Jul 12

SHTF: What happens to Bills?

Before I even dive into the point of this post I’m going to address something, to those of you readers who saw the title and chuckled because you claim to live a “debt free” life.  I’m going to put the squash on that right now because unless you live in a totally off grid home, grow all of your own food and source all of your own water, drive solar powered cars which require no gasoline (read: you are utterly and completely self reliant) you are in debt.  That’s right, the average person might not have a house or car payment but they still are in debt.  Don’t believe me?  Let’s examine what debt is.

debt (noun)

  • something that is owed or that one is bound to pay to or perform for another
  • a liability or obligation to pay or render something
  • the condition of being under such an obligation

Some people might not have any revolving debt (credit card) or installment loans (home, car) but they are still under obligation to pay or render money to certain entities.   Utilities are a good example of this.  Every month people pay for access to electricity, water, natural gas.  Nice to have things also require obligations: cell phone bills, internet bills, television bills.  Even need to have items such as food purchased at your local supermarket means people are under the obligation to “render unto Cesar”, unless feeding the family isn’t a top priority.

Here’s the point, most of us have obligations in some form or another, so what happens to those obligations when SHTF occurs?  I have a mortgage and a car payment, I even have some student loans an a couple credit card bills I pay each month.  If the lights go out tomorrow, should I just stop paying my bills?  Well…that depends.

The first thing we must examine is how extreme the type of SHTF event is and how this impacts our ability to pay bills, and to do this there is one simple question to ask: Will people continue to go to work?  Let’s take a look at a few scenarios and answer that question.

  • Solar Fare, total loss of the grid: No.
  • Economic Collapse / Stock market crash / Hyperinflation: Yes.
  • EMP Strike, total loss of the grid: No.
  • World War 3: Yes.
  • Massive pandemic, worldwide outbreak: Maybe (Initially).
  • Nuclear War on a global scale: No.
  • 1984-ish Society, marshal law etc.  Yes.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: No.

Here’s the short answer.  If people aren’t going to be at work, it’s useless to believe that somehow your bills will get paid, or that anyone will even care about bills at that point.  If people ARE continuing to work then you’ll probably have to find a way to make those payments on time like usual.  Let’s dig into a few examples of this shall we?

A massive solar flare or EMP strike wipes out the grid in North America.  I don’t know about you but I pay most of my bills online, that will stop because the internet will be toast.  Mailing in the bill via check will be useless, the postal worker won’t be coming around and the planes or trucks which would have transported your check will be scrap metal, never mind the fact that the worker at the bank on the other end won’t be in his/her cubicle to accept and process your payment.  Nobody will be at work, all systems down, whether or not a mortgage payment will be missed will be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind in a life or death survival scenario.

What about a hyperinflation scenario, or if the markets crash in a massive 2nd Great Depression?  Times will certainly be tough but bills will still have to be paid, if that’s even possible with all of the job losses which will no doubt ensue.  However banks will still be open for business, credit card companies will still want their monthly 2% of your revolving balance and the gubmint will surely continue to desire payment on those student loans.  At that point prioritization will be key for many, forced to allow some debts to fall by the wayside (due to job loss) in order to survive.  Food and water will be high on the list, followed by keeping current on the mortgage and the utilities that accompany it.

To sum it all up, the answer to SHTF: What happens to the bills is simply this: it depends.  In the meantime try to recall some of the information I posted related to debt the next time you hear someone exclaim they are “debt free.”  A hot debate could easily ensue once you attempt to disprove their theory!

Person 1: I’m debt free!

Person 2: So you have no obligations?

Person 1: None, I’m completely debt free.

Person 2: You don’t pay utilities, put gas in your car, buy food, pay for cell phone or internet access?

Person 1:  Those are living expenses, not debt.

Person 2: Ok, so stop paying for them then.

Person 1: Well I can’t do that.

Person 2: So you need to pay for these items in order to live your lifestyle, one could even say you are obliged to pay for these items?  Obligation = debt.

Person 1:  I don’t have any debt, I’m debt free.  I read a book about it.

Person 2:



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  1. Ranger W

    good points. part of me always wants to say “once SHTF it wont matter, ill just rack up the credit cards” but the scenarios erasing anyone caring about debt are less likely than the scenerios where people will still expect payment.

    1. PJ

      Agreed, it seems like every year since 2008 it’s been “the year” the big one was supposed to happen. Still we keep hanging on…I wonder how long it will last.

  2. Pete Smith

    Not certain about equating utility bills with debt. That kind of transaction is essentially a matched pair of obligations ; the customer enters a contract with the utility company, whereby he commits to making regular payments in return for a reliable supply of a commodity. The utility company has an obligation to supply, the customer has an obligation to pay. If the electricity grid goes down, stop paying. If the gas can’t be delivered or the water can’t be pumped, stop paying. Your meters won’t be turning anyway.

    1. PJ


      That certainly is one way to look at it! Thanks for bringing that up.

      1. Robert

        The two are equated because dying of dehydration, or freezing to death in the winter, are actually much much worse than having your car repossessed, or your house put in foreclosure. They are actually MORE dangerous than debt is, if you rely on them for daily living.

  3. duncan

    I both agree and disagree:
    You can (in this country) pay for your gas and electric upfront on prepayment cards thus you can only use after paying.
    When buying grocerys or fuel you are in debt, but only until you pay.

    So I consider the issue to be more “what happens when you can’t buy food or fuel?” Either due to rising costs or lack of supply

    All the people who say they will just go buy it when they need it might well be in for a shock one day!!

    1. PJ

      Great thoughts Duncan, thanks for adding them. At least you agree partially :)

  4. Jim

    One other major “bill” that can become a major problem if unpaid is property taxes. The state or county can take your home and property if not paid

    1. PJ

      Jim, that’s assuming anyone is actually working at the state or county if T-SHTF occurs. My guess is, depending on the scenario, they will be doing what everyone else is doing…just trying to survive another day.

  5. MadMoto

    Debt is not synonymous with Consumption… You CONSUME utilities and gasoline. You CAN alter your consumption without fear of reprisal from those you formerly dealt with. You CAN choose to walk, ride a bike or go bio-diesel. You CAN choose to grow your own food.

    Now there is STILL obligation. Maintenance, and work related to changing your consumption behavior but obligation is a far cry from contractual debt.

    1. PJ

      I feel like I’m in an economics class, maybe you can help me out professor…

      obligation is a far cry from contractual debt.


      -Something owed as payment or in return for a special service or favor.
      -The service or favor for which one is indebted to another.

      “In finance, default occurs when a debtor has not met his or her legal obligations according to the debt contract

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