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Are You Really Prepared for the Real World?

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I happen to cruise the same prepper forum as this child’s father . He’s all the time popping up with updates of what he’s ordered in or purchased on the “What Did You Prep Today” thread – parts for his expanding power system, tons of first-aid supplies, another hunting blind, potassium iodide and more gas masks, more MOPP suits, replacing his fifth wheel with a pop-up camper, endless survival books.

He’s not really doing anything hundreds if not thousands aren’t. He’s worried about a game-changing Z-event – doesn’t matter what it is. His wife somewhat supports him, and ignores chunks of the rest. When the power goes out, he flips some switches and keeps them going. When his son first got sick, he identified some gaps in their preps – namely, ways to control nausea and ways to combat low oxygen in patients.

Then the real world kicked the door in, and so did the “uh oh”.

The amount that was not covered by their insurance was a sucker punch, on top of lost wages and normal bills, and the additional expenditures for traveling and staying with an in-hospital patient.

That kind of thing happens. All the time.

It’s the kind of thing in between our normal, everyday life and an actual major disaster that just doesn’t get prepared for all that often.

The World We Live In

We live in a highly unpredictable world. You’d think, as “preppers”, we’d accept that, and prepare for it.

We commonly don’t though.

We prepare for the worst case and a short-term storm or a flat tire, and with frightening regularity, we skip the vast number of things that can happen in between. In some or many cases, we live paycheck to paycheck or via debt to get our supplies for that worst and that storm, without actually being able to readily and more easily weather life’s mid-range crises.

Most of us don’t have to practice much actual triage in our daily lives. Man, am I grateful not to be in those fields, or living in a world that does require it. At some point in the future, we may have to make those hard calls, or watch people fade away from us, helpless to do anything at all because resources just don’t exist.

Right now, though, it’s unlikely that we’re going to watch our children, spouses, or parents slowly fade away in bed without getting them every medical advantage we can beg, steal and borrow against, and then waiting for the bills to roll in. So we need to get ready for them.

Our “bunker” (really, it’s food and hygiene supplies), our generator and fuel supplies, and our cached medical supplies may help us defray our living expenses while we shovel out of a financial hole, whatever the cause of that hole. For those starting out and with less than three, six or twelve months of really well-rounded supplies, however, it may be a minuscule fraction of the $8K the prepper above is trying to raise.

In other cases, such as vehicle or roof repairs, we may need that money now and find ourselves maxing out cards or taking out a loan – in some cases, a personal loan with a higher interest rate than a vehicle loan – which then leaves us even more vulnerable.

The Things That Go Wrong

Predicting just how much a common, no-frills surgery or dental procedure is going to end up costing out of pocket is a little bit like throwing darts blindfolded, even with major insurance coverage. It’s one of the many flaws in our healthcare system, and it can lead to some painful surprises, just as it did for the family above with their unexpected and uncommon situation.

There are minor disasters like a leak that means an out-of-this-world water bill, discovering that bees now inhabit 85% of an outer wall, and vet bills.

There are somewhat less-minor disasters such as cut hours or other loss of wages, or injury or circumstances that limit how much we can hunt or garden or forage and thus require making that up out of pocket.

Seasonal trends in the greater financial world can mean our income and costs can vary greatly. Some types of self-employment come in ebbs and flows that are hard to predict. Workers comp and unemployment are fractions of what regular wages are in some cases.

Can you take the hit on water, repair, and field losses from a broken irrigation line?

 

Then there are the disasters like farm-ag insurance that doesn’t actually cover our loss of stock to a dog or illness, or weather conditions leading to feed and hay prices going through the roof.

There are heart-breakers like loss of spouse – either divorce or death or debilitating injury that leave a big gap between former wages and real-work “income” and their social security disability.

All kinds of things go wrong, all the time.

Armageddon-ELE and a snowstorm are only the extreme ends of the spectrum. There’s a lot of middle ground we need to cover if we want to call ourselves prepared.

We need a plan for things in between a night spent in the cold because our kayak went downriver without us, and our plan to batten down the hatches of the bunker, board our ark, or shoulder our bag and go eat bugs and roots in the forest.

So what do we do about it? Especially those just starting out, or who have hit that ugly hump where they thought they were prepared, then discovered the world of sustainability and self-reliance that entails even more purchases and education?

We do have options. We have one more hurdle to leap first, though.

Stuff is the same as cash

Most preppers agree Ammo would be highly valuable in a SHTF Event.

I hate to see the belief that firearms and ammo, and our hardware like generators, are going to bail us out.

I’ve seen the theory that firearms hold value well. Depending on how you define value, maybe. Depending on how long you can wait, they also might hold more value. Run a test, though.

There are books, just like for vehicles, that define value of firearms based on a percent of their condition. That’s the top dollar somebody’s going to pay, unless you can find a sympathy buy, nostalgia buy, or somebody willing to pay for specialty etching.

Most of the time, if you need cash relatively quickly, you’re not going to get that top dollar, even if you did accurately gauge whether your shotgun, revolver, and rifle are at 75% or at 85%. You’re going to a gun store or a pawn store.

In some cases, they’ll take a percentage of the price you want and stick it on a shelf to see if it sells, but you won’t get paid until it does. If you have other money forthcoming, there’s the pawn option – which lets you buy it back for basically what they gave you upfront, but with a time limit.

Most of the time, you’re going to take a hard hit on that best-case value. See, that’s the most they’re going to be able to get. So off the top, they’re going to cut the price by the overhead – the costs of running and manning a storefront and-or internet presence.

There are definitely guns out there that are investments. Man, how many of us wish we’d snagged a few more of those K98’s, 91/30’s, or those .22LR German training pistols while they were under $100, now that they’re sitting at $200+?

Those are the exception.

Your bog standard 870-500, AR, and Glock, even purchased used, is not going to return the same money it was purchased for. In some cases, it’s not going to return 2/3 and may only hit half what it cost.

The same for ammo, unless you’re in the middle of a shortage. Especially if you’re looking to offload fast, chances are good you’re going to get less than 75% what you paid.

Sometimes hardware like chainsaws and generators, reloading presses, and tow-behind attachments will fetch decent returns back, but if you purchased new and are selling used, or if you need to sell fast, you may be in for a nasty surprise there, too. Same goes for selling off some of those canning, long-storage food, and equine supplies.

Please, don’t take my word for it, or anybody else’s.

Pretend you’re there, with a sick kid and $8K you can’t cover, out of space on credit cards and unable to wait 7-14 days for a loan. Haul some of the examples in to a shop. Call around.

Better to find out now than later.

Fire insurance may or may not cover outbuildings like barns and sheds, and their contents to include livestock, let alone feeding & getting livestock out of the cold afterward.

 

Getting Right

A lot of the middle-ground disasters revolve around finances, either losing our income or having to shell out. It’s not fun and in many cases, income is one of the fixed facts of our lives. There are a few things we can do to help build resilience, though.

Insurance: Go over your policies – all of them. Flood coverage is almost always separate. Wildfire and house-fire coverage can vary wildly. Don’t play the odds on health coverage for big disasters and cancer treatments; plan for that disaster, too. Make sure you check on things like preexisting conditions, such as diabetes or world travel that may make you an exception to coverage.

The biggest is to make sure insurance actually covers your losses.

Make sure life insurance and disability coverage actually covers your mortgage, or rent for enough time for your family to get up on its feet. Make sure vehicle coverage and theft coverage actually pays for the gear inside the vehicle, too.

In some/many cases, firearms are severely limited in coverage without additional or separate policies, and so are precious metals.

We can increase our deductibles to lower our monthly bills, but to do so, we need to make sure we actually have the deductibles on hand to pay out – all of them, in case a tree falls across all the vehicles and a roof, and then there’s a house fire while we’re staying in a hotel/campground.

That’s where honest self-assessment comes into play. If we’re not going to keep that payout on hand, we need to stick to the lower deductibles and just pay the higher monthly rates.

Have an emergency credit card with zero balance.

Emergency Credit Card: Have a card with nothing on it, enough to cover those insurance deductibles above and for that hotel room and the unexpected expenses that crop up. Cash is great, and I endorse keeping plenty on hand, but insurance doesn’t cover or severely limits paper money replacement and it’s bulky. If it can get tucked somewhere accessible in the middle of the night that won’t be affected by the “it” crisis facing the family, go for it, but keep a card handy, too.

Companies like to send cards to even people with bad credit and no jobs. If you’re not actually using it until a disaster occurs, the obnoxious interest rate doesn’t matter. But again, that’s about individual willpower.

Stop Spending: That can be harder than it sounds for some people. “It’s only” and “it’s on sale” and the eye-catchers at stores can wind up adding a fair bit to totals. Lack of organization and counts means I’ve seen people with six or seven of the same thing that doesn’t actually wear out all that often or 47 cheap flashlights, which is money that could have been spent far differently or tucked in a jar for a rainy day.

If impulse purchases are a problem write on the inside of your dominant hand “do I need this – how much of an hourly wage equivalent is this?”. Framing things into that last question has actually helped others, really and truly. Is that $8 fast-food combo or gadget really worth an hour or a half-hour of your daily income?

To combat internet impulse buys, take the card information off your accounts after every purchase, and make it a habit to keep cards in another room from computers. Stick the same question on those cards or on a slip in the wallet.

Cut Expenses: Every situation is different. Chances are good though, that most of us have something we can cut.

Whether it’s $90/year for Amazon Prime for our TV and movies, $8/month for Hulu, and whatever internet costs versus a cable package, gong to VoIP instead of a landline (you can plug in a phone to dial 911 even without phone service), or really deciding if we need those smart phones – or the major carrier contracts instead of reloadables, electronics are a main source.

Tally up what we spend and where, every penny; from the candy added to carts to the brand clothes and shoes, those $1 coffees instead of a thermos and lunches/snacks out instead of packing them. Consider what we cook, and what we could save by cooking differently.

Where we shop, and how much we spend on a DIY project (to include cooking) versus waiting or just buying something, are big contributors to what we spend.

We may also seriously consider downsizing if we rent, assessing the vehicle we drive for its maintenance and fuel costs versus something more economical, or getting out of a house that’s a money suck.

Communicate Goals: When it comes to the expenses and to the spending mentioned above, we’re going to have to talk to our families in many cases, and that’s going to be a headache, because what we prioritize is different.

You have to leave in at least some of the sanity savers, and it’s going to have to be transparently balanced, especially if you’re the only or the primary prepper. Cutting data, internet, subscriptions, and TV while you still buy a tacticool hatchet-prybar-tent stake and 500 rounds of ammo is likely to go down like ground glass.

In fact, forget the word “prepper” and all the world of gear and goodies while you’re working the financials. Every bank, credit union and investment agency is going to have mail-outs they’re happy to send you about budgeting and financial security. Get them. Print the example prepper’s story. Sit down with the goal to simply get out of a rut or become more financially stable.

Stay calm, stay open, be understanding, be non-aggressive, and walk in with some ideas but also asking about their solutions, too, and willing to compromise.

Write out the anticipated costs – roofs, tires, replacement appliances, vet bills, medical and dental bills, vehicles, graduation and college, annual shopping binges (holidays, back-to-school, vacations/trips, garden supplies). Come up with a “now” plan, and 1-2, 5, and 10-year plans and goals.

Involve everybody, and remember that their priorities are as prized to them as yours are to you, and what’s “obvious” is not going to be so for everyone else.

Piggy Bank vs. Zero-Balance: There’s going to always be a balancing act between paying off debt and sticking money in a kitty for another time. It’s another one that’s going to be deeply personal and individual. Have some money available, instead of immediately dumping every penny against a debt. Build up or keep enough on hand to go ahead and pay deductibles and for the credit cards that get so many people in trouble.

Just as we slowly build up food storage a few days, then a week, then a month, then 3 months, build financial backups that prevent late fees or huge interest rates.

Once we have it, pick the things that cost us the most (highest interest) and-or that we can eliminate pretty quickly, and focus on those.

 

House floods – It does not take Katrina or Sandy to rack up tens of thousands of dollars in un-covered damages.

Preparing for the Middle Ground

Our food storage and some of our other prepping supplies absolutely helps with some of those disasters, lessening our expenditures, but it can take some time for the savings to equal what we really need to pay out, and sometimes we need to pay that now. Too, if our supplies are things we will not actually use while the rest of the world is chugging around like normal (beans and rice 5-7x a week, scrubbing board, NBC or surgical suite) they’re not going to help us dig out of a hole.

The only thing less-sexy and less-interesting than getting right financially is going to be making up those disks and binders of our important information. Do it anyway. Make a chart or a graduated pie graph that can be colored in, weekly or monthly, so that we have a nice, physical tangible and can look at something to see what we’ve accomplished. It’ll help keep us on track.

Getting on track and staying on track financially is probably harder than any other aspect of preparedness. Try. There’s a lot that goes wrong in our world that does not involve ARs, survival gardens, INCH-BO bags, and making our own charcoal.

9 Comments

  1. bensmagginolia

    May 11, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    i’m retired and on a fixed income. i’ve always been a prepper but still need more …water is the biggest need. i’m lucky i’m on medicare because i had a completely unexpected heart attack last year. it really kicked my butt and has changed alot but not enough. i have slipped back into my old spending habits and have to get back on track. the computer i had to buy 6 months ago when the old one crashed is finally paid off. i can’t get out in the heat anymore like i used to so i have transportation expenses now. i used to walk everywhere….now i have to ride the bus or get a cab. i have been buying more and more online and enjoy the convenience but really miss getting out. my needs aren’t nearly as much as younger people with kids, cars, houses, etc. but they do add up. i’m good where i am and wish only the best for everyone else. keep up the good fight.

    • Ted Johnson

      May 11, 2017 at 9:04 pm

      Good luck to you, Sir!

    • R. Ann

      May 12, 2017 at 12:39 am

      Glad you can add another example. Thanks!
      (And for the water – I think all/most of us could do with more focus on clean and gray water!)

      My best wishes for your future!
      -Rebecca Ann

  2. whls4legs

    May 11, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    Supply. Wireing, plumbing, spending. No supply, no bueno. Demand exceeds supply, same. If you find yourself upside-down in that circumstance, stop spending. Down to the TP, electric, and ramen noodles, if that’s what it takes to have something left over end of month/year. And the TP is optional.

    You absolutely have to pay yourself something every time you come into money. Paycheck, lottery, the aunt you don’t remember. For all sorts of reasons. Once you get a dab of cash you’re comfy with, then pay down some debt. (Sounds pretty crappy, doesn’t it?) Easier said than done, right? It is, but then what isn’t.

    Pick up some preps on the cheap, when an extra coin or two presents itself, but try to get as fiscally healthy as your supply and will power can muster. Which itself is a very important prep if you’re not there. Eventually you’ll have at least a little padding when the wolf of life gets a piece of your posterior. And everyone gets a bite, that’s just the way it is. And you never see it coming.

    • R. Ann

      May 12, 2017 at 12:50 am

      Yup.

      The really, really tight financial aspects are where some of the things like trader sites and freebie curbside pickup sites, working the local contacts for donation center and construction/repair/painting company rejects, and working those skills that don’t cost anything can come into play to increase preparedness without spending. Build up drinking water supplies with 2L and juice jugs, and toilet/plant/cleaning water in milk jugs – collected for a “project” like olla drips or bird feeders if we don’t buy them. We can also switch up all those marvelous cleaning and laundry supplies for some good ol’ lavender-scented Pine Sol at $5-$6/gallon+ to save a big chunk.
      Even shooting skills can be improved without spending a penny on powder or lead – dry fire and reaction drills build the muscle memory.

      There’s also the grocery aid centers a lot of people are too proud to go to, almost anywhere. Some have various give-back requirements, some offer groceries at serious discount ($5-$15 for a file box of peanut butter, milk and produce among other things), some don’t ask a single question besides how many people are in the family or that all be present, and some require sharing a life story or have more stringent requirements.
      To avoid getting into a hole and NEEDING outside assistance, and to get OUT if we’re already in a hole, especially if we have other lives that count on us (parents, pets, kids), we really should just swallow that pride. They can be a way to get ahead, at least a little. When we’re solvent or have time, we can volunteer (anywhere) or tithe back to that org as a way to pay it back.
      🙂

  3. Ken Varney

    May 12, 2017 at 8:22 am

    Great article and thanks for talking about my son. If anyone is interested about the gofundme page here is the link. If you don’t want to donate no problem, just asking that you share it with friends and family
    https://www.gofundme.com/ZackVarney
    I’m a disabled veteran and the family has CHAMPVA and while it is good, it does not cover a lot hence the 8 grand medical bill. Just one hospital not including the other hospital, ambulance, labs and anything else the Grand Rapids Children’s Hospital was over $130,000. Crazy huh?
    Thanks,

  4. Flattop

    May 12, 2017 at 10:22 am

    In regards to prepping ,your state of mind is most important. There will always be situations develop that you have not planned for ( murphys law ) and your confidence in your ability to overcome whatever is important. The old expression, where theres a will, theres a way.
    Regarding debt, pay off the smallest debt, then add that payment to the payment of the next smallest debt, and so on and you will soon be out of debt. It only takes a can do attitude

  5. Chris_in_Oz

    May 29, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    What a well-reasoned and thought-provoking article. Thank you.

    • R. Ann

      May 30, 2017 at 1:34 pm

      Thank you!
      Glad you liked it and that it made you think. There’s no better compliment than that last bit.
      -Rebecca Ann

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