Archive for the ‘Fundamentals’Category

Preparing Through Things You Should Be Doing Anyway

Glenn Reynolds linked this post about whether or not the government will eventually tax Roth IRA’s, even though they were set up to be tax-emempt.   McArdle’s conclusion might be par for the course for many preppers, but it might be helpful for others:

So I don’t advise not saving.  But I’ve started thinking about saving in ways that Uncle Sam won’t be tempted to touch–like paying off your house early, maybe buying a vacation home (for cash) if you know where you’re likely to want to spend a lot of time, and doing the kind of renovations that save you money in the long run–better insulation, higher-end energy-efficient appliances, etc.  Paying now to lower your monthly costs later may have a better after-tax return than that “tax free” account.

My wife and I have been debt-free for some time now, except for our mortgage.  One of our goals is to pay that off in the next 5-7 years.   Having a decent lifestyle that can be supported by working at the local fast-food restaurant must bring financial peace of mind, and it is one we hope to achieve.

Being prepared goes hand in hand with having our finances under control, and not having them control us.  We do have a Roth and a 401(k), but I have about as much faith in them performing well enough to let us retire comfortably as I do in Social Security being available when I am 65.  While I do believe in investing for retirement once you have the other financial aspects of your life under control, bringing our monthly costs down to almost nothing will be a better and more immediate investment that will allow more options in our lives.

As I also believe inflation will take a good portion of our earnings in the next several years, I am purchasing more (useful) goods that will retain value or hopefully not lose much.  My food storage from 2007 is a huge boon, as to purchase the same items today would cost 30% more, and will likely be pushing 40% by year’s end.  That’s a whole lot better than my 401(k) performed since 2007.

I also assume prices aren’t going down anytime soon, so we are also purchasing some things our house needs and that don’t depreciate rapidly, such as a new refrigerator, washer and dryer, some tools, and maybe a firearm or 3.  We’ll still get a deal where we can, such as at the local scratch and dent store, but I’d much rather have at least some of our cash in hard goods than in my savings account earning -8%.

One of our preparedness group members also completed a huge project along this line.  His electric bill has been outrageous since he bought his home several years ago (over $350/month), so he completely replaced every component of his heating system.  He took out the heat pump, installed a propane system with a tankless water heater, and added some insulation as well as some monitoring thermostats.  I expect he’ll cut his electric bill in half and the savings will pay for his investment within a year or two.

It’s definitely a more interesting mix of saving and spending than I’ve advocated in the past, or that might be acceptable to Dave Ramsey, but one that makes sense for my family.


04 2011

Comprehensive Food Storage FAQ

I’ve been meaning to get this done for a while now. This is the first draft of the Comprehensive Food Storage FAQ, based on the most frequent questions we get at Advice and Beans regarding our products. It will have it’s own link at the top of the page so it is easily accessible to folks finding their way here. Please feel free to let me know any questions you might have as well. If its not something I can answer, I’ll get our manufacturer’s to give us the scoop!


Comprehensive Food Storage FAQ v. 0.1.1

What is an Oxygen Absorber?
An oxygen absorber is a small packet of material used to prolong the shelf life of food. They are used in food packaging to prevent food colour change, to stop oils in foods from becoming rancid, and also retard the growth of oxygen-using aerobic microorganisms such as fungi.

The active ingredient is an iron oxide powder, which when it chemically reacts (ie. rusts) removes oxygen from the atmosphere.

How do I know when an oxygen absorber is working?
The most obvious sign an oxygen absorber is working is that it gets warm. When continuosly exposed to oxygen, some can get so hot as to be uncomfortable to touch, and will often form condensation on the inside of the outer package.

How do I know when an oxygen absorber is used up or no good?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions we get. The easiest way to tell if an oxygen absorber is good is to pinch the packet. If it feels ‘soft’ or powdery, the iron oxide powder is still in its original state and it is good. If it feels ‘hard’ or like a solid wafer in the packet, it is completely spent and should be replaced.

How long should it take for my absorber to remove all the air from my bag?
Some conditions are better than others for the speed at which an oxygen absorber works. For example, in a very dry climate, it might take up to a week for an absorber to fully activate. In a warm, humid climate it might take only 48 hours.

Why don’t some of your absorbers have the little pink pill in the pack?
This is another very common question. There are two main reasons. The first is it adds to the cost of the product. The second is that the pill doesn’t really tell you what you think it does. The pill (it’s official name is an Oxygen Indicator Tablet) only tells you that there is one good oxygen absorber in the pack, not that the entire pack is good. For example, if only 1 oxygen absorber in a pack is good and 49 are bad, the pill will still show pink. If the packets have been exposed to oxygen and 90% of their absorbing capacity is used up and only 10% remains, the pill will still show pink.

It is infinitely preferable that you use the ‘pinch method’ above to determine whether your absorbers are good, not an indicator tablet.

So what’s the history behind the pink pill?
The original seller of oxygen absorbers in the US for long-term food storage included these in the packaging. Interestingly, for them to get the pill into the packaging requires opening vacuum-sealed master bags, dropping in a pill, and resealing the pack. Thus, the factory-sealed packs we sell have been exposed to less air than the packs that have pills in them, making them more likely to be usable, not less.

How many oxygen absorbers should I use?
For 1-gallon bags, you should use 1-2 300cc oxygen absorbers. For 5-gallon bags you should use 5-7 300cc oxygen absorbers or 1 2000cc oxygen absorber. You should adjust this number up a little bit if you are storing less dense foods, such as pasta or some lentils, because the bags will contain more air even when full in comparison to very dense foods such as rice or wheat.

Do I need to use oxygen absorbers with everything I store?
Most foods will benefit in longevity when using oxygen absorbers. However, they are unnecessary when storing sugar or salt. In some cases, using an absorber with these foods will cause signficant clumping, although it won’t harm them otherwise. Also note that some foods may not store well for long periods of time no matter the method used (for example flour, yeast and some spices).

What is Mylar?
BoPET (Biaxially-oriented polyethylene terephthalate) is a polyester film made from stretched polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and is used for its high tensile strength, chemical and dimensional stability, transparency, reflectivity, gas and aroma barrier properties and electrical insulation.

A variety of companies manufacture boPET and other polyester films under different brand names. In the US and Britain, the most well-known trade names are Mylar, Melinex and Hostaphan.

Wait, your Mylar bags aren’t clear; what’s up?
The polyester film is combined with a foil layer and in some cases another sealent layer of LLDPE (Linear Low-Density Polyethylene); this allows for good heat-sealing, UV protection, low odor transmission, and high puncture resistance.

How do I seal Mylar bags?
Please see this post and video about sealing Mylar bags. Mylar can be sealed with a variety of devices, including a hotjaw sealer, clothes iron, or hair straightener.

OMG, I can see pinholes of light coming through the Mylar bag, why is that?
All foil structure Mylar bags will have small pinholes in the foil layer. There is actually a measurement, ‘Pinholes per meter squared’, that is part of the specification of foil bags. Pinholes affect all foil structures, from a thin 2.5mil bag to the thickest 7-8 mil bags. The other transparent layers of the bag keep the integrity of these bags, and it is only very rarely (less than 1/100th of 1%) an actual ‘pinhole puncture’.

Why don’t my bags get hard when I use an oxygen absorber?
This is our third most common question. While there will be some compression of the Mylar bag after sealing due to the oxygen absorber, an absorber is only removing the 20% of the atmosphere in the bag that is oxygen, leaving the 80% that is nitrogen intact. Also, when sealing bags make sure you remove as much of the ‘headspace’ as you can; this is the area at the top of the bag you seal. Even a little headspace can use up much of the power of the oxygen absorber.


03 2011

The Art of Doing

Like many, I used to spend much of my life planning and preparing…for something. I was going to write a book, take up hiking, start an exercise routine, and create a business. However, every day I would get home and veg on the couch to the latest video game or science fiction novel. My rationalization was that I worked hard, so now I should relax. Multiply my excuses by the billions who say the same and most of the greatest books in the world probably remain unwritten. And for every business that succeeds, there are likely 10 more shuttered in the brains of men voluntarily chained to their desks, their offices, and their soul-devouring jobs. Even when I started prepping initially, I probably spent more time thinking about what I should be doing instead of actually doing it.

Of course there is nothing wrong with daydreaming about something you may or may not ever do, or relaxing and taking some downtime. Realize, however, that many of the things we all daydream about, we can actually do if we choose to. We can write a novel. We can start a business. All it takes is putting word to paper or filing some paperwork at the county clerk’s office. So why do so many of us wish for things we have for the taking right in front of us?

I don’t mean to sound like an infomercial or a self-help book, because I hate all that psycho-babble mumbo-jumbo. However, these past 2 years of my life have been like waking up. In December 2009, my brother passed away from a form of brain cancer. Todd was a genius, and he had vision far greater than I will ever have. He had ideas that would have made him successful beyond imagining. And not just one idea, but dozens…they flowed out of his beautiful mind like the waters of the Mississippi. What Todd didn’t have was the drive to take one of those ideas and make it real. My father, bless his amazing heart, is the same way. For 30 years he has told me about a book he wants to write. And just last week he told me about a board game he wanted to create.

As I usually do to people nowadays, I told him to just do it, and stop talking about it. I even offered to help, with the rules or the board or anything else I could do. And still, I know that the game will stay trapped in his mind, because he lacks the drive to make it real. That may sound harsh, but I only say it because for 40 years, I was that person also.

However, in the past few years, I have somehow managed to stop over-thinking things and start doing them. And now I have built a business I am proud of. It’s not a large one by any means, but slowly and surely it grows. I’ve screwed things up, run out of inventory, stocked items that haven’t sold, and made mistakes on people’s orders. I’ve written checks to suppliers that made my stomach cramp and my hands sweat with worry at whether I would ever make it back. But at the end of the day, and almost for the first time in my life, I kept at it. Between April and June of last year, I sold less than $500 worth of stuff total, and I was convinced I had failed. And who knows, I may still fail…but not today. Because I know that even if my current line of business becomes less popular, the knowledge of conducting business is now mine and can’t be taken away, and I could repeat what I have done with Advice and Beans 100 times if necessary.

So how does any of this relate to preparedness? First, is that the Art of Doing is infinitely more powerful than the Art of Worrying. I don’t obsess about the news anymore; I read maybe 10 minutes a day just to see what’s going on. I can’t control what is occurring in Egypt or Libya, I can’t fight inflation or the cost of gas, and I can’t change the minds of stupid politicians. So why was I spending 15-20 hours a week reading about it? I’m not saying don’t be informed; but I am saying you can spend much of the time you might use worrying about things putting in place things that make you worry less. Spring is coming, so that means planting season. Maybe a project around the house you’ve been putting off could take the place another 2 hours reading about the end of the world. Maybe there is some junk cluttering your life you could eBay it and use the cash to pay off some of your debt. Do you have an idea? Put it on paper, build it, sell it…do something with it other than letting it rot on the vine stuck in your head.

Do It!

There is so much information available to us now, on all subjects, 24 hours a day. But does accessing it obsessively clog your life, paralyze you, or keep you from doing other things? If so, just turn it off or drown it out and retake those hours.

The 2nd way my business relates to preparedness is that it is replicatable. Meaning, you can do exactly as I have. Not the same items, per se, but the act of being a merchant, of creating value. Just like someone can teach me to start a fire, string a trot line, or conn a ship, I can show people how to start and build a business, at home, if they choose to. I’ve told a dozen friends and family exactly what I’ve done, opened my books to show them what its cost and earned, and explained how they could do the same thing. For all that many people tell me they hate their jobs and wish they had an opportunity…when an opportunity looks them in the face, they can’t seem to see it. I certainly never expected to be selling Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers for a living, but I have to say it is more satisfying work than any I have ever done. I get to help people and make a living at the same time…that’s a pretty sweet deal.

So my call to arms today is simple…do something. Something that will make your life more stable, more secure, provide an alternate form of income, make you healthier…anything other than zoning on the couch to another episode of CSI. Building something takes work, and a lot of it. But next year at this time you might be able to look at something you have accomplished, instead of looking back at what you didn’t.


03 2011

The Road to Appalachia, Part 1

I have had a blast starting up Advice and Beans, sourcing products, blogging, marketing, shipping thousands of packages and working 80 or 90 hours a week.  I love finally doing something for myself, and I love that I can help so many others at the same time.  However, some days the noise becomes nearly overwhelming.

To help clear my head, check off a box on the bucket list, and to get to know this great country just a touch better, this fall I am going to spend a week or a little more on the Appalachian Trail.  My plan is to hike 70-90 miles.

While some may not call it preparedness per se, I predict the lessons and learning from accomplishing such a task, will provide value to to those following my progress here as well as in my own life.

I’ll admit planning is not my strongest trait, so I will make a series of posts about my progress on various tasks necessary to accomplish the goal; writing about it holds me accountable and provides a venue for others to provide suggestions and insight, and reminds me of things yet to do.

Initially, my focus will be on 5 sub-goals.

1)  Fitness

2)  Gear

3)  Planning

4)  Logistics

5)  Sustenance

Fitness covers my physical ability to accomplish the task.  Today I am quite a bit overweight and I haven’t hiked in almost a year; my blood pressure is running a little high.  I need to address each of those in the next 6 months.

Gear is what I will take with me.  I estimate I have half or more of the gear I will need.  I have a great pack, an excellent sleeping bag, a Jetboil stove, a Katadyn water filter and some other items.  I have 2 pairs of good boots.  For anything else, I will need to make well-researched choices about what other items will need to be on the trial with me.

Planning will cover a couple of topics.  First, what will my route be on the trail?  How far should I get each day?  What are the normal weather conditions for where I will be, and what are the worst case scenarios?  Who do I need to inform, whether forest services or other law enforcement, of my trail route and expedition times?

At the same time, i will need to plan for what happens when I’m gone.  Who will run the business, ship packages, manage inventory and pay bills?  What will they do if they run into a situation out of the ordinary?  How will they handle customer service issues?

Logistics is just another word for more detailed planning.  Who will take me to my start point?  How will my vehicle make it to my end point?  What day will I leave?  What day should I reach my destination?

Finally, sustenance is the food and water I will need to make the trip.  Can I carry that much with my gear?  Should I set up a drop cache along the way?  Will I boil, use a filter, or use another method to purify drinking water?  This one will be particularly tricky, as I know on a hard hike before I’ve used my entire 5-liter allotment that I generally carry (3 liters in a bladder and 2 more in Nalgene’s) in less than 1 day.

There is also a matter of communication, and this might be a combination of gear and planning.  I’ll take my GPS, but what about a satellite phone or emergency beacon?  I don’t know yet, and so I will have at least one post on just communications and emergencies.

While that is a lot to accomplish, I also have a number of resources.  I have a good friend who is an Eagle Scout who has hiked the Appalachian before, as well as a number of multi-day hikes at state and national parks.  I have trained for a half-marathon, and I might look over my notes and training schedule as a guide to how I might plan for a week-long trip.  There are innumerable blogs, magazines and websites devoted to hiking and camping, and we have an REI store nearby that holds regular monthly meetings on various topics.  On several occasions I’ve seen them cover overnight hiking.

Next post on the subject I will cover preliminary planning.  What dates will I go, at least which state I will hike in, and what the expected conditions on the ground should be at that time.  I am greatly looking forward to sharing my journey.


02 2011

How to Use Mylar Bags and Oxygen Absorbers to Store Food Long Term

This post is dedicated to Mrs. Linda, you have my apologies for not having this information front and center!  For the Mylar Bags we sell at Advice and Beans (Discount Mylar Bags), there are a number of ways to seal them, including with a straightening iron, some vacuum sealers, and a hot jaw sealer.  As most everyone probably has a clothes iron around, here are instructions for using one to seal Mylar.

1. Place the bag on a flat surface. The two sides of the open end of the bag must be flat and without wrinkles.

2. Set the iron to “wool.” The wool setting will be warm enough to seal most Mylar bags. Thicker bags may require a higher setting.  You do not need to place a cloth or anything in between the iron and the surface of the bag. IMPORTANT: The material of our bags has been designed with a heat resistant outer layer. We accept no responsibility in attempting to do this with other packaging materials.  Please note you can melt even the outer layer if your iron is set too high or you keep the heat on the bag for too long.

3. Seal the bag closed with the iron. Go over the bag several times in a three to four inch wide band creating a wide seal area. Watch closely for even small wrinkles. A small wrinkle in the seal can remove 95+% of the barrier proprieties of the bag.

For more info please see the following YouTube video.  (This is #1 in a 3 part series; you can link to the other parts from YouTube)


08 2010