Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Are these "Black Holes" of personal finance stopping you from prepping?

I've been around the prepper/survivalist community for well over a decade now. The main issue I hear over and over again from many people is that lack of money is the main problem they have with getting prepared. It is true that stockpiling food and other supplies costs money, as does buying guns & ammo, and other gear. Moving to a better/safer place costs even more money. And setting up a homestead from scratch can be very expensive.

If you are having problems affording your preps, here are three "black holes" of personal fiance that may be to blame.  Examine these budget areas carefully, and you'll likely find a lot of savings, if your willing to sacrifice a little.

Telecommunications Expenses

 When I was a child (the 1970s) the only telecommunications expense my family, most families, had was the telephone and that was a land line, of course. TV programs were free over-the-air, and there was no Internet. Today, many families pay for a land line, multiple cell phones, texting privileges, special ringtones, cable or satellite TV subscriptions, extra movie channels, Internet connections, gaming and movie subscriptions (Netflix, etc.), special apps for their $500 smart phones, even satellite radio subscriptions. For most families major savings can be found in this budget category.

You simply don't have to have the latest version of your favorite smart phone. Nor do you really need the "all-inclusive" TV package with over 1000 channels (there's still likely to be nothing good own). And does everyone in your family really need a cell phone with the maximum (and most expensive) data and minutes package? Yes. They have made us addicted to our smart phones and other electronic devices. Maybe its time to overcome our addictions and spend our money on getting ready for the future instead of funding those million-dollar bonuses of telecom executives. 

Spending Cash/Pocket Money

The easiest money to spend is the money that is in your pocket. And spend it we do. Mostly on little things - sodas, snacks, and impulse items of all sorts. They are little expenses - fifty-cents here, a dollar there. But all those fifty-cent and dollar purchases add up to real money over time.

A great example is a guy I used to work with who constantly complained about not having any money. Every afternoon he would head down to the break room and buy a Pepsi and a Snickers bar from the vending machine. It was only a $1.75, but he spent that money five days a week. Over the course of a year, that adds up to almost $450.

Tips for Avoiding Impulse Purchases
  • Don't to pay attention to TV, radio, or print ads. Hit the mute button. or simply don't watch or read the ads. 
  • Don't watch infomercials or home shopping channels. Leave junk mail unopened. Recycle catalogs, flyers, and leaflets unread. 
  • Don't use shopping as a form of entertainment or a means to relax. 
  • Shop only with lists, and stick to them. 
  • Don't browse Amazon, eBay, or other Internet sites. Shop them the same way you would a physical store - with a list. 
  • Shop with cash only. Spending cash feels more real than using checks or credit cards, so you are apt to spend less. 
  • If you do find an item you think you can't do without, wait at least 24 hours before buying it. Chances are the impulse will pass.
Entertainment and Eating Out

We all have busy schedules, and eating out is quicker and more convenient than making a meal at home. But it can be expensive, and it really adds up over time. Eating out is a huge piece of most people budget. A piece that can be easily reduced.

Taking a bag lunch of leftovers to work with you instead of buying lunch at the local fast food eatery will save you big bucks over the course of a year. How much? If you spend five dollars a day for lunch, that is $1,250 a year (I am assuming you take two weeks off). If you are a two-income family with both of you eating out at lunch, this doubles to $2,500 a year. And we haven't  even talked about family dinners out, yet.

Entertainment is a purely optional budget expense. Eliminate it. You can be entertained without spending much, or even any, money. Learn (or re-learn) how to have a good time for free or nearly free. Take a walk with your spouse or with a friend. Start a family game night. Play with your kids in the backyard. Invite friends over for a weekend cook-out, or a movie night (with the DVD checked out from your local library for free). Next week they can invite you over.

Read a book (checked out from the library for free, of course) instead of going to a movie. Libraries are a wonderful source of free entertainment. In addition to books and magazines, many libraries today also offer audio books, movies on DVD, music CDs, and even board games that you can check out. Many have story times for young children and lecture series for adults you can attend for free.

BONUS "Black Hole" - Cigarettes & Other Addictions

Most people don't smoke these days (that's why this is a bonus "black hole" for those who do), but a surprising number still do. If you are one of those people that still smoke, I know you don't want to hear this, but STOP. If not for your health (a great reason all by itself), then do it for your finances. The cost of cigarettes varies greatly from state to state (due to taxes), but chances are a pack-a-day habit costs at least $2,000 a year, and in some states much more. Think of how much food storage or ammo you could buy with that money!

Same goes for other addictions - chewing tobacco, alcoholism, gambling addiction, pornography, even food/binge-eating. All addictions cost money, impair health, interfere with relationships, and decrease productivity. Save money (and your health) by dealing with your addictions now.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

How to Afford Food Storage and Other Prepper Supplies

We all know that having lots of food storage, as well as medicine, first aid supplies, tools, ammo and other useful "stuff" is a good idea, especially if we ever face a long-term, grid-down scenarioo like an economic/political collapse. But most of us don't have a lot of money, and are left wondering how to afford all those wonderful supplies.

I have no magic solution to offer. I know of no free piles of money being given away. Preparing for disaster is going to take work and sacrifice. It is up to you to decide if it is worth it or not. However, for those of you willing, I do have some suggestions and tops on how to afford all that food storage and other prepper supplies.

Don't feel you have to buy everything at once. Start small, even if its only $5 or $10 dollars a week worth of supplies. If you can do more, great. Do what you are able, as you are able. Don't get discouraged that you not "doing enough" or not getting ready "quickly enough." Frankly, as long as you are doing something on a regular basis, you are doing better than at least 80% of your fellow Americans.

How to find extra money for your food storage and other supplies:

1- If you don't yet have a year's supply of food set aside, but own a boat, snowmobile, dune buggy, ATV, motorcycle, sports car, recreational vehicle, or other big-ticket luxury items (antiques, jewelry, that Michael Jordan rookie card...) that honestly aren't part of your long-term survival plans, then sell it and use the money to get prepared quickly.

2- Have a yard sale! Its a great opportunity to unclutter your house and make some extra money in the process. Some great items to get rid of: Clothes and shoes that your family has outgrown or simply don't wear, kitchen gadgets you don't use, decorative nick-knacks that just take up space, books you no longer need or want, old CDs and DVDs, old toys, exercise equipment you don't use, and even furniture that you no longer want or need...

3- Decide as a family to forgo this year's vacation. Have a "staycation" instead, where you stay home for vacation, perhaps visiting local parks and museums, fishing at a local lake, or even camping out in the backyard. You don't have to spend money to have fun. Use the money you save to fast forward your food storage and other supplies.

4- Decide as a family to cut Christmas in half. Most families spend lots of money on gifts, decorations, extra & special foods, hosting parties, and even travel to visit distant relatives. But Christmas isn't really about gifts, food, parties, and other stuff. Its about celebrating the birth of Jesus. We don't need to spend lots of money to do that. I suggest cutting your holiday budget in half, and have a simplier, more meaningful Christmas.

5- Cut the amount of money you spend on recreation by 50 percent.  This will probably mean eating out less, less trips to the movies, and maybe even cutting down on your cable TV package. Libraries and local parks & museums are great sources of no-cost or low-cost fun.

How to get the most bang for the buck: 

1- Many basic canned goods (beans, veggies, soups, tuna, chicken) and dry-goods (oatmeal, beans, a, rice, sugar) can usually be purchased most cheaply by shopping for generic and off-brands at discount grocery stores such as ALDI. The next cheapest option is probably non-name brands at Wal-mart (Great Value and Sam's Choice are Wal-mart store brands and usually are the cheapest brand they sell). If there is an Ollie's in your area, it is worth a visit.

2- Be wary of Sam's Club and Costco. The problem is that they typically only carry name-brands that, while cheaper than you can buy the same name-brands elsewhere, are still more expensive than generic and off-brands at other stores. However, I have found some good deals on some bulk items such as 50-pound bags of rice, 10-pound bags of pintos, 4-pound boxes of salt, 13-pound bags of baking soda, and 10-pound bags of just-add-water pancake mix, among others. (These stores can also be good sources of flashlights, camping gear, first aid supplies, and other prep items, just don't assume they always have the best price - sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.)

3- Be smart in your grocery shopping. Plan ahead. Use coupons. Compare prices. Shop sales. Make a list of foods you need and stick to it with little flexibility.

4- If you are on a tight budget, don't be a food snob. Having any food to eat during an emergency is more important than having organic food to eat. Since organic food can cost anywhere from 50% to 300% more than non-organic, you might have to "settle" for the non-organic if you want to build your emergency supply. Same thing goes for name brands, which are more expensive than generic and store-brands.

5- Don't be a store snob, either. Supporting your local Mom-and-Pop store is a good idea, but to be able to afford your emergency food supplies you might have to buy much of it at ALDI, Wal-mart, and similar large chain-stores, or even online through Amazon. Just being realistic.

6- Meat can be expensive and difficult to store over the long-term. For your emergency meals, plan on other sources for much of your protein, such as beans, rice, nuts, cereals, grains and leafy-green vegetables. For my long-term storage, I include canned meats such as tuna, salmon, and chicken. Spam, or a cheaper off-brand, might make another good meat choice for long-term storage.

7- Don't get caught up in the freeze-dried, long-term storage hype. Yes, many of these foods can store (under the right conditions) for 10 years or more. However, on a per serving basis they are way too expensive, in my opinion. I believe you can put together a 3 to 5 year supply of food using regular canned foods and dry foods for much cheaper (and with more variety and personal choice in what you're getting). But, hey, if you have several thousand dollars extra burning a hole in your pocket, and are willing to take whatever food combos the manufacturer puts together... Well, its your choice.

You might also be interested in my article Prepping 101: Finances - Get Back to Basics. It is loaded with lots of great ideas and tips on personal finance and budgeting.

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Monday, May 9, 2016

Disaster Planning: Understanding Potential Disasters

Understanding Potential Disasters

What are the potential disasters that we should all be preparing for? The list of potential problems is very long, and even the most exhaustive listing will surely miss any number of disasters that may occur. Disasters are, by their very nature, quite unpredictable.

Generally speaking, most disasters will probably fall into at least one of four categories:

1- Personal Disasters such as a house fire, job loss, financial problems, unexpected death of a close family member, disease, or disability. Typically. a personal disaster only directly affects you and your family.

2- Local and/or Regional Natural Disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, wildfires, floods, volcanoes, earthquakes, or epidemic disease. Typically, these will affect a larger number of people - an entire neighborhood, community, town, or region.

3- Global Natural Disasters such as an asteroid or comet strike, supervolcano, global epidemic disease, or a new ice age. Affects the entire world to some extent.

4- Societal Disasters such as civil unrest, wars, economic downturns, economic collapse, political collapse, loss of freedoms (police state/martial law/dictatorship)... Affects may be local, regional, national, or global. 

Two Challenges

You will face two distinct challenges related to any disaster, which will likely require different plans, skill sets, supplies, tools, and equipment.

1- Surviving in the midst of a disaster – During a disaster you will have chaos, confusion and panic, as well as immediate physical dangers. You will need plans, skills and supplies for your immediate and short-term survival. Water, food, medicine, first aid, shelter, warm clothing & blankets, the ability to make fire, the ability to hide, and the ability & tools to protect yourself are some of the things you may need in the middle of a disaster. You will also need the ability to remain calm, stay focused, and maintain a positive attitude.

2- Surviving in the aftermath of a disaster – After the immediate crisis is over, when things have calmed down somewhat, and most immediate physical dangers have passed, you will still need to survive the aftermath of the disaster. This aftermath may be relatively short-lived, such as the aftermath of a tornado or wildfire, or it may be extremely long-lasting, such as the aftermath of an economic or political collapse. This may require a large quantity of stored supplies and/or the skills, tools and equipment needed to produce those supplies yourself for an extended period of time.

Results of a Disaster

A disaster usually will result in the temporary or permanent loss of many of the “comforts of civilization” we are used to enjoying. Comforts of civilization are those things that are provided to us by modern civilization that we tend to take for granted. It would be difficult for most modern people to provide many of these things for themselves, especially without learning new skills, stockpiling tools and supplies, and preparing well in advance for their loss.

These comforts of civilization we may lose include:

* Readily available running water that is safe to drink.
* Readily available food from stores and restaurants.
* “Flush and forget” human waste disposal.
* Modern medicine and health care.
* Readily available electricity for lighting, heating, cooling, cooking and hot water.
* Readily available natural gas for heating, cooking and hot water.
* Readily available liquid fuel for cars, trucks, tractors and planes.
* Instant long distance communication (phones, email, etc.).
* Ready access to education.
* Ready access to emergency services such as fire, police, and paramedics.
* Most modern luxuries (television, IPods, computers & the Internet, etc.)
* Ability to spend money without having it (credit cards, mortgages, installment plans, etc.)

Too often disasters also involve the loss of life, such as the hundreds who died due to Hurricane Katrina, the hundreds of thousands who died due to the 2004 tsunami, or the tens of millions who died during the Holocaust & WWII.

Disasters can also lead to the loss of certain fundamental (inalienable) rights. This loss would, of course, be both immoral and illegal, but may occur because of the imposition of political correctness, a police state, martial law, or even the development of a dictatorship. The rights which may be lost include:

* Loss of Privacy.
* Loss of Freedom of Speech.
* Loss of Freedom of Religion.
* Loss of Freedom of the Press.
* Loss of Free Assembly.
* Loss of Freedom of Movement.
* Loss of Self-Defense Rights.
* Loss of Due Process.
* Loss of Parental Rights.
* Removal of children from your home.
* Confiscation of land, firearms, knives, personal property, or even your stored food, water, and other supplies.

In making your preparedness plans, you need to consider all four categories of potential disasters, both the immediate and long term survival needs of each, and all the possible results of disasters. Detailed planning, rather than hit-or-miss stockpiling of food, guns, and other stuff,  takes time, but will go a long way towards ensuring the survival of you and your family/community.