Monday, May 2, 2011

Is it an either/or situation?

There was a long comment left on my Spend It Like You Stole It post by a reader named Jeff. It deserves a long reply which is why I’m posting this separately. He writes:

I was hoping you could spend some time expanding on these issues for all our sakes. I don't care if you consider yourself an expert; I know your perspective is rock solid and your motivations above reproach. That's good enough for me!

The small group of friends and relatives I have that I would consider "preppers" are completely absorbed, at times even overwhelmed, by this aspect of our activities. It is the most difficult subject we know of, and questions are far easier to come by than answers.

Our concerns are two-fold:

One, when anyone says convert your cash to tangible goods, we understand and appreciate the concept, but at the same time realize this doesn't mean ALL of your cash. Unfortunately, in our urban environment, cash makes the world go 'round. Even in a rural setting, in this day and age you would be lucky to be able to pay the mechanic, the emergency room or the well-driller with chickens or goat cheese. We wonder how people decide just how much "standard currency" you have to hang onto (even as you watch it lose value) because you WILL need some. Maybe even a considerable amount.

And the other issue is how to try to prepare for two divergent futures simultaneously. I'm a news junkie and probably have above-average powers of discernment. I know which way the wind seems to be blowing. But at the same time, nothing comes with any guarantee. I tell people I know precisely the best preparations to make for some of these different scenarios, but unfortunately my crystal ball is still on back-order and so I have no idea which future we will actually live out.

Of course not, you say. Well, if you're flush, if you sleep on piles of hundred dollar bills every night, then this all becomes some theoretical exercise anyway. You can afford to prepare to ridiculous degrees, and not miss a round of golf. (And doesn't it just frost your muffins when someone has endless resources and does...nothing!)

But most of the people I know are in a far more difficult position, resource-wise. Which makes the decisions several orders of magnitude more difficult.

They feel they can manage to be prepared for a dismal future, or they can be prepared for a more normal, everything's going to work out the way it always has future. But they just don't have the time or do both. They feel like they are being forced to make an all-or-nothing bet. They believe that if they hedge their bets and split their meager resources, they will be poorly prepared for both. And yet if they pick one and they are wrong, they have mortgaged their family's future in a manner not easy, or even possible, to recover from.

In other - very bittersweet - words, what if the world doesn't end?

Sorry this is so long, but I'm sure there are others with similar worries. We'd appreciate your thoughts.

Here are my thoughts on Jeff’s concerns.

Jeff’s first question is how much cash to keep on hand? In our household, we seldom have much money in excess of what we need to pay bills. As income comes in, we apply it toward whatever bills are outstanding. But we also have a wish list of items we want to purchase and/or projects we want to complete. Some of these are big ticket items (such as purchasing Polly, our Jersey heifer) while others are modest (some sewing notions or tubes of toothpaste to add to our stash). When we have surplus cash, we apply it to an item or two on the wish list. Simple as that.

Remember, it's spare cash that we convert into tangibles.  Sometimes we have spare cash, sometimes we don't.  When we do, we buy tangibles.  When we don't, we pay bills.

But unquestionably a wiser course of action would be to have a cushion of money. And sometimes we do have that cushion, depending on how the tankard sales go. Remember we’re self-employed, and the bulk of our income is through our seasonal tankard sales. In terms of income, we lead a farmer's life: Poor in the spring and early summer, flush in the fall. We’ve learned to put some money aside during flush times to tide us (barely) through lean times.

But it's also important to remember, especially in rural parts of the country, that cash isn't the only currency. By this I mean that trade works wonders too. As an example, Don recently got a 250 gallon poly-tank in exchange for some musical instrument repair. The owner of the instruments was delighted to get some repair work on her instruments, and we gained an excellent auxiliary water tank. We've swapped labor for trailers, tools and garden produce just by using our always available "sweat currency."

Jeff’s second question is how to prepare for two divergent futures simultaneously. This is an excellent question since we’re starting to think in terms of preparing our Older Daughter to leave the nest. We cannot behave as if our daughters have no future. We have to work on the assumption that things will roll along pretty much like always.

So yes, we prepare for both futures simultaneously. We’re fortunate that in our case, Prepping and our normal lives are pretty much one and the same. Long before Prepping was on our radar, we strove for increased self-sufficiency. It’s just the way we are.

But for those not in similar circumstances (i.e. living on a farm), how do they “split their meager resources,” as Jeff put it? This isn’t an easy answer since everyone’s situation is different.

People can only do so much. It's not easy to accomplish the impossible.  If I had to put things in an order of priority, it would be this:

Get the seven core areas (food, water, heat, light, medical, sanitation, and protection) covered for about a month. In other words, squirrel away enough food for a month; enough water for a month (or the means to sterilize water for a month); enough toilet paper for a month, etc.

Get out of debt. This could take anywhere from months to years; but after you’re out of debt, you have more freedom to prepare for “divergent futures” simultaneously.

If it will take you too long to get out of debt, you’ll have to put aside the fancy Prepping dreams (i.e. buying a remote homestead and living off the land) and instead stay where you are and Prep in place. This is the easiest way to do both things simultaneously.

I think the whole idea of this post is to look harshly but realistically at your prospects. Face it, if you’re unemployed and bankrupt – as, sadly, many in this nation now are – then your future options are limited. All you can do is make the best of your current situation, do the small things that can pay off big dividends survival-wise, and stop trying to fight what cannot be changed. There was an excellent post on SurvivalBlog tonight which addresses that very issue.

But remember, it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. Prepping doesn't have to preclude living a “regular” life. I suppose it all depends on your definition of “normal.” Having food on hand means you've got food insurance. Owning firearms is (literally) an investment, as real as owning stocks and bonds (and often more lucrative). Living a simpler life doesn't mean missing out, it is simply replacing one activity for another.

And in my humble opinion, the results are not a trade out, it's a trade up.

For additional reading, here's Ten Practical Steps to consider, and here are some thoughts on the economics of Prepping.


  1. As per the SurvivalBlog post mention - Anyone in the midst of financial crisis' or those who've experienced some of the recent natural disasters that they find themselves in, have a peek at what the rest can only try to imagine....Their world as they know it has already evaporated....It happens all the time, and yet most people don't view the "TEOTWAWKI" in terms like that even tho it is exactly that....It's when your world or environment suddenly is gone or drastically changed, and all that's left is how to get thru it....

    I think the thing to keep in mind is that you should do your best to DO SOMETHING to make sure you get thru it, take all the safety precautions you can ahead of time, (and Patrice's favorite saying) Make Good Choices about how you spend and what you purchase, and what you learn.....

    I love that Patrice pointed out trading.....people are so use to using money to get things they want that they have lost the imagination (and work ethics) on how to accomplish this without money involved....That was the best part of this article :) Thank you, Patrice! - Thinking outside of the box and being willing to make changes (and even sacrifices) are more important than figuring out how MUCH of whatever it'll take to be prepared....And each answer to that is really personal, not a formula, anyhow...

    (Just my .02)

  2. Thanks, Patrice!

    In articulating my concerns to you I had a bit of an epiphany. If you desire to go beyond a few extra groceries under the bed and make the leap to serious self-sufficiency/prepping, AND you have limited resources, the only way to truly make it work is to regard what you are doing not as a series of independent actions and expenditures, but as an all-encompassing LIFESTYLE. And you have to make the commitment to live the lifestyle of your choosing. Otherwise you ARE trying to pursue two lifestyles when you can barely afford one. Frustrating at best, impossible at worst.

    Making the choice, and the commitment, will mean that all of your actions and expenditures, whatever you can manage, and to the greatest degree you can control, are all moving you along the same path. (Again, unless you can afford TWO paths. In which case call me, I might be up for adoption. :))

    To me this does mean being in a rural environment. (Others may feel differently.) We will do the best we can to work toward that goal. And in the mean time we will try to make choices that further our choice instead of impeding it. I remain...

    Your fan, and a reluctant urban dweller.


    Jeff - Tucson

  3. I can certainly relate to the notion of not knowing how to tackle the ENTIRE issue of being prepared while seemingly living paycheck to paycheck (or a month behind, as we often were.) I went BACK to school for two years...TWICE...with many mouths to feed.

    However, I (with a family of 8) am here to tell you it CAN be done with enough planning. To do my part, I am blogging about how I prep in an effort to show how a large city family is progressing. I still learn skills weekly, if not daily, from blogs like Patrice's and will be forever greatful to everyone out there that contributes their experiences to the rest of us.

    In regards to keeping currency on-hand, we try to keep around $500 after all bills are paid but inevitably a car repair bill or something will pop up. The thing that eases our minds is knowing that if we run out of cash before payday, we have some silver to cash in (~$900)or barter with. If that runs out or can't be used, we have supplies to barter. If all else fails,we have a gun to go hunt our own food if necessary. Do what you have to do to get it done.

    Remember, people don't plan to fail...they fail to plan.

  4. One thing that strikes me about prepping is that it is extremely practical for "end-of-the-job" situations, as well as "end-of-the-world" scenarios. Can you imagine how much better things would be if all those who had lost jobs over the past 5 years had been preppers? I'm not saying we could have completely avoided the depression, but we definitely could have staved it off for a while.

    Sometimes, it's difficult to convince people to prep for a true economic collapse, (because the one we're in is nothing really, just wait..) but it is much easier to "sell" prepping to people who see a lack of job security all around them. They can't deny it. It's in their face every day. If people really believed they would be out of a job for 18 months (as one man I know was), then many would make the necessary preparations for such an event.

    Here's where the politics comes in: Although under normal circumstances the things I'm saying are true, we have a ridiculous amount of unemployment benefits in this country. The incentive to prepare for your family in the event of unemployment is nearly gone, because people have this assumption that unemployment income will be sufficient for them. So far, many of them have been correct. Unfortunately, when the bleep that we know is coming does arrive, the nanny state will no longer be able to care for these people. How many statistics do we have to see about people only getting jobs when unemployment expires? I wonder why? People respond to incentives. Imagine that. Well, there's my two cents. :)

  5. When money is tight, and we get a slight break, we tend to buy the stuff we would need whether TEOTWAKI hit or not - toothpaste, TP, the food we already eat (rather than long term storage type food), clothes the next size up for our oldest child (she hands-me-down to the next in line)... anyway, the point is that I would eventually have to buy that anyway (assuming availability and prices we could afford), so I'm not actually choosing between preps for disaster and requirements for normal life.

    Even retrofitting to geothermal and/or buying solar panels - as long as those reduce our future expenses (and we pay cash for them now, not credit) - those will help us regardless of the direction the future takes. Buying a genny - that's a little harder - because it would only see use if the power went out in a widespread area for more than three days (it does happen here regularly due to ice and wind storms - but in the winter, my garage freezer stays frozen and nothing else matters (we have a fireplace - it would be really cold in the house, but we wouldn't freeze) - a SUMMER outage would be a serious issue, as that would threaten our food supply.

    Anyway, I'm just trying to say that when money is tight, you can make the preps that you would need for both disaster and normalcy - and if normalcy continues, then you have a bit of extra cash from the usual budget to prep a little further ahead, (because you'll already have next year's supply of those items) and if disaster strikes, you're better supplied than you would have been otherwise.

    Xa Lynn, off to stash toilet paper today...

  6. Excellent post, Patrice! I, too, have found that it comes down to balance. We have food storage and weapons and ammo, but are currently preparing for one child to go to college--with the younger two soon to follow. Keeping your options open while simultaneously prepping for a "Poop Hits the Fan" situation isn't always easy, but it can be done. We do try to keep cash on hand for emergencies--that is probably the hardest thing for us to do as bills and current concerns eat up all the "emergency cash" about every 3 months here!
    Always a work in progress...

  7. I can accept Patrice that, living where you do, you might have valid reasons for owning firearms. But I think you shouldn't encourage city dwellers. Don't forget that if everyone has firearms its not the righteous that prevail, merely the quickest on the draw or the better shots.

  8. One of my friends has a saying.... "Prepare as if it is going to happen, but live like it won't" Good luck, of course with the mental separation it takes to do this, but *that* is the foundational struggle we are all facing...

  9. Patrice -

    First thing to do is pray. God will give wisdom and guidance if we ask for it.

    "what if the world doesn't end?"

    While everyone's stay on this earth will end some day, the earth itself has never ended. People have survived every disaster in the history of the planet.

    Back when the big worry was Y2K I had friends that quit their jobs and went to live in a cabin in the mountains. At the time that seemed like an extreme reaction to me, and so it proved to be.

    Back in the bad days of the cold war with things like the Cuban missile crisis and everyone worried about nuclear war I was living in New York City. Building a fallout shelter in the heart of one of the biggest targets on the planet seemed foolish (and beyond my resources) so I made it a long term goal to get out of the city. It took years to find a way, but we moved out in 1984 and have not looked back. We have not had a nuclear war, but on 9/11/2001 I was sure glad we were no longer living in NYC.

    "it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation"

    Print that on T-shirts!

    Small incremental steps can have huge benefits, even if they don't address the worst case situations. Getting out of debt has huge benefits in many aspects of life. Moving away from that big city / prime target area, even if where you move to is only somewhat better, can have big benefits.

    We have prepared in many ways for many possible futures. Recently I feel God has been prompting me to prepare in a way we had not in the past, so it has become my current main project. It is not the only thing I do to prepare, however.

    Perfection is not required for preparations to have benefit.

  10. I do believe in one other point. There are those who have the I can't mentality. It is all about priorities. If we think we need it then we make an effort to achieve it. Nicely written. Thanks for the post.

  11. Finding a balance has been something that we've struggled with as well. Overall we're definitely leaning toward the prepping side of things, but we're also about to move to the country and have a little plot of land all our own -- which lends to greater independence.

    Regarding cash, I am very security driven personally. I look at money (and available cash) as security for our future. While we do not have any debt outside of our pending mortgage, I do know what we spend on a monthly basis to make our budget work. Our current plan is to have 6 months of expenses covered. Our mortgage will not change, regardless of inflation, so I do not want to have to worry about paying that monthly bill if things go awry. We can cut back in other places to make that same savings last longer. We're in a blessed position where we cash flow more than our expenses, so we'll be converting most of our extra income into tangibles once we have that 6 month cushion covered.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    City Roots, Country Life

  12. Hi, it's Just Me again. A lot of us here are sort of "mini-bloggers", including me. Thanks to the Rural Revolutionaries for the forum!

    When I don't have two extra nickels to rub together, I concentrate on other things:

    1. Getting books out of the library.
    2. Stepping up my fitness program by working harder...A strong back is priority one for me.
    3. Working on relationships.
    4. Praying.

    Just Me.

  13. Let's do a reality check on the gun comment, shall we?

    In the Real World (not Fantasyland-world-as-we'd-like-it), the Criminals ALREADY have guns. Who wins between the armed and the unarmed?

    Even if NO ONE was armed, the righteous wouldn't win... Only the strongest and fastest physically.

    I prefer not to be the 5'4" 125# helplessly unarmed victim in the city (where it is FAR more likely I'll be attacked). I'll be keeping my guns, and continuing to encourage (and train!) my friends in the proper care and feeding of firearms. I hope you do, too!

    Xa Lynn

  14. I have found numerous ways to be thrifty and manage to acquire many prepping materials.

    Many items I have required, or wanted on my list for my family's prepping needs, I have acquired from garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores. I map out an organized travel plan to hit these spots when I go for some other required farming purpose, into larger towns or the metro area for resupplies. I also try to take a small trailer or flat bed with me when I go and I take a pick up truck. This way, there is no having to travel back there to pick up an item that would not "fit", or worse yet, an item I had to overlook and pass on, because I could not get it back to the farm.

    For metal, or old appliances that can be converted into smokers, or even tin sheeting pieces and wood for projects, sometimes it pays to just visit the suburban area recycling bins at their community dump.

    Some quality items I've purchased for pennies on the dollar are hand tools, garden tools, a great 5hp garden tiller, canning equipment, jars, camping stoves, clothing, sleeping cots, fire brick, kerosene lamps, tents, back packs.
    I've even obtained lots of building supplies, screws, nails, and even rolls and rolls of galvanized fencing with the concrete weights still connected to them.

    In networking with others, I raise goats, and they raise the lambs. Then we trade. We do this to save money and not duplicate our expended energy. They raise the chickens and I raise the turkeys.
    For putting up time for canning season, if I want to go to the farmers market for fruits or veggies which I cannot grow, I always ask others first if I have something which they would like to trade. I bring flats of fresh eggs or pecans, or whatever I have in excess, to barter or exchange with.

    When I plan on one of these "shop till you drop" trips, I always try to bring someone else along who really wants to either go with me to buy, or someone who wants to LEARN how to do this. Buying in bulk will usually bring a lower haggled price, so pool your purchase power with another. I also make sure to ask others if they have any "needs" before I go, so I can keep an eye out for what someone else is searching for and procure it if the price is withing their means, as well. I pre-decide on an amount to spend, and usually leave with NO more than that. This way there is no temptation to buy without a specific "need" attached.
    Now, I wait to see if they will do the same for me when they make a trip out of town.

    This is how networks begin and grow amongst preppers.

    One day you'll be known as the go to person for
    whatever it is you're known for!
    And that knowledge alone is valuable.


  15. Xa Lynn. In "Fantasyland" UK-as-I-know-it, less than 1% of all crimes involve guns and I am 33 times less likely to be involved in a gun accident than you are.

  16. I wish to apologize to everyone in Patrice's on-line community for initiating any process, post, thought, or chain of events, which in even the slightest, most obscure, most tenuous manner, may have prompted, incited, suggested, or resulted in a visit from...quedula.

  17. @Quedula. Is that you, Delia? Delia Ives of Brighton? You are giving the Americans a bit of a go, I see. Always causing trouble, you scamp. How was your May Day? More protests, I presume. Raising hackles around the world must keep you quite busy. See you on court next week?

  18. I have only been prepping seriously for about 6 months. While I have always lived in the country and kept a large pantry, the enormity of prepping for a year can be incredibly overwhelming.

    It is then I have started to do this...

    Ask yourself..."if the dollar did a tailspin (or what ever event you envision to really begin this whole mess)If that event happened TOMORROW..Then what are the 5 things you wish you would have acquired, found, downloaded, or bought? Keep it singuliar. Don't put 500 pounds of wheat on your list if that is something that is financially unreachable. But maybe one 50# bag is a good thing for your list...

    I then set after those 5 things. When I tackle those, then ask the questions again...It keeps it a little closer to home and more manageable.

  19. I've read a couple interesting articles lately about walking away from foreclosure or debt. We *accidentally* did this simply because we had no choice. Debt overcame us and we had to disconnect, like it or not. What he says in the article below is true.

    It appears that all our creditors and the banks assumed we were flat broke and within months left us alone to recover. Now, less than 4 years later, we're getting credit card invitations again based on one payment that we continued to make faithfully - the internet bill.

    Our "crash" led us to move out of town, live simply and become better prepared for the future. Not only do we now have credit in "the real world;" we have learned to live well outside of it.

    You may choose to hold onto the best of both worlds, but I've come to love only the best of this one. I do not miss the rat race we left behind, nor do I expect it to improve or stabilize. Even if it does, this simple life is so much more satisfying, healthy, and rewarding.

    I recently began to see the credit industry for what it is: a big heathen god with a fire pit in it's belly. It will never be satisfied... always burning, burning, burning your assets with a nasty grin on its godless face.



    PS: I hope this was not a total derail of your topic, Patrice. :-/

  20. Here's the thing - Prepping and regular life fit together well. You're going to use & buy certain products in your life (soap, toothpaste, coffee, sugar, etc) Do you wait till you need them and buy them regular price at the mercy of supply and demand, or do you want to stock up when you can. When you find a crazy cheap deal on your favourite coffee - STOCK UP! When you find an insane deal on laundry soap - BUY LOTS! I haven't paid regular price for most things in years. Nor have I had too because if I run out of toothpaste, etc, I just reach into my stock and pull out another tube. I save money this way,and am never at the mercy of the markets or a SHTF situation. As I use up the stock I've bought before, I have the luxury to keep my eyes open for the right sale, at the right time to stock up. Often, companies change packaging and mark down/clear out the 'old style' product every couple of years. Well, keep your eyes open for this, and you'll find you can buy many products for the price people often would pay for one!

    I know I've mentioned this topic of saving$/prepping before but it's definitely worth revisiting. Thanks,

  21. i prepare for everything....good and bad, might or might not happen. of course, i live a very simple lifestyle too. and i am content with my lot. that is what gets me through and that is what is gonna help me survive.

  22. Quedula, too bad you are increasingly more likely to be a victim of crime since your gov't criminalized your ownership of firearms.

    I can only pray for your safety from here in the USA, particularly in light of the stats and newsbriefs available online at

    Patrice, sorry for the off-topic posts. I'll return to the regularly scheduled programming now. Sloppy logic is just a pet peeve of mine.

    Xa Lynn

  23. Thanks to everyone (whispering, except you-know-who) for their stories and words of encouragement. I know many of us struggle with the these circumstances, and sharing the ideas and both the trials and successes makes it easier.

    Jeff - Tucson

  24. To Xa Lynn: Excellent points made! We have friends and relatives who live or lived in the U.K. One of them was a police officer (a "Bobby"). He told us the police were always armed, they just didn't carry a large weapon on their hip, as police officers do in the USA. Also, you can be sure any "facts" a liberal points out to the rest of us uneducated dopes will be biased and almost always incorrect. (Remember, the one thing liberals do best is LIE!)

    For many years here in the USA, people believed machine guns had killed many people, including policemen/women, over the years. In fact, according to FBI figures which can be verified, from the time machine guns had been invented until the late 80's only one policeman had died from machine gun wounds. ONE! Liberals hope no one will bother researching their "facts" and "figures," which is why they often sound so knowledgable, but are actually, as my dearly departed Mom used to say: "Full of soup!"

    Of course, anyone can twist the facts to agree with their beliefs. This is why it's a good idea to veryify any statement someone makes (especially a liberal), such as "less than 1% of all crimes involve guns and I am 33 times less likely to be involved in a gun accident than you are." Where are the REAL facts and figures to back up such a claim? We've heard similar statements here in the USA that have proved to be false, but they sure sounded good! At least, to liberals. It would be nice if someone we can trust would do a little checking.

  25. No one is stopping you checking Anonymous. I look forward to hearing the results. But remember just as you don't trust a 'liberal', I don't trust the NRA. . . .

  26. I was driving to work yesterday and saw a group of protesters on the street corner. Normally, I give these yahoos little regard. Their activities are largely made possible by a lack of gainful employment or other useful contribution to society. But I got caught by a red light and had little choice. Something about their chant seemed different, somehow...familiar. So against my better judgment, I rolled a window part way down to hear the better, and to my amazement I was richly rewarded...

    "More A.P. and LESS que-du-la!"
    "More A.P. and LESS que-du-la!"
    "More A.P. and LESS que-du-la!"

    I drove on with a smile that lasted all day.

  27. Quedula you are guilty of a unique crime(here at least.) Your constant yapping is getting on peoples nerves. It is not a serious crime. I would sentence you to three days of picking up trash on your filthy litterd streets. Get 'em ready for the tourist gougfest known as the Olympics.

  28. Your blog got me thinking. I found some interesting information.

    Water Tank Trailers

  29. Thank you, Yashila. I'm glad to be helpful in some small way.

    - Patrice