What a Government Shutdown Means for Your Wallet

Published on: Dec 3, 2021fb-roundtwitter-roundemail-round
government shutdown money impactDesign: theSkimm | Photo: iStock

If you had "government shutdown" on your pandemic bingo card...you’ll have to wait until the new year to see if you won. A shutdown = when Congress can't agree on legislation to (even temporarily) fund operations for the next fiscal year. The US narrowly avoided one for a second time in 2021 on December 2. 

Buuuttt the stopgap funding bill only hit ‘pause’ on the problem through February 18, 2022. The bill will fund government agencies at their current level, plus provide $7 billion to help Afghan refugees. Congress will have to come to an agreement on highly debated measures like federal funding for abortions to avoid another shutdown showdown in February.

The deets that matter for your wallet: Shutting it down means closing nonessential gov offices – from ones that report economic stats to the agencies that process federally-backed mortgages. That puts a stop to a lot of important biz. Including some public health operations. Yes, during a pandemic. Other important gov services that could come to a halt: national park maintenance, passport processing, food stamp distribution, and EPA inspections, to name a few.

Essential gov employees – like air traffic controllers and border protection workers – still do their jobs, but may not get a paycheck until the shutdown ends. That hurts their bank accounts...and maybe even the economy. Because when a portion of the workforce can't afford to buy like normal, overall consumer spending (a big driver of economic growth) can drop.

What you can do about it: Get your finances in the best position possible to ride out a potential government shutdown. A few tips:

  • Feed your emergency fund. Extra cash on hand can be a lifesaver when you don't know when your next payday is. Whether or not your job is likely to be affected by a shutdown, seeing one on the horizon is a good reminder to set aside what you can. Try to work up to three to six months' worth of expenses, and put it in an easy-to-access savings account.

  • Ask for help if you need it. If the shutdown affects your paycheck and you're struggling to keep up with your bills and debt payments, talk to your service providers and lenders. They may be willing to give you a break. Ask directly, be honest about what you can afford, and negotiate as best you can. (Psst...Skimm more about what to do if you just lost your main income here.)

  • Grocery-shop smarter. While parts of the US Department of Agriculture are OOO, farmers may have a harder time getting the funds they need to plant more crops. That could lead to more expensive fruits and veggies for you. Pro tip: save the scraps for carrots, celery, garlic, and other produce – and regrow your own.

  • Stay organized. A shutdown can delay homebuying plans when employees who verify tax returns for the IRS or process loans for the Federal Housing Admin are sent home. If you're ready to buy, keep all your docs in order while you wait (and double-down on tip #1 for extra credit). So you're ready to close as soon as offices reopen.

  • Keep your travel dates flexible. Or at least be prepared to wait a while at the airport. Airlines have already been struggling to operate through worker shortages. If air traffic controllers and TSA agents are forced to work without pay, some might not show up to work (like during the 2018 shutdown), causing further delays and cancellations.


When Congress can't figure out how the gov should spend its money, they shut down. Which can create a different set of money problems. If a government shutdown is on the way, do what you can to protect your finances.

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Updated on Dec. 3 to confirm Congress has temporarily avoided a government shutdown.

Updated on Dec. 2 to reflect the latest efforts to avoid a government shutdown.

Skimm'd by Kamaron McNair, Ivana Pino, Casey Bond, Stacy Rapacon, and Elyse Steinhaus