I started prepping back in 2008, when the financial crash hit our family hard. We were going about our business, both my husband and I working ourselves to death enjoying the “American dream”– a mortgage, a couple of car payments, kids in college, and a disposable income that was quickly gobbled up each month by luxuries that included the latest iPhone, every child having his or her own computer, rib eye steaks for dinner, rounds of golf, and things like this. When the financial free fall started, we were not prepared. We lost everything! On top of that, my husband had a debilitating stroke from the stress of it all. We had both worked very, very hard to achieve what we had, but looking back now I see that we were seriously over-leveraged, as many people were. We are Baby Boomers, and our view of what kind of lifestyle we were supposed to maintain was seriously flawed. We were caught unaware. Why had we not learned from our parents and grandparents?
Looking back, I am horrified by the way we spent money. It was as if we were doing what we thought we should be doing without understanding the fundamentals of financial management, in a similar manner to what the United States government has done. We were keeping up appearances while standing on quick sand. Our parents owned home(s) and cars, and we all had a college education, yet they made a fraction of what we made. I’m not smart enough to do the calculations for cost of living then versus now, but I think our parents were more frugal. I remember one year, when I was in high school, it was time to go shopping for school clothes. With six children, my parents had to make hard decisions on a regular basis, and this day was no different. My dad looked at us three older girls, all in high school, and said, “I will buy you the material, if you make your clothes.” We were aghast; mind you, this was the 70’s and nobody made his or her own clothes. Surely, he didn’t mean that. Of course we all knew how to sew, but we were expected to sew our school wardrobe!?! Mother was aghast as well, but since Dad managed the finances, she wasn’t always certain how much money there was. Mom got creative and took us girls to the clothing store outlets in San Francisco, and we were able to each buy several items very inexpensively. As she explained it, “He has no idea how much the material costs; it’s cheaper to buy than sew.” However, the day I decided to marry, my mother got busy sewing all the bridesmaids’ dresses as well as her own dress, and we did a backyard wedding. It was beautiful.
After we lost everything, I asked my parents, “How did you do it?” My father frankly relayed that when they were the same age that we were, they were also over-leveraged with several children in college. He said it was by the grace of God, they made it through. He also explained that the housing collapse was not something we could have foreseen, and that they were blessed to have bought and sold houses when they did. We bought at the “wrong time”. Our home’s value had dropped, in a very short period, to nearly half of its purchase price. However, I know my parents’ parents, who went through the Great Depression, influenced them substantially. They were taught frugality and how to work and save for things they wanted. My parents provided such a lovely life for us that it didn’t seem we ever suffered or lacked for anything. We believed that if we worked hard, things would be the same for us. However, we weren’t paying attention to the fundamentals; I’m not going to let us off the hook that easy. As much as I blame the “big money people” (as I call them) and the government, we have to accept blame where blame is due.
I had the chance to discuss the Great Depression with my grandparents before they passed away. My great-great grandfather owned a farm and ran his own construction business. When business got bad, they all moved back to the farm. My grandfather’s view of farming was described to me this way: “Sara, anyone who wants to live on a farm has never lived on one. It’s hard, dirty, and exhausting work.” My grandfather left the farm for the big city as quickly as he could, and he did well. My grandmother on the other hand, was very frugal. She cooked everything from scratch, used basic cleaning supplies, and wore simple clothing from Sears. They were very well off, and yet you couldn’t tell by looking at my grandmother. She still liked to shop at the thrift stores. I had the chance to speak to my husband’s father, who is still living in his mid-80’s. I asked him if he remembered the Great Depression growing up. He became agitated and irritable. He told me that his parents sent him off to live with an aunt who owned a boarding house, since they could not afford to feed all their children. His job was to empty the bedpans for all the boarders and to do what he was told. He never forgave his father for that. He felt abandoned and unloved, and his relationship with his father never repaired, but he stayed alive.
I’ve been trying to learn survival lessons as fast as I can, but it’s all foreign to me. I’ve stocked the pantry and the freezers and started an organic garden. I’ve stocked up on odd supplies, like aluminum foil, paracord, bandages, hospital-grade antibacterial soap, antiviral face masks, and an assortment of “hard to find, might be useful someday” supplies. I’ve educated myself on herbal remedies as opposed to prescription drugs, just in case. I started an herb garden and stocked upon essential oils. We bought guns and ammunition. I have no clue how to shoot a gun, but many in our family do, and some are in law enforcement and/or are veterans. Learning to shoot is on my list of things to do, as so many other things are. I bought a dehydrator and learned a lot about drying food, and then realized I could do better buying dried foods in bulk from Costco. I thought about investing in freeze-drying equipment and stopped myself from going down another rat hole. We stocked up on firewood and purchased cast iron cooking pots and pans, just in case we have to use the fireplaces for cooking. I keep going back to James Rawles’ “list of lists”, and I get so stressed out. We aren’t near ready for a collapse of any length.
Incorporating lessons learned from the Great Depression is one way to be better prepared. There are numerous sources for the Great Depression “lessons learned”, but I’d like to avoid the U.S. government’s fiscal and social policy topics because in the end, it won’t matter. It’s what we do in our daily lives that matters.
Lessons I’ve adopted:
- Don’t borrow money, your house is your home not an ATM machine nor an “asset to leverage”,
- Avoid risk by staying out of the stock market,
- Always look for the best deal,
- Don’t be lazy,
- Hang on to your job with all your might, and
- Don’t forfeit your own retirement to give your kids a better life– they need to work, save, and pay cash.
It sounds simple, eh? It’s not. It’s a lifestyle change. Right now we have a mortgage, but we are working furiously to get the house ready to sell so that we can cash out and downsize now that the housing market has recovered somewhat. We used to buy up, and now we are focused on buying down, so we never have to worry about a mortgage again. We are praying we can beat the next housing crash as we paint and repair and upgrade at a feverish pace. We were tempted to take out a home equity loan to get the house ready faster, but no, no borrowing. HELOCs were a huge problem after the crash, as people had used their homes like ATM machines. We are using every spare dime to get the house ready to sell, which scares us because we are depleting all our reserves. We live in a high-end neighborhood and there is huge upside potential, but we have to do things right without being ridiculous. With that in mind, the upgrades are carefully chosen and have been the source of numerous arguments and agonizing decisions. For instance, have you noticed the price of new kitchen appliances? I about fell down when I realized how expensive they were. We are focusing on quality rather than glitz, and we regularly check the Sears Outlet for returned and undamaged appliances. We haggled like professionals over the price of hardwood and installation. We’ve hired help and paid cash for the manual labor when we couldn’t physically do the work. We stayed with licensed contractors for the important upgrades. We have scraped, painted, and ripped until we can hardly move. We want to get as far away as possible from town and the lines of drift. However, we cannot count on getting out of our home with anything because we have no idea when the housing market will take another nosedive. Right now, it has stalled, so we wait to see what next spring will bring while we work.
Our cars are aging. My SUV is 14 years old. My husband’s SUV is 10 years old. Neither car is worth much, so selling one of them wouldn’t provide any big chunk of cash. Oh, how tempting it is to buy a new car, but no, there will be no car payments. We’ll drive ‘em until they die, and when one dies we will share the other one until it dies. Then how about a practical pre-1985 used GMC truck purchased with cash? What about credit cards? We closed all but one credit card, and it’s for emergencies and travel. We use it, pay it off, use it, pay it off.
I must say that with the Ebola scare, the ISIS threat, and the random acts of violence (especially the recent one in New York where a guy wielded a hatchet at police officers before he was shot to death), I am anxious. His Facebook page had this: “Think of a swarm of bees (negroes) that surround and attack an elephant (America) to death.” It sent chills up and down my spine and I had to calm myself down and realize I lived hours from any large, metropolitan city, but it’s not far enough. The insanity of America’s spending, the fragile economy, the lies about the unemployment rate, the influx of illegal immigrants carrying disease and without jobs and housing, altogether have my heart racing. Furthermore, it’s not just the news, it’s the community of survivalists who are clanging the warning bell, James Rawles included, “Get out now or it will be too late” (my interpretation). The below excerpt from the Woodpile report has been weighing on my heart.
Ol’ Remus: “What you should really fear is scarcity. It’s unAmerican to say this, but what you have is all you’re likely to have and chances are you won’t keep all of that. So, are you planning a mountain retreat with a well and a hand pump, more than a tank of gas from the nearest urban center, away from lines of drift, solar powered hot tub with optional foot massage? If you’re not there now, or nearly so, you’re not going to get there. In other words, time’s up. Get your affairs in order where you are, because where you are is where you’re going to be. And what you have is what you’re going to have.” (http://www.woodpilereport.com/; Woodpile Report 378 – 15 Jul 2014)
What do we do right now? Do we change the plan to hunker down for a year or two? Do we sell the house now, unfinished or with a few cosmetic changes and barely make it out with our finances intact? Do we head for the hills and hope to rent something? I have been spending time every morning reading scripture to calm my fears, knowing that Satan is the father of lies. Then again, I don’t want to be unprepared with my head in the sand. I must focus on the Lord and His Word. I am confident He will make the way straight.
“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.” – Psalm 121