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What NOT To Do At the End of the World

End of the World Mayan CalendarYou can hardly have missed the hubbub over the supposed end of the world coming on Friday, December 21, 2012.

This date is the end of the Mayan calendar, representing the last day of the 13th b’ak’tun. (A b’ak’tun is a period of time equaling approximately 394 years, and 13 of them equal roughly 5,215 years).

It’s fairly clear to the majority of scholars that the Mayan calendar ending on this particular date is simply a matter of efficient record keeping. There is no evidence that the Mayans believed that the end of their 13th b’ak’tun would usher in the end of the world.

Instead, it seems that their calendar ending on that date is similar to the Y2K issues of the 90s: software developers had efficiently only provided two spaces for the year date when developing programs in the 20th century, not thinking that the new millennium would be here before they knew it.

The Mayans also probably discounted how quickly December 21, 2012 would get here, so there wasn’t much of a reason for them to worry about counting past that date.

For that matter, it’s important to remember that even if an ancient civilization “knew” that the world would end on a certain date, there’s no reason we should believe them. No matter how advanced any culture has ever gotten, seeing into the future has never been possible.

Despite the cold water of my (and everyone else’s) skepticism, there are still individuals who are either convinced that we are facing the end of days or who want to believe in such mystical explanations for our world.

So, in the interest of playing the devil’s advocate, I’m going to give some advice for how to handle the end of the world. In particular, here’s what you should NOT do:

1. Don’t sell everything you own. We have seen this unfortunate occurrence before, wherein believers give away or sell everything that they own in order to be unencumbered at the end of the world. This is worrisome, partially because the world didn’t end as promised the last few times it’s been predicted, leaving the believers penniless, homeless, without transportation, and with egg on their faces.

On the other hand, even if the Mayans are correct that December 21 will mark the end of the world as we know it, it will probably take at least a few days for whatever cataclysm to reach your particular corner of the world. Everything you own and your life savings will likely come in handy for whatever time you have left. It’s hard to keep safe from the zombie apocalypse if you sold the house whose windows you could be boarding up before the dead started walking.

Looking out for yourself after the end of the world needs to start beforehand. Keep your stuff and your money and don’t believe every prediction. Maintaining both a healthy skepticism and your net worth will help you handle whatever comes next, even if that’s just an uneventful December 22. Never assume you know what tomorrow will bring.

2. Don’t stockpile. Yes, the man keeping 1,000 tilapia in the deep end of his suburban swimming pool in Phoenix, Arizona may be laughing all the way to the bank post-apocalypse (no, wait, he won’t…). But for right now, he’s just got a swimming pool he can’t use because it’s full of a boring-tasting fish—and I don’t even want to think about the additional maintenance he has to do on that swimming pool.

While there is nothing wrong with being prepared for possible catastrophes, you also need to live in the present. Mr. Tilapia may very well be king of the world after 12/21/2012 if food is scarce and he controls a big portion of it. But if nothing happens, he’ll just be the guy who filled his pool with fish and really ticked off his HOA. And even if there is a world-wide catastrophe, who is to say that the tilapia would survive and still be edible? (Seriously, wouldn’t it make more sense to have 1000 MREs? Just saying.)

It’s better to be nimble on your feet so that you can handle the unexpected, rather than expect something specific. If and when the world ends, we have no idea what form it will take, whether it will end in fire, or in ice. It’s better to be prepared generally (like by having an emergency fund), and be ready to act when you know what actions you’ll have to take. Otherwise, you just waste your time and money (and pool boy budget) before you need to.

3. Don’t loot. Every post-apocalyptic story seems to agree on one thing: rules of civilization go out the window the moment something catastrophic occurs. But that doesn’t have to happen. We can all agree that humans need each other, especially after the world ends (either figuratively or literally). Looting and theft and trying to better position yourself in the lawless society that will spring up after the end of days will do nothing to really improve your life. No one on their deathbed wishes that they spent more time looting.

And such anti-social behavior doesn’t actually improve your odds of survival, either. It only means that you can’t trust anyone and you’ll always be looking over your shoulder. Deciding to be decent to other people, on the other hand, will help us all to survive. Pooling resources, relying on each other, and indulging in random acts of kindness will not only ensure the survival of the human race after the comet strikes, it is also a good way to live all the time.

The Bottom Line

I’ve lived long enough to realize that some people seem to think the world is ending about once every decade or so. There were individuals who were sure that January 1, 2000 would mark the end of civilization as we knew it. Various self-proclaimed prophets have predicted the Rapture and other world-ending phenomena over the past few years. And now we have reached the critical year of 2012.

It’s clear to me that every such proclamation, no matter how reasonable the thinking behind it may seem, should be met with a healthy dose of skepticism. Remaining unwavering in your commitment to smart choices will see you through the years, whether they are uneventful, or bring the zombie apocalypse.

What are you doing to prepare for the end of the world this week?

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Last Edited: July 24, 2017 @ 1:56 pm
About Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is a former English teacher and respected personal finance blogger. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her engineer husband and two high-energy little boys. She has written four books: The Five Years Before You Retire, Choose Your Retirement, Making Social Security Work For You, and End Financial Stress Now. Emily's thoughts on parenting and life in general are found at The SAHMnambulist.


  1. DebtRoundUp says:

    This is awesome.  I know a lady that cancelled all of her appointments for her business after 12/21 because she said there was no point.  I made me laugh.

  2. Emily,
    I know a lot of people who are replacing holiday parties with end of the world soirees. I’m sure I’ll make an appearance or two before I melt.It’s sometimes funny to think about the apocalypse, at least from a personal finance perspective. All my savings would lose their meaning!
    -Christian L. @ Smart Military Money