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How to prepare for a federal government shutdown

Tom Williams | Roll Call | Getty Images

Hear that clock ticking?

A possible government shutdown is getting closer and closer, and with the House offering a plan to provide stopgap funding but defund Obamacare—a plan the White House is certain to oppose—the prospects for compromise are dimming.

(Read more: First thoughts: Boehner's in a lose-lose situation)

At the moment, markets are still riding a wave of elation created by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's decision to maintain quantitative easing for now. But the jitters could start at any time.

(Read more: Next up for the market? Government shutdown!)

Some investors are already concerned: Stuart Ritter, a senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price, says calls are starting to come in from clients wondering about the impact of a shutdown.

Regardless of whether markets start feeling the effects of this latest Washington showdown, though, Ritter and others say this is no time for investors to be planning short term tactical investment moves.

"There is always something to potentially react to. But what helps in the long term is putting together an asset allocation plan and sticking to that," he said. "It's not emotionally satisfying in the short term, but it is in most cases more financially satisfying in the long term."

Far more useful than short term investment moves are steps to put your financial house in order, Ritter says. It's always a good idea to have an emergency fund to cover three to six months of household expenses, and such a fund is especially important in times of potential volatility.

"If you don't have it as big as it needs to be, now is the time to start making it bigger," Ritter said. That can mean putting money into a money market fund, or cutting back on expenses, or both.

(Read more: Five ways to grow an emergency fund)

Ritter himself is only too aware of the potential for disruption of all kinds from a government shutdown: His wife and several relatives are federal employees.

"When these events occur they have an emotional effect.There are a lot of things you need to deal with that are associated with these kinds of things," he said, like finding alternate health care providers if a government option is shut down. "Being in a position where you don't have to worry about how to pay for it puts you in a better position to deal with the immediate issue."

Scott Halliwell, a certified financial planner with USAA, is also wary of tactical market moves ahead of a possible government shutdown.

"Generally speaking, our guide to folks would be, you don't want to use an event like this as a driver of wholesale change in your portfolio," he said. A much better idea, he added, is to "spend less money than you earn and have a good emergency plan in place."

At this juncture it is impossible to know who or what might be affected by a shutdown, or how long any shutdown might last—questions that are especially important for USAA's customers, who are current and former members of the military. (In any case, even active duty members of the military are unlikely to feel any effect in their paycheck before Oct. 15, when they might not receive pay for the prior two weeks.)

But for everyone, planning ahead has a silver lining, Halliwell told USAA clients: "If you're fortunate enough to be unaffected by Washington's woes, your belt-tightening efforts will still leave your finances in better shape."

The prospect of a government shutdown is weighing more heavily on clients of First Command Financial Services, a company that offers financial services to members of the military and their families. First Command's clients have been contending for months with the financial effects of sequestration: cutbacks in services on military bases, furloughs of other service providers, and in some cases, furloughs for family members who are federal employees.

With the budget fight coming on the heels of sequestration, First Command's clients' "whole view of what their financial security looks like is in grave transition," said Scott Spiker, the company's chief executive.

Spiker says his company's clients seem to be taking seriously First Command's recommendations that this is a time for financial prudence. Deposits in First Command Bank are increasing, as are bank loans for consumer debt consolidation.

"We are seeing allocations toward long term savings plans increasing" as well, and the company's client base is also growing, he said. "I think people are coming to the conclusion, 'I can't solve this for myself.'"

Both First Command and USAA are offering their customers financial assistance of various kinds in the event of a shutdown, from loan assistance to low interest lines of credit. But even with those services, and even if the Congress comes up with a stopgap funding plan, the challenges will not end.

Sequestration is still in place, and the debt ceiling fight awaits.

(Read more: Obama: I will not negotiate on the debt ceiling)

—By CNBC's Kelley Holland. Follow her on Twitter @KKelleyHolland.

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