On August 31, Hanjin Shipping declared bankruptcy. The South Korean company’s declaration left $14 billion worth of cargo and more than half a million containers stranded offshore, as ports fearful of going unpaid refused to allow the company’s ships to dock or unload.
So why should we care?
First, Hanjin Shipping transports 8 percent of manufactured goods that enter into the United States. Look around. Imagine if one item of every 12 you see suddenly became unavailable. It adds up fast, doesn’t it? Companies like Wal-Mart and Target are twiddling their thumbs while they wait for Hanjin to work out how it’s going to pay to get everything unloaded. Even if they don’t have anything on the ships in limbo, they still have to try to find other ways to ship their goods. Samsung, for example, is considering sending smartphones and devices in cargo planes to accommodate its U.S. market. That’s going to cost extra.
And this time of year, as retailers order more goods for holidays, there’s not a lot of extra shipping space to go around. Already, freight prices for Asia-U.S. cargo have jumped 40 percent, according to The Wall Street Journal. Honestly, what are the odds retailers won’t pass any of these costs on to consumers?
Second, for the moment, fewer manufactured goods are reaching the U.S. Though no one is predicting shortages, and every financial planner predicts the bankruptcy mess will be sorted out by the end of the year, it means supply could be temporarily reduced, again driving up prices right around the holidays.
“This is not impacting store shelves now,” Nate Herman, a senior vice president for the American Apparel & Footwear Association, told The Wall Street Journal. “It will impact store shelves if the situation isn’t resolved.”
The world is a global marketplace. A bankruptcy in Asia can cause the cost of goods to increase in Indianapolis. A leaking oil pipe in Alabama can cause fuel shortages and governors to declare states of emergency in six states.
“The key to keep in mind is that anything can happen,” said Kaylee Chen, a peer mentor at the University of Utah Personal Money Management Center, in an e-mail. Add, “anywhere.”
“Therefore, always prepare for any possible emergency,” she said.
Start by building long-term food storage. And don’t be afraid to use it when you need it.
Early in 2015, avian influenza affected more than 35 million egg-laying hens, or 12 percent of the domestic population, according to a June 22, 2015 blog from the American Egg Board.
The USDA’s Egg Market News Report said for the week of June 22, 2015 a dozen large eggs sold for a $2.35 national average. The average price over the previous three years, for the same week, was about 95 cents.
Second, have an emergency savings.
Kayleen Chen, a peer mentor at the University of Utah’s Personal Money Management Center, suggested the 50/30/20 rule. Fifty percent of a paycheck should go toward fixed expenses, like house payments and utilities. Discretionary expenses that can be adjusted, like grocery bills and fuel, should take up about 30 percent. Twenty percent should go toward short-term savings, an emergency fund and retirement.
The short-term savings fund is for future expenses like holidays or a down payment. An emergency fund helps when things come up like car repairs or doctor bills, to avoid paying for them with high-interest debt like credit cards or short-term loans.
Women should put 12 percent of their salary toward retirement; men 10 percent, Chen said.
“The reality is that women live longer and make less income than men,” she said.
Third, get out of debt. Interest never stops, even when you’re struggling.
Consider learning additional skills that can translate into side jobs for additional income or to help get out of debt. Chen used the example of a piano teacher. She also encouraged a budget or lifestyle change. Peter Dunn, a financial columnist for USA Today, suggested decreasing spending by 10 to 15 percent over time.
Personal finance collapses like job loss, divorce, medical emergencies and retirement are far more common than a major shipping company’s collapse. Creating a long-term food storage, getting out of debt and saving can reduce their impact.