Wednesday, June 14, 2017

10 Anti-Establishment Activities for Fun and Profit

The dictionary defines anti-establishment as:  A view or belief which stands in opposition to the conventional social, political, and economic principles of a society.

I always shook my head when, back a few years ago during the Occupy Wall Street movement, protesters would show up on TV tapping away on their iPhones while juggling their Starbucks, in their Nike tennis shoes, after pulling some money from the ATM of the local megabank.  If you are against Wall Street, why, in the name of all that is holy, would you support companies that, make up Wall Street?

As I am feeling rather contrarian this week, I got to thinking about how most people follow along with conventional society, all the while complaining about conventional society.  Complaining may raise your blood pressure but it does little to nothing to actually generate change.  Kind of like venting about obesity and the low pay of fast food workers while gulping down a cheeseburger from said fast food restaurant.

In the interest of "sticking it to the establishment", saving or making a bit of money, experiencing something new, and "walking the talk", I give you ten activities to enjoy this summer which have an anti-establishment flair...

  1. Cook all of your meals from scratch for a month.  Don't support the soda industry and fast food industries which basically sell you a boatload of chemicals and obesity, learn about how the food industry engineers your cravings, and watch a few health-inspiring videos on Netflix.
  2. Get out of debt.  Our world revolves around debt.  Can't afford to pay cash?  Just use your credit card and pay small monthly payments!  Can't afford the payments on a new car?  Simply lease (fleece as Dave Ramsey says) a car and pay less!  Can you imagine what your life would be like if your monthly bills were only for utilities?
  3. Participate in the underground economy.  This can include everything from bartering and swapping to sharing to buying and reselling.
  4. Support your local community.  Buy from local stores, shop at local farmer's markets, volunteer at your kid's school, help out a an elderly neighbor.  If you want your community to be strong and vibrant you need to invest (your time, effort, and money) in it.
  5. Learn to do for yourself.  There are YouTube videos that can teach you anything you need to learn.  Grow a garden, change your own oil, fix an appliance, mend your clothes instead of buying new ones...the list of things you can and should learn how to do is endless.
  6. Get away from it all.  I firmly believe that all of the hyper reliance on technology not only melts your mind, causes depression, and makes people fat and anti social (see other list of impacts here) but it has an overall negative impact on most people's everyday lives.  To combat this, head out to a remote, people-less place for a few days at minimum.  Enjoy the silence, learn how to rely on yourself instead of crowd-sourcing everything from your daily living skills to your self esteem, and recall what life was like before the tidal wave of tech took over our lives.  See also: Microadventures.
  7. Set a big, anti-conventional goal, and go for it.  I've been fortunate to meet a lot of interesting (read unconventional) people over the course of my life.  The common denominator amongst them is that they took a big, outrageous idea which caused people to question their sanity/make dire predictions about their life, and thumbed their noses at the naysayers.  See also: Helene Neville, Yolanda Holder, the Family on Bikes, and Karl Bushby.
  8. Be your own boss.  Most people cling to their one (piteous, underpaid, overworked) job like they are clinging to a life ring in the middle of the ocean.  Of the few "real" jobs I have had (complete with an employer, benefits, paid sick leave, etc), they have only served as stepping stones to gain knowledge or skills before heading off on my own.  I much prefer the secure insecurity of being responsible for my own income by developing multiple sources of income.  Examples of how to do this here and here.
  9. Do your own research.  With facts, alternative facts, and straight up lies by those in power, it pays to do your own research before making decisions that impact your life.  Among the "you didn't do the research" crowds: anti-vaxers, those who are surprised that Trump lied to them, people who fall for scams and rip offs that are easily Google-able.
  10. Support the people and causes that make a useful/positive difference in your life.  Turn out to vote, support gun rights, eat food that makes you healthy, join clubs with like-minded members, and hold your politicians accountable or vote them out.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

10 Sources for Bulk Food to Store

How are your food stockpiles looking?  If you are just starting to get your emergency food stockpile together, consider these ten places to buy food to add to your collection...

  1. Amazon.  You can find a wide variety of bulk food online at companies like Amazon and it will be delivered to your front door.  You can also buy MREs here.
  2. LDS Home Storage Center.  You don't need to be a Mormon to take advantage of this service which features foods especially prepared for long term storage.
  3. Costco.  Costco is kind of the granddaddy of bulk food sellers.  You can find all kinds of restaurant-sized bulk food products here.
  4. Grocery store loss leaders.  If you purchase loss leaders at your local grocery store every week you will soon be well on your way to a good-sized food stockpile.
  5. Ethnic grocery stores.  While a regular grocery store may sell a 10 pound bag of rice, an Asian store will sell 50 pound bags at a reasonable price.  Ditto for dry beans at a Mexican grocery store, lentils at an Indian grocery store, etc.
  6. Ordering in bulk from your local grocery store.  Some grocery stores have special "bulk" sales where they sell canned goods by the case or bulk bins you can buy larger quantities of grains and other items from, and at other stores, they are often more than happy to order food in bulk for you.
  7. Wholesale food distributors.  Some wholesale food/restaurant distributors will also sell directly to the public.  Simply Google wholesale food distributors for your nearest city to see what's available.
  8. Specialized emergency food companies.  There are a multitude of companies that focus on selling food specifically for emergencies and long-term storage.
  9. Backpacking food companies.  Backpackers have always sourced ultra light, dehydrated food that will last forever and now there are a number of companies that cater to just this market.
  10. U-pick/catch, U-preserve.  Whether from fishing, hunting, gardening, or u-picking at a local farm, the "do it yourself" approach to gathering food can be a cost effective way to build up your food stockpile.
Not included in this list but still a possible option is buying bulk grains (oats, corn, etc) from animal feed stores.  You need to make sure the grain is fit for human consumption and doesn't included added things like antibiotics, that the grain isn't moldy, and that isn't infested with insects.  Don't forget, once you have a hundred pounds of grain sitting in your kitchen you need to properly prepare it for long term storage.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

What is Our Country Coming To??

This will be a rant post so feel free to skip or vent as needed...

While I am (usually) a republican, I didn't vote for Trump (I had serious concerns about his mental health) and I didn't vote for Hillary (I had serious concerns about any politician with a body count list), so I ended up going Libertarian (Johnson seemed like a reasonable guy but he really didn't have a snowball's chance in Hell of being elected.  Unfortunately.).  So now, four months later, we are getting a country being run into the ground by Trump (kind of like many of his businesses but I digress...).  No matter which end of the political spectrum you fall on, EVERY American should be concerned about the following issues...

This isn't the America I grew up in.  And while I know I am old and set in my ways, undermining the very fabric of American is a lousy way to push this country forward (or into the ground as it seems to be the direction we are heading).  Citizens need to stand up and keep their representatives accountable for the government they are responsible for and the governed they represent.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Government Insolvency and You (Or How to Prep for a Financial SHTF Situation)

In case the 2008 financial crisis wasn't enough of a wake-up call, there have been several fiscal disasters (or near disasters) impacting governments at all levels.  The problem is that many of these seem "far away" like Venezuela or more recently Puerto Rico, and while many state governments are in a dire sort or financial limbo (I'm looking at you Connecticut, New Jersey, and Illinois), unless you have been directly impacted (like Detroit pensioners), you may think that government insolvency will have no bearing on you.  Ah but it will.  When one part of the financial market crumbles (as we saw with the housing crisis in 2008) it has a domino effect on everyone (example here).
So it would behoove everyone--whether you are a Connecticut teacher relying on your state pension or a small business person in a fiscally solvent state with a nice set of investments--to prepare ASAP for whatever coming fiscal apocalypse that may occur.  Here's how:

  • Be debt free.  No debt including credit cards, student loans, the car, the just think of what you can spend your weekly paycheck on if you have zero debts to pay besides utilities each month.
  • Take care of your health (it's looking less and less likely that the government will do this for you).
  • Have multiple streams of income.  Whether you are a well-paid tech guy or a federal retiree, never rely on just one source of income.  Have side gigs, have multiple diversified investments...make sure that if one income stream dries up (yep, even your state or federal pension) that you will still have other sources of income coming in each month.
  • Be as self sufficient as possible (if you live on land you own with a huge, productive garden with a good well, good septic system, a stockpile of food/supplies/weapons, and wind/solar power you will be miles ahead of the general population when it comes to basic debt-free living AND preparedness).
  • Diversify your investments.  You should never have all of your eggs in one sort of investment basket.  Having a government pension, money in a ROTH IRA, mutual funds, land, some gold, a small business, foreign currency, etc. is a good way to spread your wealth around and not end up losing all to one bad investment.
  • Have barterable skills and barterable items.  When the economy is blasted back to the stone age, this is one of the only ways you will be able to survive.
  • Have a wide-ranging, diverse set of skills.  You should be able to do nearly everything short of surgery for yourself.  The more things you can do for yourself, the less reliant you are on others for survival (ie; if you rely solely on the government for everything--feed your kids, make repairs in your apartment, pay for your bus pass, etc--you are screwed).
  • On the other hand it is a good idea to cultivate friends and relatives who you can rely on during dire times (and vice versa).  No man is an island and all that so know ahead of time who can help you out (and who you can help out) when disaster strikes.
  • Be prepared to bail.  As a last resort you may have to move on to greener pastures.  Always have a passport, cash, a go bag, etc. at the ready.  
For further reading on the topic check here, here, and here.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Some Rural Land-Buying Tips

During our travels over the last month I met up with a nephew who was very excited to show me the piece of rural land he was buying (he'd made an offer but hadn't signed the final papers yet).  It was a beautiful piece of land, about five acres, and looked nice upon driving up to the property.  As we walked the land and talked about what he knew of it, I began to have a number of concerns...

  • I asked him how he found the land (Craigslist) and if he had a realtor helping him (no).  Sometimes land is sold just between two parties but for someone who is unfamiliar with buying real estate, a realtor is definitely worth the money.
  • I asked about the well and he said the neighbor said it was good.  Always, always pay to get the well tested before you buy property.  You want to test the water, the depth, the age and type of pump, find out if there have been recent problems with other wells in the area, etc.
  • I asked about the septic system.  He said the property owner recently inherited the land from a relative so he didn't know much about the type or condition of the septic system but he though part of the drain field may be on the neighbor's property (?!?).  This can become a sticky legal problem in short order so always have any such problems dealt with prior to purchase (this usually involves a lawyer, the county, a possible easement, etc).
  • He had a nice stand of cedar trees on the property which he was already thinking about logging and selling.  A couple of issues I pointed out (by this time he was probably wondering why he invited a kill joy over) were #1, unless you own the property free and clear (he was getting a mortgage), taking the timber is usually prohibited since it decreases the value of the property, and #2 the trees were along a slope by a stream that cut through the property and some counties require permits or flat out make it illegal to log near streams or on sloping ground that is prone to slides.
  • The shape of the property looked a little odd (the neighbor had fenced part of the property, mowed the grass on another part, etc).  I asked if he had a plat map of the property or if the county had marked it so that he knew exactly where his property lines were (no).  Again (by this time I sounded like I was lecturing) I told him he definitely needed to find out where his property lines were and not take the neighbor's word for it.  Many counties will come out and mark the property lines for free, in other places you may need to hire it done but it is well worth the cost to avoid future problems.
  • Speaking of the stream, it cut the property in half and a nice chunk of the land was on the other side of it.  We discussed access to the other part of the property and he said he would either build a bridge (this is usually mired in permits and fees and engineering, etc) or go down the road that runs behind the property (which was gated off by the neighbor who owned the road and the property that abuts his property--in other words there is probably no easement for access which is another glaring issue).
  • I asked if he had an appraisal done on the property (no) or had a title search done (no).  Arg.
I hope my lecturing made him rethink his plan to buy the property.  I know it is exciting to buy a new place and a good price makes the deal even harder to resist, but unless you get your legal ducks in a row, have a knowledgeable person helping with the purchase, do all of the checks and legwork necessary to ensure a smooth and legal transaction, etc. your dream place can quickly turn into a legal and financial nightmare.

Monday, May 1, 2017

10 Quick Travel Tips

And I think we are done traveling for a bit (after five weeks of vacation, chilling on the couch is a decided luxury).  Here are some quick travel tips which have proven useful over the past month or so...

  1. Take a nice, sturdy bottle of water (like Aquafina, etc), drink the water, then save the bottle for travel.  You can take it empty through the security check point then fill it up prior to boarding your plane.
  2. Take photos of all of your prescription meds.  The spouse ended up in the ER during our vacation and when the nurse asked me about prescription meds, instead of giving her a blank look, I whipped out my cell phone, clicked on photos, and the nurse was able to swipe through the photos and input all of the spouse's meds into the computer with ease.
  3. Ditto for taking a photo on your cell phone of your hotel room number.  After staying at more than a half dozen hotels, our room number becomes a bit blurry so as soon as we check into the hotel, our first task is to snap a quick photo of the room number.  If you have trouble remembering which hotel you are in, take a photo of your hotel and it's address/business card/brochure.
  4. Get the Uber and Lyft app on your cell phone.  I can't emphasize how much better these services are than your run of the mill taxi.
  5. If you will be flying a lot, do yourself a favor and sign up for TSA PreCheck; it will save you a lot of time and frustration getting through security checkpoints.  Ditto for Global Entry if you will be traveling back and forth overseas.
  6. Take photos of (and back up) copies of your passport, driver's license, credit cards, car insurance card, health insurance card, boarding passes, car rental reservation, etc.  If you lose these items you will at least be able to show that you indeed have them (getting them replaced is a whole other hassle).
  7. I was thrilled with my T Mobile cell phone service which includes free international roaming/data/texting/teathering-HotSpot.  All of these things were useful at various points in our travels and all of these things were free (years ago, using your cell phone overseas would incur extremely high charges).  Note that TMobile doesn't seem to work in remote or even semi-remote areas but in cities it works great.
  8. If you don't have to work and/or use special software, consider traveling with a tablet instead of a laptop.  General travel stuff (like reading books, saving maps, doing basic internet searches) can be easily accomplished on a tablet and it will save you a great deal of weight over a laptop.
  9. Travel with one bag.  I've done this for years and slowly the spouse has come around to this way of traveling.  Avoiding checked luggage and--more importantly--not having to schlep 50 pounds of luggage around makes traveling infinitely easier.  My 32l backpack easily carries enough stuff for a week, or a month, or six months, of travel.
  10. Bring food always.  Generally we always carry some sort of food at all times while traveling since you never know when/where your next meal will be.  Granola bars, bread and cheese, nuts, fruit, etc all are easy to carry and most welcome when you are starving.  The one time we didn't do this on this past trip I had the spouse waving a turkey sandwich in my face grumbling about how it cost $15 at the airport.  So prepare ahead of time or be prepared to pay out the nose for basics that would cost a fraction were you not a captive audience.