Saturday, December 22, 2012

Reducing the cost of motoring around

Several frugality blogs have recently mentioned that shopping around for auto insurance can save you money, so I won't be redundant.  I have learned a few other tips that could be helpful and will share those.

The first I've learned recently.  My 'new' used car has a cool MPG calculator on it.  When I bought it at 7,000 miles, the cumulative MPG average for the car was either 23.9 or 24 MPG. I've been fairly religious about using cruise control, even here in town. I've noticed on the 'instantaneous MPG calculator' that the real-time MPG usage improves by 20 to 25% when using cruise versus my foot on the accelerator. (I'm a scientist, so I did some trials to confirm my hypothesis!) I'm about to roll over 12,000 miles and my average MPG's have gone up to 24.3.  I rarely exceed the posted speed limit on the highways and use cruise control a lot. Based on the 'fill-up' method of calculating MPG, I'm getting around 30 MPG on the interstate using cruise control. That tells me it can save gas, which saves money.

Another weird thing I do concerns route planning.  I make a list of where I need to go on my trip around town, and then arrange my timing and route to do two things:
1. Make a one-way circuit so I'm not criss-crossing myself or re-driving the same road and
2. Drive the route so that I reduce or eliminate left turns at major intersections and when exiting parking lots.
Why is this frugal?  Many car accidents and fender-benders occur during left turns across traffic. Fewer left turns in congested traffic reduce the potential for an expensive accident. A small bonus is that you don't sit at the light burning gas waiting for your left arrow.  When using the 'right turn method,' you rarely wait (idling) a full cycle at any traffic light.

There are probably lots more ways to reduce your gas consumption and potential for every-day accidents.  What's your favorite?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What did you do last week? month? year?

I've made some progress this year as far as getting my house in order -- literally and figuratively.  I paid everything off, maxed my 401K for the year and then retired.  It was financially very tight doing so, but now that it's done it feels very good. Life is pay-as-you-go now. If I want or need to go somewhere else, I can.

The house isn't necessarily cleaner, but we've gotten rid of lots of unneeded stuff.  My plan is to continue that trend in the future. We're getting older and life is simpler for us. A lot of the 'stuff' is nostalgic -- some is actually from my parents and duplicated my own.  If it is still useful but not to us, we'll donate it to someone who can or will actually use it. A few things went to the local museum, but most was in the "How many cheese graters or bath towels do we really need?" category.

Some of my progress included finding a good bargain on a small solar system with battery storage, AA battery recharge and lights.  I found a food saver and repackaged some dry food storage items so they would last longer. We 'rotated' vehicles once I retired, allowing us to take a 21 year old car out of service. I found a good deal on a small portable wood burning heater for winter emergencies.  We bought a used BBQ for grilling, emergency or not!

Even more meaningfully, I had some success at growing produce in recycled 5 gallon buckets.  My previous gardening attempts here in the high desert had been much less successful. Strangely, asparagus, okra and beets were the big winners for surviving the heat and producing edibles.  I had early success with sugar snap peas, but they picked up a fast-moving fungus that killed them in about 2 days.  We planted a couple of berry bushes about 18 months ago. They didn't produce this past summer, but I have high hopes for next summer!

What were your big successes?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Vacuum Sealing for Space and Time

I'm no nuclear physicist, but vacuum sealing does help transcend some of my time-space (apologies to A.E.) preparedness problems!  If you need to make better use of your storage space, borrowing or buying one of these may be part of your solution.  OK, I'm a recent home-vacuum-sealing queen and am just amazed at what a system can do. 

These can be found in retail stores, on line and occasionally at garage sales. Mine is about the size of a boot box, but only half as high, so not a space hog.  You fill a bag with product, insert it carefully into the right place, push a button and it sucks out about 90% of the air and then heat-seals the bag, preventing the air from returning.  The process removes most of the food-degrading oxygen from your dry products -- usually extending the best use to about 5 years for most dry items like beans, rice and pasta. Though less shelf-life than the more expensive canned food storage, it provides a much longer window to rotate these deep-pantry foods.

In the process, vacuum sealing reduces the packaging volume for dry foods, and for other dry goods.  Other than a few hunks of meat for the freezer, I am not using this for fresh foods so don't expect any news flashes on that subject in this post!

There are several benefits to using vacuum sealed home packaging.  First is that you can buy in bulk but seal in 'retail' sized packages. That could be 24 fewer times you open that bucket of beans or rice, so the unopened packages degrade more slowly.  I separated my store bought rice into one and two pound packages.  Same with my beans. I did the opposite with spaghetti, and packaged a couple pounds in each.

Yes, the bags cost something, but you don't need to buy oxygen absorbers, so it's a bit of a trade off.  Yes, you still need to put the packages in mouse-proof storage containers.  In my storage, I needed those buckets for the bulk packages anyway.  I'm also finding that I can fit more into my buckets because I don't have big puffs of air inside the smaller packages.

I keep supplies in my vehicle. Today I sealed the emergency fleece blanket. It now takes up 50% less space and will be clean and dry when I need it. The wool clothes, same thing AND I don't need to be as worried about insect damage. The changes of clothes are next. 

Because these systems aren't huge and you don't need to use them every day, they are easier to share. If you have a group of families who are like minded, you can go together, buy one system and then take turns. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Remember your Layers

Over the long weekend we went for a walk when the temp was about 50 degrees (F), and there was a slight breeze.  I had forgotten about the wonders of layering, but had automatically dressed that way -- a long-sleeved silk and wool blend knit top, a down vest and some alpaca shooter's mittens (all purchased over the years at major discounts from Sierra Trading Post --STP) along with my jeans and boots.

Before long, the vest was snapped around my waist but off my shoulders and torso. Ten more minutes and the mittens were rolled back, then taken off and stuffed in a pocket.  10 more minutes and the vest was tied to the hanging paracord string on my walking stick.  By the time we finished, the temp was still around 50, but even my sleeves were pulled up to my elbows.  What a great reminder!

For cold weather preparedness supplies, you don't need a bunch of fancy coats and gear, just some carefully selected layers.

Two important things to remember are (1) have a layer next to your skin that is not cotton. Experts will disagree with what that one should be, but they tend to agree that cotton is not a good choice.  It holds moisture, which will then drain your heat and make you cold.  Cotton can significantly contribute to hypothermia, hence the rule of thumb: cotton kills. 

The other thing (2) is that your outer layer should be one that reduces wind and repels water (especially if you are in a wet climate or have enough humidity for dew to form).  Wind will suck the heat from your body and insulating layers, but the outer layer also need to 'breathe' enough to let your perspired water vapor escape. I've been trapped in a rubber-lined jacket in cold weather before -- these tend not to breathe. It's a nightmare. It rains or freezes your water vapor inside the jacket.  You find yourself trying to manage the build-up of moisture before it makes you wet and cold, rather than managing the activity that brought you out in the cold. You don't need the distraction, plus it can also lead to hypothermia.

Items between the inner and outer layers can be selected according to what you have, what's easy to get and your thermal environment. Here in he southwest high desert, coldest temps are usually well above zero (F) but can get below freezing.  Even with the windchill, planning for 20 degrees is normally enough.  If you are in Idaho or Montana, you'll need more.

Got an old wool shirt with worn elbows? Instant layer item, even if you cut off the sleeves to make it into a vest.  Cheap fleece jacket or vest? Throw it into consideration. Down jacket with chewed-up sleeves at the thrift store? Could be your new down vest!  The better the quality the more likely it is to help you keep warm, but you can probably find a bunch of this stuff around the house already.

Don't forget the end of season and after inventory sales.  My down vest isn't my first choice of colors or style, but it's warm and I got it new for $13 in a close out sale. Pride doesn't need to be an attribute in frugal preparedness planning.

Below the waist the rules are different. I hate nylon skivvies, but I keep a couple pair in my GO bag. Not only do they keep cotton away from my body, but they also dry faster than cotton in the summer. You'll need something other than cotton under your trousers.  I wore LL Bean chamois-lined chinos while living in Michigan's UP, but wasn't living in them in an emergency situation. I did not experience a major moisture build-up even though the lining was cotton - possibly because I did not have another layer over them or because my legs perspire less than my torso and feet. Need some help from readers on their favorite wick-away long-john or trouser warmth solutions.

As for socks, I stick with wool, but in several weights. I had a pair of fancy polypro liner socks years ago when I was X-country skiing in the UP.  These days I'm happy with a pair of thin Smartwool under a pair of thicker Smartwool for really cold days. Usually just a single good pair of wool socks works for me. Don't overlook exotic wools if you can get them on eBay or clearance.  I have 2 pairs of exceptionally warm baby alpaca socks I got cheap several years ago on clearance from STP.  They are amazingly warm and have worn like iron -- mostly with Teva sandals for winter day hikes or around town.

Fellow readers, help us out: what's your temperature environment and layering formula?

UPDATE: PLEASE  read the very informative info in the comment from  K!  Thanks so much for the great addition.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Apologies and a Honeyville Promotion

Got the local bug so not up to posting today.  Will return shortly. 

PS: This Honeyville promotion starts on Thursday:

 For a limited time SAVE 15% ON YOUR ENTIRE ONLINE ORDER*. Sale runs from Thursday 11/29/2012 through Tuesday 12/4/2012. Simply enter coupon code STUFFED during checkout. Coupon code will not become active until 12:00AM, Thursday the 29th.
Shop Now:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Product Review: Provident Pantry Freeze-dried Cooked Sausage Crumbles

I wasn't going to post this until tomorrow, but looks like the Emergency Essentials Black Friday sale will offer this product at $22.99 per #10 can, which is 59% of the usual price. If I read their e-mail correctly, shipping in the continental US will also be free.

Not sure why I decided to take advantage of the Emergency Essentials September Group Special on freeze-dried sausage crumbles, but the price being almost half the usual was involved in the decision.

We opened a can and gave the product a major workout, and whole-heartedly recommend it.  First, it provides a lot of fat and protein -- VERY calorie and nutrition dense.  It also has nice flavor and texture, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, each #10 can holds LOTS of sausage, much more than I expected.  If I measured correctly, there are about 12 cups of product in the can.  Each cup, once rehydrated, will enhance a meal of soup or stew for 4 people by adding around 5 grams of protein and 6 grams of fat PER PERSON. When I compared the finished product weight to Jimmy Dean from the store, the cost was comparable, even at full price for the canned sausage.

My husband and I tried the crumbles dry from the can. They are actually more like nuggets that hold together well. They taste pretty good and the texture is palatable, though they are much better when hydrated. When dry from the can there is a slightly greasy mouthfeel (not present when rehydrated), but I'd overlook it in an emergency and be glad to have them. The dry nuggets would be OK in a hearty trail mix with dried fruit and nuts or M&M's.  I tried a few dry nuggets with raisins and it's actually pretty good -- instant pemmican! 

Next, I followed the directions and reconstituted 3/4 cup to put in a recipe of jambalaya.  They rehydrate well with a nice flavor and texture -- they held together perfectly in my jambalaya and were not tough or too chewy. The spice component is very good  -- not so spicy that they are HOT, but enough to perk them up and bring an extra flavor to the jambalaya. You knew you when you had a piece of sausage in your mouth, but in a good way. I did not tell my husband what the sausage was until after he had eaten the meal.  He liked it!

We tried them (rehydrated) on pizza.  They would pass for Italian sausage at any pizza joint in town!
 When rehydrated, they have enough shape and texture to be used in spaghetti sauce (we did!) and soups (yep, tried this too).  The rehydration water had a mild sausage flavor that could be add to the broth in a soup recipe. Or you could be lazy like me and just throw some dry nugget in the soup pot and let them fend for themselves! These crumbles would also be great with eggs or mixed with some tomato sauce for a sloppy joe filling (haven't tried these yet).

One can has a lot of sausage in it, so I froze some of the dry nuggets. I've used some of them a couple times since and they are faring well quality-wise, thus far.

Overall, this product exceeded my expectations both in taste and versatility. I am glad to have it in my emergency food storage.  On a 1 to 10 scale, these are at least a 7, possibly an 8 or more.  In an emergency, I bet they'd taste like a 10 compared to nutrition bars and ramen!

Giving Thanks

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the opportunity to succeed or fail.

Thank you for the ability to start again after success or failure.

Thank you for the abundance we forget we have.

Thank you for the freedoms we take for granted.

Thank you for the blessings we so often overlook as the minimum standards for our lives.

Thank you for giving us minds and hands to do your work.

Thank you for this peaceful day.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Was it a Successful Hunt?

I just love this blog.  Her recent post on canning elk meat is fabulous.  If you're having a great hunting season and have access to a pressure canner, this may be for you. How wonderful to have your fresh game cooked and ready at a moment's notice! Major positives include no worries about freezer burn or the impact of losing electricity (and your season's meat) in an emergency.

If you're city or suburban folk, same goes for other meat.  You may not be able to afford or handle a side or quarter of a beef alone, but going in with the neighbrhood and combining some freezing and canning may be a way to cut your meat bill for the year. The process will also increase your preparedness supplies in case of emergency, like those coming winter storm power outages!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Product Review: Mountain House Blueberry Cheesecake

For years I've seen this product advertised. It's not cheap in the #10 can, but the idea of having some real dessert in the face of a prolonged emergency seemed comforting. Recently, we bought the 4 serving pack on sale from Emergency Essentials to sample the product. Last night we tried it, following the directions verbatim.
It was fairly easy to make and required only water as an added ingredient. It has 3 components: pudding/cheesecake mix, blueberry topping and graham cracker crumbs. after making the pudding and the sauce separately, you add the crumbs and sauce as topping on your 'cheesecake.'

You need both hot and cold water for the sauce and pudding respectively, which could be a challenge in an emergency or on the move. Room temp water might be OK, but it probably won't make the intended product. 

The blueberry sauce took a lot longer to thicken that I expected. We let it thicken and cool for about 15 minutes before our first serving, but it was still somewhat watery. It was much thicker when I went back to put the leftovers in the fridge. 

Despite the fast jelling, acceptable texture and good dose of protein in the pudding, it was sickly sweet by my taste.  The sauce and the graham cracker topping were also fairly sweet. More graham cracker may have helped moderate the sweet pudding, but there was less than 1 tablespoon of the crumbs per serving in the packet.  I'd prefer a simple sugar-free jello cheesecake flavored pudding (one of my favorites, by the way --especially with fresh berries!). The only difference is that you'd need to supply the container and some dry milk.

As you may have deduced, I'm not a fan. For about half the price of the #10 can, I think I'll add a little brown sugar and some hot water to dehydrated apple slices and call it dessert.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bountiful Basket Thanksgiving

I sure hope you've found your nearby Bountiful Baskets coop location by now.  If not, review this older post for details. If you can your own, they often have cases of fruit or vegies at a low cost, in case your garden doesn't support a favorite item.
I picked up my $16.50 basket yesterday, and it was just amazing. There are tomatoes, lettuce and celery for the green salad; lots of celery for the stuffing, lots of fruit (oranges, apples, bananas, melon, pineapple and 2 pomelo -- look that one up!) for the fruit salad and 5 of the largest russet mashing potatoes I've ever seen.  If I were not going to make a pumpkin pie, I'd only need the turkey and a few onions and we could call it a meal!

Just imagine how nice the Christmas basket will be!! Being frugal doesn't mean a life of deprivation.  It just means embracing and living a process that allows you to have a bountiful life without having to sell your soul to get it!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

More Frugal Tips

I goofed again. Not sure how this old post was moved up here, but scroll down for today's post  below, titled THE BUTTON BOX.

Every cent you reduce from normal expenses can potentially be put toward your preparedness. Even if your choice is to save, buy food or get out of debt, all are positive steps. Added benefits may include reducing your stress levels and coming together as a family.  So here are a few more tips for those of us who have not reached self-sufficiency or who live a more urban life, at least for now.

Laundry: do less, use less detergent. When I find a coupon for Shout color catchers, I buy them. For me, this allows segregating laundry less.  I now am able to mix the mid-intensity colors and the darks using a color catcher sheet. I occasionally have enough of very light colors to do a load of white and pastels. This allows me to do fewer, full loads.  I also cut the laundry soap by about half. Everything still looks and smells fine.

Bath: We use a bath and shower soap that comes in gallon jugs. It has only a few ingredients and is mild.  I can water it down by at least a third and it works fine. If we want scent, we add a squirt of Dr Bronner's scented castile soap.

The Button Box

My parents grew up during the depression. They were frugal, but of course to me that just seemed like normal. Mother had a large tin box, a little bigger than a classic Whitman's sampler candy box. Not sure what had been in it originally, but the description was written in Italian.  I'm guessing it was a souvenir from an overseas tour in the late 1940's.  It was jammed with a wild assortment of buttons. Mother or pearl, leather, enamel, red, purple, green, black, and white -- later, even plastic buttons.

If I lost or broke a button, my first chore was to find a matching, or close-enough button.  I could then ask her to sew it on. That lasted until I was about 12, when I was pronounced mature enough to sew my own replacement buttons under Mother's watchful eye. She majored in home economics and there was definitely a right way to sew on a button!

My button box isn't as large and doesn't get used as often.  It's still a great resource when one of us needs a button. I'm not sure where Mom's buttons came from, but I can tell you about mine. When I get a new item that comes with a replacement button in a little bag under the label, it goes in the button box. When I get a cheesy sewing kit at a hotel and there's a little white cuff button, it goes in the box. If I need a 'special' button and buy a card of them, the leftovers go in the box.

I suspect that if I were better at this, I'd take buttons off worn shirts, put the buttons in the box and make a potholder or a quilt square with the less worn part of the shirt. I'm not there yet, but maybe soon! Now, I just chuck the entire shirt in the Goodwill Box and march on. I had a friend who collected the neighborhood worn jeans and made cute throw quilts from them, complete with lots of pockets, but that's a different discussion!

Speaking of jeans, when the grommet button wears out or gets pulled off your favorite jeans, there's an answer in the button box! On the buttonhole side of the jean, select a button that fits the buttonhole. On the 'skin' side, pick a nice old smooth used button that is bigger than the residual grommet hole. Sew them together loosely on their respective sides through the hole (but anchor also in the fabric), then wrap a little extra thread between them to make a little 'stem' of thread so the outside button has some wiggle room for fastening. The inner button will serve as an anchor for the outer button, much like the back of the grommet did.  This solution is much more comfortable than having a safety pin pop open in the old fastener's place!

When assembling your emergency sewing kit, don't forget to put a few buttons from YOUR button box in the kit, just in case!

Friday, November 16, 2012

What's your system?

First, many thanks to you who follow this blog.  I am honored and humbled. I strive to share simple but useful information to help us all prepare for those pesky unplanned events that can alter life as we know it. Having been through a few minor ones myself, I certainly want to be prepared for the next one, at least to the extent feasible for me and mine. Please know that I read your blogs in return to learn from you, to better understand what may be useful to you, to avoid duplication (unless your current message is one that I believe needs widest sharing), and to possibly build upon what you offer.

Back to the title. Sometimes I just plain goof. Thursday was one of those days. I spent Monday reviewing my winter preparedness supplies and discovered that some of the canned goods needed to go. Other items had been 'borrowed' by DH and he forgot to mention it to me. OK, true confessions: maybe I borrowed some, too (meaning to rotate them of course) and forgot to replace them. Bad dog!!

I wrote a comprehensive list of items to replenish. This was not a high cost, maybe someday wish-list, but one that featured about a dozen items like items like 4 cans of soup, 2 bottles of ketchup, etc.. I even wrote it on my bright pink index card and put it in my purse so I could find it easily on my next trip to town, which was Thursday. This is my 'system' and it normally works just fine.

I got to the first store and looked for the card. I found my stash of blank index cards (always carry a few) but didn't find the list. Please understand I carry a very small purse, so this should not have happened. It was MY SYSTEM, after all. I thought I had thoroughly searched the little stinker but the card was not to be found. I bought what I could remember at the stores I visited. The pressure was on. Of course, I found the card when I got home -- it WAS in my purse. It was caught under a small flap of leather so I did not see it despite the bright color.  I batted about 50% -- not an impressive memory there.

What if there were a known impending emergency (especially a 'new category' that was not one already planned for) with no potential for a do-over? 50% success could have been catastrophic.  So far I have several corrective measures in place, including using other less eye-catching card colors for 'regular' stuff and reserving the bright pink only for the urgent item list. Also, I now put the pink card in one of the flat compartments under my checkbook, rather than just in the purse with the other stuff. There must be a better system. 

How do you manage your 'need it now' shopping list?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Oh, Darn!

Do you have a favorite pair of socks or a favorite sweater? I do. I have one pair of rag wool socks that I bought in the late 1970's.  I now wear them only on special occasions, but they remain comfortable and wonderful on my feet. I have darned both of them in several places -- heels, toes, you name it. So what is darning, how do you do it and why would you bother?

Darning is the process of mending wear or holes in knit things. Socks are the usual suspects in darning, but sweaters can also be darned, if the holes are small. The truly creative can make a darn into a thing of beauty. Most people darn for functionality, and I fall into that category. At its simplest, darning is extending the life of a garment by creating a web or mesh of new threads across a hole in the garment. This web is anchored in stronger parts of the item..

Despite the purely functional nature of this craft,  I have learned a few tips along the way. First is to darn early and often. If you have a pair of socks that you like --you know, the ones you reach for first in the sock drawer -- check them for spots of excessive wear. Darn them before a hole starts.

Use the best thread you can find. Years ago I was in a store that was closing out silk button hole thread. The last spools were cheap because they were bizarre colors -- mustard, mushroom, royal blue, gross green. Despite the colors, it is beautiful, strong, soft silk that I still use because it works well and I can't feel a darn done with this nice thread. If you can't find silk, save an old wool sock and unravel some of the wool to use for darning. Worst case, use polyester or cotton thread or even fine dental floss.
If you have or can find a darning egg, use one on socks. A darning egg looks like a wooden Easter egg on a stick. Insert it into a sock, maneuver it so the curve of the egg is similar to the curve of the garment and hold the sock and stick with your non-dominant hand. It will provide a stable platform to shape your web of thread and prevent stabbing yourself with the needle in the process. Against the light color of the egg, you can watch your web take shape and make sure you have threads across the hole in several places. This one from Lehman's will give you a visual idea of what you're looking for, but is more of a ball than an egg. It will probably still work. I've also found them in antique malls and second-hand stores.

I try to use a needle that balances the weight of the repair thread and the knit of the sock. Most often I use a tapestry needle -- normally used for needlepoint. Sometimes for a fine knit, I'll use a Glover's needle which is also useful for other repairs, like canvas or heavy denim. Using too fine a needle will make the process less effective and more frustrating. I also tie a knot around a knit at my start point that leaves about 2 inches of thread hanging. I will end the darn at the same spot and use that 'tail' of the starting thread to tie off a secure final knot.

Back to the garment: Find the places at the margin outside the target hole or weak spot (place requiring repair) that are at least as strong as your thread. You anchor the darn there. Starting or anchoring your darn in a weak place on the garment is futile. The darn will not hold and may rip the hole even larger.

Try to get to your holes while they are small, preferably smaller than a nickel but not larger than a quarter.  If they are too large, the can't be darned and must be patched or rewoven by someone who knows how to do this. I have a beautiful sweater that I had worn exactly once. I left it where my puppy was able to tug and pull it down. The hole is about 3 inches in diameter. Not a candidate for darning. Some day I will patch it and wear it again with jeans.

Don't forget to add a few darning supplies to your preparedness kit(s) just in case you develop a weak spot in a sock along the way. A timely darn may prevent s painful blister!

So what does darning have to do with being frugal? You have to ask? Oh, darn!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Take a look at this great post about Holiday specials over at Planning and Foresight. Many bargains on traditional holiday-related food can be used throughout the year. Even if you don't can, hams and turkey can be made into jerky.

Don't overlook canned pumpkin. It's not just a pie ingredient, but a fully-cooked food.  Half a cup of the humble canned pumpkin contains 300% of the RDA for vitamin A with 5 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein. In an emergency situation, a pinch of brown sugar added to a serving or two of canned pumpkin can keep you going in more ways than one!

Many thanks to K for his great post on these aisle blocking specials.  Maybe this year we should all stop and rethink the bounty in those otherwise annoying holiday loss-leader displays and how they may add to our preparedness. I sure have.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Learn a Lesson

The northeast has taken a one-two punch, and generic government response has been as expected. Agencies are mobilized and doing what they can. Problems include the magnitude of the damage and the relative inaccessibility of those affected by the storms.

From my humble perspective,  the role of government is not to save ME. It is to assist in the restoration of shared infrastructure and to reduce dangers/increase safety to an acceptable societal norm.  Huh? To me, it means if you had sewer and electric service and the crime rate was X, then government's role is to reduce the obstacles for private business to restore the electric and sewer and assist local governance in their roles related to utilities and law enforcement so locals can restore the crime rate more toward X to support individual restoration efforts. Those individual efforts include rebuilding the homes and businesses that were damaged or destroyed.

Government's job is not to be clairvoyant. Government is not structured to hunt for each and every Jane and John Doe and bring daily deliveries of what Jane and John want, much less what they need. That's why I write about personal preparedness. 

Sometimes government gets it wrong. Occasionally evacuation is recommended but not needed. As we've learned recently, it may be better to accept the inconvenience of timely evacuation than to die from drowning, electrocution or falling debris. Staying with Granny, or even camping in another state may be a better alternative than hanging on to a flooded house in the freezing weather. Yes, it's your stuff, but it is meaningless without your family. I'd rather have my husband alive and safe than have  him die trying to save a wedding picture.

If you are not affected by the current events, you may want to soul search and decide ahead of time what you want to do. ADD A PAGE to your preparedness plan with a matrix so you don't need to decide under stress.  It could be divided by season and event and should include your identified potential emergencies. 

Using a matrix, you can follow your column and row for a recommendation that you made to yourself during more sane moments.  If winter and major storm, what's in the box where they intersect? Does it say GO TO GRANNY'S? SANDBAG DOORS AND MOVE FURNITURE UPSTAIRS?  BRING MORE WOOD INSIDE?

Another consideration is from lessons learned from Sandy. If you follow the 72-hour guideline, is that enough? Somewhere between filling your car trunk and filling your entire home with supplies is your personal answer. Something is better than nothing. Storing your supplies in a location that is accessible but less likely to be damaged or lost by events on your emergency list (see my page on Prep 101).

If you haven't started, this site and several others cover how to start. Even if you can only scrape an extra $1 together each week, it's enough to start. Having a few candles, cans of food and source of heat is better than having nothing when nothing is truly the alternative.

Search for 'Sandy lessons learned' or posts from those affected. Some with no preparedness supplies were begging for government help or dumpster diving within 2 to 3 days.  Some who were prepared lost their preps, others flourished. Learn and revamp your plans as these lessons may apply to your situation.

What will you do differently based on lessons learned this month?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Case for Walking Sticks

Also called hiking sticks, these can be a useful item in your emergency preparedness planning when leaving your home may be an option. I first started using a walking stick about five years ago for walking on uneven and gravel-covered ground. The additional stability was comforting. My first stick was a light yucca stem with a rubber tip on the bottom and the top had a plastic-dipped hand grip. It was made by a local senior citizen and was cheap (under $10).  It worked well beyond my initial expectation.

A couple of years ago I discovered that one of my work acquaintances made preparedness walking sticks. Huh? How's that? I won't give away all his secrets, but my favorite characteristic is that he wraps supplies in para cord to make the non-slip hand grip.  Useful items like waterproof matches, a Mylar blanket, foil, scalpel blade are securely covered and taped (reusable duct tape) and wrapped tightly in para cord. He manages to balance the stick with the center of gravity at the base of the hand grip.  As a result, the working end swings effortlessly as I walk.

A walking stick not only helps balance you, but can extend your daily walking range by allowing you to momentarily transfer some of your weight (you and your backpack) from your legs to your arms and down the stick. It's kind of like having another leg to walk with.

Using a walking stick regularly can also help to build muscle in your arm, especially for people who are out of shape.  If you use a stick, don't forget to learn how to use it with both hands -- not as easy as it sounds. Holding it in your dominant hand will come easy. Don't try to force the strike of the stick with your footfalls. Your body will find a rhythm that works for you. Start to notice how your arm feels.  Walk with the stick and then without. Notice how much lighter your feet feel when using the hiking or walking stick. Soon, you too may become a fan.

Walking or hiking sticks are best adjusted to the user's height.  I'm about 65 inches tall and like a stick that's about shoulder height.  My hand rests on the top of the hand grip, about 4 inches below the top of the stick, which allows me a comfortable swing of arm and stick as I walk.  There may be a better formula, but that works for me.

Walking sticks have other uses, such as prodding wildlife from your path or breaking pinatas, but other bloggers have more expertise in those side benefits. I just know that I move a bit faster and can go a little farther using a hiking stick than going without one.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

My basic frugality concept

Frugality is not just about reasonable economic return on investment. For me, the philosophy runs much deeper. It is about the societal bargain in which many of us participate. Some people give me the 'crazy person' stare when I share my philosophy, but here goes.

We working people have some skill needed by someone else. The 'someone else' is willing to trade their stuff for your time and energy. Your time and energy make up a slice of your life that you will never get back. The 'stuff' most of us receive for that slice of our life is called 'money,' so in a very real sense we working people legally sell slices of our life for money.  I don't take that literal interpretation lightly. My money represents the hours I toiled and won't get back, so I try to use them thoughtfully, or frugally. 

For me, this is a guiding concept when I spend money.  If you make $20 an hour, is it worth 6 or 8 hours of YOUR LIFE to buy the cool sneakers for your 9 year-old? Certainly your choice, but for me the answer is an immediate NO.  Is it worth 6 or 8 hours of my life to buy a small portable solar electric system with LED light that I can use for multiple purposes including emergency preparedness when it's on sale for half price? That one I'll certainly consider.

When I spend 20 minutes to find the least price for an item that will save me $10 per item and I need 3 of them, I've paid for my time by being frugal. If I decide on an item, I may even wait several months (or years) for a clearance or special sale to buy it. It's all in how much value I place on the trade. If quick research shows that shopping around may save me $5 on the total of 3 items, I'll save my time and money (as a 'bank' of my time and energy) for higher purposes.

If you are currently blessed with more time than money, then consider low cost ways of converting your time into what you need. See if there are ways locally to bypass the 'converting to and from money' phase. Neighbor with a huge garden? Do you have real skills to trade for veggies? What are your unique skills? I have a neighbor who is the world's most fabulous housekeeper and stay-at-home Mom. This time of year she wants to buy her husband a Christmas present without him paying for it.  She trades a few hours of her skill to help me spruce up for the holidays. We are both thrilled. We trade each other pieces of our lives for a fair exchange of high-quality requirements. She thinks I trade her more than her skill is worth.  I have someone I truly trust come into my home to help me, which is worth more than gold to me. To me, that's the essence of being frugal.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Your Unique Hygiene Responses

Everyone's body chemistry is unique. Most of us shower or bathe daily to prevent others from knowing just how unique we are! So how does your body respond to a rapid change in that routine? When was the last time you went more than 48 hours without a bath, shower, hair wash, etc.?  Finding out is essentially free -- in fact you may save a buck by not using the soap and hot water for a day or two.

I regularly skip one day a week just to give my dry skin a little break. Recently I stretched it and went 72 hours. Wow, did my body react!! It wasn't just the sticky feeling on the skin or some odors I wasn't accustomed to noticing.  My head, which had some hair styling products on it, broke out with  a tender, lumpy rash. Didn't see that coming!

So how can we get our bodies to the point that, if necessity dictates, we can feel comfortable without that daily shower?  What is the point that we go from fragrant to unhealthy in the process? Skin is our largest organ and our primary protection from infection and disease. It's relatively easy to care for it during 'normal' life, but what expedient products can help us during emergencies? Bucket bath?  Baby wipes? Baby powder in your hair? What other methods have you tried? Is there a way to accustom our bodies to doing without a shower or bath a little longer and perhaps beef-up our immune systems without ending up with the head-rash or worse?

Because everyone's skin is different -- how dry, how oily, how sensitive to specific chemicals -- each answer will be a little different. You may be one of the lucky people who can go a week without noticing any differences, but eventually it will catch up with you. Now's a good time to experiment with how your body reacts to a change in hygiene routine. If you're married, you may want to synchronize with your spouse!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Do Not Delay

If you are in the path of the converging storms on the east coast of the U.S., decide what you're doing and do it quickly if you haven't already.  If you can pack a bag and head west, it may be a good idea. If you can't, then assess your situation and make a plan if you don't already have one.

 Are you on low ground, subject to flooding? If so, you may want to call a friend on higher ground to see if you can stay there until the storm passes.

Do you have some cash and food? If not, try to get to an ATM for cash and get some food that can be eaten without cooking, like my old standard Chef Boyardee. If you have canned food, be sure to include a can opener! If the power goes out for a while, you may not be able to get cash, so do it now if you're low.

In some areas, water distribution requires electricity.  Back up generators could fail if flooding or freezing are wide spread. Be sure you have a few days of water stored for this one, in clean bottles (like 2-liter soda bottles) if possible.

If the power goes out and the cold front lingers, can you stay warm? Line up your fleeces and blankets.  If you are low on these, get to Goodwill or the Salvation Army store and get a few. They don't need to be pretty, just warm. Don't forget warm socks. How about a tarp? If you roof goes in the strong winds, it may be nice to have a spot you can 'camp' in your home until you find a place to stay that has a roof.

It may seem silly, but do your laundry if you have a big pile. Clean clothes are warmer than dirty ones.  If your power goes out, it may be a while before it comes back on so clean clothes may be in short supply. This may be a good job for kids who are out of school awaiting the storm. You start the loads, they can babysit them and transfer to the dryer while you are doing other things.

Once the storm hits, don't underestimate its potential to kill. Sandy has already proven its ability to kill, and that was without the arctic front component. Be extra cautious. Don't just head out to work. Have a plan to be able to know whether your place of business will be open, especially if you have along commute. Pick a website where info can be posted if possible. Convince your employer to have a voicemail box where the 'greeting' can be changed and employees can call in for the thumbs-up or down.  Commuting a long way into worse disaster conditions, only to find yourself stuck and your business locked could be the start of an ugly day.

Above all, take this last 12 to 24 hours to plan who's going where, what you need and how to get it, and what your trigger points are to leave your chosen location. If there are millions of people in distress asking for emergency services, you may not be near the top of the list.  Be your own best rescuer by smart planning and action NOW.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Purse Pack Every Day Carry

This is mostly for the ladies, but I can always use input from you experienced guys and gals, especially on anything missing or too much redundancy. The subject is every day carry items for the purse.  If any ladies are reading this and not familiar with this level of preparedness, this article provides descriptions of lots of types of preparedness 'kits.'  Not everyone needs each type of kit, but a few may make sense for you.  The purpose of the EDC is to get you to the next level of supply or safety.  If you have a kit in your car, home or office, your EDC should help you get to the closest one.  If caught in a 'shelter in place' situation, some of the items may make you more comfortable, but that is not the primary purpose of the 'kit.'

For a while I just dropped my basic preparedness stuff into my purse.  Occasionally I'd review it, usually I'd transfer it all if I needed to change purses.  I finally got organized when I realized the 'free' mesh makeup bags would be perfect to keep it all in one place and visible without adding lots of extra weight to my already lead-like purse. I had a choice of red or black.  I picked red.
 It is about 4 X 6 inches and was made to be about an inch thick when stuffed with cosmetics or whatever.  It is a great size for what I carry including my redundant items.  Writing this post gave me a chance to review what was in there, because occasionally I'd just stuff something in because it seemed like a good idea.
The contents pictured are: 2 Mylar blankets, 1 fire steel, 1 Bic lighter, 2 P51 can openers, 1cheap hotel sewing kit (augmented), 1 Princeton tec pulsar II LED white light, 1 small Victorinox pocket knife with pen and red flashlight, 1 small envelope with several silver coins, 1 tool logic card with red light, 1 Victorinox Swiss card and one pair of collapsible scissors. The entire collection and bag weighed 12 ounces. By using items lying around the house, picking up items on sale and buying at the military surplus store, the only thing in the kit that cost more than $10 was the pocket knife. The mesh bag and the sewing kit were free. The Mylar blankets were 4 for $5 at Sierra Trading Post.  Most other items cost between 50 cents and $5.
Two items I added late in the process were the tool logic and the pocket knife.  In reviewing the contents, I found more redundancy that I really need. I did not repack the separate scissors, as there are already 2 pair between the pocket knife and the Swiss card. Both the pocket knife and the tool logic card have can openers, but the one in the card seems easy to lose, so I ditched one of the P51's. I thought about leaving out the tool logic, but the additional light and the larger blade were worth the weight.
Next improvement actions will include adding duct tape or paracord to be able to attach the Ice logic blade to a make-shift handle, and re-evaluate whether the Swiss card adds enough useful items to keep it in the pack. What you don't see is a millennium bar because I go through those often enough that I don't keep one in the mesh bag.  I'll probably reconsider that decision as well.  We don't live anywhere near a source of fish, so no fishing gear.

By leaving the scissors and can opener out, the weight decreased to 10 ounces. By dropping the Swiss card, I can probably add 3 or 4 yards of para cord and some duct tape and stay under 12 ounces. What's missing? What's too much?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Reduce Costs with Multi-tasking Products

I've been doing this so long, I forgot that I do it. So what's a multi-tasking product? One that has multiple uses in your preparedness supplies, of course, to reduce cost and storage space without losing capability. For your GO bag, it can also lighten your weight.  The obvious item is salt. It can be used for flavoring and many medicinal uses. In larger volumes and with some expertise, it can be used for food preservation.

What are some less obvious multi-taskers? My favorite is alcohol gel hand sanitizer. Most of these gels have between 60% and 75% alcohol so they are flammable within warmer temperature regions.  They can also be used, VERY CAREFULLY, as fire-starter. A small squirt on a piece of cotton, fabric scrap or small ball of  dryer lint can help start other tinder or kindling. It is not as effective in very cold temps (near or below freezing) but can be a lifesaver in damp conditions. I just found the 72% in 10 foil pouches at CVS for $1.99. That will help get around the potential leaking bottle issue.

Candles are another multi-tasker. By selecting your candles carefully for composition and size, you may be able to harness them for both light and as back-up cooking fuel.  A short multi-wicked canned candle is more likely to be a multi-tasker, and beeswax a better choice than miscellaneous waxes. These may not cook a raw piece of meat, but may be enough to warm water to warm you up. Short thin candle ends or small pieces with a wick can be harnessed in the fire-starter arena if needed.  By pullin a piece of string or thread across a candle a few times, you can coat it in wax and make it more waterproof and easier to use -- especially thread.  Waxing it makes it tangle and knot-up less when you sew.

I'm a big fan of net fabric, by the yard, from Walmart or fabric store. It comes in several mesh densities and a few colors. We don't have no-see-ums here, so I get the slightly larger mesh.  Yardage is about 55 inches wide and can be used as-is with a little help from a walking stick or piece of string for a bug net over a sleeping bag or 'screen door' on a make-shift shelter. With a bit more work, it can become a net around your hat to exclude bugs -- up to  sewing some as a tube and putting a simple draw-string on top and bottom. I keep 3 yards of this, in one piece, in both my Emergency first aid kit and my GO bag. One piece is black and the other is a bronzy medium brown.

So what are your favorite multi-tasking items?

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Best Bargain

Most of our preparedness is in the physical world in response to our understanding of local perils.  Our physical preparedness is certainly important.  No less important is spiritual preparedness.  Adding this aspect and state of mind to having preparedness supplies and knowing how to use them may be what separates the 'prepared' from the crazed hoard.  An important foundation for this is your spiritual clarity -- what you hold to be true at your core.  Our moral clarity often springs from our spiritual clarity.

If you haven't contemplated the difference between intellect and spirituality, now's a good time. Knowledge without wisdom can be empty and dangerous.  The core belief and practical experience of being connected to something beyond yourself is the foundation of hope. Hope without that faith and the resulting charity is child-like fantasy. 

Years ago I watched as a coworker, Curt, transformed for the better over the course of several months. One day I mentioned noticing the positive change and asked him what was going on. He opened up and told me he had finally started going to AA and it was helping. He had resisted it for years because of the 'God' thing. He had a friend who suggested to him that his Higher Power didn't need to be 'God' and maybe he should just think of doorknobs his higher power. Huh? As long as he was on the non-drinking side of a doorknob, he was in the right place.  He teared up and continued. The hope that that this tiny bit of faith brought him opened his eyes to the potential for miracles.  He began to see the good, the beauty and the wonder of the world around him. He started seeing the good in others and finally, in himself. He also started seeing the invisible hand of a power greater than the doorknob and began to trust it. He connected with the universe of good. His Higher Power was now much greater than the doorknob. Curt was becoming a new man. Hope and faith began to fill the gaping gray sucking hole in his soul, the drive to self-medicate it with alcohol was loosening its hold on him. Love and charity began to flow in him. He could finally see beyond himself to make better decisions.  He saw the impact he could have on others, for better and for worse. From that mustard seed came true faith. Wow.

Back in the dark ages when I was in elementary school, the teachers rotated who read a Psalm to get us off to a good start each morning (yes, I'm that old!). Of course, I was always looking for a short one. That's how I found the 121st Psalm. It has become a spiritual foundation passage for me.  I hope to have it read over me when I am laid to rest. It begins with faith and hope: "I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help." It continues (though briefly!) with a message to comfort us in tough times. It gives us confidence that if we keep covenant with our Higher Power, and keep in mind that we must take actions to be our own first source of help, that we are connected to the good within the universe. The Psalm finishes with that promise "The Lord shall preserve they going out and thy coming in from this time forward and even forever more."

I don't believe that my Higher Power (HP) is like a soda machine -- you know, insert prayer and wait for the goods to drop out.  My HP knows I need to grow spiritually and that I'm stubborn as a mule. I tend to learn spiritual lessons through struggle and I struggle a lot.  My greatest continuing struggle is to stop pounding on the door I want to open, stand back and see the open windows inviting me to move forward. It's a great feeling to conclude one struggle, rest a little and notice another one miraculously appearing. What a gift when I am open to receive it.  Not to worry, though. If I decide I'm too tired to wrestle with a spiritual issue now, my HP will present it again fairly soon, only larger and more noticeable so I can't skirt it again. What a bargain!

I'm not a religious person so I'm not advocating a specific one. My Dad was military, so I grew up as a 'general protestant.' You are unlikely now to see me in Sunday service. But my faith is deep. I believe we each will be tested so we can grow in our love and wisdom. We will have opportunities to test our beliefs, these may have started for you--on a daily basis! These may not be easy or simple situations.  Getting started today on learning and living faith is a good way to prepare for emergency situations. It is not easy, especially to bring it into our daily decision-making. Our faith sets our limits of what actions are acceptable, both from us but also from others. It helps us define the difference between good and evil and start to recognize each -- especially in ourselves. It can clarify our responsibilities and what we are willing to die for, or perhaps worse or more importantly, what (or who) any of us are willing to kill for.

We are living in a society where too many dark behaviors now fall into a murky gray area of  "acceptability." In an sustained emergency situation, that is a trap that can kill us or those we love. Now is a great time to decide which side of the doorknob we want to be on. There are lots of free resources out there. What a bargain! We shall find if we seek and act.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Christmas All Year Long

What does Christmas have to do with frugal preparedness? More than you might imagine! Now that savings are earning essentially ZERO interest, and the price of goods is getting higher, starting your Christmas (or Hanukkah) shopping really early might be a good idea. I start mine with the Christmas clearances and continue until the markdowns stop around Halloween.  I do not engage in 'Black Friday' madness. I plan to be done w/shopping and have packages mailed long before that.

 I thought I'd share some of my frugal ways to keep the holidays happy but not break my bank account.  We're still suburbanites, and I'm only a few months into getting back to health after my retirement so I'm not yet geared up to make the gifts, which is usually the most cost-effective method other than opting out.  I'm already thinking about what I can make for next year. Most likely black currant preserves or hardwood cutting boards.  It may not be too late for these this year if you have some nice wood left over from a project.  If you have scraps of maple or oak (at least 4 inches wide, 3/8 or 1/2 thick, and 6 to 10 inches long) square them up, give them a good sanding and wipe them down with mineral oil. These are wonderful.  Even if you buy the wood (solid, clear if you can afford it) they are only a few $$ each. Try to find a cutting board made of solid wood in the stores. Virtually all are laminated scraps these days. I made a three this year as 'gifts' but liked them so well I couldn't part with them.  Perhaps I can do better next year.

For now, this is about conventional holiday giving. We set cost limits for most people's gifts. With the exception of what DH and I exchange and DH's Mother, we have a limit of about $50 per person for close family and $20 for close friends for a projected monthly budget of about $50 per month. If I find a quality gift for less, then I don't keep buying for that person.  With careful shopping I can find nice gifts for much less than the 'limit,' especially when I have all year to shop.

Your List:  Our definition of who is on the list as 'close' is also stringent-- usually immediate family like a sibling or child. 'Friends' are also carefully enumerated and usually are in the single-digit range.  For gifts between DH and DW, we usually defer a higher-cost item for Christmas, often a home improvement that continues to give enjoyment. I've been asking for a dual-pane window on the western side of the house for a couple of years, maybe this year! I have gotten wonderful gifts like my dog-proof 'burglar door,' after our crazy dog broke through yet another mended screen. It lets in the cool air but keeps the dog and the bugs on the correct side of the house. Because DH is very handy, installation is 'free' and part of his gift to me.

Packaging: We've used gift bags, often the same ones, rather than wrapping paper for years. My sister's family gets together with us, usually late on Christmas morning for gifts. Reusing those gift bags has become part of the celebration.  Some go back 10 years or more and are like old friends. We exchange gifts then pack the bags back in the Christmas bin for next year. Tissue that isn't ready for window-cleaning duty is included.  These originally cost 1$ or less at an after Christmas clearance and now $3 to $5 each if bought new.  This practice alone had easily saved us each $20+ every year.

What to give: I try to give useful but consumable items, or very useful durable ones. (I'll address the useful durable items in a later paragraph.)  Rationale is that a gift often creates some sense of obligation for the receiver. I've gotten the occasional gift of a durable item, especially a dust-collector or wall-hanging item that makes me wonder what the giver was thinking.  Must I now hang or place this somewhere that they can see it when they come over??  Not meaning to seem ungrateful those items are usually not 'us' so I try to avoid being that kind of gift-giver.  My sister keeps her 'what to get me for Christmas' list all year, so I usually have no trouble getting her something she wants. I've learned from her and now know exactly what to request for my 'big present' from her: something on my preparedness-needs list. Another consideration is whether I need some of 'that gift item' too? This year is a little different than most, as I've discovered that many people in my small circle of gift-giving also maintain preparedness supplies. One of my favorite supply sources gives discounts, some of which are really large, when you order a case of something. These may or may not be listed as buying-group specials.  Here's an example: If I wanted 4 cans of an items at $11.50 per can (total of $46) and the price is $8 per can if I order a case of 6 cans (total of $48) and the shipping cost is the same, then it's essentially getting 1.8 cans free if I order a case. That's 2 cans that can be considered as Christmas gifts for those friends or family members who will appreciate them, all for $2.  That's $1 per 'gift' can with a retail value of $11.50. Some of the case discounts have break-even prices under 4 cans, but that's about the norm. Useful and consumable gift for $1: SCORE.

A Measure of Value. When I see an item on clearance or sale that is a really good bargain, I will consider whether it's a good match for someone on my short list. Often, it is a very useful durable item as mentioned above. If there's a match, I buy it and put it away with their name on it with a sticky note. Local shops going out of business or seasonal markdown? Could be something there. This year's top item was from Sierra Trading Post. I found a high-end kitchen knife with sharpener (not made in China!) during a special discount offering ( they send via e-mail about once a month, if you sign up) that cost about $26 each, with a 'retail value' of over $100, slashing the $50 limit gift in half. I also found some Smartwool socks at STP for about $4 a pair early in the year.  I bought myself 2 pairs to try them out. They were great, so during a later discount window I bought some for gifts for the ladies who I know will wear them. That's $9 (pro-rated shipping included) for 2 pairs of socks that would normally cost upward of $15 a pair, also cutting the $20 dollar limit gift in half. By the way, with socks as gifts I always buy at least two identical pairs. That way if one sock gets lost or worn out, you still have a pair and a spare. (Remember that when packing socks for your GO bag.)

One more thing: If you have a friend or family member who is struggling financially, consider a token gift and cash or a gift card to a discount grocery store (I'd go with Target, of course!). I usually write something like "I hope this is the right size and color! Merry Christmas!" on the card. A gift card to a store where they can purchase groceries can free-up their cash for other necessities.  A gift card to an expensive store or one that only has specialty items (Victoria's Secret?) may leave them wondering what universe you're living in.

Today is the 20th of October. I'll need to double check my list, but I think everyone except DH is covered for this year. It's a good feeling. Gifts are ready to be bagged or mailed, I have no credit card bills to greet me for the new year, I haven't overspent or reduced getting what we really need, and everyone is getting something useful or edible.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Frugal Ounce of Prevention: Pneumovax

True confessions: I'm not a big fan of flu vaccine. I am, however a huge fan of the pneumonia vaccine (pneumovax). Huh? What's that? How does it relate to preparedness? Well, let me share my experience and explain.

DISCLAIMER: This is not medical advice. I am not a physician. I was a long-time sufferer of chronic bronchitis and frequent sinus infections and this is my story about something that made a real difference.

From the time I was about 24 until I had my first pneumovax at about 40, I experienced 3 or 4 cases EACH of bronchitis and sinus infections every year. Occasionally I would have the bronchitis symptom first and then the cold symptoms would start later that day.  That's how puny my lungs were.

My brother's youngest child had chronic ear infections and was a candidate for 'tubes.'  Their pediatrician asked if they would consider giving her a pneumovax to see if it would help, with the surgery still available later if the vaccine did not help. The vaccine worked. The ear infections stopped within six weeks after taking it. About 6 months later, they noticed she wasn't getting sick when everyone else was, so the rest of the family got theirs. My brother raved about how much healthier they all were.

So I got one. The next year, no sinus infections, one case of bronchitis. Fluke? Similar fluke the following year with one of each type of illness. Same the next for almost 10 years.  The illnesses started increasing again in 2008, so I had another. Boom, back to 1 and 1 or less.

The pneumovax helped me build immunity to multiple (I think more than 20) of the common pneumonia-causing organisms. The rules for the pneumonia vaccine are a little different than for the annual flu shot, so do your homework if you are interested. It really worked for me. Possibly saved me from developing the emphysema often associated with chronic allergy-related bronchitis. Don't be put off by the 'recommendation' that you should take it if you are over 65. Younger works too.

What does this have to do with being prepared for emergencies? LOTS. Imagine your local worst-case emergency scenario.  Does it include having full medical care available if you get bronchitis? Does it include caring for yourself and family when you are too tired to move, breathing hurts, and can't get enough oxygen? Bonus round: Guess what happens if your weakened body can't fight off the bronchitis? Pneumonia. This great post from the Harried Homemaker Preps takes the discussion from that point.

So I view determining whether you are a pneumovax candidate and paying a few bucks at Walgreen's, Target or your favorite pharmacy as a smart and frugal way to avoid lost wages, doctor bills, the cost of antibiotics, wear and tear on your aging body AND possibly worse in an emergency situation.  For me, 8 illnesses per year reduced to 2 at most and even with insurance, I saved 6 sick days from work, weeks of feeling lousy and about $400 per year by spending $30 on a pneumovax (Now $80 if your insurance doesn't cover it or you can't get through your county health department) that lasted almost 10 years. Spending less than $10 a year (amortized cost) to save over $400 each year?   What a frugal bargain! Spend $80 now to keep from being a casualty and liability during an emergency? PRICELESS!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Frugal Tips

Two of my pages at the top of this blog, Resources and Favorites, have some tips on frugal ways to increase your available cash for preparedness.  Yesterday's great post by Patrice Lewis provides 25 home and lifestyle tips for reducing your cost of living.

During uncertain economic times, reducing your overhead and increasing your prudent reserve with cash, food or other operating supplies is a good idea.  If you are employed in a business that is hard-hit by the soft economy, the extra preparedness supplies will provide peace of mind about possible wage reductions or temporary layoffs.  In case of personal emergency, you will be able to feed your family from food storage.

What are your big recurring expenses? Is there something you can do to reduce them? Do you have homeowner and car insurance? If you are a active duty military or a veteran, check out USAA.  If you were listed on a parent's USAA policy when you first drove, you are also eligible. Ask for quotes for the same coverage you have now with your current insurer.  We saved several hundred per year when we switched our policies to USAA.

If not buying in bulk from Costco or Sam's, don't forget to cycle your buying and comparison shop (Patrice mentions the price book method). In my town, Target and Walmart are the low cost grocery stores.  On many items under $5 each, these stores can cost as much as $1 less PER ITEM than the national chain groceries. The combination of buying on the low cost point of the quarterly or annual cycle, at the lowest cost seller in town AND using coupons when possible, can reduce your grocery bill by 20 to 30% without becoming a crazy coupon lady.

For example, last week I bought toothpaste on special. It was $3.08 per tube and you would receive a $5 gift card if you bought 3 tubes. I also had a coupon for the product from Crest. The combination would result in a price less than $2 per tube, and we were low on toothpaste, so it was time to buy.  When I buy the specials with the Target $5 gift card incentive, I make 2 purchases.  I buy the items providing a gift card(s) incentive FIRST as a separate purchase from the remainder of my cart. (In this case there were 3: the toothpaste, Advil and toilet tissue for $15 worth of gift cards.) I then immediately apply the gift cards to the second purchase of the remainder of the items in my cart. That method, along with other coupons and using product price cycles, saved me almost half of that second purchase total.  It is important to buy only what you normally use, not get sucked into buying just to get a 'bargain.' 

UPDATE: I forgot one $ saving tip that I use everyday.  I keep a big bag of USA-made size 64 rubber bands that allow me to reuse bags and containers that fruits, nuts, etc. come in. They reduce the need for plastic zipper bags, 'tupperware-like' containers, etc. by a significant amount. These cost a fraction of a cent and until they break or you just plain wear them out, they last a long time.  I wash and reuse them.  I got the idea from saving the grocery store rubber bands on broccoli.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

GO bag insight: keep them light!

I read an article recently by a man who hiked the Appalachian trail.   He made a really great point about pack weight. There is a relationship between how much your pack weighs and how much ground you can cover in a day. The heavier your pack, the more energy goes into carrying the pack rather than moving forward. I thought I was the only one who kept my actual GO bag under 20 lbs, but I guess not.  Mine is light because I wrecked my back running for many years in the Army, not because I'm a genius. The author of the linked post, however, could be the genius.

When you make your emergency plans, leaving on foot is usually a last resort, but it should be in your plans. Your first and/or second level of preparation should be suitable for easy adaptation to leaving on foot. I include both levels because some people have a first level of preparation, called 'Every Day Carry' (EDC) that usually fits in their pocket or purse. It may include simple items like a small lighter, a pocket knife, a Mylar blanket and something to disinfect and hold water --possibly even a Ziploc bag and one disinfectant tablet. The EDC should be sufficient to get you to your next level of preparedness, which would either be home, your desk at work, your GO bag (other acronyms for this bag include GOOD bag or BOB) or whatever you regularly carry in your car. Remember that your car kit may become your GO bag if traffic or other conditions render your car useless. Always have a day pack with your car gear, even one that is not the greatest, in case you need to pack up your car kit and leave on foot.  My next level up includes a plastic box with more food and a small duffel bag with more clothing and a sleeping bag. If it comes time to abandon the car, I can grab another layer of clothes and maybe a few more food pouches for the next meal only and head out with the light pack.

So how do you do this -- keep to 20 lbs or less AND have some redundancy in the most important items? First a little aside on redundancy. Redundancy means have at least 2 ways to cover the most important basics. An example is how to provide fire.  I keep a small Bic lighter, a waterproof match case with strike anywhere matches, a small plastic magnifying glass (which has a lot of other uses) and a fire steel.  Somewhere in there is a method for virtually any conditions I may encounter. I consider fire to be a preparedness imperative, so I go a little overboard. I also have 4 ways to purify water -- here in the desert southwest, if you are lucky enough to find standing water, it's probably disgusting stuff, so more ways are better. The main way to keep the pack light is to miniaturize and remember that this pack is for getting out of the immediate danger.  You don't need a whole box of tissue, but a pocket pack may be useful.  You don't need an entire wardrobe, but clean socks and undies may be a welcomed relief. You should have enough to keep you going for 72 to 96 hours. Not your whole family or neighborhood, and not forever. It is a supplement to what you are wearing. If you are at work in a suit or high heels, you should also have a change of clothes and shoes in your desk or car before venturing out with your GO bag.

There are lots of inexpensive but reliable products that are small. The Princeton Tec lights at Sierra Trading Post are small and inexpensive (especially when on sale), but powerful enough and are available in white and red light. I also keep a small, cheap solar flashlight that has a caribiner clip, so it can be charging while I walk when I hook it to my pack strap or back. You don't need the premium sleeping bag.  One of the emergency bags could last you and are small and cheap. Instead of a huge tent, try one of these or get the heaviest (in mils) plastic drop cloth from Home Depot and some parachute cord. You can make your own wind and rain shelter for about 8 ounces.

Personal hygiene? Use Wisp toothettes or a pre-filled tooth brush. Include a small hotel soap and a few pre-moistened wipes. I have a small microfiber towel, which can do double duty as part of the 'keep warm' stuff when dry. Small Tupperwares (about 1.25 inches in diameter) of your meds, salt, sugar are smart to have. A change of socks and undies are good. Cash and ID are very important. A pocket knife and a spork, a metal canteen cup (Army surplus) and some food are also a good idea. Think BASICS, small and short duration.

For children, don't make it too austere. They may not be able to take their favorite quilt and stuffed animal, but include a small comfort item.  If there is a light weight stuffed toy, especially one that can double as a pillow, throw it in for the little one. For an older child, a pack of cards for a game of Go-Fish or rummy may lighten the mood as you prepare to bed down. If you have an infant, you must research how to balance their sanitary requirements with weight -- cloth diapers and liners may be the answer, but technology has changed a lot since I last researched that one! You can wash a diaper and hang it on the back of your pack to dry while you walk if need be. Not so much with disposables.

I'm about to change from my 'summer' pack list to my 'winter' list.  My pack will go from 16 lbs to about 19 to allow for extra warmth items and a few more calories.

What about your GO bag? Is it obese? Can you carry it for 10 hours? If so, how much ground can you cover? If you aren't an Army Ranger or super athlete, check your emergency GO bags for everyone in the family and see if any of them need to go on a diet!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Calorie and Nutrition Density

Decision-making for your food storage should include multiple considerations that span the emergency possibilities for your situation.  If your scenarios are primarily shelter-in-place emergencies then you have different concerns than if most require leaving your home to put distance between your family and the adverse conditions.  If you have determined that you need more than 72 hours of food, then transportation or in-home storage space may also be a consideration.  How do you balance variety, convenience, nutrition, weight, volume and cost?  Here are a few thoughts on the selection process.

When cost and convenience are important but weight or volume are not a problem, i.e. you don't anticipate needing to move to another location, then conventional canned food may be your best option.  Take the humble Chef Boyardee products.  A 39 ounce can of spaghetti and meatballs ( under $3.00) provides 4 generous or 5 not-so-generous servings between 200 and 300 calories each with lots of fat, protein, reasonable fiber and non-sugar carbs along with some B vitamins and odd minerals like iron, phosphorus and manganese. It packs a punch for one 4 X 6 inch can and 60 (5 servings) to 75 (4 servings) cents per serving. You can eat it cold or hot and won't need to purify water to make it palatable. It may not be gourmet, but it'll stick to your ribs.  That is what I mean by nutrition dense.

Another product, this time in the calorie dense arena is a freeze-dried, cooked and crumbled sausage packaged in a #10 can. Weighing 29 ounces, it provides 16 servings at a whopping 320 calories each, all in fat and protein.  The down side is you need hot, clean water to make it according to the directions.  We have tried it straight from the can and it is palatable, but might be better as a 'gorp' with raisins and nuts if used when you need to move locations in an emergency.  I cheated and bought this on sale, so it cost me $1.62 per serving, but the price trade was for much less weight and 4 times as many calories.

More practically, you can shop at Target or Walmart and compare the NUTRITION labels and the price.  If a 1 lb box of saltines is the same price as a 1 lb box of enriched dry pasta, you need to think through which makes more sense given your criteria. If you need ready-to-eat food,  the saltines and a jar of peanut butter may make more sense that the pasta and some sauce.  Both will provide carbs and protein, but you may anticipate a situation where cooking may not be realistic for several days. In that case, the peanut butter provide the fats and protein density and the crackers give some carbs to get you to the point you can fire up the pasta.

Some foods may fit both the shelter-in-place requirements and an evacuation scenario. (Preferably you will pre-evacuate and head out long before the masses hit the road!!) To make these decisions, you will need some clue about where you are going.  If it's 200 miles to Granny's and she's out of the evac zone, your food storage needs are different than if you plan to drive until you find a place to camp out and decide what to do next.  Once you make these decisions and as you buy your preparedness food supply, you need to package your evacuation supplies for a fast 'get away.' The advantage of having these foods set aside, boxed and ready to load could translate to fewer hours stalled in traffic because you beat the crowd leaving town.

I use a labeling system to help me make quick decisions.  I use boxes (some people use plastic tubs)  labeled with the meal and relative preparation requirements. So I can choose 'fast breakfast', 'fast snacks' or 'slow dinner' when I pack up.  Each box has EVERYTHING except the water and pan needed to prepare the meal. Each carton has at least 2 cans with a flat P51 can opener taped to the top or under the plastic lid. Each carton has some beverage powder with vitamin C (usually Crystal Lite orange), matches and a small can of butter. Even within the 'slow' boxes, I try to have at least one component that is palatable right from the can, just in case! (example: 'slow dinner' may have a can of dehydrated -- not freeze dried-- apple slices for the dessert. These can be enjoyed right from the can and will provide some good carbs and fiber.)

Anyone who has read my blog a few times understands that I'm a little ... odd. One of the little games I play when I've nothing better to do takes advantage of the Food Storage Analyzer (button on the right side, use the TRY IT option if you are concerned about your privacy). I see how many days of nutrition I can make out of one case of 6 #10 cans of freeze dried or dehydrated food. The analyzer will tell you what percentage of the essential nutrients you have accounted for-- my goal is 85% or better on all. This 'game' is to teach myself about nutrition and calorie density. My max to date is 21 days at 1800 calories per day for one person from a six can case of freeze dried and dehydrated food and beverages. Meals would be really bizarre, but you could stay healthy.  See if you can beat my max.  I'll even give you a hint: a can of orange drink mix provides carbs and takes care of a lot of the vitamins and mineral requirements!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Just a little more on your Emergency First Aid Kit...

I updated yesterday's post with a link to a great article on antibiotics.  Thanks mucho, K!

Also, some useful supplies are available at much lower cost at your neighborhood ranch supply or feed store. I buy betadine solution and items for irrigating wounds in the horse supply area there.

Speaking of irrigating wounds: I forgot to mention that small separate baggies (or mini-tupperwares) of salt,  baking soda and white sugar should be in your kit along with some small measuring spoons.  I also keep a small canister of Morton's Salt Substitute (food grade potassium chloride or KCl) from the grocery store in my bag.  USING A GOOD REFERENCE, you can do a lot with this stuff and clean water -- making a saline external irrigation or soaking solution; making a rehydration solution; adding a small amount (less than a dash) of KCl to some water to help relieve leg or foot cramps and many more.  Other more serious conditions may be helped with these simple ingredients, but you must have a good emergency medical reference and some training or you can do real harm.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Building Your Emergency First Aid Kit

NOTE to Readers: The Google Blogger now adds double underline to words or phrases in my posts to send you to their advertizers. I haven't found a way to stop it yet. Please know these are not advertizers I recommend, in fact the '37 things' link is one of the most annoying ads I've ever seen.

Now for my intended posting:

It's one thing to have some bactine and band-aids in a pouch for everyday boo-boos, but a first aid kit for your emergency preparedness supplies is a different animal. By its very nature, it may be first and ONLY medical aid for 72 or more hours. Band-aids and bactine probably won't do the trick.

As a reminder, this is your Emergency FAK. See previous post about your Personal Med Bag (PMB) which is equally important.  Don't put stuff in your EFAK for others to use that you can't spare from your PMB, only those general use and critical care items should go in here. For example: if you regularly take a pain medication and have enough in your PMB to last you through a reasonably foreseeable emergency,  you may wish to contribute a few 'excess' to the EFAK. In doing this, you relinquish claim to them, and they go to whoever needs them first.

Thinking through your specific needs requires going back to basics.  What were those potential emergency situations again? Earthquake? Flood? Tornado? Wildfire? Based on which ones apply to your location and situation, and who the kit is meant to support, you can start to frame what goes in it. Remember family, friends and your level of willingness to be a good Samaritan to strangers in the process.

Some bloody traumatic injuries are to be expected in many disaster or emergency situations. That also means open wounds.  So start with self-protection including gloves, some masks and eye protection if you don't wear glasses. Add some of that alcohol gel hand sanitizer for good measure. Now, what about the victim?

If your budget is tight, you can improvise some items, but they should still be in the kit. I'm not taking things in order (i.e. this is not medical advice) so add a first aid class, or better yet some sort of emergency or trauma training, to your list. There may be some free ones through your fire or police department. In any injury situation where an open wound is involved, you'll need something to stop bleeding. Clean bandaging and a way to secure it to the site are important. If your budget allows, you can get a quick-clot impregnated bandage for $10 to $15 from several mail order sources. These should be for those really scary bleeding wounds. Whether secured with a larger pressure bandage from a package, made from a strip of sheeting or from high quality medical tape, you'll need something to hold the bandage in place and maintain some pressure. Consideration for cleaning the wound and preventing infection is also important.

 If and only if you are willing to move a patient for professional care OR you need to save a life by potentially causing someone to lose a limb, include a tourniquet.  Read about these well in advance, as they are very serious medical intervention with a lot of potentially negative impacts.

Clearing and maintaining an airway is also a major issue. Some military surplus kits or backwoods hiking suppliers can help you there with specially-made disposable airways. Otherwise, gloves and some alcohol pads may be better than nothing.

A wilderness or special forces medical text is a good idea. Some can be downloaded from the web. Pay attention to how to suture a wound. Worst case, a curved fabric needle and some sterilized upholstery thread may suffice. Keep your antiseptic and matches in the kit -- matches in a water resistant or waterproof container. You may not be able to create a true sterile field, but do what you can if professional help is not an option.

Do your research on burn treatments and have something for those as well, anticipating that there may be some large burns, not just a finger tip.

Have the usually triple antibiotic ointment, tweezers and adhesive bandages in multiple sizes for the more common splinters and scrapes -- or for picking foreign debris out of scrapes and injuries. I also keep campho-phenique liquid. It is messy and smelly, but it kills some nasty stuff and relieves pain unlike most other OTC antiseptics.

A few hours after the injury has been treated to the best of your ability, pain is likely to start. Some victims may not be able to swallow meds. Both oral meds and pain patches should be stocked if you can afford them.  Tylenol may be better than aspirin if there is potential for internal bleeding. Baby aspirin should be on hand for possible heart attacks.  There may be little else to offer other than keeping the patient quiet and comfortable.

Antiseptics and antibiotics are important.  Speak with your MD and ask for generic antibiotics for each member of your family for both a broad spectrum like azithromycin and a course of generic flagyl for problems like giardia. If your MD has a favorite for dysentery, ask for that as well. Another good source of common antibiotics is addressed very well here, if you want to have a more robust capability to really weather a storm and its aftermath. Throw in some over the counter probiotics for later in the treatment to stop diarrhea that can result from too many intestinal organisms being killed.

I keep several other items in my EFAK. These include 2 or 3 Mylar emergency blankets, 2 bandannas,  a pair of 'trauma' scissors (can be cheap kitchen scissors -- just heavy duty enough to cut through fabric like someones pants), fire starter, Gatorade powder, water purification tablets, glucose tablets, a forehead thermometer strip, 3 yards of fine black netting from the Walmart fabric center, a collapsible cup, 2 ace bandages, individually packaged Wet Ones, OTC meds and a good pocket knife.  Much of this I scavenged from around the house or from my own past injuries (ace bandages!).  I bought 8 Gatorade packets for $2 at Big Lots, put 4 in the kit and fed the other 4 to my husband as a reward for doing yard work. He like it! These gathered things can be used to treat shock or deyhdration, sprained or broken arms or ankles, low blood sugar, and to make someone more comfortable (netting can be a bug-exclusion tent).  OTC meds include treatment for allergies, diarrhea, nausea and flu symptoms.

I'm saving up for a pulse-oxygen meter, the finger tip kind. Not sure why, but it just seems like one should be in the kit, and maybe a blood pressure cuff. These may be beyond the scope of such a kit.  Gives me something to think about before I make the investment. What do you think?  What do you think I'm missing?

My EFAK is in an old carry-on bag -- a red one. The color makes it easy to pick out in the pile of emergency supplies so I can get to it more quickly. It also reminds me to pack it where I can get to it easily ... in case of emergency!  It has 3 external zippered pockets.  I put a Ziplock bag with STOP THE BLEEDING supplies in one of the pockets, another Ziploc with BREATHING supplies in another pocket, and some of the comfort and SHOCK supplies in the third pocket. This allows fast access for the most critical needs.

 Think about what is likely in your potential emergency situations, research and build or refine your EFAK. Then remember to review at least every September as part of your annual preparedness update.