely survive even if the “modern economy” ceases to exist altogether. If you have the skills to truly be self sufficient, then you don’t need to rely on any economic, political, or societal system. Modern society provides a lot of creature comforts and definitely makes all our lives a lot easier than they would be otherwise – but if you know you can survive without all of it, then you’ll have nothing to worry about if it ever happens.
That’s not to say that you should quit your job now, exile yourself from society and go live in a remote cabin in the woods (do it if it appeals to you).
All we’re saying is that you should start preparing now – in terms of gathering resources and developing skills – so that if the economy collapses and society as we know it changes into something you no longer want to participate in, you can be comfortable in the knowledge that you’ll be able to survive regardless.