Personal Finance and the End of Days

Over the last month, I’ve received many emails from followers of Harold Camping, a Christian radio host who is claiming that Jesus will return to Earth and the end of the world will occur within the year. One such email:

If you were truly serving your readers in these times, you would provide advice for how to prepare your assets for such an event.

First of all, I don’t believe in Camping’s prediction. At all. If nothing else, the Bible itself – the document that Camping’s predictions should theoretically be based upon – clearly states that no one can accurately predict the end of the world (Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32 are pretty clear in that regard).

However, the reader does bring up an interesting idea. How should you plan financially if you truly believe that a calamity is coming?

For starters, I would never, ever put myself in a position where my family would be destitute after such an event. I would never burn through my assets in the short term. Instead, I would just make absolutely sure that I had an estate plan that put my assets in a good place after I passed. In other words, I’d make sure that my assets were in a place so that those who survived whatever I believed was coming would have an improved chance at a quality life. This might mean leaving things to my family first, and then, in the event that they weren’t around, I’d give that money to organizations that might use it in a helpful fashion.

At the same time, I would focus on building useful skills. This serves two purposes. One, if such an event does happen, I would be prepared with basic skills to handle whatever may come. I would know how to cook meals. I would know how to grow vegetables. I would know basic first aid. In essence, I’d be of useful assistance no matter what the situation. On the other hand, if such an event doesn’t happen, I’m still at least somewhat more able to handle the world around me.

What skills would I focus on? I’d make sure I could provide for my basic needs as best as possible. Can I prepare food? Can I forage in my area? Can I communicate well? Can I hunt? Can I do basic first aid? For the most part, these aren’t just useful in a desperate situation, but they’re also useful in everyday life.

Similarly, I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to have some bulk food and water in reserve, as long as you’re actively using it before it expires. Having such things in reserve can come in great handy if you’re ever caught in a severe crisis, like a natural disaster. Thinking that “it can’t happen to me” is usually a mistake. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, blizzards, and other such events do happen. Mother Nature can be a harsh mistress.

Here’s the real key of it: basic supplies and skills are never a bad idea. They can come in handy during the best of times and certainly during the worst of times.

However, sacrificing your financial future is a mistake, no matter how certain you are of a cataclysmic event. All the faith in the world does not bring the power to predict what will happen in the future. We do not know what future anyone holds for us, God or nature or otherwise. All we can do is prepare for the breadth of possibilities, good and bad.

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  1. guinness416 says:

    Just out of idle sunday-morning interest, and aside from planning for disasters, what qualifies as “many emails” on this and other posts? I’ve never even heard of this lunacy, can’t imagine many of the nutter’s followers would be emailing you, or why really!

  2. tentaculistic says:

    Maybe I don’t understand the term “end of days” well enough – my thought is that if everything ends, wouldn’t the only preparation we would need is to have our souls in order? We can’t bring anything with us to the afterlife, right? (genuinely puzzled here)

    So, end-of-days aside, if we’re just talking about supplies and such to be prepared for emergencies or situations in which our just-in-time economy is disrupted (and crumbles for a period), I highly recommend these books:
    *98.6 (Cody Lundin)
    *Where There Is No Doctor
    *Peterson’s Field Guide to Edible Plants
    *Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills, Third Edition (Abigail Gehring)

    Just in case folks are building their bug-out bags/go-kits.

  3. valleycat1 says:

    There are those who claim the world as we know it is going to end May 21, 2011, based on a selective interpretation of a few references to “day” in the Bible actually meaning 1000 years, and counting from when they think the world began.

    If he’s really gotten a lot of emails, they’re most likely talking about buying gold & silver. They’re the ones buying precious metals at the height of it’s cost. I’m not sure why they aren’t working much harder to convert people so they aren’t around. [repeating tentaculistic's thoughts]

    I don’t see how any personal financial planning or asset planning would keep survivors in good shape if this happens, as the world is supposed to be going into chaos. Skills, basic supplies & tools, might put them in a better position. Some would add plenty of guns & ammo.

  4. DeeBee says:

    Thank you for this very sane and measured response to the End of Days scenario. I just found out that an acquaintance (not a good friend) of mine is a follower of Harold Camping. She is giving all her possessions away on May 20 because she believes that she is going to be “Raptured” along with Camping and his followers on May 20, 2011. I have no idea about the rest of her estate.

    I believe in the right to religious freedom, but I felt so uncomfortable and conflicted when I heard her statements. I worry about what Camping’s followers will do if they find themselves still here on Earth on May 22, as most believe that the world will end completely on October 21, 2011. Camping had made an erroneous prediction before, and I wonder how many people gave up their jobs, livelihood, families, healthcare, etc. to follow him?

    DeeBee

  5. chris says:

    This is the most odd posting I think you have ever made. First off, those readers who follow that nut are following a false prophet (follow false prophets = you’ll wind up in hell). If they at all read the Bible, then they would know this, as you alluded to in your post. Second, if the end is near and if Christ was to come to Earth, then there would no need to prepare and do anything with your money or possessions. Does the “rapture” mean anything? The only ones left would be the unbelievers and those who Satan would rule over, so…..?????

  6. todo es bien says:

    Seems to me like the only good strategy for end of world would be to run up your credit cards. ; ) Not very trent-like.

    Also, I heard a funny story recently about a place where you can buy insurance to take care of your pets in case you get “raptured”. Anyone interested can buy direct now, send me $100 bucks and I will feed your pets if you get “raptured”.

    Also, I am willing to post the following wager to all comers: If world ends by 12.31.11 I will pay you $10,000. If not, you pay me $100. You have to like your odds!

  7. lurker carl says:

    No mortal has ever been able to predict the future except general or obvious events and never to pinpoint accuracy. We’ll know for sure by this time next week. In the meantime, don’t drink the Koolaid.

    Too bad no one has figured out how to teach common sense.

  8. Elaine says:

    Looks like Trent is running out of things to write about. Dear god.

  9. Kate says:

    I just read about these kind of thinkers in a book: The Wilder Years.

  10. Kate says:

    You could do what a group did in the South in the 70′s when they predicted the end, according to their “gospel”. To show their faith, they sold their businesses and stopped using birth control. Surprise, surprise.

  11. Kathryn says:

    #7 todo es bien – not just pets! There was a group out there promising, that in the case of Rapture, if your children were “left behind” this group – for a prepaid fee (don’t remember the amount) would swoop in and take care of them.

    There have been such predictions for centuries, and there will always be some who follow.

    I think the folks writing Trent are probably chastising him for “laying up treasure” on this earth rather than to sell it all and convert those who read his blog, so that he will “be ready” when the end comes.

    As he so well points out, Jesus told us quite clearly that no one knows when that day will be. I think he is quite right to focus on the fact that his responsibility is to be a good father and to provide for his family.

  12. Tizzle says:

    It’s easy to make fun of this fringe group, but there are plenty of end-of-days believers even in mainstream Christianity.

    I want to say, thank you for this post. Because I was brought up thinking money wouldn’t matter much, partly because of Christ. Mistakes I made when I was younger, money wise, are still affecting my life.

  13. mary m says:

    If I thought the world would end next week the only financial planning I would do would be cash out my 401k and take the whole week off and blow it.

  14. jim says:

    Wikiepdia has an article on the rapture and they list dates that people have predicted. The rapture was/ is supposed to happen in :

    1844, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1942, 1975, 1988, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 2000 and now 2011. (I’m sure thats not all inclusive list)

  15. Mark says:

    god and his followers are all so silly!

  16. guinness416 says:

    Interesting, Jim! What the hell (ha!) was happening in the late eighties/early nineties to have them predicting it so often?

  17. Camille says:

    I was just going through our canned goods & extra water today. If you don’t do this, start now, because there’s a learning curve. I learned that one-gallon jugs of water are better than the 2.5-gallon containers, because the big ones leak after a while. Glad I had them stored where I did, the leak didn’t hurt anything. Also, I tossed out a bunch of canned things that expired in 2009. We plan to work on buying what we use and using what we buy so the rotation will work better.

  18. kristine says:

    tentaculistic- great book list!

    And yes, as a non-believer, I will happily take anyone’s money as insurance to take care of their pets after the rapture.

  19. Nicole says:

    As a Christian I cringe when I hear about people who quit their jobs (I have a hard time believing that God would want me to bail on my boss and coworkers even at the end, rather than serve out my commitments with dignity, but maybe that’s just me) and are budgeting to have nothing left. I figure the only thing they’re going to wake up to on May 22 is unemployment and disappointment.

    The advice is good advice. The problem, if you look at it that way, is that for the scenario they’re expecting it simply doesn’t work; none of that stuff will truly help or have the slightest impact on one’s fate.

  20. Nicole says:

    Also, I know some of y’all are at least half joking or being sarcastic about charging for “post-rapture services” but at any level it makes me ill that people would consider taking advantage of others like that, much less do it. Please stop encouraging.

  21. Lisa says:

    I live in NYC and the papers here all carried the story of the retired transit worker on Staten Island who spent his entire retirement savings of $140,000 to buy subway ads telling people about the end of the world on May 21 so they could prepare their souls; I have no idea what this poor gent will do the morning of the 22nd when he wakes up and realizes he is broke.

  22. Georgia says:

    The Bible says that Christ will return at a day and time that no one expects. So – if someone tells me a date like this, I can tell them emphatically that it won’t be that day and time. They must think God is a dummy.

  23. Tim says:

    Thanks Trent! I’d always worried about this myself and I’m glad to know I’m not alone. Some follow up questions: What if Bigfoots are real and they are organizing for some kind of mass attack? How do you think those attacks would effect my emergency fund? What percentage of my savings should be set aside for the Sasquatch Aftermath?

  24. Mary says:

    I think the principle trying to be taught here is to prepare for disasters or unfortunate experiences by getting your assets under control.
    The end of the world may not happen on May 21 but unpredictable events do occur and it’s best that we are prepared for them.
    Having a storage of food, water, clothes and fuel is a good idea in the case of a layoff, a disaster, or any other problem that might occur.
    Also having a skill that would be marketable (like sewing, candle-making, gardening, etc.) would be handy in the case of a social collapse (i’m not saying a social collapse will happen but it’s good to prepare for the worst and hope for the best).

  25. almost there says:

    OK Trent, time to cover all bases and post about David Icke. :)

  26. Kate says:

    Thanks Trent for acknowledging this cultural phenomenon because even if these folks are on the fringe they reflect how easily humans can be swayed by fear and irrational thinking. Your blog is all about common sense and rational thinking so it gives me hope that the Harold Camping folks will have this site to come to after May 21st when they will need to rebuild their lives—emotionally and financially.
    I know it’s a kick for folks to poke fun of these Camping followers but I don’t think mental illness is funny—it’s sad.

  27. Marta says:

    Thank you for this post, it was right on track. I believe Jesus is returning VERY SOON, however, I agree that the Bible says no man knows the day or hour, so we must live our lives (morally) as if it could be at any moment, yet plan as if its in the far future.

    My advise for those who wish to DO something with their assets quickly, is to really make that a matter of sincere prayer. If assets should be liquidated to support the Lord’s work, then pray about how much, when and whom it should be entrusted to.

  28. Tanya says:

    Very sensible response. Most importantly, have your own soul in order. Life can end abruptly at any time.

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