Saving the Precious: your family

Two weeks after we moved in to our first home outside Seattle, Washington, the worst ice storm to hit the Northwest in twenty years pounded us. Eighteen inches of heavy snow received three inches of ice. It was heavy, hard and unmmovable.

This doesn’t sound like much, but for an area used to rain, it was nearly catastrophic. We were completely unprepared for our situation. Our home was on a plateau, 800 feet up from sea-level, the paved road steep, the area wooded and shaded. Ironically, we were only a quarter-mile from the main road, but it was enough to strand us and the other fifteen home-owners for two weeks. No way to get down (who owned snow removal equipment? No one) nearly all of us caught off guard, with little food, supplies, gas or heating. We literally had no way to make the half-mile trek down to the main road until the ice and snow thawed.

how we felt: empty handed and not-prepared

When Rog finally could make it down the hill, he found every gas station down to Tacoma was dry (about two hours south of us), and it was consuming all his gas just to drive around. The few of us who had small generators had long-since run out of gas. It was the crash course lesson in homeownership, self-preparation and common sense rolled into one very stressful two-week period.

The lessons learned

1) get a bigger generator that didn’t consume five gallons of fuel for every two hours

2) upgrade said generator to include an automatic “on” switch for power outages.

3) improve the food on hand from random canned goods capable of sustaining life for about a week or two to actual “food storage” which could keep us healthy and alive for months.

4)  have alternate forms of heating for the home. Electric is great until the main grid goes down, which it did within five hours of this storm. A fireplace is also wonderful, except when you’ve never used it and don’t have dried wood stored about.

Growing pains: from theory to reality

At that point in our young marriage, (two years) we thought “holy crap, we’re never going to survive,” what life is going to throw us. So we made a priority list. While this article may come too late for some of you, it’s never too late to make an assessment of where you’re at and what you can do to keep your family safe, well-fed and secure, even if you’re “family” is only you.

Your family and home assessment
In order of priority
  1. 500 dollars in small bills (10/5/1s). Reasoning: all the electronics systems can go down. No credit/debit cards and no checks accepted. Further, when/if this happens, very few have change. If Rog went to a place and offered a 20, they’d happily take it, but couldn’t offer change. If you fill a car with $60 and need groceries, $100 or $200 doesn’t go far.
  2. Extra gas. Reasoning: Small generators and nearly all home equipment require gas. Rog ran into this immediately when trying to leave our home during this storm. The ice caused branches and a few huge trees to block the road. Only one of our two chainsaws worked (another problem), and neither had much gas. The old-timers in the community had extra gas, but it was limited.
    1. How much? Ten gallons minimum. Additional item: when he went to purchase these, the stores were out. It wasn’t until much later we would actually find/buy and fill them.
    2. Have mixed fuel tanks, diesel and gas. You never know what you/your neighbors will need. Be over prepared.
  3. Food & water. Reasoning: living is good. We didn’t believe going in debt to have food storage was smart, so we budgeted $100 per month for the two of us, our dog and two cats.
    1. Our goal: build up to one-year food supply, but start with 3 days, 2 weeks, 1 month, 3 months and just continue until we reached that point. Honestly, we never did reach one year while we lived there, capping out at about eight months, and it was a blend of 20 year, 2 year, 3 months, the spread between dehydrated, freeze dried. While I started out being scientific (order or purchasing by item etc.) that shortly gave way to pragmatism. I went with what I could find, but followed a few guidelines.
      1. Purchase 1 extra of whatever I was buying, either water, a can of food, tampons or lighters. When I reached my “goal” of an item and quantity, I stopped. It didn’t take too long to reach cans of tuna, soup, water and the like.
      2. Have a balance of short, medium and long term food and types. 1 20 year can of soup ($14.00) which gives 40 servings, or roughly enough lunches for a month for a family of two. We have three types of long-term food storage, mid-term (think freeze-dried found at Dicks and elsewhere) and short based on preferences.
      3. Use and replace. Canned food has an expiration date. Cycle through and use product so they don’t get old.
      4. Long term food. This is most commonly found in 10 lb cans. As of today, one of the brands we use, Auguson Farms, has paused orders and are 2 months back ordered, but many outdoor and supply stores still have it in stock).
  4. Alternative/back-up heat. Reasoning: gas runs out. Wood doesn’t.
    We went with a Quadafire wood burning stove for the main floor and a pellet stove for downstairs. Yes, we had to purchase dry wood in the summer, storing it under the deck, but the $250 one-time annual cost saved us $450 per month! Plus it was faster to heat the home and longer lasting, as it heated the floors, walls and multi-story lava rock fireplace.
  5. To-Go bags. When I left for college, my mother gifted me a backpack for the car, one which included the essentials for survival. While the items inside have been upgraded or replaced over time, the bag has never left my car. Ever. What do I have?
    1. Water, water purifier, first aid kit, metallic blanket, storage food, essential toiletries, cold and warm weather essentials (e.g. snake bite kit for warm weather), lighter, mini scriptures). If you don’t have the money or can’t find a purifier, you can get the tablets, commonly found in any camping or outdoor store.
    2. Necessary documents. I’m going to devote another blog to this at some point, but what you must have, either in writing or electronic to take on the go include: family photos, passport, birth certificates-either images/numbers, asset insurance paperwork (home, car, life) medical history – e.g. for your kids/relatives for school or other required materials. You can put this on a solid state storage device like a USB or smart card. I prefer a multi-use USB- it’s versatile.
my preferred USB

Home preparation is like that starting a marathon; at first it seems overwhelming, and you can’t imagine you’ll ever finish, but yet you are do, and are satisfied you made the effort. Wherever you’re at, just start. Take it one item, one shopping trip and one day at a time. And along the way, make it fun and remember the little things such as closing the drapes/blinds when it’s cold because it saves heat, or close the doors to unused rooms and make a tent bedroom in the living room. You’ll save heat, have family bonding time and sleep well knowing you are doing all you can for your family.

Interestingly, when we moved to Idaho, we had to start all over. No generator nor gas tanks, and even now, four years later, we still haven’t bit the bullet to convert our gas fireplace to a dual wood/gas. That means we still have improvements to make, and are hoping to get a few vital things buttoned up. It’s probably the rare person or family who has every element of their preparedness taken care of, but I’d hypothesize that they sleep the best of all.


The value of used

No one espouses the value of used more than my husband Rog, who was heavily influenced by his grandfather, a depression-era kid who served in World War II. The man never experienced a broken item he couldn’t fix, or a new item he couldn’t get used.

“Why spend when you can save?” he drilled into Roger’s head. The man did his job well. This is a question Rog started asking me once we were married. It was annoying and produced a dozen years of arguing, but the truth can’t be denied: used items are functional, sometimes looking perfectly new and one doesn’t pay the premium.

The Shame Game

In the world of women, most, if not all I know take pride in using the word new. It’s means: I can afford it and I’m happy to say I paid full price. Men are the opposite. They will typically volunteer: I picked it up used, with an associated caveat (low miles, barely used). They mean: I’m smart, got a good deal, and therefore saved a ton of money (which means I’m really smart).

The philosophical divide between the sexes is Grand Canyon in size. I can’t recall a time when I heard a woman say with pride: yeah! I got it used. Not a purse, jacket, jewelry or car. It’s just not done. I was recently at a dinner party where one woman noticed another driving a different car.

“Is it new?” she asked with a tinge of envy. “I’ve always wanted one.” The car in question was an Audi A7 which retails new for about 70K.

The respondent half-grimaced, half-smiled and answered, “It’s new to me.” (If you’ve never heard this phrase, you are saying, ‘no, it’s not new, but it is new to me.’)

“Oh,” the woman responded, as though she wanted to retract her original statement.

“Yeah, it’s a couple of years old,” explained the owner of the car, the luster of the new purchase fading. “My husband found it for me.”

In our modern-day world of putting the word shaming before or after anything, we might just call this Used-Shaming. It may not be intentional, but it happens ever so subtly. Having been there myself, I throw the drowning woman a lifeline.

 “That’s awesome!” I said enthusiastically. “What year is it?”

She looks at me, uncertain. I can see she wants to lie but can’t. “2017” she answers.

“Great!” I continue, nodding. “You have the same body style and your husband probably saved, what, 15-20 grand?” She agrees with a bit more enthusiasm. “And he probably got the extended warranty, right?” Another nod, her light that had dimmed growing brighter. “Just think, you can take that 15K and go to Europe for a few weeks, or Bali! How awesome is that? Good for you!”

At this point, the woman is absolutely beaming, the implied criticism of the used car turned to a positive. How did I know to do that? Easy. I’ve had my own discomfort during the transition of only buying new items to purchasing used wherever I can, the notion of saving to spend elsewhere—or simply to save—a hard (and long) learned lesson which I want to share with others. My message is this: stand up, say it out loud and with pride, not shame. In other words, own it like a man. They are proud when they save money. Why should we as women any different?

Growing up poor

Humility and shame are sisters who share the same bed, but depending on what side you roll off of is what you’ll feel. One reason I argued with Rog so much is because of how I was raised. My father always insisted on new versus old. It wasn’t necessarily a warranty or quality thing. It was a point of pride that he could purchase the new version. He’d worked hard, and by darn, he deserved it and was going to spend it however he wanted.

For context, he grew upon a farm in Canada where the combine was worth far more than the modest farmhouse. He’d started milking cows as soon as he could grip and carry buckets, the 4 a.m. routing of waking continuing to this very day at 83. Dad’s entire aim in life was to save enough to get off the farm and into a better life. When he did so, he took great pride in the ability to purchase a new car, shoes or whatever he desired.

This was passed along to us, the kids. Not once do I recall my father purchasing a used item until I left for home (or after). Cars, clothes, goods—it didn’t matter. In hindsight, the undercurrent value set was that used wasn’t good enough, and this is what I carried with me. As a consequence, I was never taught to even think about purchasing at consignment or entering a used car lot. It simply never occurred to me.

Enter the man

So it was that when Rog and I hooked up, our philosophies didn’t match. Black and white, oil and water were silly comparisons. How about match and kerosene? Nuclear explosions and black rain? While Rog contended that my pride and ego overruled common sense, I argued that I’d worked hard and had the money, so why not?

The first decade of our marriage was combustible; any purchase over fifty bucks would light the flame then BOOM! Was it ever a wonder we waited until year seven to consider having children? We could barely justify the good times because the bad were so rocky. We both won and lost a few arguments, and after a while, we settled into a livable pattern. Home appliances were always purchased new, but machinery and some other items, used.

One sticking point was always cars. I’d always purchased new cars for the warranty (and I like new cars, I’ll admit), and he’d purchase used trucks. A perfect compromise. A decade later, we did an assessment, not unlike what we’d conduct at business. My cars would invariably break down after the warranty ended, requiring we continually flip the cars right before the warranty expired, incurring new costs. Compare this to Rog’s used trucks which ran almost flawlessly forever, warranty or not. At the end of a decade, we looked at the bottom line: what we’d wasted (me) vs what we could have saved or used elsewhere (Rog).

It was ugly.

I grumped. Pouted. Gnashed my teeth like Gollum but nothing changed the reality that he’d been raised one way, me another and I was either going to grow up in our relationship or I was going to grow out of it.

As I seriously ruminated about how I could still get my way, I had a visual of my future state. How was I going to justify the divorce to my family? It would go something like this: “Sorry, I just wasn’t willing to save money where it made sense. Yeah, I liked him too. Oh well.”

 Yeah. You could see who’s side they’d take on that one.

So, since my sister always says: “Give examples,” here are just a few of the recent ones because this blog has already become an epistle.

The snowblower. Needing one not long after we moved here, Rog gets on line, vomits at the four hundred price tag, but at my insistence, buys it new “because of the warranty,” I tell him. Sound advice, I contend. Just after the warranty goes out, it breaks. We go to fix it, learning that to do so will cost nearly as much as the original. He’s livid.

“Now we do it my way,” Rog states. Given the amount of snow we receive, Rog decides to upgrade to the 3K version. He calls the dealer then heads straight for Craigslist, finding one for less than half retail. He drives to an “old man’s home” an hour away. It’s shiny. It’s red. It’s hardly been used. He tests it in the snow, pays the man and comes home with it. We’ve had it for three years, and it’s worked perfectly.

The home gym. When we downsized, the area for gym equipment was half of the previous room. Rog did his research, finding the only set that would work in our home is a Bio Force, which is $2800 new. (As an aside, why do all home products seem to have a price point of about 3 grand? Do the product marketers have data supporting the notion that home owners think 5K is too high, but 2K is too low, thus equating to cheap quality and no value? Or they just say: let’s split the difference and call it good. But I digress).

Once again, Rog goes for Craigslist. Finds one in Montana owned by an older couple who apparently used it a few times then called it quits. Four hours and $1,200 later, it’s downstairs. Is it as robust and useful as the last gym set we had? Nope, but it’s a third the size and 1/5 the price of the last one as well, so a great deal.

The UTV. Back to the snow. After three years of slogging it out on the push behind snow blower, Rog had upgraded to an ATV with a plow (also purchased used, about half the price/perfect condition, and yes, off Craigslist). As he toiled away on the ATV at 5 a.m. or at midnight in his goggles and snow gear, I alternated between pride and guilt, thinking he should at least be warm.

Enter the UTV with a “deck.” This is snow parlance for a big cab, upon which one can put “trax” on, stay warm and also manage a 60-inch snow blower in the front. New, the UTV (utility terrain vehicle) is $15K. For a visual, think a 4-door wherein the windows are modifiable (can be removed/come with soft sides, the doors and roof as well (e.g. also be removed). I consider it an upgraded 70’s like dune buggy but a lot more useful. (see the video clip…going alongside used car!)

Anyway, he finds one…where else? Craigslist. Once again, an older man had used it for a year or two, placed it on-line but no takers. Rog showed up, purchased it for $8 grand, and once he washed it, found it didn’t have a single scratch. He’s convinced it didn’t sell because the man hadn’t bothered to wash it. The deck (the 60” blade) he did have to purchase new with the warranty, and I’m glad because it broke on the third use due to a manufacture issue. We’ve had the replacement for two years and it’s run perfectly.

Oh, and just so we’re clear, it’s not just “useful” items we purchase used. My road bike was picked up at the dealer because the notion of paying sticker for a two-wheel vehicle I’m going to use only during the summer made me want to vomit! I have no guilt (or shame) about riding around on an 8-year old bike, and don’t really care when someone gives me that snide look when I tell them the year. I know their remark and how it’s said reveals their outlook on life, which is fine. It’s just one I no longer share.

The truck. My daughter threw down the negatory on inheriting my car when she turns 15 (welcome to Idaho. The driving age is 15), and so we figured we’d find a used Subaru which can handle the snow. Then we went to my parents for Thanksgiving, and Rog noticed the parked truck in the driveway. It hadn’t moved since we’d arrived. Rog inquires, and Dad tells him it hasn’t been licensed or insured for six months. They don’t have a need. Rog casts me an eye, I subtly nod, and he brings it up to my daughter.

“That would be awesome!” she says. It’s used, unassuming and useful, all three items which fit the needs of where we live (American cars are definitely preferred over foreign). It also requires a new hood as the current one has rusted areas, new tires and inside carpet. Rog will likely add a few items to the outside to make it a bit more durable for this area (what self-respecting truck doesn’t have a tow-hitch, I ask you?), but even with the additions, it’s a fraction of a new truck or even a used Subaru.

What we have sold

Baby room set. As our (my) thinking evolved, so did our ability to share with others. I’d insisted on a brand-new baby room set. It was gorgeous, well-made and spendy. After daughter number two outgrew the crib, we put the crib, credenza/desk and bookshelf on Craigslist. A wonderful young couple came to the house, overjoyed with tears and gratitude they would get the entire set for a quarter of the cost. It was their first child and money was tight. On a funny note, we’d loaded the furniture in their truck only to learn they’d been locked out. Their little dog had gotten crazy in the front cab, pushing its paws on the lock. They were out of money. They couldn’t get in their car and the pregnant wife was near a meltdown. It was traumatically funny in one of those this-only-happens-to-us moments. We paid for a locksmith to come and help them out, money they surely could not have spent.  

The sink/stand. When we upgraded a bathroom, we had a perfectly good trendy, beautiful and expensive single unit. Where’d we list it? You guessed it, Craigslist. It cost us $2K, and we listed it for $200. It was gone in an hour (as was the bedroom set mentioned above).

The oven. When we moved to our current home, we replaced the all-in-one cooktop/oven. It was a commercial Electrolux, retail for about $3K (the previous homeowner is an architect from Switzerland and he’d had it imported). We sold it for $350 and it was picked up the same day it was listed.

Additionally, we have listed jet skis, a boat and other equipment—sports and household—on craigslist and always sold an item within a day. The tip and rule is this: if the item is competitively priced and in good condition, it will get multiple offers and sell within a day or two. If it’s priced too high (or is just plain odd) it won’t sell.

The transition for me wasn’t easy or fun, but it was financially sound. Once I removed my personal pride/ego and perspective from the equation, the process turned transaction. It’s a thing, I want said thing at the best price. Instead of thinking: I want it new, I began thinking of all the things I can do with the money I saved, like going on a trip. B.R. (Before Roger) I just did both. Roger was never and still isn’t a “do-both” type of guy. He’s always been: it’s one or the other. His familial DNA included creating priorities and making choices. Never once did the “having-it-all” phrase enter his vocabulary.

A country in on the financial edge

According multiple sources, 41% of adults in the US have less than $500 in savings. That means living paycheck to paycheck. Another statistic I hear constantly on Bloomberg is that the average household purchase for less than $5,000 is put on a credit card. Consumer debt is not 7% above where it was in 2007, just before the crash. All that means a balance sheet which encourages us all to spend less and save more wherever we can.

Not everyone lives or spends like the Kardashians with Bentley’s and twenty-foot trees that take four helpers to put up. And in fact, if you could, would you really do that? Wouldn’t it be more fun to put up your own tree and create memories with your family and not have to worry about getting car-jacked as you drive down the street, and heaven forbid, get a ding while grocery shopping? (Oh wait, you may not buy your own groceries if you have that kind of coin).

I have long since stopped caring what others thing of what I spend and how I spend it. The biggest example of this was moving. We consciously made the decision to downsize when we didn’t have to. We sold our old home for one price and paid cash for one half the size in a state with very low taxes, with the cost of school tuition less than half, and of course the most important factor for me, the price of chocolate dropped from $4.83 to $2.75. Now that’s good living.

The tables have turned Rog as well. Now I’m the one showing him how I waited until five days before Christmas to get a great deal, and just last night, I tell him I decided to wait another two weeks to get my hair done between coloring because that’s another $1,200 in the bank on an annualized basis. I’m rightly proud, expecting him to applaud my thought process and maturity.

“No, it’s not,” he retorted, staring hard at me. “I know what you’re thinking.”

 “You’re right,” I smirked, knowing I’d been caught. “That’s another week in Europe.”

For all my intentions and efforts, I too have a trade-off equation I apply to nearly every decision involving money. This-for-that. Sometimes it’s savings. Sometimes is spending. But at least I’m thinking of it consciously, and with intent, which is not something I was taught, but had to learn over. And over. And over. Now I’m a believer in financial frugality that Dave Ramsey followers seem to have; a zeal that encourages me to stand up be one of the few who proudly state used is good, savings are better and travel is the best. I guess I still have a little room to grow.

Financial freedom: say it, do it, live it

Sometimes we can’t make the right decisions for ourselves, so it’s made for us

When I’ve seen people traipsing all over, in a trailer, boat or plane, I’ve sometimes thought: how do they afford that? Is it a one-time thing, a trip of a lifetime, or is it a normal occurrence, like going to the grocery store? Have they gone in to debt to take the trip, or are their parent’s paying for it? More often then not, Rog and I have shaken our heads in wonder, unable to make sense of the contradiction we’d see between how people live their lives and the vacations they take. Perhaps you are wondering how we approach travel, and savings as well? Do we put it on a credit card, take lots of pics with smiling faces then spend the next five years paying off the credit card?

Not to go all Dave Ramsey on you, but our philosophy on discretionary spending and savings in general is probably one of the reasons Rog and I are still together, 21 years later. I’m going to share our experiences and philosophy for one purpose: help keep you worry free as we approach what will surely be another bust in the economy, because I wouldn’t wish our experience on anyone.

The backstory

In my twenties, I had a solid corporate career before starting my own business. I bought clothes, watches, took trips and when I met Roger, faced the look of shock and horror when I revealed my savings account had basically nothing in it after a decades’ worth of effort.

“No home?” he asked in disbelief. Nope. “Cars paid for?” Nah. I lease, because it’s a tax write-off. “Stock?” Sure, I proudly replied. Lots of that.

His own background was the polar opposite. A poor upbringing. First person in his family to attend college, paying for it as he went along. Purchased his first home by working two jobs while doing his graduate work. No vacations, no new cars, because “why lose all that value the moment you drive off the lot?” he asked rhetorically.

When our two, type-A selves merged, we invested in a fixer-upper, which is where we put our money and time. We constantly traveled domestic and internationally for work, and the last thing we wanted to do was get on a plane at the end of the week. We wanted to be home, working in the yard or painting the walls.

After a couple of years, I had sufficiently worked on Rog to relax the stringent financial guidelines he’d always adhered to. We leased cars and took four-day vacations to Mexico every six weeks. When it came time to remodel, we contacted our accountant.

“Use the banks money, not your own,” he advised. That sounded like a great idea. We left our stock our where it was, treating it as both savings and retirement plan, taking out a substantial mortgage. And diversifying? Nope, not for us.

“Why would we invest in (low-risk) bonds when we will make a much higher return in the stock market?” Rog asked me. I agreed. This was logical and consistent with those around us. We all worked all the high technology sector, our profile for risk taking perfect for the volatility of the stock market.

Times were good. Always wanting the highest return on our money, we maintained only a couple thousand in our checking account, enough to pay household bills. Charge it! was our motto. We thought ourselves properly smart to pay off our credit card bills every month. That was enough, right?

Financial hardship is the great equalizer

We were on vacation in Mexico when I suggested to Rog we should consider diversifying by cashing out a chunk of stock and just put the money in the bank. I had a feeling that was causing me unease, and I just couldn’t shake it. It will give us peace of mind, I argued.

“What do we need that for?” he asked in response, shaking his head. We were a part of the 80’s generation who had benefited from the economic good times, and then the secondary uplift from the technology super nova of the 90s. My conviction wavered and I let it drop. That next weekend, the stock market burst.

At first, Rog didn’t believe the market crash was more than a hiccup, so he didn’t sell. With each passing hour, he concluded that we truly would be left with nothing, and executed some lightening fast trades. It was just enough to cover half of the remaining work on our home. What wasn’t covered was the massive hole in the ground meant to be a new kitchen, half the deck and the rest of the property, which resembled an abandoned construction site.

We sat, stunned in disbelief. Our collective efforts of the last decade was gone, and it had happened in 48 hours.

A change of attitude and of life

We had no savings. We had no stock, ergo, no retirement. We had not one, but two mortgages on our home. We had three cars, all leased. We were screwed. Fighting against our regret, we were thankful that we were both still employed, but even that didn’t last long. Two months later, Rog left the very company he started after disagreements with the board. He retained his stock options, but what good were they? Their value was less than toilet paper; at least that had a use and we could get our hands on it. And those credit cards we’d used to charge the latest set of travel? Sky high, because it was mid-month. We had yet to pay the recent bill.

So, there we were, starting over again. We lost some hair, quite a bit of our sex life and our relationship was in trouble as we faced self-hateration and recrimination towards each other as we faced complete financial devastation for the first time in our eight-year marriage.

Our debt strategy for crawling out of the pit of financial despair

After we stopped fighting and decided that yes, we still wanted to be together and yes, it would be worse to split up and face the mountain of debt individually than together, pragmatism and a little love united. We vowed that we would never, EVER, be in that financial situation again. On a scratch piece of paper at the kitchen counter, here’s what we decided.

Rule 1: pay cash

Hearkening back to his previous existence, we agreed that if we needed anything, we wouldn’t purchase it on credit, either in-house or card, but cash. The first test came when our (old) dryer failed. My pleading turned into tears but Rog was unbending. We had made a deal, so I sucked it up and went without a dryer for a few weeks until we had the money for a new one.

The second and harder test was six months later when the lease on my car expired. We had six grand in the bank by that time. The best car we could afford was a 10 year-old black, diesel long-bed pick up truck. Do you have any idea how hard it is to park a long bed pick up in the middle of town? Furthermore, in a progressive city outside Seattle, I would literally get yelled at for driving a “dirty diesel” when I should have spent the $80K on an electronic car. I bit my lip and ignored whoever was yelling at me.

Rule 2: No travel and no exceptions

For almost four years, we missed every holiday, birthday, wedding and party for every and all family members and friends. We declined any invitation that was outside a fifty-mile radius of our home. That meant visiting the coast of Seattle was out. So was skiing; our first passion.

As you can imagine, we didn’t win any friends during this time, and mostly lost the ones we had. We were too prideful to tell anyone what had happened, even our family members, some of who thought the worst (e.g. we were just jerks). Only much later did we realize that perhaps they were going through the same thing.

Rule 3: Set pride aside and take extra jobs

Since our first priority was our children and child care was expensive, I’d immediately gotten on the phone with former clients who wouldn’t mind me moonlighting for a discount. With a toddler and baby at my breast (e.g. still nursing) I ended up taking black-box projects I could complete in between my feeding schedule. All hours, all days, whatever it took, I did it. Little by little, our empty account started to fill up.

Rule 4: No clothes, no eating out, no discretionary items

I felt I’d been confined to the hell of wealthy poverty. It was the only phrase I could come up with to describe our situation. We had the image of wealth (cars, home, clothes) but were so laden with debt we were in complete and utter poverty, barely able to pay the bills.

Writer’s pause. I recognize that at this point, you’re saying: Awesome! She clearly needed that, and you know what? I totally agree. We had gone against every principle of provident living: have savings (6-12 months), a week or more of food storage “just in case of a job loss situation,” as Mom always counseled. Pay cash for home and other essentials (time immemorial). Every last good piece of wisdom cast aside. As Thomas S. Monson once said, “When the time to prepare comes, it is already too late.”

We got to learn that first hand.

When you least expect it, or no longer need it….

Like the rest of the country, the first four or five years after the crash were the hardest. Yet over time, Rog bounced back and my consulting work was steady. We obsessed about being debt free. By 2013, we had paid off everything including one of the two mortgages. Still, we maintained our policy: no new cars, new vacations and no discretionary items. In fact, we had become somewhat tiresome to everyone around us because their image of us was really boring. The singular time I suggested to Roger we “reward ourselves” for saving and being so prudent, he gave me a rather disappointed look.

“We don’t reward our stupidity,” he told me.

As we rolled into year seven, we were steady: paying the mortgage, being militant about saving; each week, a little more. Eventually, the long-bed truck was traded for a…wait for it…3 year old used diesel short bed truck. When people asked why we didn’t purchase a new car, I’d repeat a line born of my own experiences. “I spent my twenties getting in in debt, my thirties getting out of debt and my forties paying cash.”

The vacations eventually resumed, but they meant staying the western states and in a trailer we had purchased on a good deal. After being stuck in our debt-laden prison for years, “trailering” as I call it, felt like a luxury. We were also able to finish the addition that had been halted years before, adding on the deck that had been little more than protruding nails and a pit waiting for the dining room. Not that I was complaining. At least during this time we didn’t miss a funeral, so it could have been a lot worse.

Then all of sudden, the company Rog had formed years before sold. Out of the blue, all our financial worries were gone for good. So what did we do? Absolutely nothing. We’d been so traumatized from losing it all we wanted to ensure we never again fell into the trappings of our previous life. That meant no vacations or new cars. After a month, when we were sure the money wasn’t going away (and the money hit the bank account)) we paid off our remaining mortgage.

It’s not downsizing, it’s rightsizing

After that, we started another round of soul-searching. We’d proven we could live on less and be happy. Our family of four and a dog didn’t really need a good size house, as nice as it was. Furthermore, we realized our kids would fall into the same trap we had if we didn’t seriously overhaul our lifestyle, which meant location as much as it meant home. We began making plans to move from the city to somewhere more rural. We also decided to get rid of certain legacy assets we had held on to because the overhead of keeping them up no longer fit our personal financial strategy (think a boat). We told ourselves if we forced ourselves to have smaller closets and storage, we’d not be inclined to fill up the extra room with more “stuff.” (And just think, this was years before Marie Kondo).

So it was, and is, that we chose Idaho, because the home we found, the nearest town and all that surrounds it embodies what we now knew we had to teach our girls. You can’t talk about living small-scale unless you do it. It’s hard to justify being prudent with three Christmas trees in your garage, sitting beside thirteen pumpkins and boxes of lights. Without storage space, “the stuff,” goes to Goodwill, and for us, the noise, the clutter and the overhead went with it.

One other funny twist of fate was that just before the downturn, I’d written The Overlooked Expert: Turning Your Skills Into a Successful Business. While I’d thought my consulting days were behind me, I ended up turning back to the very skills that had helped me in the first place.

Finally….yes, finally, we felt comfortable traveling again, and in 2014, that’s what we started doing. We made a family decision that instead of things, we were going to invest in experiences, so we have taken votes on where to go and let our map be our guide. We had long since set out our financial plan, and we created a revised version to fit with our updated life. It’s literally a spreadsheet of the next twenty years comprised of the following:

a) necessities (food budget)
b) required items (heat),
c) gas for the cars,
d) required clothing budget,
e) taxes and the like.

We put in a “discretionary” line item which included travel, and if that got eaten up by an unexpected cost like a broken pipe or car issue, the travel was wiped out. We never increased the budget. No. Matter. What. Thus, the years we have traveled overseas, it was within our budget. Other years, we made different decisions for the family, but the budget amount never changed. This has allowed to sleep more and worry less.

You the know the ultimate irony is that during the time we were living in wealthy poverty, everyone around us thought we had it all, because you know, this is the society in which we live. It’s all about outward appearances. Then when we changed our lifestyle, rightsizing on purpose and with intention, everyone wondered (and sometimes even voiced) the notion we’d hit skid row, and were being forced to downsize. We weren’t going to justify ourselves, other than to say we wanted to live stress free. The response was usually some sort of sympathetic look and head nod. Rog and I would, and still do, keep our mouths shut and hold hands, mentally or physically, strong in the knowledge we still have our hair and are sleeping really great at night. People can think whatever they want, because when we travel, or buy something, its paid for.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, we still have the white diesel truck. As I told Rog, “why would we want to buy a new one and lose half the value the minute we drive off the lot?”

I guess I have learned something after all.

From renters to homeowners: transferring your bees

Once you have your new set of bees (either purchased on line, or better yet, from a local beekeeper), it’s time to transfer the renters from their temporary home to the permanent one. To see the entire 3.5 min video (condensing 30 min) click here.

Getting your money back: one reason to transfer

Why not leave them in the one provided by the bee keeper you ask? It might surprise you to know that most bee keepers put about $50 into their “temp bee homes,” and this is included in purchase price. So, if you don’t car about the money, it’s a non-issue, but most bee keepers want the hive back. So once transferred, you go back for your $50. Second to this is a consistent look and function. Specifically, Roger reduced the size of the front. This means the guardian bees have a smaller opening to protect from the wasps, who want to raid the hive for honey (a common issue).

Step one- don the right underclothing

I’m not into getting stung, so I wear a bee suit, and no, I don’t go commando. I wear my lightweight, Athleta gear, which is breathable, wicks, and above all, it’s made from 85% recyclable material. I could go on about doing my part for the environment, but I’d lose you at “the,” so I’ll leave it at this: I’m not going to work hard to live sustainably if I then turn around and don’t try my best to do the same with my clothes. The long sleeve, zip up top I’m wearing in high teal is this one. The pants aren’t sold on-line but you can go to your local Athleta store- the closest to me is Spokane, and your items can be ordered by phone, same price.

Step two-Zip the suit

You’d not believe how many friends (fellow bee-hivers) don’t zip all the way, missing that last, little spot on the back of your neck! Can you imagine how awful it would be to have a really pissed off bee inside your suit? It’s like that old Star Trek film where Sulu gets the worm put in his ear by Kahn. Gerrr—rose.

Step three- smoke the bees

The first year, I went smokeless. I rationalized that it would be akin to giving my bees drugs. (I was told that the bees go slightly dizzy and that just felt wrong). When the bees swarmed me, it was like a bad, B-movie, a thousand hunter bees all attacking my head. It was a good thing I’m not claustrophobic and had faith in my outfit because I was a little on the edge when this swarm attacked my face. Fortunately, I made it through 100% unscathed, but learned a lesson. There’s a reason bee keepers use smoke. This time around, I purchased a smoker, and inside, stuffed a bunch of needles and lit it up.

As you can see in the video, I had less than a dozen bees even approach me. They were preoccupied.In the year since, I learned that the bees actually think the hive is on fire, they “swarm” inside the hive, flapping their wings like mad, trying to put out the fire. This, scientists hypothesize, makes them slightly dizzy. Whatever the case, the bees were perhaps twenty-percent as crazy as last year. I only had a few land on me then buzz away. Contrast this with last year, when I literally had a probably a hundred landing on my face mask. It was downright spooky.

Step four-transferring the bees

Already in the permanent hive (set on two level, cement blocks) was a 2-gallon container full of equal parts water and sugar which I had made. This gives the bees the boost they need if the area doesn’t have enough sources of pollen. (most pre-assembled hives come with the plastic, 2-gallon container. All you need to do is make the mixture). When transferring the trays, the trick is to gently separate the trays and locate the queen. Ours came with a green dot on her back, placed by the originating bee keeper. Once you can see she’s alive and healthy, down the tray goes into the middle of the stack.

Step five- adding the pollen pack

This is another way to boost production. In our area, spring was a little late in coming this year, and our area doesn’t have a ton of sources of pollen. That’s one reason to get the bees in the first place! This pack goes on the top of the trays, then the two upper lids are replaced.

Bee back in 30 days to check the honey

Last year, we had a good amount of honey after a month. Because we started so late in the summer, we didn’t harvest it. Instead, we left it for the winter. When we checked it at the end of fall, we had approximately forty pounds. That was only from a single hive. This year, we are doubling down, so I’ll be back in thirty with a report on the yield.

If you never thought you could own bees, take heart. Neither did I, thereby once again justifying my motto: if I can do you, you can do it too!

Feature image: a top picture of 20K bees happily hovering in their new abode.

Discarding food storage

A sunny day in Seattle is to be cherished. Adored like a bright, glimmering object that, like Cinderella in a bubble, will suddenly burst and leave us with a dirty floor and clouds. It is not a time to be squandered, indulgently spent indoors, downstairs, in the food storage room.

Yet today it was.

rotten tomatoes Old food: A fact of food storage life
Old food stinks in any form

There is a backstory. With me, there always is. I’ve recently been asked to visit a woman who has been through some trying times. She and her husband, both accountants, are preparing to send their only daughter off to college, live in a lovely home and in their late forties/early fifties. Over warm banana bread, she revealed that her husband recently landed a job after being unemployed for three years. Through savings and a lot of food storage, they had made it through the first year and a half, relatively unscathed. After that, they had no money for food.

“When you are choosing between the mortgage and food, you choose the mortgage.”

Their church welfare system helped out, making up the difference in food supplies. Her income afforded the basic necessities of utilities gas etc. Beyond the fact that I’d lived in complete oblivion of her situation (from the outside, I’d never have guessed, unless she’d confided in me), I was amazed she had stored away enough food for a solid year and a half. Enough for two adults, one child, two pets, and relatives that had come to stay at her home due to dire circumstances of their own.

Today after church, as Rog took the chitlens to the park, I passed on the gratiutous suntanning on the lawn an opted for the task of taking an accounting of my own food storage. I’d been preening to my mother about having a full six months of wet food (can soups and the like) and a year of dry goods (flour, oatmeal, dried eggs and milk etc).

“And what to my wondering eyes did appear, a whole lot of bad, near-exploding flood, instead of eight, shiny reindeer.”

I was mortified to learn that the majority of my cans had not been rotated in a VERY long time (some dated back to 2003). While lots of vegies, fruits and soups were in the last year, a couple of gems were near to exploding, the metal siding pushing out like Santa after a post-Christmas gorge-fest.

As I pulled and dumped the offending items, I wondered what in the world to do with them. Local food banks? Nope. They won’t accept food past the expiration date. Save for the worst-case scenario. “If you have no food and you are starving, you’ll eat anything.” So said my mother, who returned my call while on her vacation to speak to me like a true Swedish mother.

I looked on line for a few resources, that reiterated what we know about old food storage (losing taste etc, inability to cook right etc), but not what to do with the pounds and pounds of out of date food.

“Chuck it,” said Rog.

I did the only thing a green-minded person can do. I forced myself to open each one, rinse and clean, then separate the cans and glass to be recycled. Let me tell you. Do NOT do this without either holding your breath or wearing a gas mask. Safety first. When I talk to mom next, I’ll tell her my thoughts. I’m not going to eat something I can’t stand the smell of, human food included. I’d rather starve.

72 hour kits and EPKit checklist

Emergency Food Storage & Survival Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Family Safe in a CrisisMarch is emergency preparedness month. In case you haven’t noticed, the weather is doing it’s thing, all across the country. Thanks to the nifty site Long Range Weather Forecasting, it’s easy to see what’s going to hit a particular region for the coming year. Now is the time to get serious about 72 hour kits for the house and the car(s). (I’m writing this because our power has gone out 3x in the last 24 hrs due to storms. We are fortunate to have an automatic generator, but we still have our 72 hour kit at the ready in case that thing dies on us)

Quakehold! 70280 Grab-n-Go Emergency Kit, 2-Person 3-Day Back PackWhat goes in a 72hr kit?

Basics like water, food, a blanket, flashlight, hygenic requirements if any. Over the years, I’ve added to the kits, including a fresh change of clothes for each person in the family. The goal of course, is to have the72 hour kit somewhere that’s easy to get to in case of a catastrophe. First aid kit is a must, as well as extra fuel, if not in the kit, to the side. A basic set will run you about $42 bucks for two people. If you have a larger fam, you should make your own, or build off one of the all-inclusive packages. (see more at the bottom of this blog)

She just gave me 2 new links…honeyvillagegrains.com and efoodsdirect.com

I purchased the Food Storage and Survival Handbook a while back, and about 1x 6 mo, re-read it to make sure I’m up to speed. I also go through my food storage, clear out the old stuff, and rotate the old to the front to keep it fresh.

Where to put it?
Garage vs inside the house. If the house gets crushed by a tree (our neighbors a few years back), having the kit inside does no good. Alternatively, the garage burn down (a friend’s garage 3 mo ago), isn’t the perfect solution. A storage shed? That’s the ticket, according to our next door neighbors. They have a locked shed that’s easy to open and get the kit out in flash.

Car vs indoor
I do both. Cars break down in the middle of nowhere so best be prepared. When I was 16, I was with my mom and little sister, who was 6 at the time. We were on our way back from vacation, in the middle of nowhere, and the car died. Dirt road, back woods–seriously scary. We started walking, mom and I alternating carrying my sister. After about 12 miles, a family member came in search for us, and saved the day. However, we were helped along by the water from the packs in the survival kit, as well as a flashlight but no bandaids. I still remember mom’s poor toes, all red and bloody, because she was wearing flip flops. Now, all my emergency prep units have bandaids and antiseptic (plus bug repellent).

With El Nina still at it, we have another 2-3 months to go at least where EPK are required. For those in the south, it’s nearly year-round…winter storms, then hurricane season…you name it. Do yourself and your fam a favor by investing in a kit. It may save your life.

Food and Water(A three day supply of food and water, per person, when no refrigeration or cooking is available)

  • Protein/Granola Bars
  • Trail Mix/Dried Fruit
  • Crackers/Cereals (for munching)
  • Canned Tuna, Beans, Turkey, Beef, Vienna Sausages, etc (“pop-top” cans that open without a can-opener might not be a good idea, read this warning from one site visitor.)
  • Canned Juice
  • Candy/Gum (warning: Jolly Ranchers can melt and using mint gum might make everything taste like mint. See the comments from the blog post, 72 Hour Kit Warning, comment #11)
  • Water (1 Gallon/4 Liters Per Person)

Bedding and Clothing

  • Change of Clothing (short and long sleeved shirts, pants, jackets, socks, etc.)
  • Undergarments
  • Rain Coat/Poncho
  • Blankets and Emergency Heat Blanks (that keep in warmth)
  • Cloth Sheet
  • Plastic Sheet

Fuel and Light

  • Battery Lighting (Flashlights, Lamps, etc.) Don’t forget batteries!
  • Extra Batteries
  • Flares
  • Candles
  • Lighter
  • Water-Proof Matches

Equipment

  • Can Opener
  • Dishes/Utensils
  • Shovel
  • Radio (with batteries!)
  • Pen and Paper
  • Axe
  • Pocket Knife
  • Rope
  • Duct Tape
  • Personal Supplies and Medication
    • First Aid Kit and Supplies
    • Toiletries (roll of toilet paper- remove the center tube to easily flatten into a zip-lock bag, feminine hygiene, folding brush, etc.)
    • Cleaning Supplies (mini hand sanitizer, soap, shampoo, dish soap, etc. Warning: Scented soap might “flavor” food items.)
    • Immunizations Up-to Date
    • Medication (Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, children’s medication etc.)
    • Prescription Medication (for 3 days)
  • Personal Documents and Money
    • Genealogy Records
    • Legal Documents (Birth/Marriage Certificates, Wills, Passports, Contracts, etc)
    • Vaccination Papers
    • Insurance Policies
    • Cash
    • Credit Card
    • Pre-Paid Phone Cards
  • Miscellaneous
    • Bag(s) to put 72 Hour Kit items in (such as duffel bags or back packs, which work great) Make sure you can lift/carry it!
    • Infant Needs (if applicable)

Emergency Preparedness-The First 24 hours

I must have a death wish. Or a desire to be near a catastrophe. Nothing else explains why I live in a veritable Bermuda triangle of potential natural disasters.

Day 1-fun times, great pics

“We have potentials for an earthquake (the fault lines), volcanic eruptions (Mt. Rainier), mudslides and flooding (everywhere) and tsunamis (the coastline),” said the Fire chief of the City of Issaquah. Twelve of us women sat with pencils and notebooks, as if we were going to save our communities and selves if any of these were to occur. “Worse, we aren’t allowed to get to you if you happen to live in a small neighborhood.”

At that point, I should have got my sweatpant-wearing self off the chair and left the room. For what was the point? I thought. My tiny 16-home community wasn’t even officially incorporated. We are on a community well that barely has enough power to satisfy daily requirements.

When me and my siblings earned our driver’s license, my mom put a 72-hour backpack in our car. It was for “emergencies,” she said. It had food, one of those shiny blankets that could withstand arctic temperatures. Wipes. Toilet paper and scissors. Aspirin and gauze. You name, that backpack had it. I kept in my car for twenty years, periodically changing the battery on the flashlight and rotating out the food.

Mom also had a two year supply of food in the basement, ready to go at a moments notice should the next seven-year drought occur (next following the first, as noted in the Bible a’la Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors fame). That too, was good advice. I keep a three-month supply of food in the downstairs laundry room and have three fridges. Rog is a supporter because he grew up with little food, and as a result is a bit of a food horder, thus the recent addition of a squat freezer in the garage.

I had my 72 hour kit, I told the chief, a generator and some food. I felt pretty good, I said.

The first chief looked at me with a bit of pity. “We won’t get to your home for at least two to four weeks if we have a real emergency.” In that time, he said, I’d likely have no heat, no water, no gas, run out of food, the gas stations would be dry, the grocery stores locked due to no lighting, and we’d be in a world of hurt.

“Get yourself a first response program,” he advised all in the room. “Do it now.”

Day 9-irritating, have to move
to the trailer-out of wood for the stove
and gas for the generator

That lecture was given six years ago, and in that time, the area has indeed had flooding and multiple power outages, some lasting nearly three weeks. We were lucky, as in, prepared. We had a lot of gas, two generators (a primary and a backup) but we learned a few things. The first is that our home cranks through a LOT of gas on a generator. We cut down heat everywhere, lit our handy-dandy camping lights and used the ovens sparingly. However, two weeks in to a power outage two years ago (where we had 3 feet of snow btw), we’d have been toast had it not been for a travel trailer we’d purchased on a whim. That thing ran for weeks on two small tanks of propane. We ditched our home to live in our driveway, cozy and cramped, until the state of emergency had ended.

The fire chief had been right on everything else. We had no gas (it eventually ran out), and we heard that no gas stations were open due to lack of electricity. The grocery stores were closed, the motels full up (those that had electricity that is) and entire swaths of high-rise apartments requiring propane were ice cold. Our small community had one more challenge, and that was we couldn’t make it down our steep hill, paved though it was. As an unincorporated road, the city was under no obligation to maintain it. It was over a week until the first cars made it down. (Side note: we have tractors up here, almost all homes have at least 1 4wheel drive, but it didn’t matter. The road was simply dangerous).

Day 15-no snow melt and we
are stir crazy but warm in the trailer
watching Disney movies

As uncomfortable as we were, some neighbors had it worse. At least we retained the wood burning fireplace in our home, and it while we remained inside, the house was very toasty. (but we were dumb. We hadn’t stocked up enough wood and went through what we had within days). Neighbors with neither wood-burning nor another alternative were literally freezing, and huddled up with us and one another. It was quite an eye-opener.

Since that time, State of Washington created a program called Map Your Neighborhood. Statistically speaking, most deaths occur in the first 24 hours after a disaster–the very time when response crews and personnel are completely overwhelmed.

MYN created a video to talk about the ways a “neighborhood” defined as 15-25 homes, can prepared. Although not all states have such a program, this one is easy to implement anywhere in the world. Actual materials can be purchased–and by materials, I’m talking the booklet that is a step-by-step checklist of the neighborhood requirements (e.g. chainsaw, generator etc).

Imagine if the folks in Chile had been able to band together after the recent disaster. This inevitably happened when the looting and rioting took over as the disaster overwhelmed the police and fireman. Much of the world lives in areas prone to the devastating forces of nature. Being prepared now can save lives.

A few highlights of the program and how-to:
1-hold a mtg w/the neighborhood homeowners/renters etc. (this works just as well w/apartments/condos/etc)

2-go through the checklist and identity the available tools and skills (who is handy with a welder, who has chainsaws to cut down trees etc)

3-assign “leaders” for critical check items. For instance, one person double-checks all the natural gas in the homes have been turned off. This is a huge risk factor that can wipe out homes and families in one explosion. Another key assignment is a ‘safe home’ suitable for the elderly or children, if relevant. Back-up power, heat, food storage etc are other critical components.

4-review when and where to place the Need Help sign found in the MYN booklet. This page can be torn out and pasted on a window in front. It immediately identifies to other neighbors and/or emergency personnel if you are in need.

5-hold annual meetings to update the information, ensure tools are working and in good condition (generators in particular).

It’s not very time consuming, and I’m a major advocate of this program. I’m currently working to deploy this through community associations and church organizations as a means to getting neighborhoods on board. It’s a small effort for a major, life-saving result. The key is to do it before the disaster strikes.