Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Choppers can be stoppers

Ever procrastinated getting that tooth 'looked at' by the dentist and regretted it? Now imagine you've done that, it flares up with a nice abscess, and you are in an emergency situation with no hope of relief. Great planning!

So, after much procrastination myself, today I went and had some dental work. I'm just like most people and would rather do almost anything rather than have my teeth messed with -- especially the drilling. I can feel it vibrate my skeleton down to my toes. But we must BITE THE BULLET (how's that for a bad pun??) and keep our teeth in good shape.

Your plans for preparation items must include toothbrush(es), paste or equivalent, floss and some antiseptic mouth rinse. Doesn't need to be official mouthwash, but should be something meaningful and safe. That could include hydrogen peroxide (the 3% in the brown bottles -- takes some getting used to, so practice with a small amount a few times first and don't swallow it!), an unsugared alcoholic beverage such as vodka or gin, or unsweetened cranberry juice (from concentrate).

You must take care of your teeth NOW as well. Brush several times each day with a SOFT toothbrush and toothpaste or baking soda. At minimum, brush when you wake up so that you don't blow your morning breath on everyone, and again after your evening meal and then don't eat anymore before bed. Floss at least once a day, and after flossing use the mouthwash. Why? Because you have just rearranged the bacterial plaque on your teeth, possibly introducing it into the soft tissue of your gums, so clean up the 'wounds.' Soft toothbrushes are better for your gums and can help prevent gum disease. If you like to use a medium toothbrush to remove more of the 'scuz' from your teeth, use it after a good brushing with a soft toothbrush so you don't shortchange your gums.

Do your homework and find a reputable dentist. I prefer one whose children are grown and whose house has been paid off! If your employer offers dental insurance, buy it and use it. Get your teeth checked and cleaned twice a year if possible. Do not procrastinate getting any pain checked out. Schedule the work as soon as you find out that you need it. KEEP YOUR TEETH. If that means a root canal and crown, it will serve you better than having an otherwise salvageable tooth pulled and getting a bridge. Once the tooth is pulled, you can begin to lose jawbone, and the teeth on either side may be weakened or lost. Implants may be a good alternative if you have them available where you live, and can help preserve the jawbone. Your preparations should also include some items for dental emergencies and even for 'home cleaning' if it becomes necessary.

For dental emergencies, little kits are available at most drug stores. They usually have clove oil or eugenol, little cotton pellets and some temporary filling/cement material, along with some instructions. At minimum, the kit can provide some relief or allow you to temporarily re-set a crown that become dislodged. We have used these more than once, including one time that my husband broke a molar while away on business and was able to get one of the kits and patch it until he could get back and see our dentist. There are also kits with dental cleaning instruments available at drugstores, or some slightly more robust ones over the internet. These should be used with care, and at minimum go on the internet to find some information on how to use them to clean teeth in the absence of professionals if you are in a prolonged emergency.

Why is this a frugal topic? Everything you do to keep your teeth healthy and functional in your mouth will help avoid higher expenses later. An exam and cleaning are usually under $200. If you are really strapped, then only have the cleaning annually, but get the check up. A root canal with the crown can run as much as $1500 each. You can buy a lot of floss and cleanings with that amount of money. No amount of money can help you with that procrastinated dental problem if you are caught in an emergency situation ( think Katrina, Japan earthquake/tsunami) and the nearest dentist can't be accessed for weeks.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Beware of shipping charges!!

There are a lot of websites that sell cans and buckets of 'storage food.' Don't for a minute believe they are all alike! Some have brick and mortar stores (usually in Utah or other areas with a large LDS presence), some don't. Some sell only pre-packaged, just-add-water meals in pouches or cans, some sell the basic ingredients for you to build your own meals. The prices vary significantly. The variance includes different prices for the exact same brand and size of item. What varies even more wildly are the shipping charges.

I performed some cost comparisons among three sites that I believe to be reputable (based on having ordered and received good quality edible food from each). When comparing like items, the one with the least expensive cost for the items had the most expensive shipping. Ultimately, it was about twice the total cost of the items if purchased from either of the other two websites.

When I buy from websites, I stick with the ones that have low fixed shipping costs and occasionally rerun my comparison to make sure that competition has not changed the equations -- or their answers! For some specialty items, like canned butter or green coffee, I will venture out, but it is rare. As an aside, if you are adventuresome and want to can your own butter, the website paratusfamilia.blogspot.com has some great posts on home canning of butter, bacon, cheese and other such items.

I also usually buy primarily from the 'sale items' for that month and keep my purchase at $100 or less, including the shipping, for each purchase. If your budget can allow for more, then the low-cost shipping sites like beprepared.com and honeyvillegrain.com will stretch your dollar even farther.

For items like sugar, baking soda, salt, and a few other dry commodities that I can easily rotate in my daily cooking, I do not buy in the expensive #10 cans. I have some used bakery buckets and several BUDDEEZ containers that I use to store and keep these items dry. I buy the BUDDEEZ at Ross Dress for Less in the household/kitchen area. They are not expensive and are made in America, which is a plus. (to see what these look like, go to buddeez.com) I have even found 25 lb sacks of wheat at Wal-Mart on rare occasion, and the price was right! I threw it in a bucket, added a top and started using it. Best shipping rate yet!

Great food storage website

I've provided a web address below to help with food storage and other preparation. She practices with a lot of products and has short videos on how to use many of the basics, like whole egg powder and dry milk. At one point in mousing around her website, I saw some information that I want to pass echo, because it is REALLY important.

Being frugal in your life so you can allocate resources to family preparedness is NOT the same thing as having cheap, low quality preparations. You don't need to have the 'top of the line' of everything, but don't buy or store things that you cannot rely upon, or that will not nourish you. Having a three month food supply doesn't mean a closet full or saltines or ramen. You need to store healthy food that will give you a variety of nutrients. The food storage analyzer can help you with this, even if you never buy the products they sell. Just transcribe the nutritional info into the section for your own groceries. Then look for reasonably priced items to fill in the voids.

You may not be able to afford the freeze dried juice of hand-squeezed blood oranges, but Tang or crystal light may provide the vitamin C and 'change of pace' flavor you are looking to find for your storage. Remember, if you are in a position to live from your food storage, you will probably want more variety than 'bread and water' as well. Plan it in advance, while trying to duplicate or at least come close to what your family might normally eat in the process.

The same goes for non-food. You need toothbrushes and toothpaste, and a way to stay clean if there is a water shortage. Don't forget the toilet paper, either!

So here is the website:


Go nuts!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Living below your means

My parents were fairly frugal. So am I, though my husband would occasionally disagree (but only because he is exceptionally frugal!). We have never had the need for conspicuous consumption and instead have saved or otherwise invested much of our discretionary income. What does this have to do with preparedness? It goes to one of the fundamental steps in preparedness: being debt free. If you review my 'Prep 101' page, or that of many other preparedness blogs, this is a common thread. You cannot be truly prepared if someone else owns your house or car.

Our home is significantly smaller and more modest than those of our 'peers,' and well below the maximum mortgage we could have gotten. We drive older cars. One is 21 years old, the other is 10 years old, and we have a newer truck that is used only when needed. We do not have a pool (think wet money pit), hot tub, club membership, etc. We wait until a technology has come down in price significantly before we buy a new ... whatever. My husband does not have a cell phone. I have one, but it is old, cheap and with minimal minutes. It is for safety and emergencies. We have a dog, but that is one of our few luxuries. We eat well, but usually at home. As a result, we pay extra principle on the mortgage, which is almost paid off after 15 years of a 30 year mortgage. We decided rather than refinance, just accelerate. Most mortgages have a clause that ensures no penalty for paying off early. By paying extra principle early, you get the tax deduction AND save years of interest later.

Figuring out how to live below your means when you are accustomed to living above them can be tricky. The process requires really paying attention to where your money goes. Using the Debtors Anonymous spending record process can be a real eye-opener and great tool toward understanding where your money goes. You start by writing down every cent you spend for several months, and tallying and reviewing by categories about every 2 weeks. This is not guess work -- you need to carry a small pen and book to write it down as you spend. DA has a great 'tally sheet' that I have not been able to find this on the web, so you may need to find a meeting to buy a copy -- it will probably cost the price of copying it. The first time I did this I found that I spent a lot on clothes and little on entertainment -- all dressed up and no where to go!! By looking at how much you spend and where it goes, you can make choices about which habits can be changed to start living first WITHIN your means, and then below them.

If you do not own your own home, and especially if you live in a cost prohibitive area (like San Francisco), I suggest the following steps:

1. Really determine your disposable monthly income level using the above process. Part of this is getting a better understanding of your WANTS versus your NEEDS. Examples: Do you really NEED to buy lunch every day or could you brown bag most days? Do you really NEED to get your nails fixed for $100+ per month? Hair dyed for $80 per month? Does you teenager really need ...you name it?? How about that vacation -- is it actually a real source of usable cash?

2. Start a credit union savings account. I mean one that is NOT associated with checking or other source of easy use. Start making regular deposits. Put your TAX REFUND in it, unless it is needed to pay off credit cards (the ones you have otherwise STOPPED USING) and student loans. Think of this as your HOUSE fund.

3. Start looking for a piece of land. It should be outside any major metropolitan area, be near water, possibly a few nice trees, and capable of supporting a garden. If you want to be on the grid, it should be near power lines. Extending lines very far is really expensive, so think this one through. Also, think acreage, and not on a main road.

4. When you have enough saved up, buy the land. Welcome to your new vacation spot!!

5. Put that vacation money/disposable income toward some type of basic structure. Doesn't need to be fancy, but could be a place to come if your rental location becomes unusable, you get laid off, etc. You could start with a used motor home or 5th Wheel (these get really cheap when the price of gas goes up!!), YURT, or a garage or house kit (Sutherland's has these) and go from there.

This is essentially what my husband and I did 15 years ago, living well below our take-home pay even then. Since then, all but three of our vacations have been at our 'other place.' We now have fruit trees, a well, a small home with a nice porch (the porch should have been our first structure -- we love it!!) and a small garden. It is our refuge in good times and bad. We are now even thinking of retiring there!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Simple rules to save your life

Yesterday's devastating earthquake and the following tsunami are a reminder that stuff happens when we least expect it. If you live in earthquake country or near a coastline, let's review the simple rules for survival. There aren't many of these rules, yet we have at least 1 US Darwin Award winner today who could not manage to follow them when the wave hit us.

1. The natural elements are very powerful. DO NOT underestimate them.

2. When water is involved, whatever your estimate of caution is, exercise approximately 10 times as much. Example: If you think you can drive through a foot of fast moving water in a flood, don't drive through more than 2 inches. This is because once water is unconstrained and you add energy to volume, there is little that can withstand this force of nature.

3. If you are near a coast line and the water starts to recede -- do not think "oh cool" and wander out on the flats to collect shells. RUN or drive as fast as you can toward high ground. If there is no high ground, try a tall, well-built structure. Remember the warning that when the tide goes OUT in an unusual way, it comes back IN in an unusual way -- most likely a tidal wave that will kill you. Do not be deluded that you can swim it out. The top 10 to 20 feet of the wave and trailing surge is a twisted mass of wreckage being shoved along by monumental forces. Once you are engulfed by it, you are swept away, broken, battered and trapped. It will kill you and you will suffer a lot for at least a few minutes before you die.

4. If you hear that your area is under tsunami warning, do not go down to the beach to take photos. Yes, we have experts who estimate the size of the surge, but the estimate is usually a general one. Your location may experience more or less than the estimate. Is it worth your life to test which side of the estimate is reached? If you want to see or document the event, see items #1 and #2 above.

5. If it's not already too late, do not buy or build a home right on the beach at sea level. Geologically, beaches tend to be short-lived and move around rapidly. Anything built on it will probably fall apart or be washed away within your lifetime. This will be assisted by WEATHER such as storms up to hurricanes, along with the more gradual tides, currents and normal daily winds.

6. If you choose to live in earthquake country, do some research. Make sure your living situation is on solid rock in an area with minimal historic disturbance. I did this when I lived in San Francisco -- lived AND chose my employer based on the USGS report on the 1906 earthquake. In the 1989 quake, I suffered a broken butter dish. Period. That evening, my neighbors and I stood on the roof and watched the Marina District (built on unconsolidated fill) burn. I moved out of the city several months later -- decided I did not want to be there for the real thing.

7. Make sure you are prepared to leave or stay (see my other pages) and to make the decision to do one or the other and live with it. You life will likely depend on it, so think about these things IN ADVANCE so you can act when it happens.

8. Do not ignore all the above with the thought that someone -- your friends, the government, etc. will save you if you get in trouble. That's just irresponsible and annoying.

Part of being prepared involves the space between our ears. Let's use it!!