Are Necessities Dragging Us Down?

We were driving around town between errands on that Saturday morning when Duane opened up another can of worms, figuratively speaking, of course.

“I’ll tell you what, guys,” said Duane. “It’s getting so a guy can hardly make a decent living these days. It’s not easy living the American dream. Diane’s got some big plans for remodeling the basement, but it puts a pinch on the old wallet. Know what I mean?”

“Is this something you have to do?” Survival Sam asked.

“It’s something we’d like to do,” Duane said. “Fortunately, we were able to get a second mortgage before things got really tight. It’s tough to make ends meet these days, and you guys know we don’t live like millionaires.”

“I wonder,” began Sam, “if either of you heard the business program I heard on the radio a little while back. The so-called expert they interviewed had some insightful comments.”

We both shook our heads.

“They featured a short interview with some Ivy League economics professor who has made a career of studying consumer debt and spending habits. It was a revelation to me. According to this prof, it’s not lavish consumerism that’s dragging down many Americans. It’s the big stuff, like mortgages, health insurance, daycare, and having to keep up with owning two cars.

“I can relate to that,” Duane said.

“How much do you suppose families could save if they didn’t send their kids to daycare, cut out that second job, and didn’t have that second car to pay for, with all the car insurance to boot,” pondered Sam. “It’s time to reconsider priorities and learn to live on less.”

“Who’s going to seriously change their priorities like that?? Asked Duane. “it takes a lot just to get by these days.”

“I’ve heard of people paying for groceries and gas on their credit cards,” I said, “because they don’t have enough to go around.”

“Besides,” Duane said, “what about the problem of paying for heavy hitters like health insurance? A guy’s got to take care of his family somehow. People need that second job to pay for that. I mean, I’ve known several people who’ve had to make major changes to their health insurance because the premiums are going through the roof. Some don’t have any at all. Then there are those who have insurance and still get buried by medical bills. How many families have you heard of where medical bills forced them into bankruptcy?”

“Sure, these things do indeed happen,” Sam said. “We don’t live in a friendly world. It boils down to a question we all should be asking ourselves. What’s really necessary? I mean really necessary. When it comes to the bare necessities, what do we really need for survival?”

“I think Duane’s right,” I said. “Food, shelter, and just keeping the house warm or cool these days all cost so much.”

“I hear what you’re both saying. The economics professor is concerned that people are being priced out of living the American dream. We may see a major shift in how our society functions, whether we like it or not.”

Sam paused to negotiate traffic. “You know, this reminds me of a story I heard told many years ago. There’s a lesson in it for all of us.”

“Do tell,” Duane said.”

“Well, a young man goes to the banker for financial counseling. The banker says, ‘you need to see the old man who lives on the hill at the edge of town. He’ll teach you how to be conservative with your finances.’ It’s dusk when the young man arrives at the old man’s small, plain house, but he doesn’t see any lights on. He knocks hesitantly on the door. When the old man lets him in, he sees a lone candle burning on the kitchen table. He tells the old man why he’s there. The old man thinks a minute, then says, ‘All right. But this is going to take a while,’ and he blows out the candle.”

Change for Life

“I’m sorry for the interruption, Sally,” Diane said as she sat back down at the table across from Survival Sally. “Seems like the phone rings when you least want it or expect it.”

“I know what you mean,” said Sally. “I was just about to tell you how to make your dollars go farther so you can buy preparedness items.” She took another sip of tea.

“Oh, yes. I’m going to write down your ideas.”

“I’m afraid a dollar isn’t worth much these days, and it doesn’t look like things will be getting any better for a while. Did you know a dollar today is worth about 12 cents compared to what you could buy with a dollar in 1950?”

“That’s awful,” said Diane.

“Here’s a fun way to actually hear the sound of some cold, hard, metal cash clinking. I know how the kids would like to hear that in their piggy banks. Do your kids have piggy banks, or is that too old fashioned?”

“We’ve been giving them allowances, which they spend when we go shopping. And we’ve been putting money into a college fund for them,” said Diane.

“Well, try this out. The next time any of you makes a purchase using cash, put aside the coins you get back in change. I’m sure you don’t put everything on your debit card.” Diane nodded in agreement. “Start by putting those coins in a jar when you get back home. Keep doing this each day and you’ll be surprised how much change you have on hand in a week or a month.”

“That’s a great idea, Sally.”

“Then be prepared when Tarzan asks, “’What do with money?’” They both laughed. “In fact, just be prepared. You know, like the Boy Scout motto. Only this time you’re being prepared for you and your family.”

“I like the sound of that,” said Diane.

“You can put that glorious change toward a few LED flashlights and batteries for when the lights go out. Start a survival shopping list. There are companies specializing in preparedness and several books with checklists already made up to help you get started. Buy a camping stove and propane tank. After all, how will you cook your freeze dried food when the power goes out this winter, and you can’t even turn on your so-called gas stove?”

“Yes, we women have to think about these things, don’t we?”

“The change you put by could literally be something that will save your life,” Sally said. “If you get the kids doing it too, you’ll develop a good money saving habit. Since this might one day help with your own survival, call it your Change For Life. Didn’t think a dollar could make much of a difference, did you?”

Pop Challenge

            “Sally,” Diane said, “I’ve heard you and Sam say we should have some storage food put by or other things to help us be more prepared, but it seems like we have such a hard time saving any money.  Duane doesn’t want a major upheaval in the budget either.  Do you have any suggestions?”


            “Sure, dear,” Survival Sally began.  “I can think of a couple simple things, and they’re both easy to do.  No doubt you’ve heard financial appeals on the radio or TV.  They say something like, ‘For about the same price you’d pay each day for a soda pop or cup of fancy coffee, you can help such and such a cause.’  We’re bombarded with messages like that.  It can be overwhelming because there are a lot of great organizations and causes out there, and, of course, you’re free to support the ones you think are worthy.”


            “Yes, I know what you mean,” said Diane.  She took a sip of her tea.


            “Well,” Sally continued, “what if I said it’s time to help your own cause.  The next time you’re thirsty for your favorite soda pop or coffee, get a glass of water, since it’s better for you anyway, and put aside the change you would have spent.  Get the kids involved, too.  Make it a family project.  After a month or two, Diane, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ve been able to put aside.”


            “That’s a really good idea, Sally, but it will take a lot of self discipline, won’t it?”


            “Yes, but that’s money you can put toward something that could be a literal life saver in a pinch.”


            “Makes sense when you put it that way,” said Diane.


            “Start with small goals at first.  Save for a 72 hour survival kit for home or car.  When you think you’ve got enough, break out that pop money.  You’ll be well rewarded for your self discipline in due time.”


            “What’s your second idea?”


            “It’s a nifty way to stretch a dollar,” said Sally.


            Just then the phone rang.  “Oh, I’m sorry, Sally, let me get that.”

Survival of the Cattest

            “It was nice of you to invite me over while the men are out on this fine Saturday morning, Diane,” Survival Sally said as she sat down at the kitchen table.


            “I thought we could just visit a while,” Diane said.  “This is a good time, too, since the kids are still asleep.  I’ve got some cinnamon rolls in the oven now, which they can have when they wake up.”


            “They smell good, too,” Sally said as she began searching through her purse.  “Here’s a bottle of stevia liquid I bought for you at the health food store the other day.”


            “What’s stevia?”


            “It’s a natural sweetener made from stevia leaves, and it’s better than those artificial sugar substitutes.  It’s highly concentrated and much stronger than sugar.  Just a drop or two in a cup of tea is all you need.  Sam and I really like it in hot cereal in the mornings, too.”


            “Thank you Sally.  That was, well, sweet of you.”  They both laughed.  “I’ll fix us each a cup of tea and we can try it.”


            Just then a bblack and white cat brushed Sally’s leg.  “Hi, kitty, how are you this morning?’  Sally reached down to pet it.


            “Schroeder’s probably been sleeping with one of the kids and staying out of Sparky’s way.”


            “Oh, yes, terriers can be rambunctious at times, can’t they?” sally said.


            “Schroeder and Sparky actually get along better than you’d think, but they do have their moments.  They bring a little extra life to the house, as if Jenny and Bryce didn’t liven things up enough.”


            “They sure love to play don’t they?  Ours loves to play with the plastic rings off gallon milk jugs.   He’s sure fun to watch,” Sally said.  “Cats have an incredible survival instinct.  It’s no wonder people say they have nine lives.”


            “Yes,” Diane said.  “Schroeder prolongs his life because he’s good at hiding in the strangest, most out of the way places.”


            “Cats know how how to use fear to their advantage, don’t they?” observed Sally.  “Sam says we should be more like them.  They prick up their ears at every little thing.  They seem to always be on guard.  When they feel threatened, boy, can they run!”


            “It seems like they eat and sleep mostly.”


            “Sam says we should be more like cats in that way, too.  Look at all the things cats don’t care about.  They’re so focused on themselves.  They sleep it off when they’re hurt or sick, too.  I don’t know about you, but I could use a cat nap now and then.”


            Diane laughs softly.  “Oh, of course.  The kids run me ragged sometimes.”  She sets a cup of tea in front of Sally.  Here you go.”


            “Thank you.”  She takes a sip after putting in a drop of stevia.  “Cats don’t get attached to people like dogs do.  They really do look out for themselves.  You’ve probably heard it said that dogs look up to you as if you’re God, and cats just know they’re God.”


            Diane laughed.  “isn’t that the truth!”


            “Instead of survival of the fittest, with cats it’s the survival of the cattest.”


            They both chuckle.


            “Cats are so sneaky, too,” continued Sally.  “Sam admires the way they seem to operate in stealth mode.  But little creatures better beware, because when a cat strikes, it’s over in a snap.”


            “I know what you mean,” said Diane.  “Looks like Schroeder didn’t hang around in here long, did he.”


            “How did he get the name Schroeder, Diane?”


            Just then discordant piano notes sounded from the next room.


            “There’s your clue,” said Diane.  “The kids named him after the Peanuts character because he likes to play the piano as only a cat can.”


Not This Bad Since the 1930’s

Survival Sam and I stood by in the aisle of the hardware store as Duane rummaged around for bolts and fixtures and such.

“Sam,” I said, “you said something about using ammunition for barter someday. Do you really think things will get so bad we’ll have to barter items?”

“Naw, I wouldn’t worry about something that’s not going to happen until next week.”

“Next week!” I practically shouted.

“Just kidding. But part of the survival and preparedness mindset is thinking about what now seems unthinkable. What happens if money’s not worth anything any more, or inflation is exponential, like in Zimbabwe? When the economy went south a few years ago, I heard a money manager say we were headed for the worst recession since the 1930’s.”

“I know nothing about the stock market, except what I hear on the news,” I said.

“Comparing things to the 1930’s means parallels to something besides recession. What I noticed is that the money manager didn’t use the D-word.”

“D-word?” I asked.

“You know, Depression. After all, isn’t that what we had in the 1930’s?”

“Yeah, you’re right,” I said. “But how many times have guys like that been wrong? Seems like we don’t go through anything more than the usual bump in the road. That happens every now and then.”

“Oh, well,” Duane interjected while rattling bolts, “to twist a line from the already twisted Cheech and Chong, ‘Depression, recession. It’s all the same, Man. Like, it’s a drag, Man.’”

“I never thought I’d hear Cheech and Chong quoted in this context,” I said.

“You never know where you’ll find philosophical nuggets,” said Sam. “My point, of course, is to raise that significant question. Are you ready for whatever we’re facing now or could potentially face in the future? How will you survive in a serious economic downturn?”

“Yeah, survive the unthinkable, right?” I said.

“As I mentioned when we got out of the car to come in here, put some food by in storage. I heard a storage food supplier put forth a radical notion. He said to buy a three to five year supply. Have at least a year’s worth for yourself and the rest for barter. Of course, if you can only add a few extra nonperishables when you go grocery shopping, or if you can buy a month’s supply from an online company, that’s a good start. If having even a little food on hand gets you by or even saves your life in troublesome times, is there a better investment?”

“OK, fellas,” said Duane. “I think I’ve got everything I can get from here today. I’ll pony up the bucks for these goodies and we can be on to the next stop.”

A Couple Stock Options

Saturday I was sitting in the back seat of Survival Sam’s car, listening to Sam and Duane chat, while we were taking care of a few errands.

“Duane, are you always this easy to coax out of the house?” Sam asked.

“Well, Diane thought this would be a good day to get the hardware and supplies for fixing up that mess in the basement. She’s been wanting to make it more liveable down there for quite a while.”

“I assume Bill’s going to help out,” Sam said.

“Yeah. Sometimes it’s a good thing to have a handyman brother-in-law. He’s deer hunting this morning, but gave me a list of some things to pick up.”

“If you’re doing any plumbing, you’d better be ready to open your wallet wide. The price of copper is out of this world,” commented Sam.

“Yeah, I know. There was a story on the news about thieves taking copper from places like construction sites and abandoned houses. They said in some cases it would cost more to repair houses stripped of piping than what they’re worth nowadays.”

“Sad, isn’t it? Can’t say I’m surprised though.”

“bill says the price of ammunition is going up, too,” Duane said. “He’s even thinking about stocking up on it.”

“That doesn’t sound like the Bill I know. He’s usually pretty skeptical of anything that smacks of preparations for the future.”

“Yeah, that’s right. Same in this case. He’s just thinking of saving money. Nothing more.”

“Ammunition might be a good bartering item someday,” Sam said.

“He doesn’t care about anything like that, I guarantee it. But speaking of stocking up on things, I’ve been hearing something on the radio that surprises me.”

“Oh, what’s that?” Sam asked.

“For several mornings, when I’ve heard our local news on the radio, they’ve played sound bites from our state’s emergency management agency. They’re telling people to be prepared for winter weather and power outages. In fact, they’re recommending that people buy extra food when they go to the grocery store to buy supplies for those holiday meals. Also, have fresh batteries for radios and flashlights. They’re telling people to have energy food bars as part of their car’s winterization gear. Of course, those last two aren’t particularly new recommendations, but the rest of it caught my attention. Sounds like you wrote the script, Sam.”

“No, I assure you they didn’t consult me.”

“Can you believe it? The government’s saying these things. They’re hardly radical survivalists,” Duane said.

I chimed in at that point. I suppose maybe they’re trying to come across as caring and concerned for our well being.”

“I think there’s possibly another motive,” Sam said. “They’re telling people to prepare because they’re implicitly signaling they’re not going to be there when things happen this winter. Therefore, the wise will be ready of their own accord.”

“Yeah,” said Duane. “That makes sense. Bureaucracies of all kinds move mighty slow after a big event. Diane got a call from a distant cousin from Florida the other evening. She was calling from a party for a friend. Seems this lady was celebrating because she finally got some insurance money resulting from damage from a big hurricane there two years ago. If insurance companies move that slow, and they’re part of the private sector, as opposed to the government, how much can somebody expect to get help from Uncle Sam any time soon?”

“True, but there’s a case to be made in the government’s favor here,” Sam said.

“How do you figure that?” asked Duane.

“The state emergency management agency is recommending people follow common sense suggestions. As you said, they’re not radical survivalists. They’re not telling anybody to do anything outlandish. Their recommendations are within nearly everyone’s means.”

“You’re right,” said Duane.

Sam paused to concentrate on finding a parking place at the hardware store before going on. “Even the government gets it right now and then. So, I say, do what the government tells you to do. Buy extra. If you don’t trust the canned food at your favorite grocery store or favorite warehouse place, buy some storage food. It’s a good thing to do for one’s own safety and security. With the economy in the shape it’s in, one of these days that storage food might be more precious than gold. I don’t begrudge anybody having gold or silver, but they’re not very palatable.”


Survival Sam’s Counsel About DestinySurvival

“I don’t know, Sam.” I admit it, I was whining. Were the malted milk balls I was snitching from the bowl on the coffee table getting to me?

I popped another one in my mouth and went on. “Maybe I’m getting over my head with this blogging thing on survival. Seems like there’s so much to talk about,” I said.

“Sure, there is. But you know what they say about eating an elephant. One bite at a time. Same thing applies to your readers. Nobody reads an encyclopedia all at once. They read the articles they’re interested in.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. But do we really need another blog?”

“Let me put it this way. King Solomon of old wrote, ‘of making many books there is no end.’ That’s in Ecclesiastes 12:12 in the Bible. So it seems to be with blogs these days. All you can do is to give your readers a little information and direct them to selected quality products and services to enable them to survive our perilous times. If they don’t already have an attitude of preparedness, your blog can be instrumental in helping them develop one.”

“But, Sam. I’m certainly not the ultimate expert on everything.”

“Who says you have to be. Look, you remember the original Star Trek episodes, right?”

“Sure,” I said. “I’m a big fan.”

“What would you say if Captain Kirk came up to you right this minute and asked for your expertise on some life threatening situation facing the ship?”

“I don’t have a clue.”

“You’ll recall that sometimes Kirk would ask Dr. McCoy about something he didn’t know anything about, and he’d holler, ‘I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer, Jim,’ or whatever other occupation was in question.”

“OK. So…”

“So, you’d pretend you’re Dr. McCoy and say, respectfully, of course, ‘I’m a blogger, not a…’ whatever it is Kirk asks you about. I’m confident you’ll do what you can to offer your readers some guidance. Relax. Have fun with it. Don’t feel like you have to have something new posted every day. Make your readers want more.”

“All right, Sam. I guess that’s enough inside baseball. I’ll get it figured out.”

“There is one more thing. Ask your readers for one small but very important favor. When they deal with any of the businesses they see linked on your blog, ask them to please let those places know they heard about them from It will help everybody out.”

“Good idea, Sam. Thanks for the encouragement.”

“Steaks are ready, guys!” Sally called from the kitchen. Just then I heard a car door slam. “John, it looks like your wife got off work just in time to join us.”