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Thursday, February 25, 2010

10 Uses for Your Emergency Fund

I always keep an emergency fund on hand. It is important that you ALWAYS have $1,000 to $5,000 available in cash or a mix of cash and money in your bank account which can be accessed with your ATM card. On a side note, I don't consider the use of a credit card to be an emergency fund because when you are in crisis, the very last thing you want to do is get into debt. Here's how my emergency fund has been put to the test over the years:
  1. Our furnace died in the dead of winter. There was no getting around the need for a very small (and very expensive) circuit board that blew out. And there as no waiting as the house dropped to about 40 degrees fairly rapidly since it was so cold outside.
  2. The car had a couple of issues, one electrical, which caused the brake light and tail light to only want to work occasionally. Now if I would have been stopped with the lights not working I would have got a ticket and a whole lot of hassle so it was best just to break out the emergency fund and pay to get the situation fixed immediately.
  3. A relative came down with Dengue fever--a tropical disease that is quite painful and unpleasant. Contrary to US hospitals where you can show up in the ER and receive treatment then figure out how to pay later, in the country where this event happened, if you don't pay at the ER door you don't get seen or treated.
  4. The spouse got laid off unexpectedly. Although this didn't cut into our normal budget, if this would have happened to many families that depend equally on both partner's incomes, the emergency fund would most likely have been tapped for living expenses.
  5. Last minute travel. We funded our travel to see our son who will soon be deploying out of our travel account because we knew ahead of time the approximate date he would be leaving. I have had two friends, however, who needed to leave on a moment's notice because of hospitalized relatives and have actually had this situation happen to me over the years where there isn't time to save or plan for travel because someone ended up in the hospital or they died unexpectedly. An emergency fund is the difference between heading to the airport immediately and calling everyone you know to scrape together enough gas money to drive across the country.
  6. The $800 cell phone bill. Some years ago (before I realized how much teenagers could talk in one month) we ended up with a surprise $800+ cell phone bill. After passing the stages of denial, shock, and anger, I ended up coughing up the cash to pay the bill so that #1 everyone else's cell phones would remain activated, and #2 I wouldn't have collections coming after me. This money was available because we had an emergency fund (note that the fund was replenished by said kid working a whole lot over the following months).
  7. The surprise tax bill. One year I was going along happy as a clam thinking all of my taxes were paid up to date like they usually were when I received a threatening letter from the IRS. Did you know you underpaid your taxes by over $3,000? Why no, I didn't. After practically sprinting to my accountant's office and learning that her assistant had a crisis right in the middle of preparing my taxes causing her to transpose the numbers on my form, I dejectedly went back home and cut the IRS a check. It would have been much worse if I didn't have the money in my emergency fund to cover this rather large expense.
  8. A very, very, very good deal. Your emergency fund is not the place to draw funds for every "good deal" that comes your way. In this case you would never have an emergency fund because there are always deals to be had. I have only used my emergency fund on a couple of occasions to take advantage of very, very, very good deals. One was for a car a friend wanted to sell--he was willing to take one quarter of the value of the car since he was leaving the country immediately and he knew it was going to a good home, and once for a couple of firearms that a widow needed to sell ASAP which were both rare, and very well priced.
  9. Paying off that very last debt. After spending months or years getting out of debt, you will reach a point where you maybe have $1000 left to pay and you will be COMPLETELY DEBT FREE. In this case, you may want to just pay the debt out of your emergency fund and get it over with.
  10. A disaster occurs. Think Haiti, think Hurricane Katrina, think something as basic as a flood in your town. When a major disaster occurs, it usually requires an initial outlay of cash even if you do have the ability to be compensated later. Gas for the car, hotel rooms, restaurant meals, replacing clothing and toiletries...all of these things require immediate cash, which, fortunately you will have in your emergency fund. While this hasn't happened to us on the scale of Hurricane Katrina, we have sheltered families on occasion who found themselves homeless due to flood or fire; they would have been much better able to handle the situation if they had had emergency funds available.

Self-Sufficiency as a Retirement Investment

One aspect of preparedness that is very popular among preppers is the concept of "prepping as retirement".

The dream of retirement is really a dream of independence and financial self-sufficiency, which is central to prepping.

Too many people in this country retire with only their Canada Pension Plan.  The good thing about the CPP is that everybody gets one; the bad thing is that it's not enough to live on.  If they're lucky they may have put some money into a Registered Retirement Savings Plan, however, this isn't true self-sufficiency.

You do not want to be dependent on only these sources of retirement income;  RRSPs can lose value and the CPP is only around $800 a month, if you're lucky.  Both are subject to tax that further reduces your income.

If you want to increase your financial independence there are really only two ways to do this:

1) decrease the money going out


2) increase the money coming in

Apart from an income, the basics you need to survive in retirement is food, shelter and water.

The less you have of the last 3, the more income you'll need to purchase them.

Fortunately the reverse is also true! The more you have of the survival basics the less income you'll need in retirement.

The prepper lifestyle can help with both these goals and may even allow you reach that "Freedom 55" or earlier!

Debts and mortgage

One of the basic rules of prepping is to avoid debt as much as possible (with the exception of a house mortgage if necessary).

It's pretty simple to realize that living on a fixed income is much easier if you don't have any debts to pay.  All that money saved will give you the FREEDOM to do what you want with your life; isn't that what liberty and independence is all about?

A popular method of paying off debts is the "snowball" method.  Basically you focus on paying off the debt with the smallest balance first and then apply that payment PLUS the regular monthly payment to the next smallest debt.

Rinse and repeat until all debts are gone including the mortgage.

A couple I know both have low incomes.  She's on a government pension and he brings in a little more than minimum wage, yet all the family and neighbors are surprised at the type of lifestyle they have.  Nice house, nice car and not wanting for anything. The secret isn't that they're scamming the system somehow, it's simply that they paid off their house years ago and they spend wisely without going into debt.

This should be your goal.

Think of all the prepping supplies and activities you could do if you had no debts...which brings us to tomorrow's post:

"Home Energy Independence as Retirement Investment"

(cross posted at Next Best West)

Indoor Air Quality; Plants that can save us

Assuming that your house is still standing after a disaster and the authorities haven't attempted to evacuate you, the best thing for you to do is to stay indoors with your air vents sealed.

For instance, in the event of an earthquake, a good amount of dust is stirred up into the air, bringing with it a number of soil fungi that have been shown to cause lung infections in earthquake survivors, such as coccidioidomycosis immitis which is the cause of San Joaquin Valley Fever. (Refer to Jacobs, A.V. and Leaf, H. (2007). Fungal infections of the lung. Current Infectious Disease Reports, vol. 1, pp. 89-98 and Torre, J. and Richard, A.J. (2008). Coccidioidomycosis, emedicine, http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/781632-overview).

In the event of a nuclear fallout, there is the radiation factor. No biggy, right? Well, that's because you already know that it is best to go into your basement and seal off any openings to the outside in your home and stay down there for at least 3 weeks. (Note: Earthquake and Nuclear preparedness and disaster response will be discussed in more detail in a later post.)

So how do you survive in an air tight environment for a few weeks? Yep, you guessed it: Plants!

Not only do plants convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, they also filter harmful substances from the air such as formaldehyde (man, plants would've been great to have around when I was in Cadaver class), benzene, and trichloroethylene. So in a nutshell, plants function as amazing air pumps and humidifiers. (Aglaonema modestum picture taken from florists.ftd.com)

In 1989, NASA scientists Dr. B.C. Wolverton, Anne Johnson, and Keith Bounds conducted a study to find an economical way to purify air for the extended stays that astronauts made in space stations. (http://www.ssc.nasa.gov/environmental/docforms/water_research/water_research.html)

This study found that a particular fifteen houseplants performed better at air filtration than was ever expected.

Wolverton stated that, "Plants take substances out of the air through the tiny openings in their leaves (stoma). But research in our laboratories has determined that plant leaves, roots and soil bacteria are all important in removing trace levels of toxic vapors. Combining nature with technology can increase the effectiveness of plants in removing air pollutants. A living air cleaner is created by combining activated carbon and a fan with a potted plant. The roots of the plant grow right in the carbon and slowly degrade the chemicals absorbed there."

The plants were also found to be helpful to air-tight office buildings. For instance, in most office buildings, trapped pollutants produce what is often referred to as Sick Building Syndrome. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sick_building_syndrome)

The signs and symptoms of this syndrome include: fatigue, nausea, confusion, flu-like symptoms, sinusitis, anxiety, pneumonia, headache, lack of concentration, edema, allergies, and insomnia, irritation of the eyes, nose and mouth.

Now if you're wondering how formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene get into your house, they do it like every other criminal, they pick the locks. No really, they are more like vampires, you invite them in... by bringing paper, cardboard, particle board, insulation, paints, oil solvents, adhesives, inks, varnishes, perfumes, deodorants, body lotions, cleaning products, smoke, pesticides, synthetic fabrics, carpets, detergents, etc. into your home. Darn, there goes the good things in life.

So here you are stuck in your house, trying to avoid the nuclear fallout like every other normal, non-mutant person, and all you have is books to read and walls to paint. Then you get that cleaning urge because you've got nothing to do except stare at the dust collecting on all the DVDs you can't use because the power is out. So, you clean and of course you have to varnish what remains of your furniture... and now you need to apply three layers of deodorant because you stink from all that work.

But then, suddenly, one of the radiation mutated cockroaches from the underworld just ate your dog and you have to whip out two cans of industrial strength bug spray because there is no way in Tartarus that your shoe is big enough to kill that thing. What do you do?

You get out your Mother-in-law's tongue. No, you don't have your mother-in-law to lick the roach to death; Mother-in-law's tongue is actually a plant called Snake Plant or Sansevieria trifasciata that filters all the chemicals from the above scenario. Please see the adjoining picture. (picture from dkimages.com)

In other words, you prepare with plants. The following is a list of the top 15 plants that NASA found were helpful in filtering indoor air:

1. Philodendron scandens 'oxycardium,' or heartleaf philodendron (This is that plant that never seems to die, no matter how much you lack a green thumb. Picture is to the left. plantoftheweek.org)

2. Phildendron domesticum, elephant ear philodendron

3. Dracaena fragrans, 'Massangeana', cornstalk dracaena

4.Hedera helix, English Ivy

5. Chlorophytum comosum, Spider plant. (I love this plant; you only have to water it once every two weeks! Perfect for times of disaster. www.webmaster-forums.net)

6. Dracaena deremenesis 'Janet Craig', Janet Craig dracaena (medium light)

7. Dracaena deremenesis 'Warneckii', Warneckii dracaena (medium light)

8. Ficus benjamina, weeping fig (intense light)

9. Epipiremnum aureum, golden pathos

10. Spathiphyllum 'Mauna Loa,' peace lily (in low light, this plant works the best)

11. Philodendron selloum, selloum philodendron

12. Aglaonema modestum, Chinese evergreen

13. Chamaedorea sefritzii, bamboo or reed palm

14. Sansevieria trifasciata, snake plant, mother-in-law's tongue

15. Dracaena marginata, red-edged dracaena

NASA suggested that there should be at least two plants per 100 square feet, or two plants per a small room/office. The results recommended 15 to 18 houseplants, grown in 15cm containers or larger, to filter an average home of less than 2,000 square feet. My grandma seems to apply the more is better rule: her kitchen looks like the rain forest.

For those of you whom are interested in which plants filter what chemicals....

Filters of Formaldehyde:
Green Spider plant, Peace lily, Bamboo palm, Mother-in-law's tongue, draecena marginate, golden paths, and dracaena warneckei.

Beaters of Benzene:
Peace lily, Bamboo palm, Gerbera daisies, Mother-in-law's tongue, English Ivy, and Pot mums (my grandma loves these).

Tricklers of Trichloroethylene:
Peace lily, Bamboo palm, and Gerbera daisy.

Well, again, I better sign off for today. Again, i must hit the books.

May you enjoy your time with your Mother-in-law's tongue.


Here is a list of resources for more information on NASA's study, including the pdfs for the day:




This is a repost from Wilderness Medicine and Disaster Preparedness. You can read more from little doc there or in the APN forums Dear Littledoc. Littledoc says that the advice given in this forum should not replace the advice of your primary care physicians. The American Preppers Network is not responsible for any medical advice given, or taken, at this forum or blog.

Kids Prep Minute: Drills

Another post here about preparing with kids in the house.  If you don't have kids, read it anyway.  Maybe it will get your imagination going on something you could do to be better prepared also.

Our topic today is drills, and I'm not talking about your favorite Makita here.  I'm talking about practicing your emergency plans to the extent possible.  If your kids are anything like mine, I can talk till I'm blue in the face and they amazingly can't remember a thing I said five minutes later.  Physically doing something reinforces what you talked about in their memories.  Did mom say go left or right?  But if they've run the drill and always gone right, there will be no question when the time comes to do it for real. 

Drills or "emergency plan practice" also help to work out kinks in your plans you might not have known were even there.

Fire drills are one common area to practice.  Our kids love fire drills, even though we've never actually let them break the window in their room.  We try to practice as close to the actual plan as possible and found we needed to make sure they had something hard by their beds to get the window broken if they needed it, so now that's where the wooden rifles go.

Think about your situation and the likely events your family faces.  Maybe you also need to practice getting out of the house fast but not immediately as would be necessary in an evacuation for flood or wildfire.  Set a timer and see how long it takes you to get everybody to the car with enough gear to either camp or hotel-it for 3-4 days.  Or see how ready you are in 10 minutes and use that to build a better plan. 

Maybe practice getting everyone in the house to a safe-room in the house in the event of a break-in or other similar event.  Time them, give them rewards for quick responses, have fun with it.  Drills can be planned or random and can be made to be fun for the kids while enforcing the important plans your family has for emergencies.  You could dream up some seriously fun and useful family-night activities incorporating emergency drills.  Have you practiced emergency drills with your family?  How did it go?

How To Make A Fire With Vaseline

How to make a fire with Vaseline, or more correctly petroleum jelly.

I don't know about you, but I like things to be as easy as possible and this seems to be the easiest method that I've found...It's almost a surefire way to start a fire.

Materials to use:

toilet paper rolls, petroleum jelly, dryer lint, applicator stick

Rather than using cotton balls, I prefer to use dryer lint and toilet paper rolls as it keeps the waste down by re-purposing them.

Step one:
Use a stick, a spoon or a knife to spread the petroleum jelly on the cotton balls or dryer lint. Be very careful not to get this stuff on your fingers, clothes or any other flammable materials. When ignited it's like napalm.

I demonstrated with the following photo in case you don't happen to have a toilet paper roll. It's actually easier (and cleaner) to just use your stick to wipe off the petroleum jelly inside the roll first, and then stuff the cotton or dryer lint into the roll.

Spreading petroleum jelly on dryer lint (That is a concrete floor by the way, DO NOT do this on carpet or a flammable surface.)

Step two:
Stuff the dryer lint into the toilet paper roll, and place the roll into your fireplace or fire pit underneath your wood.

Step three:
Thoroughly wipe off any petroleum jelly that you may have gotten on yourself.

Step four:
Ignite the toilet paper roll and lint. I prefer to use a long utility lighter
that keeps my hand away from the fire.

And there you have it. No paper or even kindling needed.


Children should never light fires without adult supervision, unless with thorough training and in an extreme survival situation. In addition We are not responsible for your use or misuse of this information. Always consult with a professional before attempting any potentially dangerous activity.