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 money...to 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.