Learning 52 Skills: Applying a Purchasing Plan Approach to Learning New Skills, by Seth T.

It’s common for Preppers to run into a misallocation of resources.  Some things are flashy (Read: Guns) and will attract a lot of attention. People will spend hours and hours researching their newest gun purchase but never take the time to conduct a test loading of their bug out gear into their vehicle.  People will spend hours comparing the XTP vs Golden Saber vs Hydra-Shok for their carry gun, but never work on drawing their weapon from their carry holster, manipulation drills, or shooting basics.  How much money is spent on QuickClot and trauma dressings by a person who doesn’t have any first aid skills, much less dental floss, Imodium AD and hand sanitizer? Instantaneous lead poisoning will kill, but so will bad hygiene and diarrhea. Gunshots are sexy. Dental floss to help prevent tooth decay is not.
JWR has often recommended making a dispassionate purchasing plan and sticking to it for this reason.  A recent example given was a PTR91 versus an M1A, and looking at the overall cost of magazines, etc.  A reason people often find fitness success with a personal trainer is because of this same principle. They remove themselves from the decision making process, and have someone else make a “purchasing plan” of exercises for them.  When someone is telling you what exercises to do, it’s hard to ignore them and continue to do only bicep curls and frequent trips to the drinking fountain.
I realize daily life gets in the way of prepping for a lot of people, rather than it being a lifestyle. Unless you are living at your retreat full time, I understand that it’s hard to get further in your preparations while taking care of a 9-5, bills, kids, practice, school, or life in general. Sure, you pick up a #10 can here or box of ammo there, but that’s it. Ask yourself- are you more prepared now than you were a year ago? When you thought of the answer to that question, did you think of things you bought in the past year or things you learned in the past year? How much of your prepping  time is spent on new skills vs. pining over a new purchase?  If it’s not as much as you would like it to be, I have a solution for you, one that is almost a pure “software” upgrade that will pay dividends forever. Even if you are living on your retreat full time, I think you can also benefit from this article. So consider this an opportunity for some prepping personal training.  It’s about applying a purchasing plan approach to learning new skills.
When it comes down to it, software beats hardware any day of the week.  What you know, and what you can do with that knowledge is infinitely more advantageous than all the neatest gadgets in the world.  Simo Häyhä and an open-sighted Mosin Nagant are a perfect example of what a skilled person can do with the most basic equipment. It is the skill of the user that determines the end result. Hardware can be lost, broken, stolen or run out. Software lasts forever, and can actually be multiplied if you can share it with others.  Too many people plan on doing skills they have never tried, with gear they have never used, in conditions they have never been in, under levels of stress they have never dealt with, and expecting good results. This is a recipe for disaster.
My retreat group decided to address this issue. We came up with a list of skills,projects or activities that we felt were important to try, learn, do and master. We had an absolute blast spending the last year doing them. Everyone agreed it was great family bonding time as well. What we found is that with someone else providing the focus, instruction and activities, and you merely following them, you will be encouraged to do things outside of your comfort zone, and, most importantly,  actually do them.  These things can be done mostly at home (or can be adapted for home), for little or no cost.  The projects are designed to be done as a family, but can be done individually as well. If you have kids, this is a great way to give them life skills.  (Every day, your children are learning. If you are not teaching them, someone else is!) Extended families can take part, and lots of these would be a great way to introduce someone to prepping. If you are a prepping grandparent, invite your grandkids over each week.  A lot of the skills are not “prepper” specific, so if one spouse is gung ho and the other is reluctant, they can also act as a conversation starter and good chance to work together. A lot of prepper spouse vs non-prepper spouse arguments tend to center around money spent on preps. If you put forth an effort to improve free skills, it will go a long way towards harmony in the home. You can even do most of the skills without anyone knowing it was for prepping. The list is by no means inclusive, and will not make you a master at anything. Each skill is one that will come in handy both pre and post-SHTF. Everyone has a special skill set niche, but this will hopefully expose you to new things, and encourage you to delve deeper into them on your own or continue them at your own pace.
There are 52 weeks in a year. We came up with 52 skills. You may follow them in order, or to make it extra fun, number each card in a deck, 1-52. Sunday night, pull a card from the deck. Sometime during the next week, Monday thru Sunday, complete the corresponding assigned exercise from the list below. My family did it as almost a game, coming up with a scenario based background for each task that the kids really enjoyed thinking up. One commented that it was like playing Swiss Family Robinson or living Survivorman. I tried to include different skill levels when I could in the same genre. If it is a skill you have already honestly mastered, redo one you have not mastered or wish to try again, or better yet, help teach the skill to someone else.  If Mama does all the cooking, have her help teach others during those skill weeks. Some weeks you will teach, some weeks you will learn. All weeks you will improve.  As stated above, most are free or very low cost.
One pact that we made also as a group going in….In general, if you don’t already, try to live your life this year as if the Crunch already happened.  Grow as much of your own food as you can. Try fixing things yourself, with what you have on hand. Instead of running to the store for something you forgot, do without or come up with another workable option. Go to your group medic before your doctor, if for nothing else than to keep your medic’s skills sharp and to check his or her diagnosis. If your group is geographically nearby, rely on each other for problem solving. Become a support network. Perform all of your own vehicle repairs this year. Do all of your own home repairs. One of your friends used to work in construction or is a mechanic, trust me. Ask around. Work out a trade. You can find a youtube video that shows a walk through of almost any repair, replacement or medical procedure you can think of. They are available now, but will not be when the grid goes down. Learn the skills now, while you can.  I didn’t include specific instructions for most of these skills on purpose…..I want you to research them yourself. If you find something online that you use for instructions, print them out! Work on your resource library one skill as a time. 
One last thing that my family did….Try to put $5 into an envelope each week. If all you can spare is $1 each week, then by all means do that. As you go through the skills, you may find that there are gaps in your preps. It was nice to have a small amount of money set aside preemptively to pick up what was needed. If you go through the year and don’t spend it, you have $260 to buy silver on a dip day or convert to nickels!
Most importantly, enjoy yourself. Have fun. Here we go:
1)      Take care of your health issues NOW! Make a Doctor and/or Dentist Appointment.  The appointment does not have to actually be during this week, but you at least need to schedule it this week. Get that cavity filled. Get a physical. Ask about prophylactic antibiotics for your upcoming vacation to Mexico. If you are on medication, see what you need to accomplish to get off of it. If you regularly see your Doctor or Dentist, check out a health book from the library and read it. Most carry books about natural remedies or other topics that can be useful. (see what herbs you can grow that would be helpful)

2)      We all talk about the grid going down. How will you cook when it goes? Come up with an off grid cooking method.  Try making a volcano stove, rocket stove, wood gas stove, alcohol stove or a solar cooker. If you plan on using a fire ring, do you have cast iron or other way to cook on it? Do you have a pot stand? Do you store enough Charcoal? If you already have an off grid method or a wood fired stove, develop a second method. A very efficient solar oven can be constructed from a reflective sun visor from the dollar store (search the web for plans). Solar cooking does not produce smoke like traditional fires do and while you may have associated food smells, you won’t have the giveaway sign of a fire. This method is ideal for apartment dwellers with access to a sunny balcony. If you have stored charcoal for a BBQ as your method, can you cook with wood as well? This is also a good time to construct fire starters out of dryer lint or cotton balls and Vaseline. Store in empty prescription bottles or altoid containers.

3)      Actually cook a meal with your off grid method.  Go as simple or elaborate as you feel comfortable doing.  If all you can muster is roasting hot dogs, then do it. (At worst, you have a family cookout over a campfire.) For a better exercise, try using your food storage (you are rotating it and eating it on a regular basis, correct?) or baking something.  Baking something in a solar oven is very challenging and rewarding project. (This is great for science project time for kids too.) If you already use a wood stove to cook with, use an alternative method (redundant redundancy!)

4)      With no grid or reduced refrigeration, food storage becomes difficult. Everyone plans on hunting or butchering livestock, and jerking the meat. So go ahead and do it. Smoke or Jerk meat this week. For an added twist, you can imagine the power went out and you have to jerk some rapidly thawing item on hand in your freezer, or you can just buy a cut of meat specifically for it. Already make jerky? Try making jerky sticks from ground meat, or try pemmican.  Try to find recipes that call for ingredients you have on hand. If you don’t already store and rotate those ingredients, it’s a good chance to start. Extra points if you make the jerky from a home built smoker. Already have a home built smoker or dehydrator? Make one from scratch using foraged material.

5)      Go hunting or trapping .  Every state has something that can be hunted year round, whether it is jackrabbits, coyotes, etc. Hunting builds countless skills, and is great bonding time for families.  Part of everyone’s SHTF plan is hunting….but when did you last go? If you weren’t drawn for Elk last year, did you still go for squirrel?  Skills atrophy with disuse….keep yours fresh! If you hunt or trap regularly take a newbie and pass along some skills to the next generation.

6)      If your hunt was successful, tan the fur. Look at plans online to build a fur stretcher. Process it using ingredients you have on hand if possible . It is very simple to end up with a great fur. It is also very simple to destroy one.  Learn now, when your child’s warmth through winter does not depend on it.  I have friends that run a few traps, and are able make a few thousand extra dollars each year selling fur. If you do not have a fur to tan from your hunt, research the process and get the ingredients to tan one when you are successful.  If you already do this try and make an item of clothing from your fur or leather.
7)      Go fishing this week. Take your kids. If you don’t have kids, take a niece or nephew. Try to use natural bait if you can find it. Dig your own worms or catch your own crickets, or minnows. An easy way to find natural bait it to turn over large rocks in the water and swipe a butterfly net under them. Have fun.
8)      Go shooting. If all you can do is dry fire, then by all means do that. Try something new if you can. Try trap or skeet if you haven’t before. Shoot an IDPA or high power match. Shoot at unknown ranges(distances) if you have an area where you can. Sign up for an Appleseed class. When you shoot, try to go with a training mindset. Pick a specific skill to improve on for each outing.
9)      Sew something this week.  Mend or patch a ripped pair of jeans. Make a pillow if you are new to sewing. If you already sew, try quilting, or teach someone.  Try both machine and hand sewing.  Got all those mastered? Try knitting.
10)   Barter for something this week. Search on Craigslist or Backpage, or your local classifieds. “WTT” means “WILLING TO TRADE” (you can often search for WTT and things should pop up). The only rule is no cash, only bartering or trading.  The downside to Backpage or craigslist is that the hankering is done by email, so an even better place to barter is at a farmers market, where you can practice the skill face to face.  It doesn’t have to be a survivalist item. The goal is the bartering, not the item. 

11)   Volunteer this week. Choices are up to you. Church, Scouts, kid’s school, soup kitchen, etc. Give back to your community.  You will also be exposed to a group of the population you normally don’t interact with, for better or worse.

12)   Go through your clothes and food storage, and donate any items that you will not eat before expiration or that don’t fit. Try to repurpose the clothing if you can, camo makes good storage pouches etc.. donate it If you cannot. Some thrift stores offer discount coupons for the store when you donate items.

13)   First aid training. Learn CPR and basic first aid at a minimum. Most communities offer free classes. You don’t have to take the class this week, but you do need to sign up for it. Already know CPR? Work on suturing, or starting IVs, or taking vital signs. Go over signs of and treatment for shock, burns, gunshot wounds, dehydration, infection etc. Look at thrift shops or the Goodwill for medical books. Many have EMT, Nurse or Paramedic textbooks, as well as PDRs, often for a dollar or two. The books do no good unless you read them! Have your medical coordinator teach a class.

14)   Each family/retreat member brings a different skill set to the table. Cross train and teach a skill to one another. It will increase your knowledge of the topic, as well as make you a better learner. It does not matter the topic or skill, again, the teaching process is the goal. Your kids may surprise you with their knowledge as well. In all reality, you may have a surgeon with your group, who gets struck by lightning on Crunch+1 . Unless you have cross trained, you will be behind the 8 ball.

15)   Everyone should already have a Bug out bag. How many days’ worth of food do you pack in your bag? If its three days, for the next three days, eat only that food from your bag.  You will quickly find out if you packed too little, too much, if those Datrex bars or MREs make you constipated or give you diarrhea. If your plan is one jar of peanut butter, see how well that goes.  You will also see the effects of your local environment on your items. Either way, it’s probably time to rotate the food in there anyway. You may end up adding spices or flavorings like tabasco or seasoned salt.  Don’t cheat. I promise you that you will pack different items when you are done with this week!
16)   Everyone stores wheat, with the idea that you will bake bread. How many of you have baked a loaf of bread? Bake one this week. I recommend the Lahey method (search for it). His recipe is literally no knead, and makes wonderful bread that has very little hands on time, and uses a tiny amount of yeast. You can prep it in 10 minutes before bed for baking the next day.  Already bake bread? Grind your own flour for your bread. Already do that? Use a sourdough starter, or try baking bread off grid.  
17)   Test your off grid power. See how long the solar charger takes to charge your batteries or a jump pack. See how long the jump pack lasts charging tool batteries. If you don’t have anything, then come up with some method of off grid power.  An option is a jump pack with a DC plug and AC outlet coupled with a solar panel with a DC output, or simply  a solar panel and battery charger. Put it in your purchasing plan.  Already have solar? Consider a surplus hand crank generator, or one of the pocket ones. Try using the power source for alternative heating or cooling.
18)   Go for a hike, or walk in your area. You can work on map reading, orienteering, etc. You can teach about the military crest. Look for lines of drift. Notice ambush spots. Try to identify plant and animal life. Treat it as a patrol hike if you are at that stage.  The goal is not the Appalachian Trail. The goal is to walk in the outdoors, and pay attention to your surroundings. If you do this on a regular basis, throw a BOB on and use it as physical training opportunity.
19)   Go for a hike at night. This is different from just walking around in the dark. Many parks offer full moon hikes if you want a guided experience.  Pay attention to shadows and hiding areas. Walk quietly. Avoid using a flashlight and improve your night vision. Orient with compass instead of landmarks.
20)   Make a cache outdoors. It doesn’t have to be anything special, or crazy. Even if it is a PVC tube with only a roll of silver dimes, choose a location, landmark, construct the container, and bury it.  If you are afraid to bury anything of value, try tissue paper which is a great test to see how waterproof you can make it. If you already have made one, try to construct a hasty one from supplies on hand.
21)   Make a hidden cache inside your house.. Even if you don’t hide anything in it yet, construct it.
22)   Improve your relationship with your neighbors.  Some of you may laugh at this, but a lot of people wave at their neighbors, but don’t even know their names. If this is you, introduce yourself. If you are already on good terms, bring them a loaf of your recently baked bread or invite them to dinner.  You and your neighbor are geographical allies. Start to kindle a relationship, very simple conversations will let you know if they are “like-minded” people.  
23)   Butcher something, from start to finish, and use all of it up.  For those of you with livestock, this is a no-brainer. If you don’t have livestock, it gets more interesting, but still doable. If your hunting or fishing was successful, start here. If it was not, buy a live chicken. Use an air rifle or slingshot and some bird seed if you have that option. Buy a live lobster if all else fails. The goal is to go through the act of processing an animal, and to make three meals out of it. With a chicken, you could eat the meat as a main course one night, toss some with some pasta or rice the next, and make a broth out of the bones for soup.   If you use a rabbit, squirrel, etc, process the fur as well. There was a great article on SB a few months back about having a Zero-Waste kitchen. Try it.
24)   Make a family budget. See where you can trim any fat, and make an effort.  See what things you can do at home. (Haircuts, coffee, etc) as well as reducing energy expenses (heating oil, electricity, gasoline) Start a list of prepping needs, and start on a purchase list including order, and stick with it!
25)   Make candy with your food storage. Think salt water taffy, peanut brittle, hard candy, stained glass candy, all the old fashioned treats.  It’s a lot easier than you think. Sugar and corn syrup can make amazing things. Try to flavor them with natural flavorings, like clove oil or cinnamon oil, or other things from your food storage if you can. In addition to keeping morale up post SHTF, candy could help on picket duty or be great for barter.
26)   Run a communications test.  Test out the actual range on your radios/CBs. If you don’t have comms yet, do some research, select some, and put them in your purchasing plan. Try your primary and secondary stations. Make sure your channel of choice is not used by a nearby RV park or deer camp, etc.   Monitor your chosen stations on different days, at different times, in different weather, and see who else is on there. Decide on message drop locations, rally points, and other communication methods you have a code or use the “identical book code” method, test it out. Iron wrinkles out now, not later.
27)   Read the Constitution and The Declaration of Independence.  Understand where your rights come from. Compare them to some “modern” constitutions of other nations. Then, write your congress critter. The topic choice is up to you, but I’m sure you won’t have to look far to find a passionate topic.  Only a small percent of constituents write, so you are able to have a exponential impact.
28)   Improve your internet security. Use a VPN or Tor browser, which is open source and free. In light of the NSA news, this is something everyone should already be doing.  If you already do this, make digital scans of all important documents and put them on a thumb drive(s). Truecrypt is a great encryption software that is also open sourced. Cache one and/or store one with a trusted friend. Consider an Ironkey USB for the task.
29)   Forage a meal locally. In addition to hunting, people assume they will be able to forage post SHTF, in a calorically deprived state while avoiding lead poisoning.  Try it during good times, with a field guide, and a full stomach. A good resource is a study of the native plants etc..that the Native Americans use and how they prepare them. This has to be done with care, and make sure that any items to be eaten are correctly identified! (I assume no responsibility for your errors.)  Live in an apartment in the city? Find a nearby Oak tree and make acorn flour.
30)   Build something out of wood using off grid power. If you have cordless tools that you can power with solar, feel free to use them. If you have a hydro powered mill, use it. If you only have hand tools, use them. Bench, planter box, raised bed, tree house, rocking horse…. Choice is up to you. But practice your large scale building skills. Try drawing up blue prints and plan your cuts to not waste materials.

31)   Build a child’s toy out of wood using off grid tools. While last week focused on macro wood skills, this week focuses on micro skills. Sanding, fitting, finishing, carving. Toy cars, dolls, ball in cup, maybe even a Dala Horse. Alternatively, try making a wooden spoon or bowl.
32)   Take your kids out of school for a day, and home school them if you don’t already. It’s worth taking a day off from work. If your schedules will not allow it, spend Saturday morning doing it.  If your kids are already home-schooled, go on a field trip somewhere fun.  Most parents have no idea what their children are learning, or what they have not learned. Take an active role in your child’s education.

33)   Go to a thrift shop. If you regularly make thrift shop and garage sale rounds, try to find a new one. If not, locate a few in your area and go. Foodsavers, tools, cast iron, preparedness books, medical books, sturdy clothing, meat grinders, CB radios, canning supplies etc are all readily available on a fairly regular basis at pennies on the dollar. You will save money, help a charity, and reduce waste.
34)   Can something, ideally something homegrown. If your garden didn’t produce or you don’t garden (Start!), go to your local farmers market or produce discount store, and buy in bulk. Jams, jellies, and pickles are an easy and forgiving start. If you regularly can vegetables, can meat. If you do that on a regular basis, come up with and design a barterable canned good, whether it is tomato sauce, barbeque sauce, salsa, or something more imaginative.
35)   Run a test load of your G.O.O.D. gear and make the drive.  Give yourself 30 minutes to load and go,and use the gas already in your car. If you have done this recently, go with your B or C route.  If your drive is cross country, try the test load and follow your route on google earth.  Rotate your stored gasoline from your gas can into your vehicles and refill them (don’t forget Sta-Bil or Pri-G!) If you are already at your retreat, you should still have a G.O.O.D. plan.

36)   Conduct a threat assessment of your home.  Literally, try to break into your own house.  Even better, swap with a friend and assess each other’s house so you get a fresh set of eyes.  Come up with an assault plan if you were going to rob/burglarize your house. Start from a distance outside, and finish clearing the inside of the house.

37)   Fix any deficiencies found during last week’s threat assessment. At a minimum, adjust and aim lighting, upgrade hinge and lock screws, put locks or dowels on windows, etc. Trim bushes that were blocking fields of fire. Plant roses under windows. Put locks on gates and your fuse box, etc. Consider anti-vehicle defenses, door and window reinforcement and use of furniture and materials in your home to build defendable or safe positions.
38)   People often assume 1 gallon of water per person per day. Using only containers of water, see how much water you actually use in a day. Cooking, cleaning, washing, and drinking. When you finish, adjust your stores if you need to. 

39)   Run JWR’s 48 hour experiment. Shut off power to your house for 48 hours. See where your deficiencies are, and make lists. Update your purchasing plan.
40)   Like the 48 hour experiment, go seven days without purchasing anything. This should be a breeze. If it is not, adjust your stores and purchasing plan.
41)   Use your water filter. Locate questionable water, and filter it. Try different methods. Compare ease, taste, with a pre filter vs without, etc.  Try boiling, a filter, tablets, UV. Try evaporation, either with a two bottle mini distillation method, solar oven or plastic wrap and see how much water you can process through collection, filtration, boiling, sterilization per day.
42)   Start working on your fitness. (Preface it with a Dr’s visit, and all the usual liability provisos.) Even if it is only walking, it is a start. On one of your thrift shop visits, pick up an exercise DVD. Something as cheesy as a Tae Bo video will help immensely if done on a regular basis.
43)   Make a range card for your house from all directions. From the assessment you did earlier, identify possible paths of approach and cover that attackers may use as well as landmarks that are readily identifiable. Measure distances inside your home as well. Shoot at these distances on your next range trip. How does your shotgun pattern at inside the house ranges? What is your battle rifle sight offset at 5 yards? What are your holdover points for your long gun at your landmarks? Shoot your sidearm at longer ranges as well, make a map and range card of the areas around your house.
44)   Everyone has planned  to sprout after the crunch. So sprout some greens this week. While you are at it, make a meal out of wheat berries, hopefully in your solar oven. Try different recipes as wheat berries may get old real fast after the crunch.
45)   Put on your Bug out bag, MBR, sidearm, and web gear. Work on weapon manipulations, clearance drills, shooting positions with all of your gear on. Can you access your magazines on your chest rig while prone? How fast can you dump your backpack and drop prone? Try working some moving to cover and firing while moving drills with all your gear on.
46)   Clean and oil your guns, including disassembling magazines. Where eye protection!  Rotate your carry magazines.  Work on loading from stripper clips for any weapons that utilize these, as well as performing tactical reloads for magazine fed devices. If you carry a shotgun, practice loading that. Once you are comfortable, try it at a jog, or while sprinting from cover to cover. (if you already do this develop a list of common parts that break from each weapon and add it to your purchase plan)
47)   Look at other news sources this week. If you usually watch the news, read a newspaper. Watch a new television station. Visit a new web site. It is important to not have blinders on when looking for trigger events, as well as to not limit yourself to like-minded sources. If you are a Drudge Report or Zero Hedge person and can stand it, go to MSNBC or one of the kool-aid drinking financial pages. Learn the opposing arguments.  Go electronically invisible this week as well. Pay cash for everything you buy if you don’t already. Do not carry a cell phone with you, but if you must, take the battery out. Don’t use your shopping discount card (your area code plus 867-5309 works pretty much universally.) Use your VPN or Tor browser for any Internet needs. Realize the trail you are leaving everywhere.
48)   Make a Zeer pot. Already made a zeer pot? Make a Fresnel lens cooker (Be careful with it!) You can build huge ones from old projection televisions from your local thrift store. Try another evaporative cooling method, even if its spinning something in a wet tube sock.
49)   Make hard cider, wine, or beer.  If you are opposed to alcohol, please consider the fuel/disinfectant and barter properties that it could make if distilled, and remember you are learning the skill, not condoning consumption. If you are still opposed, make cheese. Or try making homemade root beer and bottling it.  Save bottles during the year for this project.
50)   One shot challenge. This is a family favorite. Set different targets (we use  8×11 sheets of paper) at unknown ranges.  Without any warm up shots or adjustment to zero, place one shot on each target with your MBR. Once you can do this on a regular basis, try it with a different weapon, sidearm, etc. Extend the ranges for any guns you plan on serving LP/OP duty.
51)   Introduce some stress into your life. Expose yourself to a high stress situation.  Compete in something. Challenge yourself. Consider volunteering with a local hospital, fire, EMS or police department, or go on a ride along with one at the least. The more accustomed you can be to thinking on your feet and dealing with stress now, the easier it will be later.
52)  Plan for 52 additional skills next year! See what needs work, what skills you have, and continue progressing! You can use this list every year and expand on each idea, create an alternative or pass along skills to other members.
Think of this challenge as a return on investment. The more well rounded we all become the better. Even the best stocked well defended retreat can burn down, flood or be hit by a tornado. The more skills you have the more valuable you become to another group or community. I truly do hope you will take this challenge. One year from now, you do not want to be wishing you had done X and Y. Expand your skill set. I fear that our time is approaching, and the clock is ticking. Take advantage of the forgiving times to prepare yourself.