Archive for the ‘What Can I Do Today?’Category

Mylar Bag Alternate Uses Video (Envelope and Ice Pack!)

It’s odd to me, but it seems I can make a video a whole lot quicker than a blog post.  So I’ve decided to do a hybrid for the blog.  When I start my next post series, I’m going to do a video synopsis as well.

My wife and I did this video this morning on two alternate uses of Mylar bags, as shipping envelopes and ice packs!  If we do ok on Youtube, we’ll definitely invest in some better equipment, as I know the audio isn’t great.

I hope you’ll let me know what you think!


07 2012

Back to Basics – Prepping 1, 2, 3

When I started this blog, my intent was to give the very basics in terms of advice.  Meaning, exactly what should one do to prepare, and in what order.  Over the 2 years we’ve been here, I hope I’ve at least mostly done that.  Because we have had several thousand new folks stop by in the last couple of months, likely do to an increased awareness of preparedness (thanks to shows like Doomsday Preppers, Doomsday Bunkers and Independence, USA), I want to revisit these basics.

At the lowest level, a good preparedness plan includes both information and resources.  Information preparedness includes ‘what will me and my family do if there is X’, with X being whatever scenarios you consider important to prepare for.  So for example, if X = Tornado, then you and your family need to know how the weather service and your town will announce a Tornado Warning or Watch, the difference between the 2, and what you should do in the event of either.  These types of scenarios can be as few as you feel are probable in your area, such as:  Blizzard, Tornado, and Wildfire.  Or they can be as complex as some of the ‘Doomsday’ shows are highlighting, such as an EMP, Economic Collapse, Legions of the Undead, or Nuclear event.

Other items in the information category include a fire safety and evacuation plan for your home, knowing and securing your important documents, and a communication plan to ensure everyone knows how to get in touch.  Something simple like making a laminated list with every important phone number your family can have is something you could do in the next couple of days to increase your families level of preparedness.

When it comes to resources, I’ve stuck to 5 principal categories:

1:  Water

2:  Food

3:  Shelter

4:  Fire

5:  Light

Again, as this is more of a refresh, how much you keep in each category depends on what types of events you are preparing for.

For the first category, I recommend at the very least what FEMA does, which is at least one gallon of water per person, per day for at least 3 days.  So for a family of 4, you need at least 12 gallons of water on hand.  Preferably, you would have on hand as much water as you can reasonably store, plus the knowledge and ability to make more potable water, whether through boiling (pasteurization), filtration, or use of bleach (sodium hypochorlite/pool shock) or iodine.  Or, as many in the preparedness community, having all of the above available let’s you use whichever is most appropriate for your circumstance.  Having all of the above methods available is really not that expensive; however, make sure you use each method ahead of time to avoid confusion and stress in a time of need.  Sodium hypochorlite, for example, comes in several purities, and knowing how much to use is vitally important to prevent underutilizing, which can lead to drinking bad water, to overusing which can cause poisoning.

In the second category, food, I would also recommend at least 72 hours worth of food that can be eaten and enjoyed without cooking, whether that is MRE’s, canned meats and fruits, or something as simple as peanut butter and crackers.  There is a whole category of ‘survival food’ that can set you back a pretty penny, but if you are only looking to be able to survive a long weekend, avoid the expense and pick yourself up some cheap canned goods.  If you choose to move into medium and long term food storage (part of the reason many folks find their way to the blog), check this post first, as its been the most popular post on the blog since very early on.

In many (or most) cases #3 on the list, shelter, will simply be your own home.  Those events which displace us from our homes are also the most devastating.  There is an entire blogging industry dedicated to the ‘bug-out-bag’, so type it into Google and spend a week reading.  Any good car bag or 72-hour kit will have some sort of portable shelter, which can be as simple as a tarp, bivy sack, or tent.  Shelter can also be a friend, neighbor or family member who has agreed to take you in should something occur.  While we may assume our in-laws will be thrilled to have 4 additional family members in the house, it’s still a good idea to broach the subject of what would happen during a personal disaster so you know where you will and won’t be welcome.  To ease shelter concerns, also keep a few hundred dollars in cash on hand in your 72-hour kit or vehicle so you can potentially stay at a hotel temporarily as well.

Fire, as everyone from the caveman on can attest, is man’s most powerful discovery.  Knowing how to safely build, use, and put out a fire is a critical skill every man, woman and (depending on how early you teach your children things) child should know.  For those who think children shouldn’t know how to build a fire don’t understand that boys at least, will learn either the easy or hard way.=)  While a fire won’t come into play in every disaster scenario, knowing how to cook, boil water, and use one for warmth will be very handy during many.

Light is one of those items not found on every real prepper’s list.  However, from a well-being standpoint, I consider light crucial to maintaining some semblance of normalcy in otherwise stressful circumstances.  At our house, we have several on-demand light sources such as Mag-lites (and a box of D-batteries neatly stashed right next to the flashlight) and a hand-crank flashlight, as well as candles and several oil and propane lanterns/lamps.  You can pick up some nice oil lamps at many tag sales for a dollar or two, so never pay retail for one.  My wife had a run of about a half-dozen tag sales where she came back with over a dozen, several of which we ended up giving away!  With new LED technology, you can also get some great light sources now that use very little in terms of battery power.

While there is a ton more that goes into preparedness, from storing your irreplaceable documents to learning how to prepare for an extended event, having the above in place will give you something to build on.  Most importantly, it gives you something simple that you can (and should) DO RIGHT NOW.  Do not get stuck in ‘research paralysis’ land, which I have watched many people do.  In order to not do anything wrong, I’ve seen some folks not do anything at all, and that is a shame.  If you have this type of paralysis, many times it will go away as soon as you do something.  Pick up a couple of gallons of water, some long-lasting food, a good flashlight, and some cool stormproof matches tomorrow, and realize that preparedness is just another part of life, like going to the gym, paying your bills, and going to school.  If you don’t over-complicate it, you might even enjoy it!

Good luck y’all!


03 2012

Crazy Prepper Non-Spending Challenge 2012

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!


01 2012

5 Ways to Build a Debt-Free Business

Sixth months ago today I quit my day job at a very respected Fortune 200 company.  Scary, yes.  I worried about my wife, our home, our pets, and whether this crazy idea could really take care of them all.  Today, I thank everyone who has helped us answer that question.  Our customers, our suppliers, and even our critics.  We’ve made our share of mistakes, but each one has helped us build a better business.

This weekend I leave for a trip to Vegas for Pack Expo, the largest packaging conference in the US.  Just a simple (and very inexpensive) business trip makes me realize how far we’ve come.  I used to travel infrequently when I worked for the giant corporation, and I almost always hated it.  Now that I am doing it as the owner of a company, the entire feel is different.  I’ve scheduled something almost every hour of the day, to try to maximize the products and services I might be able to offer to our customers when I get back.  I’m excited to meet some of my suppliers face-to-face for the first time.  I’m looking forward to letting my wife demonstrate her knowledge as well, as she’ll be running the whole kit and caboodle while I’m gone.

After sixth months of living the ‘American Dream’, one of the most enjoyable parts of my job now is talking to people, friends and family, and often customers, about the possibilities…both in my life and career, and theirs.  At the same time that I am approaching venture capitalists and angel investors about some ideas I would like to turn into reality, I do my best to offer those around me the same on a smaller scale.  I tell folks, yes, you really can quit your jobs.  You can build a business from scratch, with cash and without debt.  Yes, there are still opportunities for those who will take them.

If I had to offer 5 pieces of advice to someone considering starting a business or trying to figure out how to grow one they already have, here they are:

1:  Do more with your brand.

Many folks get stuck in what they are doing and don’t realize there are many ways to monetize or spread a brand.  I’d love to see my local electrician or plumber start a Facebook page or blog and answer basic questions for free.  While I know our blog has been pretty thin much of the time, we try to add value with Advice and Beans here, our little newsletter we put in each order now, and our Facebook page.   We also aim to be accessible by phone or email and to share what we know (or don’t know) openly.  I know many businesses that do their best to give away as little information (for free at least) as possible, and that is one of the worst ways to grow your business.  The more ways you can interact with a customer, the more chances to make a positive impression, which in turn (with hope) lead to more sales or recommendations to others.

2:  Don’t be afraid to try something new.

While several of our product lines other than the food storage supplies haven’t done great, we have had some success with the most random things (For example, we almost sold out of the new Stormproof Matches we are carrying in the store at the Gun Show this past weekend).  Both my wife and I recognize that Preparedness, while a great niche, is also a pretty small one in terms of the overall market.  Backing oneself into a corner is not a great way to stay in business if one product line turns sour.  And so, we are always on the lookout for new products and services to offer.  In fact, we’ve got some ideas on the drawing board we hope to patent, and that could be huge in the market.

3:  Grow only as fast as you can afford.

Our office is still in our home.  We sublet some warehouse space, but just enough to work from.  It’s sometimes inconvenient to have our entire bottom floor devoted to the business, but we never would have been able to sustain a decent cash flow if we had to rent an office or dedicated warehouse space.  I’ve heard more than a few folks tell me you can’t start a business without loans and capital, and it just isn’t true.

We started our business buying a couple of cases of product at time.  Then we ordered half a pallet.  Then a full pallet.  Now, some of our shipments can take up half a tractor trailer.  The main benefit of this type of growth is you prove your market, and you’re unlikely to be stuck with a ton of stuff you’ll never be able to sell.

4:  Everything needs to have more than one purpose.

The last point notwithstanding, I’ve been looking for a small retail space to open a modest preparedness store in Nashville.  However, instead of just renting anything that comes along, I have several criteria for the space.  For example, it has to have a dock, so that I can stop renting the warehouse space and accept pallet deliveries.   However, I also remember how hard it was when I first started the business to figure out how to receive deliveries…so to defray costs I would offer others the opportunity to use my dock and storage space for their own businesses.

I would also go into a space knowing that a retail preparedness store might not be the biggest draw, so my goal would only be to cover my costs through walk-in traffic.  We’re a mail-order company, and we’re good at it.  That would still be our main focus, and a storefront would really just be a place for us to work that isn’t our house!=)

Another example is the enclosed trailer we just bought.  The business is a 24/7 machine, and we recognize that.  However, having a trailer will allow us to take the business on the road, so we don’t come to resent not having many days off or vacations.  Next month we’ll be taking our first trip to visit family in Connecticut.  However, we’ll be outfitting the trailer with a computer and printer to process orders, and shelving to accommodate inventory.  We’ll be putting advertising on the sides to hopefully draw some business while we’re on the road; we’ll stop along the way to answer questions or visit with our customers.

So never just buy something with only one purpose in mind; always work to maximize the return of every investment.

5:  Just Do It.

Nike came up with one of the best slogans ever.  I’ve talked to literally hundreds of people who feel stuck in their jobs and their lives.  But do you know how many of them were actually willing to give up their TV time, or their Youtube watching, or their weekends, to really try to start something?  None.  Not one.  Heck, I’ve offered to buy people their first shipment of wholesale inventory if they wanted to try selling something on eBay (yes, I also expected a return if they made a profit), and I still haven’t been able to get any takers.

For many years I was those people, so I completely understand how easy it is to be trapped in a particular lifestyle.  I watched my brother and my father come up with literally dozens of ideas that with a little work could have been profitable businesses.  My brother died two years ago at 42, never having tried any of them.  My father is 73, with all the time in the world, and I can’t get him to either.

To be honest, I think that is the reason I actually pulled the trigger.  I didn’t want to end up like I did, giving my brother’s eulogy.  I talked about how brilliant, and friendly, and open, and funny, and loving he was, and how much people adored him.  What I really wanted to say was that he took his ideas, and made them real…but I couldn’t.  Heck, I would rather have said he tried and failed, than never tried at all.  And that’s what I want someone to say about me.

While I hope to be still selling Mylar Bags and Oxygen Absorbers in 25 years, I also plan to have 5 other businesses running as well.  Once I actually started this business, it was like a wave…I saw the opportunities available in everything today.  I have ideas for several pieces of software, for a unique shooting range, a game store, a theme park…and each idea is the stepping stone for the next.  Don’t ever believe there is not something out there for you to do, if you choose to try.   I think every 20-something, every single mother, every corporate middle-manager, every unemployed carpenter, has the same potential to build and manage a business.

If they’ll just try.




09 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