Thursday, November 7, 2013

Why You Should Be A Prepper Too

A few months ago I found myself commenting on a subject that I think is very important, but that which stigma, ignorance and reality TV has given a bad name indeed: prepping.

Don't go away. Hear me out. This is something everyone needs to think about, regardless of their situation.

It was an episode of Bones, which normally is good tv, if you don't mind turning off your common sense detector (if you are even paying attention to it in amongst ogling David Boreanaz), but sometimes the show makes some really irritating assumptions, like how all preppers must be crazy, doomsday types living in a bunker with some goats and chickens and a stockpile of MREs, guns and ammo.

Seriously? They took an important, vital way of looking at life and degraded it like that?

Since I am very interested in the subject, I've decided to address the matter.

To get the ball rolling, lets open with the end of the world. The end of the world is going to be all dramatic and terrible, and simply MUST involve nuclear fall out, zombies, or asteroids, right?

WRONG. This is the real world, not Hollywood. While there is a chance of nuclear disasters and/or asteroids, the chance is much smaller than you might expect. Come back to us, and allow me to point you in a more realistic and far more personal direction.

Try these situations on for size:

-Job loss of primary breadwinner(s)
-Injury, illness or death of primary breadwinner(s)
-Injury, illness or death of child, spouse or other dependent relative
-Economic troubles, rise of food and fuel prices
-Natural or "man made" disasters resulting in loss of home and/or property

Are those scenarios starting to sound closer to home now? Like maybe, just maybe, you might be a little concerned about how your stay at home wife (or husband), kids and yourself will get by if you are laid off without warning? Or if a flood or bush fire damages or destroys your home? Or if your child or spouse is diagnosed with a serious illness requiring expensive treatment or medication, or you are injured and cannot work for an extended period of time?

Have I got your attention now?

What's in a name?

What actually is the definition of a prepper? Urban Dictionary had a couple, one a scathing account far too long for me to bother posting here, and then a shorter one:
Someone who focuses on preparedness, generally for various worst-case scenarios like peak oil or armageddon. Sometimes used to avoid the more loaded term survivalist.
Now, that's all well and good, but I think it misses the most basic point of this matter and injects a level of paranoia into the subject, so I reject that persons reality and substitute my own (to shamelessly steal a famous Mythbusters quote...)
A person who is prepared, or striving to be prepared [for incident, natural disaster, etc]
See? It's simple. A prepper is not some crazy guy living in his basement counting shotgun shells (I dunno what that guy is). A prepper is a person who has assessed the potential problems (such as natural disasters) that may affect them and their family, and who has taken steps to guard against damage to life, limb, or property.

Doesn't that sound like a good plan?

Okay, so it's not crazy. Now what?

I advise everyone reading this to do a few things to assess what may potentially threaten your home or family. And I'm not going to suggest you carry guns either. You can do that if it suits you, but you have to figure that out on your own.

First, get to know your home.

I live here, you say. What's there to know? Well, do you know where your meter box is? The circuit breakers? Where's the water and/or gas mains? Is there a crawlspace, basement or attic? What's in those anyway? Do you know where your septic tank is (if that applies), or where the underground lines/pipes run through your yard? Do your kids know these things?

Your home is your castle, so it's only right you know every nook and cranny. I grew up in California, and in case of major earthquake emergency, my mother kept heavy wrenches by the gas valve and water main in case we needed to shut them off. Even though we've never had to turn off the gas, we have had indoor plumbing problems that required the main to be shut off until we could repair them. It's not a serious emergency, but it's serious enough when you're standing in your undies in front of the bathroom sink, in a pool of water starting to soak the hall carpet, under a shower of cold rain as you try to deflect with your hands the unstoppable power of the water geyser gushing at the ceiling on a school morning because the handle of the tap had just fallen off when you turned it on. (This happened for real folks. I am not joking. That person was me.)

So please, do yourselves a favor, and take your whole family to explore the house so you can all find and point out the important things. Because you may very well need to find your circuit breaker in the dark (but if you're prepared, you'll at least have a flashlight with working batteries!)

Second, get to know your community.

I stress this with everybody: Community is its own kind of wealth. Do you know your neighbors? Do they know you? Can your kids recognize them and know which house they live if they encounter them on a bike ride in your neighborhood?

All the village jokes aside, a strong community can really help if there is indeed an emergency. Or even if there isn't an emergency. Ever go on holiday for two weeks and wanted someone to water your garden or pick up your mail? Maybe your neighbor once helped you fix that slow leak in your tire, or helped to install lights on the garage. Perhaps you just had way too many zucchini last year, so all your neighbors got some. Whatever. Knowing the people sharing your environment ensures that, if there is an emergency (or non-emergency), someone's got your back.

It seems that we've gotten out of the habit of getting to know our neighbors. There used to be block parties, bbqs, fun nights, kids playing together in the street. Now it's like everyone is just hunkered down in their homes, getting all paranoid about "those people" who live around them.

Instead of being paranoid, be proactive in knowing who you are sharing the neighborhood with. Go knock on some doors and say hi, talk to people in the street, have a chat when you see them in their front garden. Welcome the new people moving in, maybe offer to help them move a sofa. As my sister so often said to her son: Use your words. It won't hurt, and if you're nice about it, they'll remember you.

Want some more incentive? If you know and recognize everyone on your block (and vice versa) you are more likely to foil crime. A burglar is not going to have much of a chance casing a joint if he knows three guys can spot him in a line up.

Third, get to know your area and it's disaster potential.

If you are snowed in, are you prepared?
I lived in California. Earthquakes were never too far from peoples minds. Sure, it's mostly speculation about when an earthquake will hit, but it's why my parents made sure we knew where the mains were, and where the safest place in the house would be if we had to ride an earthquake out.  My science teacher even sent us home with a check list of things we should learn about and do in the case of an earthquake. I live in Tasmania now, where the chance of earthquake is very much lower, but the chances of storm winds, bushfire and flooding are much higher.

So look into your area's disaster potential. Snowstorms/blizzards, windstorms, torrential rain, flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, fire hazards, avalanche, mudslide and landslip hazards, earthquakes, etc. Look up online, at the library, or ask you city council how you can be prepared for these disasters (many city councils have advice in that regard). If you need certain supplies to be prepared for those events (many annual), consider stocking up on things like batteries or wind up flashlights, candles, firewood, or whatever applies to your situation.

If an emergency means you have to leave your home in a hurry, put together a go bag: have food, water, important papers, updated medications, ID's and passports, a whistle, flashlight and batteries, entertainment for the kids, etc together in a backpack. Have one for each member of your family and keep them somewhere handy, such as a hall closet. Keep a similar kit in your car. For more information, Google "bug out bags", "go bags", "72-hour kits" or other variations to find links dedicated to building your bags at home.

I've done all those things. Now what?

I see a lot of people complaining about bills, food prices, gas prices, yadda yadda yadda. These are, of course, legitimate concerns to many, but I have some ideas that might help you think outside the bill envelope.

Do I really need 600 tv channels?

Seriously. Who needs 600 cable tv channels? Do you even watch a quarter of them? Why do you need to listen to music on the tv, when radio is free? When a cd is about 10-15 bucks? Hell, when iTunes is .99 cents? Some people even take it further: Why have tv channels when you can watch nearly anything you want online nowadays?

Take a look at your entertainment package and really determine whether you need it or not. You may find that paying that ungodly amount can go away if you choose to change the package into a simpler one. Imagine all the extra cash you've just saved for your food and gas bills.

Use this same procedure with your internet (well, maybe not), and phone bills. What changes can be made to these services to save you some cash? Most companies will work with you if they know you'll stick with them, but if you have to, shop around for cheaper deals.

And another thing: are you wasting a lot of water sustaining a lawn you are spending too much of your time taking care of? Help cut some water and time costs by ditching the lawn and growing food in your garden... or at least putting in a low to no water cost garden. Apply this reasoning to your heating and air conditioning systems, and hot water usage.

Remember: "Keeping up with the Jones's" is silly, social brainwashing, and not worth your money, house or family. Even if it was healthy to "keep up", you can't do so if you're broke.

I'm using a lot of gas just driving around town. Have you SEEN those prices?

Find the local city bus schedule, and map out the route that would take you from home, to work and back again. Then do the same for your local supermarket. Or, pump up the tires on that bike you wish you had more time to ride. Or walk. Or carpool. There are a number of ways you can work out to save using the petrol in your tanks. Be creative.

Canning and preserving extra food will save you money in the long run.
Food is so expensive! How am I going to afford healthy food for my family?

Well, hopefully you've freed up some cash doing the things I just mentioned above, but if you're looking for more tips, think about food storage.

It's a sad fact that most households nowadays may have only a weeks worth of food or less in their cupboards. If there was a real emergency where you couldn't leave the home (such as a snow storm) what would you do if that lasted more than a week? If you lost your job today, do you have enough food in your larder to keep your family fed until you can provide a new income?

I suggest you look at what you have in your pantry. Is there a lot of pre-made, processed stuff like Hamburger Helper or Mac N Cheese? Cans or bottles of soda pop or other sugary drinks? Are you feeding the kids cereal every morning before school?

These are all items that I'd reduce or switch out for other options. They are deceptively cheap items, can cost you your health in the long run, and provide very little nutrition. Instead, turn the money you've saved doing the above and look at the prices of things like plain white rice, plain pasta, split peas, dry soup mixes, and dry beans and lentils. These are all items that store well, and can be stretched out over several meals, and they provide a much denser nutritional profile (this is assuming, of course, that you are not gluten sensitive, in which case, replace the pasta with the other items... I'd even go so far as to say ditch the wheat all together).

Vegetables like onions, garlic and potatoes store well if kept in cool, dark places. This is also where you might consider breaking out grandmas old canning pot and jars (or buying your own), or that dehydrator that you got as a wedding present and have only used once to make banana chips. Fruit and vegetables on sale make great food storage if they are dried or canned to preserve them.

Instead of soda pop or other sugary drinks, milk, water and a few favorite fruit juices should be kept around, and kids really shouldn't be eating cereal if you expect them to do a good job in school. A couple eggs, some ham or bacon, and a glass of whole milk will give them much more fuel to power their growing brains (seriously; do not put your child on a low fat or fat free diet; that is, in my opinion, child abuse, and there is plenty of evidence out there telling you why. Do your research.)

Are you buying your lunch at work or buying your kids lunches through the school? Perhaps it's time you thought about brown bagging it. That's right: pack your food to take with you. It's healthier in the long run, because you control what goes in your lunch, and you're not spending money on costly cafe food. Likewise, ditch the Starbucks, and get yourself a good coffee mug or thermos to make your java travel friendly.

Green beans and chard, freshly picked.
Last, but definitely not least: have you got time on the weekends? Have you got some sunny space for pots, or a lawn that's eating your resources? Then you can grow a garden. Growing your own food means you can control what you eat much more easily than if you buy it at a store. You end up with the freshest veg available, because you know those tomatoes on the shelf at Safeway weren't picked 5 minutes ago, but those bright red, sweet-as-candy cherry tomatoes growing in the pot on the front porch were. Growing your own vegetables also provides essentially free veg, because once the initial cost of the seed packets or plants is put down, you can collect seeds and continue next years garden from those, thereby having no need to buy more. For more on seeds and seed saving, see my blog about it here: Saving Seeds

Gardening is something you can chat with all your neighbors about, and get the community involved in. You may even go so far as to make a plan to trade excess veg around. It's up to you and your neighbors.

If you are wondering how on earth you'll find the time for all these things, I can assure you: if it's important, if it's really that important to you and your family and your very existence, you will find the time. Once you see the improvements those changes are making in your life, and the peace of mind had knowing that, no matter what happens, you can take care of your household, you will lead a much happier existence. 

You may even find yourself looking at keeping bees, chickens or goats in your backyard... but one step at a time, eh?


  1. I love it. You hit all the points I would think of. And I have gone as far as raising my own chickens for eggs and meat and have a goat for fresh milk and homemade cheese. I am getting to know my new neighbors as well and I am fortunate to have a community garden nearby, where we share work, vegetables, recipes and ideas. And I should point out, I live in a city on a rather large lot.

    1. That's great to hear. We need more people with this mindset to speak up and support each other in this lifestyle. It's not about hoarding or guns or crazy theories about how the world will end. Prepping has a purpose that we all should consider closely.


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