I remember reading Robinson Crusoe as a child, and being fascinated by the constant counting of things. The protagonist (the way I remember it) kept perfect track of his supplies. Bullets, food, nails, boards, everything. He realized the rationing of his goods was the key to his survival. I think many of us probably feel the same way, and it is one reason we are drawn to survival fiction, post-apocalyptic movies and the like. We live in such a time of abundance, that even our poorest could be ranked as royalty in many places of the world today, let alone among our forefathers. A little bit in the back of our heads, we wonder if we could survive in such bleak situations with just what we have on hand (or worse still, without anything on hand). And perhaps we even wish to (not realizing the privation many of our ancestors really faced): to be able to turn off the iPods, throw out the cell phones, the computers, and just exist with nature without all the noise of a 21st century existence. While my wife and I won’t be going to any Crusoe-esque extremes, we are going to extremely limit our intake of new goods in the first half of 2012.
So what spurred this?
Late last year I found some Grand Canyon sized holes in our monthly budget. I noticed toward the end of the year we weren’t able to put as much toward the principal of our home as we had been, and that our savings hadn’t grown at all since autumn. If anything, it had shrunk. Part of that was the ginormous COBRA check I wrote in December; I pre-paid it until it expires in September 2012. I did that mainly because I don’t like worrying about forgetting it month to month and it is such an important item. Plus, because of my wife’s Fibromyalgia, I have been unable to find other coverage for us, which had been my hope. (Because it would have provided some tax benefits. We’ll end up getting an expensive guaranteed-issue policy once our COBRA expires.) Part of it has been additional competition in the marketplace. While the overall ‘prepping’ marketplace grew in 2011, the number of businesses entering the market far outstripped any new revenue. (A small warning to anyone who is thinking of entering the market this year.) And part of it, when looking honestly at our budget, was a large chunk of discretionary spending; things like eating out, going to the movies and the like. We have always been fairly frugal even in the best of times, but we hadn’t really been controlling our spending well since we have both been working from home.
Coming up next is tax season, and I really don’t have a good handle on what that will bring. As a small business owner I’ve been paying quarterly taxes, and I do have some withholding from my previous job. However, due to having to pay both SS and FICA on top of regular income taxes, I’m worried we’re going to have to write a huge check to the IRS in April and that it could wipe out almost half our savings, putting us right back to where we were when I quit my previous job. Nearly a year into this, that is the last place I want to be.
So after some long discussion with my wife, she suggested we try to put our preps to some additional use, and to cut our discretionary spending to $0 for the first six months of 2012. This will give us a better handle on our overall budget, help us determine what our preps are missing, and force us to re-evaluate our needs in terms of nutrition and entertainment. For example, we have board games on the shelf we’ve never played, so why are we buying new ones? We have books we’ve never read, blogs we haven’t written and projects we haven’t completed, and this will give us a chance to get to many things we let slip for too long, while allowing us to spend quality time together.
So the rules of the game are we’re only allowed $20/week for fresh food and random expenses, and a tank of gas every 2 weeks (unless the business necessitates otherwise). While we still have preps in the basement and anything in the pantry, we’re not to spend anything except for business expenses. This is made a little more complicated due to the impending demise of our $100 Craigslist dishwasher (it’s lasted 2 years, so I still think it was a deal). Right now it’s making some horrible racket while it washes, so we’re guessing its only a matter of time before it dies. Hand-washing dishes certainly won’t kill us, but that is time we won’t have available to do other things.
More importantly, over the holidays we broke the oven portion of our range (The filament cracked, and we’ve been unable to find another for this make and model.), making cooking a little more challenging. We still have the use of the top burners. This might actually be a small blessing in terms of ‘learning to live without’. We’ll be cooking on our Bubba Keg (probably the best cooking device ever invented), in a small portable camp oven my wife bought at Costco last year (propane), and on our propane grill. We have 4 tanks of propane and a bag and a half of lump charcoal. Rationing those two items will probably be the most challenging, and is what made me think of Robinson Crusoe.
So we’ll keep you periodically updated as to how things are going. My wife is already doing some crafty stuff while watching TV (she’s making pompom rugs, whatever those are), and I’m working on some business stuff and a little extra blogging. If any of you have any prepper related goals, drop me a line, I’d love to hear about them!