Booksellers Overcoming Disaster

 

Every year Mother Nature finds ways to remind us of her power. Wind, water, fire and ice all combined to make the 2017 year one of the worst disaster years in recent memory. Getting through a disaster, natural or otherwise, whether as an individual, a family or a business requires planning and the help of your community, both local and industrywide. Libris and the Book Industry Charitable (Binc) Foundation have put together a disaster checklist to help you be better prepared in case the worst happens.

Having provided insurance services to the book industry since 1997, Libris knows a lot about the claims process after disasters, and more importantly, how to prepare your business beforehand. Whitney Balaun, business development specialist with Libris, advises you first to know your policy. Make sure you understand what is covered and not covered. For instance, many bookstores often have special events, she said, adding that Libris’ policy has outstanding special events coverage, where some carriers have events exclusions. At the holidays, the Libris policy flexes to cover your seasonal increase in merchandise, whereas many other policies do not.

Most policies also exclude flood and earthquake. If your bookstore is in an area where this is a concern, you need a standalone policy for this coverage. Does your policy have a waiting period on business interruption or a wind and hail deductible? That knowledge is helpful in your disaster planning. Save contact information for whom you’ll call to call when you need to file a claim.

“FEMA says more than 40 percent of businesses never reopen after a disaster,” said Balaun. She recommends that booksellers start by identifying and assessing their hazards: how old is your building; how up-to-date is your fire sprinkler system? How many exits do you have and are they clearly marked for customers?

“Another area to consider is how you can strengthen your supply chain,” she said, adding that business disruptions will break the chain: You may be cut off from book suppliers. You may be unable to open for business due to building damages. All create a critical issue, quickly draining your financial reserves and weakening your customer relationships.

“What’s your Plan B, in case of an emergency?” she said. “That’s why we’ve created this checklist – so you can think through all these potential issues and prepare before there’s any threat of danger. Don’t wait until the threat is imminent – under the pressure, you won’t be able to think clearly and may forget important steps.”

Even with the best of planning a natural disaster can create a critical financial hardship for booksellers and bookstores. In those cases, the Binc Foundation serves as a safety net to help aid in recovery. Last year the Binc Foundation assisted a record number of stores and booksellers impacted by hurricanes, wildfires, and floods. Whether a bookseller’s home was destroyed by fire, a store was forced to temporarily close after a damaging storm, or a bookseller’s family couldn’t pay their bills because the wage earners were not able to work after a disaster, the Foundation was able to step in and help.

In one instance, a bookseller’s home was severely damaged in the flood waters following Hurricane Harvey. With no family living nearby and all hotel rooms within commuting distance filled to capacity, the family was forced to move back into the damaged home as soon as the waters receded. Binc helped purchase cleaning and building supplies to help make the home livable again. The bookseller was able to continue working at the bookstore by day, while working each night to repair their home. Kit Steinaway, Program Manager of the Foundation marveled, “The resilience and determination of these booksellers facing unbelievable loss was both heartbreaking and inspiring. Their desire to help the bookstore stay open and staffed while struggling with their own personal losses, speaks volumes to the dedication of booksellers.”

We all know that in the book world, “community” is more than just a catch phrase; it’s a way of life. The bookselling community shows its true character during times of greatest need. Last year we saw it manifest in many ways, with publishers helping damaged stores restock, booksellers offering up spare rooms in their homes to displaced colleagues, and communities digging in to help repair and reopen stores. Booksellers look out for each other and are always concerned for someone who “has a greater need than I do.” When we all pitch in to help each other, we strengthen the entire book industry and create a caring community of book people.

With another disaster season underway, both Libris and Binc have already heard from booksellers who have weathered Hurricane Lane, Hurricane Florence and the every present California wildfires. In our wish for very bookstore and every bookseller should make sure that they are prepared, Libris and Binc have put together this Disaster Checklist. Please download the checklist, store it on your computer at work and at home and use it to make sure your shop and family are prepared when Mother Nature decides to strike again.

Chuck’s Ride interview with Stirling Books and Brew

 

Chuck Robinson, of Village Books and Paper Dreams, and Richard Hunt, of AdventureKEEN, recently visited Staci and Jim Stuart, owners of Stirling Books & Brew in Albion, MI. They stopped to talk about how Binc and the Albion community came to Jim and Staci’s aid after Staci suffered a spinal injury just days before the store was set to open. You can join Chuck and Richard in supporting Binc, click here. You can also join in helping Staci with her recovery here.

 

 

Helping booksellers after the unexpected from Binc Foundation on Vimeo.

The Lasting Effects of Hurricanes

Sights like this street in Friendswood, Texas, are common in the wake of major storms and hurricanes. Luckily for booksellers, Binc is able to provide help throughout the recovery process.

At the Binc Foundation, we know that the effects of a major storm on a household’s finances often don’t show up until months later. After storms like the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands, the calls we are receiving for assistance fall into a familiar pattern. Each stage of need requires a different form of assistance and the Binc Foundation has learned how to help booksellers navigate the trail from disaster to recovery.

Stage 1: In the first hours and days after a storm hits, residents are laser-focused on where they will stay, the need to feed and clothe their families, how they will get around and how soon they will be able to return to work.

In these first frantic hours Binc can help booksellers by guiding them to the local resources, making sure they have a safe place to stay by paying for emergency housing, and by providing gift cards with which to purchase the emergency supplies needed for daily life.

Stage 2: After the first 72 hours, as people begin to return to their homes and assess the damages, the needs become more intricate. The sense of loss and helplessness can be quite overwhelming. At the very least, there is the huge task of cleaning up the mess left behind in the wake of the storm. Sometimes the homeowner must tackle the task of sifting through all of their belongings to separate what can be saved from what cannot. In other cases the home is more severely damaged, leading to the need for longer term temporary housing while the home is repaired, or a new home all together if it cannot be saved.

Binc is ready to help booksellers pay for the clean-up of their homes and repairs not covered by their insurance or landlord. The Foundation can also step in to help with expenses needed for longer term housing, or the funds needed to relocate to a new home. Binc can also help with the replacement of essential household goods and furnishings not covered by insurance.

Stage 3: While a bookseller is busy repairing their home, they may not be working at their bookstore job. The bookstore may be closed due to damage or lack of utilities or the bookseller may not be able to get to work due to the post-storm conditions in the area. This lack of income added to the stress and financial outlay that the disaster has caused can lead to a serious financial hardship.

The Foundation can help replace this loss of household income and keep the family current with essential expenses.

Stage 4: When the storm is over and people are back to work; life may seem to be “normal” again. This is when booksellers can find that the funds they used for clean-up and replacing personal items, or income they lost when recovering from the disaster have caused a shortfall. Many times this does not surface for several months down the road, when the bookseller finds that they cannot meet their essential monthly rent, utility or transportation, or other personal expenses.

If you are a bookseller who is at this stage, please contact Binc. Just because the storm has passed and is no longer in the news, Binc still has your back. The Foundation is here to help not just during the first hours after a disaster, but for the month’s that follow.

If you have recently weathered Hurricanes Harvey, Irma or Maria, please remember that Binc is here for you. If your household is going through a financial crisis, contact Binc. We are your safety net!

If you were lucky enough to not be touched by these storms, but would like to help, you can click here to donate.

Guest Blog – Squirrel and Nest Financial Counselling: Tracking Your Spending

 

Squirrel and Nest Financial Counselling has teamed up with Binc Foundation to present ways for booksellers to build a foundation of financial literacy and move towards financial stability at any pay rate. In part two, the series continues with a discussion about how and why you should track what you spend.

If personal finance has a golden rule, it’s this: spend less than you make. If you can only follow one piece of financial advice, that’s the one. Yet, for however simple that advice seems, most people don’t actually follow it. If you’re not, you’re borrowing money and paying compound interest on the amount you borrowed. For some purchases that may make sense, like a mortgage on a house. Entering into debt should be done – if done at all – intentionally and in an informed manner. But that’s not what’s going on when we spend beyond our income, and with easy access to credit it takes no effort to do so.

How then do you begin to follow this golden rule? Track what you spend. You need to know – and understand – where your money is going and how you are using it.

This can be frightening and intimidating. We are taught to attach value to finances akin to “having money is good, and not having money is bad.” With this mentality, people in financial difficulty often judge themselves and enter a self-defeating loop. If you give into your inner negative, judging voice, you won’t be able to see your financial situation with honesty and clarity to be able to make the changes you want. The challenge you face is to detach yourself from this judgment. Cultivate an objective mind when you look at your money. This is the essential in developing a healthy financial perspective.

To track your spending, you really need to record every monetary transaction you make. This includes money coming in (paychecks, loans you take out) and going out (purchases, rent, debt repayment, etc). I personally prefer to do this manually by keeping a pen-and-paper record of all transactions in a blank book or journal. If you’re more technologically inclined, or if technology will get you to stick with your tracking exercise, use a spreadsheet. By manually entering every transaction, you are connecting with, and understanding, your money and the habits you’ve developed surrounding its use. You can tally it either as you spend or receive money, or you can keep your receipts and enter them at the end of each day, but you have to do this consistently. By each day’s end, you should know exactly how much money you have and where every cent that has gone.

If manual entry seems daunting, consider a bookkeeping app like Mint.com. This website and phone app allows you to link your bank accounts, credit cards and loans, and will let you track all of your income and spending automatically. You still have to do some work as it doesn’t always categorize transactions correctly, so you still have to go in and categorize your expenses, but you no longer need to manually enter each purchase you make. Some people find this a much easier and better system. Just keep in mind you are losing out on the advantages of writing this information down, including the immediate and very real connection to your spending habits.

After a month of this practice, you will develop a sense of what you have been doing with your money during the course of a month. Separate purchases into common categories like groceries, housing, entertainment, eating out, debt payments, books, etc. Figure out how much you’ve spent in each category and total the amounts. (Pro tip: Keep separate categories for groceries and eating/drinking out.)

At the end of the month, ask: Did you spend more or less than you made that month? What spending habits do you see when you look at these categories and receipts? Does this reflect your values / Is this how you want to spend your money? In compiling this information, you’ve created a budget template, which means you have a rough idea about what you spend in a month and can project your future spending needs. More than that, once you know how you’re using your money, you’re in a position to make conscious changes about your spending habits.

Other tools that may help you track your money include cash envelopes (more on that in this blog post), keeping a consumer spending journal, or other forms of creative journal tracking. The trick is to find the approach that works for you. Keep that in mind as you begin. Try as many different ways of tracking your money as you can and see what actually works for you. There’s a solution out there for you. You just have to be willing to try a few options.

Budgets and spending plans succeed when they are flexible. You know this already, but life can be unpredictable. You’ll find items in your expenditures that you weren’t expecting. Don’t let this throw you off course. Those exceptions happen, and as you do this month after month, you’ll come to find that they happen nearly every month in one way or another. Maybe it’s a birthday party you were invited to attend, or perhaps your car needed a repair. As you become more proficient at budgeting, add a category for those surprise expenses. Every month can be “exceptional,” but that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared for it.

A few final points… Be sure to budget a line for savings, including building an emergency fund (Check out part one in this series to learn more about emergency funds). Building an emergency fund will keep an unexpected expense from turning into a disaster. And don’t forget to give yourself a set allowance for fun spending money that is not to be exceeded. Any budget plan with nothing set aside for fun is a plan for failure.

Make a plan, stick to it, and keep moving forward. You can do this!

(If you’re interested in seeing the startling amount of debt Americans rack up, the Federal Reserve publishes quarterly statistics about it. If you would like a meaningful discussion of debt, NerdWallet offers an accessible analysis on household debt and what it means.)

If you have any questions, feel free to email Justus Joseph at Squirrel and Nest.

If you are or know a bookseller in need of financial assistance, contact Binc at help@bincfoundation.org.

 

Guest Blog – Squirrel and Nest Financial Counselling: Emegency Funds

 

People who sell books for a living are in the industry because they love it. Passion, not money, brings people to bookselling careers. Learning how to live well on wages that gravitate near minimum wage without the benefit of tips can be a daunting task. Squirrel and Nest Financial Counselling has teamed up with Binc Foundation to present a few ways for booksellers to build a foundation of financial literacy and move towards financial stability at any pay rate. First in the series: Emergency funds.

Many of us come to the industry with debt, often a combination of credit cards and student loans. We face rising housing and living costs, and we deal with any number of financial quandaries on a daily basis. Given our economic realities, putting money aside to sit-and-wait for a just-in-case scenario can feel maddening – or seem plain mad. Yet emergency funds are arguably the most important element of a financial safety net. Perhaps second only to “spend less money than you make,” the financial advice to “build an emergency fund” is among the best you can follow.

What exactly is an emergency fund? It is cash set aside to be used only in an unexpected one-time situation and only to prevent imminent danger to one’s physical health. In other words, an emergency fund is money you keep to bail yourself out when a true emergency arises.

Sadly, emergencies will happen; they’re a common part of life. Knowing what is and isn’t an emergency will give you the guidelines you need to manage your just-in-case cash fund. An emergency is a one-time unexpected situation that threatens your access to basic food, shelter, clothing, and/or medical care. Specific threats to each category include the following:

Food – not having enough basic food to survive, having no money for food due to an unexpected situation, already using the food bank and still not making it.

Shelter – receiving an eviction notice, having essential utilities cut off (water, electricity, heat in cold months).

Clothing – lack of basic appropriate clothing to keep you safe and warm to due an unexpected situation.

Medical care – injury or illness that requires medical attention

What do each of these situations have in common? They threaten your very existence.

I want to dwell on medical care for one moment because your well being – financial and otherwise – is tied to your access to health care. You need health insurance; consider this absolutely non-negotiable. Making a choice not to pursue medical care is a decision that threatens your physical health in the short- and long-terms. Becoming sick is never expected, but it is a reality each of us faces even if we seem otherwise healthy. Even with insurance, co-pays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses often lead people to not access these essential services. Having money on hand to cover those costs is crucial. When you have insurance, make sure you are familiar with its terms, copays, and out-of-pocket maximums. Once you know what you may have to pay in the worst-case scenario, add the amount to your emergency fund target goal.

How much money do you need in an emergency fund, and how do you put any money away on a bookseller’s salary?

Conventional financial advice suggests individuals save enough to cover three to six months of expenses, plus your worst-case out-of-pocket medical costs. We would love to say there’s an easy way for the average bookseller’s finances to reach this goal in a timely manner, but the reality is that saving that much cash for a minimum wage worker takes a very long time. So instead of looking at a large and daunting number, start small. Aim to create a $500 cash emergency fund.

Why $500? This amount will cover small, unexpected events like an emergency doctor visit, a basic car repair, a trip to the emergency vet with a pet, or being short on rent or food. It’s a number within reach of nearly everyone’s budget with some planning, and it’s a good start. If you put $20 away a month, you can have $500 in about two years. Increase your monthly savings to $42 to complete this goal within one year.

When you decide to create your emergency fund, it helps to keep the money separate from your usual living expenses. Keep it in a separate account, ideally a high-interest rate savings account often offered by credit unions and online banks, or set it aside as cash in an envelope or somewhere you will not be tempted to use it.

To build up your fund, consider utilizing these suggestions:

  • Have money transferred from your regular account to your emergency fund automatically.
  • Start small. And keep going. Even $20 a month is a good beginning!
  • Save unexpected windfalls. Instead of spending birthday money, a work bonus, surprise cash, etc., put it into your emergency fund.
  • Save more. Change your spending habits to make room to save. This requires knowing where your money is going and what it’s doing, which we’ll cover in a future blog post.
  • Earn more. Get a second job or a side-hustle to grow your income. Ask for a raise.
  • Forget your raise! If you do earn a raise, don’t inflate your lifestyle to match it. Continue to live on what you made previously. Put what additional money you earn into a savings account so you don’t see it.

When you’re saving, and after a while this amount will grow, keep in mind that it’s okay to let this money sit as cash or in a savings account. It may be tempting at some point to invest it to grow your money, but the point of an emergency fund is for it to be there right away when you need it. It’s your safety net. Leave it alone.

Moreover, a credit card is not an emergency fund. If you can’t afford to pay for an emergency need the moment it’s before you, how are you going to afford it later with compound interest added on? A $300 emergency on a credit card may end up taking 18 months to pay off and cost $42 extra in interest. Using a credit card to cover emergencies puts individuals in a bad situation where, on top of the stress of the emergency itself, they’re now in debt. Any further complications or a second emergency situation could damage their financial stability for years.

Consider buying term disability insurance. Employers are required to carry workers compensation insurance, which covers you in case you are injured on the job. Many large companies also give, or offer, disability insurance, which covers you in case you are sick or are injured from something other than a workplace injury. Many bookstores are too small or can’t afford to give employees disability insurance, so purchase a term disability policy in case your health suffers and you are unable to work.

Wherever you decide to begin, getting an emergency fund together is one of the best forms of protection you can give yourself. You’re the only one who’s going to look after you, so be the guardian you would want on your side and be kind to yourself. Make a plan, stick to it, and keep going.

If you have any questions, feel free to email Justus Joseph at Squirrel and Nest.

If you are or know a bookseller in need of financial assistance, contact Binc at help@bincfoundation.org.