Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Planning for a Frugal Halloween

Here's a formula for a frugal Halloween that I've practiced for years. Only lately have I seen how it also dovetails with preparedness. Let me explain:  We are part-time residents of a subdivision with 1/8th acre lots less than 10 miles north of the US-Mex border. We're here for Halloween each year.  For us, it consists of between 60 and 80 children coming to the door, of which 20% are local kids and 80% who have come up from Mexico for the event. This creates two concerns for me: having enough and having the treats do no harm.

First step in my method is deciding how much I want to spend PER CHILD.  I aim for not more than 25 cents.  At 80 children, that would cost me $20.  I head to Big Lot and go first to the gum rack. I look for their 4 packs for $1 of sugarless gum. In a good year, that's most of what I give out, though I will usually get one package of other treats for children too small to chew gum.

This year, I was not so lucky.  I was only able to cover 20 kids with the 4/$1 gum.  So on to other treats.  I read labels and decided on some Nabisco multipacks. each contained 12 bags of low-fat crackers and cookies for a unit cost of around 22 cents each. 

How does this tie in with preparedness, other than the frugal part? Back to the variability in the number of children who come to the door.  If I plan for 80 and only 60 arrive, I will have left overs.  I plan to give out the cookie/cracker bags first. If I have chewing gum left over at the end, it goes in my preparedness stash.

Some day, if things are not great around us, what (other than a long, hot shower) could be more refreshing than a stick of nice, minty gum?

Monday, October 21, 2013

What are your trigger points?

By now you should have at least a vague idea what you will do when an emergency situation happens. Power goes off for more than 6 hours, natural gas is shut off for days due to high demand and you're on the wrong end of the service denial, you name it.  Pack up for Grandma's, hunker down in place, or whatever. 

There are other kinds of emergencies that have less obvious starts and ends. For example, what if the EBT card problem had continued beyond a few hours? Do you live in a community that may have seen riots or looting? What is your plan for that?

We had a forest fire 3 years ago, and my employer expected employees who were evacuated from their homes to continue to come to work. They would let you have a few hours to get settled in your new location, but after that, get to work. Do you have a contingency plan that includes work clothes and commuting to the job? What about child care if your kid's school is closed but your employer wants you there?

How will you know when and where to go in the case of a longer or progressive emergency? Will you wait for authorities to tell you to go and fight it out with the crowds, or have you identified your triggers to leave?  Here are a few examples:

1. Electrical outage: If it is widespread and has been continuing for more than 4 hours, is that time to activate your contingency plan? Should you start sooner, knowing ATM's and most gas pumps won't be working?

2. Riots: If there is civil unrest or riots in larger cities back east, and it seems to be spreading, when do you activate your emergency plan?

3. Volcanic eruption: Remember the Mount Saint Helen's eruption in 1981? A lot of people died because they didn't believe it could blow, and then it did. There were lots of warning signs, but even the regional officials were lax in defining exclusion areas because they didn't understand the power of the volcano. Don't become a Dave Johnson or Harry Truman. For those of you along the west coast, Alaska and Hawaii, if it starts to rumble, get out. Don't wait for the big plume to shoot up, as it probably will be too late to leave by then.  Getting boiled in hot ash like the folks in Pompeii is a lousy way to go.

4. Currency Restrictions or Bank Holiday: It has happened in other countries in the last year or so, does your preparedness plan work in this type of situation? If so, what specific measures will you phase in to keep your cash-on-hand from dwindling too soon?  No spending by any family members without parental approval? Quick trip to the grocery and gas station to top off as soon as you hear about the closures or restrictions?

Knowing what your trigger points are, what you need on-hand for them and what specific actions you and yours need to take when they occur, could transform your emergency experience from a nightmare to an inconvenience.  Planning that includes trigger points and appropriate actions to take when they occur may also save your lives.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Live in or near a city? Pay attention!

If you haven't read or heard about the near riots resulting from the electronic benefits card (also called SNAP, replacement for food stamps) 'computer glitches' last week, listen up.

The 'glitch' lasted several hours. In 17 states the cards showed zero-balance and holders could not purchase food. In one state, the cards showed unlimited purchase power.  Both conditions led to near riot reactions.  Articles show photos of a Wal-Mart that looks like it as looted as card holders in the 'unlimited' state took full advantage. Others, in states with zero-balance show multiple full carts abandoned in the stores.

This was after only a percentage of the population was affected for a few hours. Even if this wasn't engineered as a message about the power of government, you might want to ponder it as such.

Bottom line is that it showed how fragile some segments of society are right now.  Even if you are temporarily reliant on government benefits, or like me are a federal retiree, tuck away some non-perishable food and supplies with a few bucks a month. Don't forget your K-Mart rewards points -- they translate directly to cash you can spend on canned or dry food.  (Even FEMA is now suggesting 2 weeks of food and supplies.) If the system had gone down for longer, grocery shopping could have been problematic.