Opinion

4 Ways You Didn’t Know a War Could Screw With Your Personal Finances

war personal finance

Ryan Ong

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When we talk about war, it’s usually on macroeconomic terms. So-and-so stocks will drop, the bond market will collapse, and then we make a Hitler reference or two when someone blames capitalist greed. Today, we take another look at war. One outside the economics lectures:

We spoke to an acquaintance of mine, J, who’s currently residing in Ukraine. Because it’s not a good idea for him to indicate his business is in trouble , we aren’t disclosing his full identity.

We can tell you he works with machines, and he lives in Donbass. Here’s how the war screwed him financially:

  • War Devalues the Hell Out of the Currency
  • It Becomes Way Harder to Make Smart Financial Decisions
  • The Global Community has No Clue What’s Happening to You
  • If You’re Self-Employed, You’re Twice as Screwed

 

1. War Devalues the Hell Out of the Currency

When the war started, friends on the Internet asked why I don’t go to another country and wait till the war “blows over”.

(PS: Some people who fled Palestine have been waiting since 1967 for things to “blow over” – Ed.)

I’d love to, but I can’t afford it. Even before the war started, the Ukrainian hyrvnia was shaky. Once the war started, the hyrvnia devalued like yesterday’s newspaper. It’s hard to go on an extended trip when everything costs three times what it used to.

And because we import a lot of goods into Ukraine – the reason we were so dependent on Russia – the exchange rate means everything down here costs a lot more as well. Financially savvy people would have put their money in other currencies, but not the average man on the road. How much of your income do you convert to pounds or US dollars?

So by the time it happens, it’s usually too late. Even before the war’s official, the currency exchange rate will shoot up. I’ve lost the equivalent or five or six years of savings, all at one stroke.

 

2. It Becomes Way Harder to Make Smart Financial Decisions

One thing I notice, is that no one’s sure where to put their money anymore. It all gets a bit crazy.

I know one lady who had money in a foreign account, and she started buying Hyrvnia with it. She wants to buy the currency while it’s down, so she’ll get rich when we recover. But I have a neighbour who does the opposite – even with the bad exchange rate, he wants to cut his losses by buying foreign currency.

Then there are people who won’t put their money in banks anymore, because they’re afraid the accounts will be frozen. There are also people who cash out and put even more money into banks, because they believe crime rates and property damage will rise.

I have a cousin who’s in the military, and the first thing he did was put himself neck deep in debt to his fellow soldiers. His theory was that if they get killed, he won’t have to pay them back anyway.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who knows?

Everyone has a different opinion, even the so-called experts. When everything around you is becoming more expensive, your savings have gone, and no one knows when the situation will end, you can’t see anything clearly. Every financial decision feels like you’re rolling dice.

 

3. The Global Community has No Clue What’s Happening to You

The media doesn’t really focus on the financial problems of normal Ukrainians. There are more interesting things to talk about – the economic impact on the European Union, the plane that got shot down (not that I have anything against them, my condolences to the families), the back-and-forth arguments about Russia’s culpability.

Because you’re reading about all these instead, I don’t think anyone notices how some Ukrainians now spend a quarter of our income on transport alone. Or that small businesses here are doomed, even after the war ends – it’s impossible to stock up when banks are  so tight on loans, and the price of imports is unaffordable.

Google “problems of the average Ukrainian”, and you won’t get much. Just reports about how the war here affects other countries, or exaggerated stories about how we’re mostly human traffickers and drug smugglers.*

The worst statement I heard was from a Spaniard, he was the driver for a news crew. He said Ukrainians are “lucky”…because things were so bad before the war anyway, that now we won’t even notice the difference.

This is the kind of apathy we’ve grown used to.

(*Ukraine has the same issue as Mexico. Everyone loves to dwell on the human trafficking, drug smuggling, and mass murder stories. Even other Ukrainian websites. – Ed.)

 

4. If You’re Self-Employed, You’re Twice as Screwed

Last year I was earning three times what I am now. The month after the war started, business dropped to zero. Complete zero. No one called me, because everything had come to a stop.

No one went to work, there was no buying going on in shops, and anyone rich enough had long since left. That’s the first problem, that your income source vanishes if you’re self-employed.

The second problem is that loans are incredibly expensive, or unavailable. If you run your  business in a risky place, no one gives you loans at reasonable rates – I can’t blame them. I wouldn’t do it if I were them.

If I leave for a safer part of this country, I have to rebuild my business from scratch – I need to find new customers, rent a new workshop, find a new place to live; I’d need money to finance all that, which is exactly what I don’t have.

So I am in a difficult place that is getting worse by the day, but there’s nothing I can do besides sit and watch it happen. Sometimes it can feel quite surreal, to know that your country and your livelihood are going straight to hell, and all you are all you can do is observe.

What would you do in J’s situation? Comment and let us know!

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.