All Posts by Chloe

The Cheapskate’s Guide to Productive Hobbies

It is vital to take time out of the day to relax.  It rejuvenates you, improves your health, and calms your mind so that you can think more clearly. Relaxation, creative activities, and family time can actually be frugal endeavors, and not distractions that take away from your efforts to make ends meet.

When you have a million and one things to do, though, sometimes it’s difficult to force yourself to stop.  This is because stress releases two hormones into your body: adrenaline and cortisol. Excesses of these hormones can cause blood pressure spikes, food cravings that lead to weight gain, and heart disease, to name just a few of the pitfalls.

So, you’ve got to unwind. You need a hobby.

But not these hobbies.

But beware.  Some hobbies end up costing you money with nothing to show for it.  Lots of people spend their time doing things like playing golf or tennis, going to concerts or night clubs, playing pool in a bar, drinking alcohol with friends, or shopping. All of these things have their place, of course, but as a regular part of your daily routine, they can certainly add up in price. If you already stressed about your finances, these hobbies will give you a brief respite, but in the end, just cause your stress to be worse because of all of the money you’ve spent.

Other hobbies kill off a few brain cells as you sit there, passively entertained in an altered state in front of the television or a video game.  These things may not really cost you a lot of money, but in the long run, they will do little to alleviate stress.

Studies have shown that watching television induces low alpha waves in the human brain. Alpha waves are brainwaves between 8 to 12 HZ. and are commonly associated with … brain states associated with suggestibility…Too much time spent in the low Alpha wave state caused by TV can cause unfocused daydreaming and inability to concentrate….Advertisers have known about this for a long time and they know how to take advantage of this passive, suggestible, brain state of the TV viewer. There is no need for an advertiser to use subliminal messages. The brain is already in a receptive state, ready to absorb suggestions, within just a few seconds of the television being turned on. All advertisers have to do is flash a brand across the screen, and then attempt to make the viewer associate the product with something positive. (source)

Passivity actually opens up the door to your brain and allows you to be programmed – mass media uses this as a tool, by promoting ideas (like gun control, acceptance of the “big brother” philosophy, or the politically correct flavor of the month).  It inhibits your critical thinking skills and leaves your brain craving even more time in this low Alpha state.  This is the reason that some people sit blankly in front of the TV for hours every night, until they fall asleep on the couch and then get up to do it all over again.

It’s important to choose your spare time activities in a manner that enhances your brain function, instead of reducing it.  In a world where, for many, entertainment means playing on your iPhone or sharing photos on Facebook, opting for industry for your downtime can be an unusual choice.  But, stepping outside the path of the herd and choosing productive hobbies is a great way to relax.  What’s more, if your brain is engaged in an activity while you view a television program or movie, then you are not as susceptible to messages, either subliminal or blatant.  This means that you don’t actually have to keep the TV turned off at night – you just need to refrain from zoning out in front of it.

Now, I can’t say that I never indulge in a little bit of binge-watching. I do, on a regular basis. The difference is, I don’t just sit there. (Actually, I’m pretty much incapable of simply sitting there watching something.) I take the time that we spend watching a show to accomplish those mindless things that I just don’t enjoy doing, like mending, organizing my sewing basket, repairing broken items, or completing a frenzy of food prep.

A brief lesson from young Ben Franklin

In 1726, 20 year-old Benjamin Franklin sought to cultivate his character.  He listed off the thirteen virtues that he  believed were important to living a good life, one of which was industry.

Franklin wrote of this characteristic,

“Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”

He believed that the pursuit of productivity would build character and help the practitioner to lead a more successful and moral life.  In his autobiography Franklin wrote, “I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.”

Think back to the days before television.  People worked hard all day long, producing food, cutting wood, cooking, hunting, building…it was a full time job to survive and thrive.  In the evenings, by candlelight, they could stop and put their feet up for a while.  Books were not widely available like they are now, so families passed the time by performing stitchery, carving, making furniture, mending things and creating items that made their lives more pleasant and beautiful. Sometimes a family member would read aloud, play an instrument or sing.  Time was of value and not to be wasted, and there was rarely money to spare on an “evening out”.

Opt for activities that enhance your frugality

Nearly 300 years later, we can apply Franklin’s philosophy of industriousness and productivity to our lives today.  When choosing leisure activities, consider opting for a productive hobby.

It should either…

  • Teach something
  • Create something
  • Repair something
  • Improve something

That leaves the door wide open to a broad range of choices.  If you tend to be an overachiever, then you can relax without the guilt of worrying about all the things that you “should” be doing instead of chilling out. As a longtime student of cheapskatery, I’ve found that most people who are effectively frugal have hobbies which are productive and don’t enjoy wasting time, even leisure time.

Productive hobbies not only improve your brain, but they can better your chances for thriving in a post-SHTF world.  The ability to create or repair something will improve your standard of living and provide you with valuable skills for barter should an economic collapse occur.  Time spent teaching your children these skills will, in turn, pass down arts that would otherwise be lost to generations of the future, while helping your child become a critical thinker and problem solver.

Often your hobby can turn into an additional source of income. Many people have been extremely successful setting up starting their own Etsy empires or participating in the craft show circuit.

Some productive hobbies to choose from…

Not only can some of these hobbies be an enjoyable way to pass the time or add to your economic bottom line, but they can provide beautiful, lower-cost options for gift-giving, which is a frugal bonus.

Not only should you, yourself, be indulging in these pasttimes, but you should be passing these skills on to your children. When you do, you are creating not only useful and lovely items, but irreplaceable family memories. Our living room is full of attractive baskets which all hide the supplies for various crafts and hobbies. Of an evening, you can most often find us creating while a movie or music plays in the background.

  1. Reading
  2. Sewing clothing, curtains, and soft furnishings
  3. Knitting, crocheting, and weaving
  4. Carving
  5. Repairing broken items
  6. Mending
  7. Making soap and other personal care items
  8. Building furniture
  9. Making pottery
  10. Cooking and baking
  11. Writing
  12. Drawing and creating art
  13. Playing an Instrument
  14. Singing
  15. Making cards
  16. Making jewelry
  17. Fletching
  18. Gunsmithing
  19. Making ammo
  20. Welding and soldering
  21. Learning a language
  22. Caring for animals
  23. Playing a word, math or strategy game
  24. Marksmanship (archery and firearms)
  25. Exercise
  26. Gardening
  27. Preserving food
  28. Practicing outdoor skills like hiking, camping, and foraging
  29. Hunting and fishing
  30. Automotive repair

What are your productive hobbies?

This list is certainly not comprehensive. If I’ve left off your favorite spare time activity, take a couple of minutes to tell us about it in the comments section. How do you unwind?  What do you like to do in your spare time?

20 Signs That You Might Be A Cheapskate (Just for Fun!)

Do you enjoy saving a buck more than most people?  Do you have a black belt in frugality? Here are 20 surefire signs that you are embracing your cheap side.  How many things on this list apply to you?

  1. You take it as a personal challenge to see how long you can go without spending money. The game is even better if you have a spouse or friend with whom you can compete.
  2. You don’t let food go to waste. You have an ice cream tub in your freezer nearly full of odd bits of leftovers, awaiting their reincarnation into “leftover casserole” or “leftover soup”.
  3. It’s physically impossible for you to drive past an interesting-looking garbage pile at the curb during somebody else’s spring cleaning frenzy, much to the dismay of your children. (Although there’s always that one kid who’s excited to dig through the pile with you!)
  4. Your first stop at the grocery store is the “last day of sale” rack in each department. When you get home with your stash, you immediately set to freezing, dehydrating, or canning your inexpensive score.
  5. Your kid looks at a necklace or pair of earrings at the “cool” store and scoffs, “We could make this.”  Then she puts it back and asks you to take her to the thrift store for items to disassemble for the supplies to make her own accessories.
  6. You don’t have cable. Your viewing, if you watch television at all, is done via an internet subscription service or even a rabbit ear antenna on top of the TV.
  7. A day of yard-saling is planned out like a military invasion: you have a Mapquest route of at least a half dozen sales, a thermos full of coffee, a wallet full of small bills, and a list including measurements of all empty spaces in your home that need to be filled, kitchen items you are seeking, books your daughter wants to read, and upcoming birthdays.  Your alarm is set the night before, a blueberry muffin is wrapped up and ready to go on the counter, and your comfy clothes are laid out.
  8. Before throwing anything in the garbage you take a few seconds to ponder how it might be reused. Then, you either compost it, put it aside for a re-purpose, or you turn it into a homemade “log” for your fire.
  9. If something breaks, you try to fix it. If it must be replaced or purchased, you always look for a used version first before doling out the money for a new one.
  10. You know how to darn socks….and you do it.
  11. You have a special super-skinny rubber spatula earmarked just for getting the very last bit of whatever out of jars and bottles in the kitchen.
  12. You wash and re-use sandwich baggies, and you’ve even rigged up a little drying rack for them beside your sink.
  13. You are outraged at the idea of spending $18 on a jug of laundry detergent because you could make a year’s supply for that amount of money.
  14. You have recently advised your child to cut off that teeny bit of mold on the brick of cheese because the other side is just fine.
  15. You don’t carve the Jack-o-Lanterns until the day before Halloween so that you can cook, puree, and can the pumpkin the day after Halloween.
  16. You have (and use) a clothesline.  Year round. In fact, you know from experience that laundry dries even if it freezes first.
  17. You know how to repair a plastic clothes hamper by “welding it” with a bread tag and a hot glue gun.
  18. The dish soap beside your sink is actually 50% dish soap and 50% water.
  19. You can’t really understand how other moms spend hundreds of dollars on scrapbooking supplies, when your scrapbooks filled with reclaimed do-dads look just as awesome for mere pennies.
  20. The concept of spending $25 dollars or more to get your nails done is as foreign to you as the concept of riding an ostrich around your yard.

Does the list above make you say, “It’s like Daisy knows me!!!”?

The Economy of Staying Home

Reallocating money for prepping demands some sacrifices. Freeing up the money you need to prepare means that you can’t necessarily keep up with the Joneses.  Trust me, though, the time will come when the Joneses would trade their big screen TVs, their brand new SUVs and their fancy gym memberships in order to keep up with you.

One of the easiest ways to save money is also one of the simplest.  For some people, it’s one of the most difficult.

Stay home.

That’s it – nothing fancy at all.  Just stay home more.

Now, before the flurry of emails begins, I’m not suggesting that you become a mad hermit up on a mountain, only trekking to the village on foot once a year to buy salt and sugar.  In fact, as I write this, I’m on vacation with my daughters.  (The first one in five years!)

Actually being on vacation is what inspired me to write this.  I noticed some of the little things we spend money on when we’re out and about.  Because I work from home, I am not “tempted” by all the things there are to spend money on very frequently.  While I don’t think that we should stop enjoying life, during your everyday, non-vacation life, there are a lot of financial benefits to finding most of your entertainment, companionship,skyrocketing, you’ve probably noticed the pain each time you go to the pumps.

Following, see some of the easy ways that staying home more often can save you money.

Transportation Costs

  • Group your errands. Obviously, you have to go to work and run errands.  By grouping these things into fewer outings, however, you will save money on fuel.  Stop by the grocery store on the way home from work instead of making a special trip on the weekend. If you go to a gym, go on the way to work and use the showers there.  If your kids are involved in activities, consider doing some errands while they are engaged instead of dropping them off, going home, and going out again to pick them up.
  • Walk.  Are you within walking distance of any of the things you have to do?  If so, walk to the Post Office on your lunch break.  Walk to work and school if you’re near enough.  Not only will your wallet thank you, so will your health.

Food and Beverages

We live in a pretty rural area.  We do our major grocery shopping trip once a month because it’s a long drive. While we always take some drinks and snacks, nearly every single time we end up buying something during our time away.  Maybe it’s a treat like ice cream in the summer or hot chocolate in the winter or even lunch at a restaurant.  Since it’s only once a month, I plan this into the budget.  However, when you’re out every day, these treats really begin to add up.

  • Bring your lunch, your drinks, and your coffee.  When I worked outside the home, I always brought my lunch and refilled my water bottle at the cooler.  Many of my coworkers went out for fast food every day at lunch.  They came in with a drive-thru coffee cup in their hands, went to the vending machine for a coke and a bag of chips.  When you hit a drive-thru every time you go out the door, the price of leaving home goes up.
  • When you grocery shop, make a plan.  When you go out for the explicit purpose of buying food and beverages, it’s best to make a list.  Bring a drink with you, so you aren’t tempted to grab an overpriced bottle of water.  Eat before you go so that everything in the store doesn’t looks so delicious that it makes its expensive, full-price way into your cart.

Entertainment

It seems like a lot of people can’t have fun at home anymore.  Maybe I have a warped perspective of fun, but I really enjoy gardening, doing arts and crafts with the kids, making popcorn and watching a movie together or just reading a book.

Our society has become so overstimulated that people constantly require more and greater stimulation in order to not feel “bored”.  Take for example the folks who are glued to their iPhones while spending time at a place that should be entertaining in and of itself.  We once saw an entire family at a restaurant, each with their own device out, eating food and ignoring one another.

Because we don’t go out that often, I guess it’s more of a treat, so we are fully engaged in it.  I’ve noticed that going to the backyard to play is no longer interesting enough – it has to be a water park or an amusement park for many kids to be excited about it.

  • By learning to entertain ourselves simply we can get a lot more happiness out of a lot less money.  By developing some productive hobbies, we can be creative while meeting needs.  By being active in our pursuits instead of passively entertained, we can be healthier in mind and body.
  • And while we’re on the topic of entertainment – shopping should not be “entertainment”.  When you shop as “something to do” you are bound to spend money on something you don’t need.  I have daughters, and they really don’t love my theory on this, but we shop when we need to get something.  We don’t just go hang out at the mall.  If it’s time to buy some school clothes, I allot a certain amount of money and time, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.  I do the same thing with Christmas shopping.  The mall is fraught with ways to drain your money – you get thirsty and buy a bottle of water or another drink.  You weren’t hungry but the smells from the food court are so tantalizing you can’t resist.  That display in front of the store has doohickeys that are ONLY a dollar.

It’s Not You, It’s Them

Don’t feel bad if you’ve read the suggestions above and recognized yourself.  People go to college for 4-6 years just to learn how to part you and your money.  Advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry.  Western society is based on commercialism.

A 2007 article in the New York Times said that the average city dweller is subjected to more than 5000 ads every single day.  It’s a barrage that hits you not only when leaving your house, but when turning on the radio, surfing the internet and watching television.

Add this to the endangered list: blank spaces.

Advertisers seem determined to fill every last one of them. Supermarket eggs have been stamped with the names of CBS television shows. Subway turnstiles bear messages from Geico auto insurance. Chinese food cartons promote Continental Airways.US Airways is selling ads on motion sickness bags. And the trays used in airport security lines have been hawking Rolodexes.

Marketers used to try their hardest to reach people at home, when they were watching TV or reading newspapers or magazines. But consumers’ viewing and reading habits are so scattershot now that many advertisers say the best way to reach time-pressed consumers is to try to catch their eye at literally every turn.

“We never know where the consumer is going to be at any point in time, so we have to find a way to be everywhere,” said Linda Kaplan Thaler, chief executive at the Kaplan Thaler Group, a New York ad agency. “Ubiquity is the new exclusivity.”

Recognizing that you are the target of commercialism run amok is the first step in resisting the marketing schemes.  Your awareness that you are being manipulated makes you less likely to think, “Wow, that sounds great!  I have to have it!”

Be sure that you are the one who decides where your money should be spent.  Identify your priorities (preps, your stockpile, a better location, lessons that will improve your chances when/if the SHTF) and avoid the marketing machine as much as possible.

By centering your life around your home,  you can stay focused on your goals.  You can begin to see your home as a retreat from the stressors of the world instead of a grim place you’re trapped.

30 Frugal Living Tips: Small Changes That Result in Big Savings

People all over the globe are struggling right now to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.  In the United States and Canada, we’re watching many more people than we’ve seen in nearly a decade plunge into poverty due to our failing economy.  We’re losing jobs, paying higher expenses, and getting slapped with medical bills that we won’t make enough money to pay for in this lifetime.

For some folks, tips like the ones that follow would not be helpful because their situations have become so dire.  For the rest of us, though, there are many places that we can cut the budget in order to survive in the new economic paradigm. Frugality is a viable alternative lifestyle.

You may not want to make changes.  You may not want to sacrifice those little luxuries.  You may feel like you “deserve” them or that you have “earned” them.

First, please get out of your mind the phrase, “I work hard and deserve this chocolate thingamabob while someone paints my toenails for me” or any combination thereof.

You may work hard, but rationalizing poor spending habits is a surefire way to remain broke forever. Now, please don’t misunderstand – you don’t have to be miserably unhappy, grimly plodding through a life bereft of any pleasures. You just have to change your perspective, and that can take a little tough love.

Even small savings matter

Making some small changes in your day-to-day habits can actually add up to huge savings.  And before you say, “Oh, that’s only $2, it doesn’t matter” think about this.

Two dollars, saved on a daily basis over the course of a year, is $730.

If you save $2 on 4 different things, that total is $2920.

Sure, if you’re a multimillionaire homeowner with a paid-off house, yacht, and car, those numbers are small potatoes. But for most of us, a savings of $2920 makes an awfully big difference.

Frugal living tips for any budget

So, look over these small savings and see which of these expenditures you can cut. You can often figure out a way to still have your small luxuries while saving money.

  1. Drink water.  Even if you purchase it in $5 gallon jugs with the hot/cold dispenser, it’s still the best deal around, with the added bonus of being good for your health.  Skip the soda pop, juices and sports drinks. Also, skip the individual bottles of water because those can be just as pricey as buying a soda. Coffee and tea that you make at home are also very inexpensive.
  2. Join a Farm Co-op.  You can get baskets of produce for more than half the year at a fraction of the price.
  3. Stop buying coffee in the drive thru on your way to work every day.  You can save anywhere from  $300-1300, depending on whether you are a Tim Hortons/Dunkin Donuts/Starbucks person. If you absolutely adore your coffee, make it at home and put it in a nice to-go mug for your commute.
  4. Brown bag it.  Bring a healthy lunch from home instead of spending $5 or more each work day on your lunch. The peer pressure to go out with friends from the office can make this difficult but stand firm.  If there are 260 workdays in a year, and you save a minimum of $5 on each one of those workdays, at the end of the year, you’ve tallied up $1300!!! (and these days, a $5 lunch is tough to find – you’ll most likely be spending closer to $10, which means your savings is closer to $2600.)
  5. Skip the meat – consider 2 meatless meals per week, or at the very least make meat a condiment instead of a main dish.
  6. Cancel cable or satellite.  Yes, the kids will complain.  Yes, it will suck at first.  Then you’ll learn to do other things and it won’t bother you at all. If you still want to watch television and movies, get an Amazon Prime or Netflix membership for viewing and pay less than $10 per month. (Prime also offers a music service, a photo service, and a Kindle Lending Library service, making it a better investment.)
  7. Lower your thermostat.  The Consumer Energy Center says that for every degree you lower your heat under 70 degrees F, you can save up to 5% off your bill.  Look into other ways to stay warm.
  8. Don’t use credit cards. If you must, because of an expense account, be sure to pay it off in full before the interest can kick in.
  9. Check your insurance rates. Shop around for car and home insurance to be sure you are getting the best price. This can be a recurrent savings of up to hundreds of dollars.
  10. Grow some of your own food. You don’t need a farm to grow some of your own veggies and herbs. You can also consider sprouting for fresh off-season greens at a fraction of the price of grocery store sprouts or produce. (I’ve had much better luck with the sprouting kits than with makeshift sprouters I’ve created – for me it was $20 well-spent)
  11. Find the best phone plan.  For some it may be Skype, for others it may be a cell phone instead of a landline and for still others, especially those who make a lot of long-distance calls, it may be a VOIP service with unlimited national calling.  We went for years with no phone except for Skype.
  12. Take shorter showers – this can save you up to $100 per year, depending on your water rates and your cost to heat the water.
  13. Make homemade pizza instead of ordering delivery.  At the very least, go pick the pizza up to save yourself delivery charges and tip. In our house, Friday night pizza-making is a beloved family tradition.
  14. Set up a clothesline. Hanging your clothes to dry instead of using an electric dryer can save over $300 per year.  You can set up a clothesline outside,or, if you live somewhere dusty like me, get a foldable drying rack, or devise something in your laundry room for drying clothing.
  15. Wash in cold water. Washing your clothes in cold water can save $50 per year – plus your clothes will last longer.
  16. Don’t throw away your leftovers.  You can collect small amounts of left overs and combine them into something totally new.  We often keep a container in the freezer for leftover veggies.  Later we add them to soups or pot pies.  Sometimes we have enough miscellaneous leftovers to create an entirely new meal, which is like free food!  Another option is what my kids call “leftover buffet” – all the leftovers go out on the counter and the kids can pick and choose their items – the ovenproof dish gets heated up and voila – TV dinner is served!  If you have a few servings of dinner left over, put them in single serving containers so that you can grab them for lunches throughout the week.
  17. Eat at home.  If you cut meals out to one a month, you can save up to $3000 per year for a family of four.  As well, when it is a rare occurrence, it’s much more of a treat.
  18. Shop secondhand.  Hit up thrift stores, Craigslist, Ebay, and yard sales before purchasing items new.  Seek and ye shall very often find what you need for a fraction of the price.  Also, check out “Freecycle” – a website dedicated to unloading unwanted things at no charge.
  19.  Stay healthy.  Sometimes this is easier said than done, but by taking precautions like washing your hands and avoiding sick people you can reduce your risk of becoming ill.  Also, good nutrition, vitamins, exercise and sunshine all help to boost your immune system.  Being sick results in lost wages, money spent on trips to the doctor,  and expensive medications.
  20. Prep your food ahead of time.  Nothing says “drive thru” like a gnawing hunger pain in your stomach on your way home from work.  Spend time on the weekend prepping your food for the week ahead so that you are able to have dinner on the table in less time than it takes to wait in line at a fast food restaurant.
  21. Skip the gym and take your workout outside.  Walk, run, bike, or hike and save those monthly fees.
  22. Quit smoking.  Need I say more?
  23. DIY your hair color.  At the very least, touch up your roots at home.
  24. Speaking of hair – consider simplifying.  Try to stretch the time between hair cuts, learn to trim your hair yourself, forgo the fancy highlights and procedures, and cut back on the products.  I realize not everyone is as enthusiastic about the ponytail as I am but see where you can simplify.
  25. Ditch the fake nails.  I used to have a friend that insisted it was necessary to her job to have perfectly manicured fingers. No.  If you are not a professional hand model, it’s not.  Either learn to do it yourself or simplify to short neat fingernails buffed to a shine.  I sincerely doubt any person ever lost a job for not having artificial nails.
  26. Clip coupons.  Coupons can often net you big savings, but not always. Be sure to compare with the price of the less expensive store brands – sometimes coupons aren’t that great of a deal. As well, another risk with coupons is that you’ll buy something you wouldn’t normally purchase. Make sure the item is something that would be on your list anyway.
  27. DIY cleaning products. Skip the fancy cleaning supplies and use household items like white vinegar and baking soda to keep your house spotless.
  28. Repair instead of replace.  In our disposable society, most  people say “Oh, it’s only $3 – I’ll get a new one.”  Repairing items isn’t just a way to save money – it’s a great way to improve your skills.  Learn skills like mending, darning, welding, simple electrical and mechanical repairs and minor carpentry.
  29. Skip the doggie beauty salon.  Learn to groom your dog at home.  For the price of one trip to the groomer, you can purchase quality nail clippers and a good brush.  Use human shampoo and brush your pet frequently to reduce matting.  If your dog requires trimming on a regular basis, consider getting professional quality clippers and learning to give her a cut, or at the very least, stretching out the visits with a bit more time in between.
  30. Stay home.  When you stay home, you aren’t spending money on gas, drinks, food and shopping.  If you are the type of person that needs the social aspect of going out, take your own water bottle and picnic lunch, and focus on free activities like going to the dog park, the museum on free-admission days, and the splash pad with the kids.

If you used every one of these tips, you would save, literally, thousands of dollars per year. And they’re all small things, a dollar here, a quarter there. But I’m sure you can see how they add up.

You can use one of these suggestions or all of them.  Be creative and come up with your own ways to save that work well with your life.

*The 10 Daily Habits of Frugal People

There’s a big movement towards frugality afoot these days. It probably has something to do with our declining economy, record unemployment levels, and the increasing price of food, but only the wisest families are paying attention to these things. The rest of the folks are blithely going on as they always have, wondering why on earth they keep spending more money each week at the store.

If you are just beginning to move towards a thriftier lifestyle, you might be looking at the big picture.  You could be asking yourself things like, “How can I save money on my car?” or “How can I pay less for that new laptop?”  These are all fine things to do – paying less is great, but shopping for a bargain is actually not the key to a frugal lifestyle.

Living a life of thrift and frugality is all about the little habits. It’s about your mindset.  Saving money on enormous expenditures is great, but it is the small daily actions that add up and change your life.  Truly frugal people absolutely LOVE saving money. Embrace these daily habits and make them your own. You’ll soon see an incredible difference in the way you look at pretty much everything.

  1. Frugal people use everything right to the last drop. If you go to someone’s home and notice that their ketchup bottles are upside-down in the refrigerator, their toothpaste tube on the bathroom counter is tightly rolled and held in place with a clothespin, and the contents of the liquid soap pump look mysteriously watery, you may be visiting a fellow frugal person. We don’t like to waste stuff, so we use things right to the last drop, until there is absolutely no life left in it.  We use rubber spatulas to get one more sandwich from the peanut butter jar. (I even have a special skinny rubber spatula that I purchased for the express purpose of scraping out containers in the kitchen.) We extend our dish soap with a little bit of water. What others throw away, we see as a personal challenge.  I don’t know about you, but I get a little rush seeing how many more bangs I can get for my buck when using things that most folks would consider empty.
  2. Frugal people like to stay home. Going out costs money. I’m lucky enough to work from home, so I don’t have the daily temptations that folks do who go out to work. First there’s the peer pressure. In my old workplace, I was one of the few people who brought my lunch.  Each day, the other ladies would spend half an hour deciding where they were going to go for lunch together. Then there are transportation costs and incidentals. Thirsty? A bottle of water is just $1. I’m not saying that you need to be a hermit on a mountaintop, trekking into the village on foot once a year for salt, sugar, and a box of oranges to offset scurvy, but you don’t have to go out every single day. If you have the day off, why not enjoy your home and your family instead of heading out to an activity that is going to cost for admission, refreshments, and a snazzy item from the gift shop?
  3. Frugal people don’t spoil their children. This may not make you popular now, but later, your kids just might appreciate it.  When my kids were in public school, I was astonished at the cost of various activities and events.  There were $40 field trips, $5 “pizza days”, and special $50 hoodies with the school emblem. As a single mom with two kids in school, there was no way I was just forking out the money for this stuff. So, when the girls came home with forms and asked for money, I made a list of extra chores they could do around the house to earn the money for the activity.  If they didn’t feel it was worth a little extra work for them, I certainly wasn’t going to hand them my hard-earned cash for it. They learned the value of work, the relationship between work and getting stuff, and that sometimes, what they paid for just wasn’t worth the effort of earning the money for it. As well, they came to appreciate special meals and activities more. I recently took them on a vacation for Christmas and splurged a little. I was touched by how appreciative they were and delighted as I saw them take steps to keep expenses down, like packing a picnic in our little hotel kitchenette instead of planning to eat out all day.  When a child is constantly given everything, they grow up to be less satisfied, and they’re a lot harder to make happy. Those are the kids who grow up to be the adults that trade their cars in every two years and keep remortgaging their homes for things like pools and pricey vacations. It is far more loving to raise your children in an atmosphere that encourages thrift, productivity, and personal accomplishment instead of a silver platter environment.
  4. Frugal people have productive hobbies. What do you like to do for fun?  Does it use up resources or produce them? Productive hobbies should teach something, create something, repair something, or improve something. Think back to the days before television.  People worked hard all day long, producing food, cutting wood, cooking, hunting, building…it was a full-time job to survive and thrive.  In the evenings, by candlelight, they could stop and put their feet up for a while.  Books were not widely available like they are now, so families passed the time by performing stitchery, carving, making furniture, mending things, and creating items that made their lives more pleasant and beautiful. Sometimes a family member would read aloud, play an instrument, or sing.  Time was of value and not to be wasted. Most of my hobbies are relatively productive.  Sure, I’ll watch a movie on Amazon, but while I do, I’m crocheting a Christmas present, mending clothes, or making some small item for our home. I like to grow vegetables and flowers. Chickens make me happy.
  5. Frugal people don’t shop as a form of entertainment. When you shop as “something to do” you are bound to spend money on something you don’t need.  I have daughters, and they really don’t love my theory on this, but we shop when we need to get something.  We don’t just go hang out at the mall.  If it’s time to buy some school clothes, I allot a certain amount of money and time, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.  I do the same thing with Christmas shopping.  The mall is fraught with ways to drain your money – you get thirsty and buy a bottle of water or another drink.  You weren’t hungry but the smells from the food court are so tantalizing you can’t resist.  That display in front of the store has doohickeys that are ONLY a dollar.
  6. Frugal people save pennies throughout every single day. Frugality is a way of life for us. It isn’t saving money on the big things. It is eagerly grasping hold of the challenge of doing everything less expensively. It’s automatically calculating the lowest unit price. It’s making things instead of buying them. It’s choosing to use your own creativity instead of the party supply store’s when throwing a birthday party for your child. It’s putting on a sweater instead of turning up the heat. These small daily actions add up to enormous savings and allow you, unlike the greater majority of our society, to live within your means.
  7. Frugal people put aside emergency funds. When times are tight, being taken by surprise over a sudden necessity is sure to turn your budget upside down if you haven’t prepared for it. This is why frugal people keep a rainy day fund and a fully-stocked pantry. Then, if the refrigerator groans and breathes its last, if the car grinds to a halt 50 miles from home, or if a family member needs to go to the doctor, it doesn’t put you in a situation where you must be faced with deciding whether to deal with the emergency or keep your electricity on.
  8. Frugal people cook from scratch. One of the most certain ways to destroy your budget is to eat food prepared by other people.  Think about it: whether you buy it from a restaurant or from a box on the grocery store shelf, someone spent time making that food.  And you are paying for that!  Those pouches of pre-cooked rice, those rotisserie chickens, that bag of take-out food, or that just-add-water and heat for 10 minutes meal from a box all include the cost of someone else’s labor. If you don’t know how to cook from scratch, there are simple foods you can start with, like soup, steamed vegetables, baked potatoes, and chicken breast. Get an old-fashioned cookbook for simple instructions to make basic foods.
  9. Frugal people do things the low-tech way. There are simple ways to save money that don’t show you an immediate return. Things like hanging your laundry instead of using your dryer. Things like putting on a sweater instead of turning up the heat. Things like taking it easy in the hottest part of a summer afternoon instead of cranking up the air conditioner. Things like using solar lights as night lights. The list could go on and on, but by reducing your dependence on electricity and natural gas (or whatever your heat source is) you can save hundreds of dollars per year.
  10. Frugal people repair things. We live in a society of planned obsolescence. Most things aren’t made to last a lifetime anymore, and our society is happy to just toss their doo-dads in a landfill and go get new ones. Frugal people fix things. We mend our clothes, we repair our appliances, we fix broken furniture, and some of us even do unheard of things like darning our socks. We don’t immediately think about replacement of something broken. Our first step is always to attempt a repair.

Real frugality is all in your head.

Hard-core frugality is not just making a choice to buy the generic brand of laundry soap instead of a jug of Tide with scent beads.  Hard-core frugality is buying the ingredients to make 5 times the amount of laundry soap for half the price of that name-brand detergent, all the while LOVING the fact that Proctor and Gamble are not getting your money.

Being a black belt in frugality takes creativity and an optimistic outlook.  It should never be some grim, sad thing that you have to do.  It should be something that you choose to do.  By finding joy in your non-consumerism, you will be far more successful at it. It becomes a game that you win if you can do something for free that others spend money on.

When you feel like you require less, then you are happy with less.  This means that you have to spend less time working at things you may not truly enjoy to pay for the things that you never actually needed in the first place.  This means that the money that you have goes a lot further and that your life feels a lot more satisfying.

When you finally cross that line between resenting the fact that you have to strictly budget to embracing the fact that by being as thrifty as possible, you have achieved freedom you never dreamed of before, you’ve made the conversion.  You aren’t just acting with thrift until things get better. You, my friend, are one of those truly joyous frugal people that others look to for inspiration.

The Cheapskate’s Guide to Making Cleaning Products That Won’t Kill You

One of my favorite parts of spring is scrubbing down the entire house, throwing open the windows so the breeze can come through, and hanging rugs and bedding outside.  Maybe it’s weird but I just love spring cleaning.

However, what I don’t love is the expensive, chemical-laden cleaning products from the store.  That’s why I spend some time making my own, from simple, non-toxic ingredients.

 

It’s quick, frugal, and easy to make non-toxic cleaning products.

That’s why I spend just a few moments of extra time making my own cleaning products, from simple, non-toxic ingredients. I order most of my basic supplies online in bulk and keep them on hand so I can always whip them up as needed.  Not only are you sparing your health, but you’ll save a lot of money with DIY products!

Here’s what you need for a clean home:

  • Baking Soda (Save lots of money by buying it in bulk)
  • Borax
  • Vinegar
  • Essential oils in your favorite scents
  • Dr. Bronner’s liquid Castille soap in your favorite scent
  • Non-smelly cooking oil (I get something inexpensive for this, since we won’t be consuming it)

You can make everything you need from those items.

5 DIY Cleaning Product Recipes

Scouring powder:

  • 1 part baking soda
  • 1 part borax
  • Essential oil of choice

In a mason jar, mix the baking soda with the borax.  Sprinkle in some essential oil. (I like citrus or mint smells for the fresh clean fragrance.)  Combine the mixture well, and put it in a sunny windowsill for a week to let the powders absorb the scent of the oils.  If you aren’t concerned about the fragrance you can use this right away.

Spray surface cleaner #1:

  • 2 parts white vinegar
  • 1 part water
  • Essential oil of choice

Fill a spray bottle with white vinegar and water. Add your favorite essential oils to cover the vinegar smell. This works on non-wood surfaces and glass.

Spray surface cleaner #2:

This one is good for wood surfaces. Mix this up as you go along, because the oil can go rancid.

  • 3 parts unscented cooking oil
  • 1 part vinegar
  • Essential oil of choice

Yes, basically, it’s salad dressing.  I like to add sandalwood essential oil to this because it’s…well, woody. Lots of folks use citrus oil to get that lemon fresh fragrance.  Spray this on wooden furniture and work with the grain.

Hardwood floor cleaner:

Your hardwoods will gleam with this cleaner. If you use it on laminate it will be slippery. This is only for real wood floors.

  • 16 parts hot water
  • 1 part cooking oil
  • 1/2 part lemon or lime juice
  • Citrus essential oil

Other floor cleaner:

  • 16 parts hot water
  • 1 part borax
  • 1/2 part Dr. Bronner’s Castille soap
  • A few drops of tea tree essential oil
  • A few drops of other essential oil for fragrance

If your floor is particularly greasy you can replace half of the water with white vinegar.

 

How to Grow a Survival Garden (and what to do if it dies)

I love growing my own vegetables. I spend many fulfilling hours outside every summer, tending to my plants, nurturing my soil, and babying things along, with the birds for music and a basket full of delicious organic food to show for it each day.

Except this year. This year, my garden is a flop.

Eaten by deer, killed by the heat

It’s pretty embarrassing to admit on my own website that my garden is not doing diddly squat this year. I am normally pretty good at growing food (or just extraordinarily lucky) but this year, circumstances beyond my control have thrown up one challenge after another.  First of all, we moved July 1. I started my garden in containers, earlier in the summer, and then transplanted them into my lovely new fenced garden full of raised beds.

Only, the fences weren’t high enough, and unbeknownst to me, I had set up a deer buffet with a low hurdle. Garden #1, GONE. Decimated. Wiped out. And I didn’t even get venison in retribution.

So, I went and got some new plants and put them in. Better late than never. I deer-proofed and nurtured my soil and paid top dollar for plants that were a bit more advanced, since by now it was the first week of July.

And then a heatwave hit the day after I transplanted them. 107 degrees. Most of the plants withered immediately and no amount of TLC would bring them back.

I was determined that I would have at least SOME vegetables and bought even more plants. I added some shadecloth to protect them from the sun. I fed them some white sugar to help them recover from the transplant shock. They’re growing but not providing me with a whole lot of produce, for numerous reasons, including heat, a late timeline, and slightly low phosphorus in my soil.

Aggravating. I’m a wannabe farmer shopping at the farmer’s market to get my summer veggies. Not cool.

But, like everything in life, there’s a lesson here. It got me thinking about all of the folks whose master plan for survival is a big stockpile of seeds.  While this is a very important part of a long-term self-reliance plan, there are some years, no matter how many silver bells and cockleshells you put out, your contrary garden just won’t grow.

It’s going to happen. One year, your gardening season is not going to live up to your expectations. Have you thought about what you’ll eat when your garden flops?

Troubleshooting a garden that is dying

I’ve written a lot about adaptability as a survival mechanism and this holds true with your vegetable garden as well.  When a major part of your survival plan is growing your own food, being able to identify and overcome issues with your plan is vital.

Experience. The number one key to troubleshooting your iffy garden is experience. Many people make a survival plan without any practical skills to back it up. Have you gardened before? Have you gardened in the area in which you intend to survive? If you haven’t, you aren’t going to be able to predict the pitfalls, like deer fencing that isn’t high enough, too much direct afternoon sun, not enough direct afternoon sun, etc.  This is the major reason for my gardening failure this year. All of this stuff is learned by (often painful) experience. Keep a gardening journal to help avoid repeating those mistakes and to keep track of trends, like late frosts, etc. So get out there and get dirty. No excuses. If you don’t do it now, you can’t expect to survive doing it.

Soil testing:  A huge part of successful gardening happens before you ever plant a seed. You need to know all about your soil so that you can amend it and provide the right foundation for growing. It’s best if you amend before planting but you can still have some success after the fact.  Every bit as important as your seeds is a soil-testing kit. Get a kit that tests for soil pH, nitrogen, phosphorus and potash content.  I like this kit because it has 10 tests for each substance. The price is very reasonable (it’s geared towards classroom instruction) so get a few for your stockpile. This way, if the S hits the F, you can still have access to the science that you need to troubleshoot  successfully.

Soil Amendments:  Once you’ve done your testing, you will need the supplies to amend your soil to optimum nutrient levels.  Find some books on DIY soil amendments and stock up on supplies that you might need to adjust where your oil is lacking. If your goal is gardening for survival, it’s very important to learn to amend your soil without a trip to the garden store. For example, blossom end rot is caused by a lack of calcium in the soil. This can be improved by adding milk to the roots of your plants, then deeply watering them, or making a tea from crushed eggshells. Learn about the safe management of manure, composting, and the use of cover crops.

Access to information.  Right now, we have the luxury of the internet. With the help of Google and YouTube, we can find the answers to nearly any gardening question we might have. But in a long-term survival situation, it won’t be that easy. It’s almost a guarantee that if you are in a scenario during which your vegetable garden is all that stands between you and malnutrition, you aren’t going to have access to the internet.

gardening books1

My bookcase is loaded with reference books on topics like gardening, herbalism, and other old-fashioned skills. Join me by going old school. Get yourself some well-reviewed gardening books. These are some of my very favorites:

Also, check out the highlighted links in the soil amendment section above for more excellent books. (Some of them are available for free on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, but I strongly recommend hard copies of books that you find useful.)

What to do when you can’t grow your own food

While my plan is to eventually be able to grow much of what we need for survival, I’m also prepared for a bad year. While the items above will help you through many gardening issues, there are some things that are completely beyond human control. Things like:

  • Bad weather, either too hot, too cold, to rainy, or too dry
  • Pests – who remembers that book in the Little House series where Pa’s fields were descended upon by a horde of hungry locusts?
  • Natural disasters – wildfires, terrible storms, tornadoes – all of those can wipe out a garden

There’s absolutely nothing you can do about certain events. And that’s why you must have a Plan B. A stockpile of long-term food is essential for surviving when the deck is stacked against you.

There are numerous different ways to go about building your food supply (which I go over in my book, The Pantry Primer), but the basics are:

For more information, check out this article: 12 Strategies for Creating the Perfect Pantry.

Have you ever had a bad garden season?

This year, I’m very thankful that I have lots of homesteader friends and an excellent farmer’s market, as I navigate my new gardening environment. (You can find a local farmer’s market HERE.) I still have some stuff left over from last year’s harvest, and of course, my stockpile, but this year’s harvest is looking like it’s going to be disappointing.

As with any preparedness scenario, thinking through it ahead of time can help us maneuver through the situation more easily if it happens in the midst of a crisis. Have you ever had a similar bad gardening year? What are some of the causes I may not have covered? Pests? Weather? An act of nature? Were you able to overcome it, and if so, how did you do it?

Please share your answers in the comments below. You just might be resolving someone else’s garden issues!

“Grid Jihad”: What If You Had a Week to Prep for the End of the World?

With September 11 fast approaching, so too does the risk of another terrorist attack on US soil.

They say this every year as the date approaches, but in 2014, it seems to carry a bit more weight than it has during other years.

I’m referring specifically to all of those beheadings and the crazy video threat that warned, “We will drown all of you in blood“.  I’d say that ISIS could either be behind a potential attack or be set up as the fear-flavor of the month and be blamed for such an attack.

As for the type of attack, security experts are warning that our vulnerable power grid is an extremely likely target. Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner wrote:

Former top government officials who have been warning Washington about the vulnerability of the nation’s largely unprotected electric grid are raising new fears that troops from the jihadist Islamic State are poised to attack the system, leading to a power crisis that could kill millions.

“Inadequate grid security, a porous U.S.-Mexico border, and fragile transmission systems make the electric grid a target for ISIS,” said Peter Pry, one of the nation’s leading experts on the grid.

Others joining Pry at a press conference later Wednesday to draw attention to the potential threat said that if just a handful of the nation’s high voltage transformers were knocked out, blackouts would occur across the country.

“By one estimate, should the power go out and stay out for over a year, nine out of 10 Americans would likely perish,” said Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.

At the afternoon press conference, Gaffney dubbed the potential crisis the “grid jihad.” (source)

Anyone involved in the preparedness community is well aware of the disaster that would befall our country should our power-dependent populace no longer have light, climate control, and running water with the flip of a switch or turn of a handle. In his book, One Second After, William Forstchen wrote a fictional account of an EMP attack on our country and that book is the very thing that brought many of us over to the “prepped” side. His newest book, Day of Wrath, could be likewise prescient. It was written about a devastating ISIS terror attack on American soil.

In the press conference Wednesday, Peter Pry warned that Obama’s open border policy could be the weak point that allows the country to be infiltrated, with potentially devastating consequences.

Pry provided details of recent attacks on electricity systems and said that ISIS could easily team with Mexican drug cartels to ravage America.

He told Secrets, for example, that the Knights Templar drug gang blacked out the electric grid of the Mexican state of Michoacan in 2013 to provide cover for killing those fighting the drug trade.

“The Knights Templars and other criminal gangs in Mexico will do anything for money, and ISIS, the richest terrorist organization in history, has hundreds of millions of dollars at its disposal,” said Pry.

“ISIS could hire one of the Mexican cartels, or one of their criminal gangs already in the U.S., or activate jihadist terror cells already in the U.S., and inflict a multi-state blackout immediately, within days or weeks. Perhaps even a nationwide blackout,” Pry explained to Secrets.

“I am not saying it is likely they will do so. But given the capabilities and objectives of ISIS and our obvious vulnerabilities, it would be foolish to ignore the threat to the grid, to regard the threat as unlikely. Our planning should be based on imminent asymmetrical threats, and not assume that another 9/11 large-scale attack is years away,” he added.

The Texas Department of Public Safety recently said they believe there is evidence that ISIS plans an attack. (source)

Enough about the “maybes” and the “hows”. (You can go HERE for an in-depth article about EMP attacks.) Unless you happen to be a highly placed government official reading this article, there isn’t a lot that you could do to prevent it. All you can do is be prepared to survive the aftermath, so this article deals with the “what ifs” and the “are you readies”.

Are You Ready for Grid Failure?

This is a topic that I’ve written about frequently, because a power outage aids and abets the chaos caused by so many different disasters. It doesn’t honestly matter HOW the grid goes down. A long-term grid collapse will result in an extremely high death toll.  People will starve, freeze, perish of thirst, or die of sanitation related illnesses. Some will expire from medical causes that can’t be treated properly without power.  Others will die because life-saving medication is no longer available. Civil unrest will unleash the very worst in human nature. However, we can prepare for many of these hazards.

If you are already of the preparedness mindset, you’ll fare better than the average North American.  Here are the questions you need to contemplate:

  • How will you get food if the grocery stores are closed?
  • How will you cook food if you are able to acquire it?
  • What will happen to the perishable food in your refrigerator and freezer?
  • How will you heat or cool your home if you are in an area subject to extreme temperatures?
  • What will you use for light once the scented candle that sits on your coffee table is gone?
  • How will you transport yourself if a) your vehicle doesn’t run because the computers are fried or b) it runs but you can’t get gas because the pumps at the station run on electricity?
  • What will you drink and wash with if the municipal water facilities are no longer providing water or if the pump on your well runs on electricity?
  • How will you dispose of waste, human and other?

Find as many solutions as possible for the issues you would face if going for weeks (or longer) without power.  You must stay warm, eat, and drink.  Everything else is a bonus. You can live without the television, the video game console, the microwave in the kitchen, and the laptop.

I know that some of you are reading this with a fatalistic attitude.  You are mentally making lists of why you can’t resolve these issues.   Maybe you live in an apartment, you rent so you are limited to what you can do with your home, you have a limited budget, you live in the city or your mama’s basement.

Well, if that’s the way you’re thinking, then you’re probably right – you won’t survive. Survival demands a can-do attitude 0r, on occasion, the fluke of pure dumb luck. If you realize these things are necessary and you still refuse to find solutions for your particular situation, you are setting your family up to suffer, and possibly even die, when it could be avoided. When I first became involved in preparedness, I lived in an urban area with a population in the millions. I rented. And I prepared to the very best of my ability because I knew I couldn’t live with myself if my children suffered because I had failed to do what was necessary beforehand.

What if you knew  the world would end one week from today?

So here’s my question. If you absolutely knew that the world as we know it right now was coming to an end in a week…on September 11, 2014, what would you do?

Modify the following suggestions to adapt them to your particular home, family, and climate.

Water

Everyone knows that clean drinking water is something you can’t live without. In the event of a disaster, the water may not run from the taps, and if it does, it might not be safe to drink, depending on the situation.  If there is a boil order in place, remember that if the power is out, boiling your water may not be as easy as turning on your stove.

Each family should store a two week supply of water. The rule of thumb for drinking water is 1 gallon per day, per person.  Don’t forget to stock water for your pets, also. This does not include water for hygiene purposes. You’ll want to store additional water for that as well.

You can create your water supply very inexpensively.  Many people use clean 2 liter soda pop bottles to store tap water.  Others purchase the large 5 gallon water bottles and either a top-loading water dispenser or a manual pump for the top of the jug. Consider a gravity fed water filtration device and Water Purification Tablets as well.

Food and a Way to Prepare It

There are two schools of thought regarding food during a power outage.  One: you need a cooking method that does not require the grid to be functioning.  Two: you can store food that doesn’t require cooking.

If you opt for a secondary cooking method, be sure that you have enough fuel to last for a while.  Store foods that do not require long cooking times – for example, dried beans would use a great deal of fuel, but canned beans could be warmed up, or even eaten cold.  A rocket stove that can use many different types of fuel is an excellent and flexible choice.

The Volcano 3 is an excellent quality choice, and Swiss Army stove is an inexpensive choice for those on a tight budget.

Click HERE for a short term food storage list

Click HERE to find a list of foods that require no cooking.

Heat (Depending on Your Climate)

If your power outage takes place in the winter and you live in a colder climate, heat is another necessity.  During the first 24 hours after a power outage, you can stay fairly warm if you block off one room of the house for everyone to group together in.  Keep the door closed and keep a towel or blanket folded along the bottom of the door to conserve warmth.  You can safely burn a couple of candles also, and in the enclosed space, your body heat will keep it relatively warm.  As well, dress in layers and keep everything covered – wear a hat, gloves (fingerless ones allow you to still function), and a scarf.

Click HERE to learn how to stay warm with less heat.

However, after about 48 hours, that’s not going to be enough in very cold weather. You will require back-up heat at this point in certain climates.  If you are lucky enough to have a source of heat like a fireplace or woodstove, you’ll be just fine as long as you have a supply of wood.

Consider a portable indoor-safe propane heater (and propane) or an oil heater.  You have to be very careful what type of backup heat you plan on using, as many of them can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if used in a poorly ventilated area. Make sure to have CO monitors that will work without electrical power.

Learn more about off-grid heat options HERE.

Sanitation Needs

A common cause of illness, and even death, during a down-grid situation is lack of sanitation.  We’ve discussed the importance of clean drinking water, but you won’t want to use your drinking water to keep things clean or to flush the toilet.

To conserve precious water, reduce your need to wash things. Stock up on paper plates, paper towels, and disposable cups and flatware.  Keep some disinfecting cleaning wipes and sprays. I don’t recommend using antibacterial products on a regular basis, however in the event of an emergency they can help to keep you healthy. Use hand sanitizerafter using the bathroom and before handing food or beverages – there can be a lot more germs afoot in a disaster.

Look at your options for sanitation.  Does your toilet still flush when the electricity is out?  Many people discovered the hard way that the toilets didn’t work  when the sewage backed up in the highrises in New York City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  When we lived in our cabin in Ontario, the toilet wouldn’t flush without power because the pump is electric. If you are on a septic system, you can safely flush by pouring water into the tank. However, if you use city sanitation, you run the risk of sewage backing up into your home.

If flushing is not an option, another solution is to stock up on extremely heavy duty garbage bags (like the kind that contractors use at construction sites) and kitty litter.  Place a bag either in your drained toilet or in a bucket.  Sprinkle some kitty litter in the bottom of the bag.  Each time someone uses the bathroom, add another handful of litter. Be very careful that the bag doesn’t get too heavy for you to handle it.  Tie it up very securely and store it outside until services are restored. If services are not restored in a reasonable amount of time, make plans to bury or dispose of the waste safely.

Light

Lighting is absolutely vital, especially if there are children in the house.  Nothing is more frightening than being completely in the dark during a stressful situation. Fortunately, it’s one of the easiest things to plan for, as well as one of the least expensive.

Some lighting solutions are:

  • Garden stake solar lights
  • Candles
  • Kerosene lamps
  • Flashlights (don’t forget batteries)
  • Hand crank camping lantern (This one is bright and inexpensive)
  • Don’t forget matches or lighters

Tools and Supplies

Some basic items will make your life much easier during an emergency. Here are some things that are essential in the event of a power outage:

  • Lighter/waterproof matches
  • Batteries in various sizes
  • Manual can opener
  • Basic tools: Pliers, screwdriver, wrench, hammer
  • Duct tape
  • Crazy glue
  • Sewing supplies
  • Bungee cords
  • WD40 or other lubricant

If you’d like to expand on the basic supplies, a more detailed list of tools and hardware can be found HERE.

First Aid Kit

It’s important to have a basic first aid kit on hand at all times, but particularly in the event of an emergency.  Your kit should include basic wound care items like bandages, antibiotic ointments, and sprays.  As well, if you use them, keep on hand a supply of basic over-the-counter medications, like pain relief capsules, cold medicine, cough syrup, anti-nausea pills, and allergy medication. Particularly important if sanitation is a problem are anti-diarheal medications.

This first responder kit is a good, pre-packed kit for injuries. Medications would need to be purchased separately. If you want to put together a more advanced medical kit, you can find a list HERE.

Special Needs

This is something that will be unique to every family. Consider the things that are needed on a daily basis in your household. It might be prescription medications, diapers, or special foods.  If you have pets, you’ll need supplies for them too.  The best way to figure out what you need is to jot things down as you use them over the course of a couple of days or so.

Self-Defense

If you can’t protect it, it isn’t really yours. This adage is doubly true in the event of civil unrest. We only have to look back a few short weeks at the chaos in Ferguson, Missouri to confirm that the businesses that were not looted by rioters run amok were the ones in which the owners stood, armed and ready, prepared to defend their property.  The lessons we learned from Ferguson can easily be applied to a grid-down scenario, and we can multiply the desperation by about a thousand times, because it won’t merely be thugs romping through the streets and reveling in the chaos. It will be the parents of hungry children. It will be criminals who no longer fear being caught. It will be people who can no longer access psychiatric medications upon which they are dependent. It will be utter and complete lawlessness, driven by fear.

The best advice is to lay low, but if the fight comes to you, you absolutely must be prepared to defend your home and family by any means necessary. Read this article to learn more about prepping for civil unrest.

The Nuclear Threat

A dire concern that is often overlooked in discussions of EMP or grid-down preparedness is the threat of our nuclear power plants going full-out Fukushima on us. I guess part of the reason that I don’t write much about it is because there is honestly a limit to what we can do to be prepared for this. If all of our plants melted down simultaneously, the lack of refrigeration or firewood would be the least of our worries. We, the average folks, cannot control anything about these facilities, so our options are to control what we can – our personal environments.

Tess Pennington of Ready Nutrition shared the following very viable suggestions of what to do if you are exposed to nuclear radiation:

Radioactive ionic particles attach themselves to dust floating in the air. Therefore, it can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. If you are told to evacuate or bug in due to a nuclear disaster, keep the following points in mind:

  1. If you are driving, keep the car windows and vents closed, and use recirculating air.
  2. Due to the fear of panic and gridlock that will ensue from mass evacuations, most governments will delay mandatory evacuations until the last minute. This will only cause mass confusion and chaos at gas stations, grocery stores and on the streets. The best way to prevent this, is to stay ahead of the crowd and prepare ahead of time.
  3. If told to stay indoors, turn off the air conditioner and other air intakes and go to a basement. Seal basement windows and entrances to prevent fallout from getting inside. If you go outside, you will need to remove your outer clothing before coming inside the shelter.
  4. Likewise, creating a sealed area near the entrance of the shelter will prevent fallout dust from entering. Seal the entryway with blankets, bubble wrap or plastic sheeting to prevent the dust from coming in. Have water and baby shampoo near the entrance to wash and thoroughly rinse any exposed skin and hair. Exposure to fallout radiation does not make you radioactive, but you need to assure that you don’t bring any inside. Some experts suggest having a rain poncho to take on and off when you go outside.
  5. To go a step further, covering the windows wood, then sandbags followed by masonry bricks will create a multi-layered protection against you and radioactive particles.
  6. If you find yourself outdoors when a nuclear blast occurs, duck and cover for 2 minutes. You will first see a blinding light followed by tornado force winds and dangerous. When all danger is gone, seek shelter immediately. Remove your clothing at the door and place in a sealed plastic bag. You can remove 80% of the particles by removing your clothing. Showering immediately following exposure is another way to remove the remaining particles.
  7. If you have signs of radiation on skin soak in a tub of equal parts baking soda, apple cider vinegar and epsom salt. Skin brushing can be very beneficial, because the skin is a primary avenue for detoxification – scrub along with the lungs, kidneys, liver, and colon. An unused vegetable brush would be very helpful with this process.
  8. Getting caught out in the rain can also cause you to have more exposure to radioactive particles. If you do have to go out in the rain, completely cover yourself. Experts are suggesting that if your clothes get wet to take them off and seal them in a plastic bag, immediately shower and change clothing. (The detox bath solution and skin brushing would be good here. If radioactive materials get on your skin, burns and blistering can occur.Note: If you are exposed to radioactive particles, you will also need to get your urine tested for traces of cessium at your local medical center.
  9. When fallout is first anticipated, but has not yet arrived, anyone not already sheltered should begin using their N95 particulate respirator masks and hooded rain ponchos. Everyone should begin taking Potassium Iodide (KI) or Potassium Iodate (KIO3) tablets for thyroid protection against cancer causing radioactive iodine, a major product of nuclear weapons explosions. If no tablets are available, you can topically (on the skin) apply an iodine solution, such as a tincture of iodine or Betadine, for a similar protective effect. (WARNING: Iodine solutions are NEVER to be ingested or swallowed.) Absorption through the skin is not as reliable a dosing method as using the tablets, but tests show that it will still be very effective for most. Do not use if allergic to iodine. If at all possible, inquire of your doctor NOW if there is any reason why anybody in your household should not use KI or KIO3 tablets, or iodine solutions on their skin, in a future nuclear emergency, just to be sure.For adults, paint 8 ml of a 2 percent tincture of Iodine on the abdomen or forearm each day, ideally at least 2 hours prior to possible exposure.
  10. For children 3 to 18, but under 150 pounds, only half that amount painted on daily, or 4 ml. For children under 3 but older than a month, half again, or 2 ml.
  11. For newborns to 1 month old, half it again, or just 1 ml. (One measuring teaspoon is about 5 ml, if you don’t have a medicine dropper graduated in ml.) If your iodine is stronger than 2%, reduce the dosage accordingly.
  12. When you know that the time to take protective action is approaching, turn off all the utilities into the house, check that everything is sealed up and locked down, and head for the shelter. You should also have near your shelter fire extinguishers and additional tools, building supplies, sheet plastic, staple guns, etc. for sealing any holes from damage. Your basement should already be very well sealed against fallout drifting inside. Now, you’ll need to seal around the last door you use to enter with duct tape all around the edges, especially if it’s a direct to the outside door.
  13. Do not use the telephone unless absolutely necessary. Staying on the phone will congest phone lines making it impossible for others in your area to make or receive calls.

Read the rest of her very thorough article on the topic HERE.

Get Started Today

It may feel very overwhelming, the thought that the world as we know it could end in 7 days.  We all hope this “grid jihad” business is nothing more than a scare tactic, a way to prey upon our fears.  But what if it isn’t? How would you feel, having been warned, if you did nothing to prepare for it and it happened?

You can start right now – this very minute – all you have to do is grab a pad of paper and a pen.

  1. Begin by personalizing the suggestions above to fit your family’s needs and make a list of your requirements.
  2. Next, do a quick inventory – as I mentioned above, you may be surprised to see that you already have quite a few of the supplies that are recommended.
  3. Make a shopping list and acquire the rest of the items you need.  If you can’t afford everything right now, prioritize the most important things first.
  4. Organize your supplies so that they are easily accessible when you need them. It’s hard to find seldom-used items in the dark.

You can go far more in-depth on the topic with a good book. I strongly recommend Tess Pennington’s comprehensive guide, The Prepper’s Blueprint. It will be the best $24 you ever spent on your family’s survival.

If the lights go out next week due to a terrorist action, will you be prepared?

How to Survive a Stock Market Crash

Has anyone noticed how the stock market has repeatedly plummeted over the past six months? And how nearly everyone is soothed when industry specialists scramble to prop up our failing economy? And it’s not only happening in America – the Chinese market is halfway down that slippery slope as well. The last time the system showed this much volatility, the crash of 2008 occurred.

I’m no financial expert, but there seems to be a collection of very, very bad signs. When markets slowly freefall and no one in the media is talking about it, that means it’s time to sit up, pay attention, and be prepared to take immediate actions.

It’s time to pay attention because this could go one of two ways.

This could just be a tremor before the Big One hits. The economic gurus at the Fed could find another way to kick the can a little bit further down the road, giving you more time to get your personal financial situaion under control.  Obviously, things just aren’t right, and you can consider this a warning bell.

Or.

This could be “it”. If there are no creative, fake-money-from-thin-air remedies left, the market will continue to fall when it opens on Monday. If the market is still dropping, it’s game on.

Take these immediate steps if the market continues to fall.

I hate predictions.

I really cringe when people try to make economic predictions or pinpoint specific dates for impending financial disaster. So please realize I’m not making a prediction when I say this.

Watch the market on Monday. Carefully. Like it’s your job.

If it continues to fall, we could be in big trouble.

If on Monday, the market is still plummeting, it’s time to take action immediately. None of these steps will have long-term consequences if things level out, but they could make your life a whole lot easier if things get worse. Here’s what you need to do immediately in the event of a stock market crash.

  • Take your money out of the bank ASAP.  If you still keep your money in the bank, go there and remove as much as you can while leaving in enough to pay your bills. Although it wasn’t a market collapse in Greece recently, the banks did close and limit ATM withdrawals.  People went for quite some time without being able to access their money, but were able to have a sense of normalcy by transferring money online to pay bills or using their debit cards to make purchases.  Get your cash out. You don’t want to be at the mercy of the banks.
  • Stock up on supplies.  Make sure you are prepped. If you’re behind on your preparedness efforts and need to do this quickly, you can order buckets of emergency food just to have some on hand. (Learn how to build an emergency food supply using freeze dried food HERE) Hit the grocery store or wholesale club and stock up there, too, on  your way home.
  • Load up on fuel.  Fill up your gas tank and fill your extra cans also. Quite often, fuel prices skyrocket in the wake of a market crash.
  • Be prepared for the potential of civil unrest. If the banks put a limit on withdrawals (or close like they did in Greece) you can look for some panic to occur. If the stores dramatically increase prices or close..more panic. Be armed and be prepared to stay safely at home. (Although this article was written during the Ferguson race riots, civil unrest follows a similar pattern regardless of the cause.)
  • Be prepared for the possibility of being unable to pay your bills. If things really go downhill, the middle class and those who are the working poor will be the most strongly affected, as they have been in Greece during that country’s ongoing financial crisis.  This article talks about surviving if you are unable to pay all of your bills.

After the crash, focus on information

Hopefully there’s no need to empty out your bank accounts, stock up on last minute supplies, or lock-and-load for home protection. However, if this is a crisis situation, an actual 1929/2008-style stock market crash, you need to take your preps to the next level.

Information is the key. It’s imperative that you learn everything you can so that you know what you need to add to your preps. Do these two things if it looks like the situation is more than a blip:

#1.  Bookmark these preparedness websites. (Free)

The internet is a wonderful place, and best of all, this knowledge can be found for FREE! The more you know about crisis situations, the more ready you will be to face them. Some sites are friendlier to beginners than others, so if you stumble upon a forum where people seem less than enthusiastic about helping people who are just starting out, don’t let it get you down. Move on and find a site that makes you feel comfortable. Following are some of my favorites, and the link will take you to a good starting point on these sites. In no particular order:

Following are some of my favorites, and the link will take you to a good starting point on these sites. (Actually, it’s wise to begin increasing your knowledge even if we get a reprieve.) In no particular order:

#2.  Build your library. (Small expense)

This is where some money could come into play. Most of the time, people in the preparedness world like to have hard copies of important information. This way, if the power goes out and you can’t access the internet or recharge your Kindle, you still have access to vital advice.

Some of these books are for just such an event, while others are guides to building your self-reliance skills.  Commit to picking up a good book each pay period until you have a library to reference during any type of scenario.

Be sure to check out used bookstores, libraries, and garage sales, too. Look for books that teach self-reliant skills like sewing, gardening, animal husbandry, carpentry, repair manuals, scratch cooking, and plant identification. You can often pick these up for pennies, and older books don’t rely on expensive new technology or tools for doing these tasks.

Collapse is inevitable

Hopefully this is a brief crash and the market recovers. That gives us more time to prepare, and nearly everyone could deal with a little more time.

However, it’s imperative that you be watchful. This might be the triggering event for our next Great Depression. Be prepared to take action.

This may just be a warning bell, but we all know that it’s only a matter of time until we’re all out of warnings.

The Big Blackout: Why I’m Going Low-Tech to Prep for an EMP

This might be stating the obvious, but in the event of an EMP, things will not be the same, no matter how great your generator is.

Aaron Dykes of Truthstream Media wrote an excellent article about the extreme likelihood of a catastrophic event that could take out our power grid:

Billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer is warning investors – and more broadly, lawmakers and leaders – about the potential destructive power of an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, which could be triggered by solar events or artificially, via blasts in the atmosphere.

According to Singer, research shows that no other incident, including a nuclear bomb, has the potential for such wide-scale devastation, coupled with the relative likelihood of occurring. While a nuke would primarily impact on the location of a such (such a city), an EMP could occur globally or across large-scale regions, wreaking havoc on the entire electric grid and devices…

…Government agencies, such as NASA and Homeland Security, have taken some preliminary steps towards preparing for an EMP attack – regardless of the potential for natural of man made causes – but the public at large remains cripplingly unaware of the dangers present to modern life, and its reliance on all things electronic, digital and, thus, transient. (Check out the rest of this MUST-READ article HERE)

We’ve all read many articles about the likelihood of grid failure. We’ve been warned again and again that it isn’t a matter of if, but when, it happens.

Because of this, a lot of people are preparing for a very different future.  Folks are getting ready for the Big Blackout.  The thing is, I am not sure everyone is thinking this through.  Many people are spending buckets of money on preparations to try to keep their lives as similar as possible to how they are today. They’re investing in diesel generators and Faraday cages to protect their electronics. They are buying propane-fueled appliances.  They’re stashing away fuel to run these gadgets.

Generators are not a practical investment for EMP preparation.

The problem with that method of preparation is, the fuel-generated lifestyle will only last for as long as you have…well…fuel.

Very few of us have enough storage space or the proper facilities to store 5 years’ worth of fuel.  If the power grid goes down in a catastrophic way, it’s going to take at least 5 years to get things up and running again, and that’s assuming things ever get up and running again in the way they are now.

That means that people are spending thousands of dollars investing in items that will only sustain their lifestyles for a brief period of time.  Generators are not a long term solution unless you have renewable power. (More on that later). While a generator would be a blessing in a short-term emergency (think a week-long power outage due to a storm), for a permanent way of life they are completely impractical.

Furthermore, in the event of an EMP strike, if your generator is not protected, it may not work no matter how much fuel you have stored.

Maybe the fact that I’m not rolling in money is the reason I feel this way. Maybe people with lots of money to spare have ideas about how to keep their generators running forever. But for my personal situation, this is a preparation strategy that is completely impractical.

A low-tech lifestyle is the best way to prep for grid-down survival.

If money is an object in your preparedness endeavors, (and let’s face it, money is an object for most of us these days), then focus your dollars on preps that are sustainable without electrical power.  Instead of trying to live the exact same life you are living right now, only fueled by an individual generator, look for low-tech solutions instead.  This reminds me of people who stop eating gluten but still want to eat exactly like they have been eating their entire lives, only now with expensive gluten-free baked goods that cost 4 times the price of their wheat-filled counterparts.  When things change dramatically, accept the change and adapt to it, instead of trying to maintain the illusion that everything is the same.

Whether you can get power from an outlet in the wall or not, the necessities of day-to-day life will remain the same:

  • Water
  • Shelter and Warmth
  • Food
  • Sanitation and Hygiene
  • Light

The ultimate preparedness goal should be to provide those necessities without any help from the power grid, generators, or fossil fuel.

When my youngest daughter and I lived in the North Woods of Canada, we lost power frequently throughout the year. Lots of folks in the area had generators that they would fire up when the power went out, and that was a viable solution, since gas stations were available and fuel was pretty much unlimited as long as you could afford to go get it.  We were on a tight budget, however, and we adapted our situation to live without power during those outages.  After the first couple of outages, we had worked out most of the bugs and we even began to look forward to our time without power – it was like a little vacation from the regular workday.  As plugged in as our society is, power is not actually a necessity – it’s a luxury, and we can live without it as long as we are adaptable, creative, willing, and prepared.

Let’s look at some specific examples of low-tech ways to take care of our necessities.  These ideas are just food for thought, based on my own preparedness plan – they may not be the solutions that will work best for you, but the goal here is to brainstorm your own situation and figure out how to live your life low-tech if the need occurs.

Off-grid Water

If you haven’t located water sources near your home,  it’s time to break out the topographical maps of your area and find them!  A low-tech water plan might include some or all of the following:

  • A manual pump for your well
  • Buckets and wheelbarrows for hauling water from a nearby source
  • Rain barrels for water harvesting
  • A gravity-fed water filtration system
  • A water dispenser for convenient access to filtered water (Be sure to get one with the bottle on top so that it can be operated without electricity, and not one that uses an electric pump to pull the water up from the bottom)
  • Storage units for water such as cisterns or tanks
  • Portable water filter bottles for safe water when you are away from home

Off-grid Shelter and Warmth

Homes these days aren’t built to function without a connection to the power grid.  If you aren’t fortunate enough to live in an older home that was designed for off-grid living, look at some ways to take your home back a century or so. A secondary heating system is vital in most climates.

  • An antique oil heater can use lots of different oils and requires little effort for installation (THIS SITE is loaded with information about Perfection oil heaters)
  • Have a woodstove installed
  • Clean your chimney and get your fireplace working
  • Set up an outdoor fireplace with large rocks to bring inside for radiant heat (this won’t get you super warm but it’s better than nothing)
  • Have a good supply of blankets, warm clothes, and cold-rated sleeping bags
  • Learn techniques to stay warm with less heat

Off-grid Food

Not only do you need access to food, but you also need a way to cook it and a way to keep your refrigerated and frozen items from spoiling.

Off-grid Sanitation and Hygiene

How will you keep clean and deal with human waste in the event of a long-term emergency?

Off-grid Lighting

The world is a scary place when it’s dark, and most of us have forgotten how dark TRUE dark really is, due to light pollution and the proximity of neighbors. Here are some lighting solutions for an off grid world:

  • Solar garden lights – store them outside to be charged during the day and bring them in and put them in vases where they’re needed at night
  • Oil lamps – you can recycle used cooking oil or use rendered fat to power these – they give a brighter light and can be used for reading and close-work (Learn more HERE)
  • Candles – stock them and learn to make them
  • Solar powered flashlights

Renewable power is practical power.

One exception to my no-generators rule is renewable power. If you can afford a solar set up for your home, then very little would change about your day-to-day life, aside from you being one of the few people with power.  You don’t have to go totally solar to have power for a few important items.  Assuming you have electronics in working order, they can be powered with solar, wind, or water.

Most of us can’t afford an entire set up but these are some options to consider:

  • Build a DIY portable solar recharging station – learn how to make it HERE
  • Solar-powered systems for specific items – learn more HERE
  • Use wind power – learn more HERE
  • Use water power – learn more HERE

What will you do when the electrical power goes out?

Do you have plans in place for a long-term (or permanent) power outage?  Are you planning to use generators and maintain your current lifestyle, or are you planning to go low-tech? Share your opinions and some of your cost-effective ideas in the comments!