Posts Tagged ‘Organizing’

The Mother of Invention

After you have changed something in your life, whether a longtime habit, an ugly couch or a way of doing things, have you ever said ‘why on earth didn’t I do this sooner?’  When I worked in the corporate world, one of my duties was efficiency studies, where I would examine a process in an effort to find a way to improve it.  Often, I could evaluate an old process and find ways to cut the time necessary to perform it in half, and sometimes even eliminate it or fold it into something personnel were already doing.  I find myself a little red-faced, because while I regularly did that for my former company, it has taken me a long time to do it for my own.  Not only that, when I started prepping for this post (pardon the pun), I noticed that many areas of life, whether business related, personal, or among social groups (including Survival Club, our prep group), could use a good going-over to figure out where the inefficiencies are.

It used to be the most painful part of my job, though one of absolute necessity, was printing labels for our outgoing shipments.  We used Paypal for many of our labels, and the process was downright frustrating.  It would take over two minutes to process each.  Only 8 weeks ago, I spent over 3 hours a day to process labels, reprint labels I did wrong, or print labels for re-shipments.  I never stopped to think, until recently, what a huge burden that was…mainly because all the work was still getting done.  As we looked at moving to our warehouse and possibly hiring a full-time employee, it finally dawned that I needed to fix it.  What flipped the switch for me was the thought of an employee wasting as much time as I was doing essentially nothing (because the label printing process was more waiting for Paypal screens to load than actually doing anything).  After only a few hours of research, I was testing a couple of new pieces of software that would replace our entire label process.  We are using one of those today, and the process that once took hours now takes 20 minutes or less per day.  It does cost $100 per month, but with an estimated 90 hours of time saved, I would only have to be worth $1.10 an hour for us to break even, not even minimum wage, a feat I hope I can manage!  To be honest, most of those 90 hours are being spent with my wife, who had been living with me working 12-14 hours a day, 6-7 days a week for the past year or so.  My only regret, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, was not doing it sooner.  I can’t begin to explain what this one change has meant for my family life, my anxiety level, and my enjoyment of the business we have created.

A similar situation arose with our prep group recently.  We have been working (sort of) hard trying to finish up the water project I’ve mentioned a few times on the blog.  Until it is done, every monthly meeting is being spent on completing it.  One of our members pointed out that often, almost every meeting, we didn’t have all the fittings, tools, or parts we needed to do the day’s work, and we would have to send a member to the store.  Meanwhile, the rest of the group would sit around waiting at the bottom of the valley we are working in, often freezing our tails off.  Finally, recognizing this, we decided that the week prior to our meeting, we would have a brief email exchange regarding the goal for the weekend, and one person would be assigned to pick up whatever was needed.  For about 15 minutes of effort emailing, and another hour for someone to go to the store, we saved the entire group 10 man-hours worth of sitting around, for a savings of over 7 hours…not to mention the decreased frustration level.

While my wife and I haven’t decided yet if we’ll change anything, we have decided to expand this theme and examine our food, water, medical and other family preps, and I think for everyone it is a good idea to do the same every so often.  What worked for us 5 years ago when we started prepping might not work today, but we will never know it if we assume all is well and don’t take stock of our situation.  Those who have prepped for a modest period of time (2-4 years) probably have the most to gain from a prep-audit.  The knowledge base one has in that range is likely to have improved enormously with even a decent amount of planning and reading.  One big example for us was finding out my wife was gluten-intolerant…with us having stored 400 pounds of wheat!  Another was determining we didn’t really like the pinto beans we had stored.  For the first problem, we laid in a couple hundred pounds of gluten-free flour (which we use and rotate every 12 months or so), and for the other we switched the types of beans we had stored to ones we enjoyed more.  I’ve heard many people say that if a true long-term emergency did happen, ‘we’ll use it if we have to’.  While true, why set yourself up for a miserable dining experience on top of what would already be a stressful situation?  If we are spending all day clearing brush, pounding fence posts, or chopping wood, the last thing I want is to come in to a meal I won’t enjoy!

So if you find yourself thinking there is something in your life that just doesn’t work well, you’re probably right.  For me, preparedness has always been about making some modest changes to my life to put myself in a position to better handle any challenges that come my way, whether they are personal, business-related, financial or social.





04 2012

What Can I Do Today? Document Edition.

 Welcome to the Document Edition of What Can I Do Today!

Today, let’s work on getting our vital documents together and organized. As these events are supposed to be things we can do in 15 minutes or less, what you can do is gather your documents together over the course of the next week as you clean the house, organize a closet, or other chores where you might run across things you need to save.  Then, when you have time, you can develop a filing system for each item.

I’ll admit, organizing paperwork is an incredible challenge for both the Advice-Wife and I.  We have a poor filing system, and things often get misplaced.  What we’re looking for is usually somewhere, but often not where we can actually find it.  Thus today, like every episode of WCIDT, I’ll be following my own advice.

First, what documents should we be holding onto? Let’s start with these (I’m assuming your Driver’s License lives in your wallet!):

Birth Certificate

Social Security Card


These are your primary identification documents, and are often used to apply for other pieces of identification, such as a Drivers License. While not everyone has or needs a Passport, it is often a better form of identfication than your Driver’s License. If you plan on travelling out of the country, work on getting your Passport well in advance of your trip, as it can take some time. There are methods to expedite the process, but it makes it more expensive.

I actually don’t have a copy of my Birth Certificate; I sent off for a certified copy few years back in order to get my Passport, but then I proceeded to lose it.  Thus, I will go here, pick my state, and follow the instructions in order to get a copy. Remember, to get a copy of your birth certificate, you need to apply in the state where you were born, not the state you are currently living in.

The next category of documents we should put our hands on are our estate documents.  There are few things more tragic than an extended probate process due to a lack of simple planning.  If you do not have a Will/Living Will, I’d recommend starting the process (though it is outside the scope of this episode!).  One of my wife’s clients offered to do up a Will/Living Will for us as our wedding present.  We’re still working through the process, but we’ll put it back on a front burner today!

So look for these:

Will/Living Will

Marriage License

Divorce Papers

Death Certificates of family members where you were a beneficiary

Power of Attorney

Life Insurance Beneficiary Forms

Car Title

DD 214 (If you were in the Military)

Financial Account Beneficiary Forms (such as for a 401(k) or an IRA)

Status of Finance Document – This is something that I put together quarterly that shows the state of our family’s finances, including where each account is held, along with passwords for my wife so she doesn’t have to worry about having access to our accounts should something happen to me.

Previous Year Tax Returns

W-2’s and 1099’s

There are some other financial documents that should be on hand, usually because they will make life easier in the event you need them for some reason.  However, for this project, putting your hands on the first two categories is a great start!  If you are truly bold though, work on a filing system for these as well:

Mortgage Documents

Pay Stubs – 6 months (these are useful to have on hand when applying for a mortgage or car loan.)

Bank Statements – (If you can get these online, don’t worry about keeping more than a rolling 12-month cycle)

Chartitable Giving Statements (For example, if you give to Goodwill, they will give you a receipt for tax purposes)

So now that you have them all together, what should you do with them?  For the first two categories we went through, I absolutely recommend either putting them in a Safe Deposit Box at a local bank, or putting them into a fireproof box or safe. For the others, file by date and purge appropriately.  For example, you don’t need to be holding on to your mortgage documents from 3 houses ago.  If you are obsessive compulsive (like my dad), you can set up a long term storage box that lives in your attic with these types of documents.  In any case, get them out of the way of your current documents, and make sure you label your long-term boxes by year(s) and document types.

That’s enough for now, I am going to go follow my own advice!


05 2010

Welcome Part 2

So what’s it going to be like around here?

One thing my career in Procurement has taught me is that customer service is the most important element of building relationships, whether with co-workers, suppliers, or managment.  I will apply that to this site as well.  And part of that means being predictable.  Thus, establishing a schedule for Advice and Beans is as important as getting to work on time and being professional and courteous once there.  I’ve read hundreds of blogs, and you can usually tell very quickly whether it is a passion or a chore for the owner. 

The original Survival Blog is an example of a site where the owner loves what he does.  The site is updated every day like clockwork, and has been for years.  For those who have moved beyond the basics or simply wants to browse the most extensive survival and prepping archives anywhere, go there and enjoy.  James Wesley, Rawles (yes, the comma is supposed to be there, but you’ll have to read his site to find out why) is one of the reasons I began prepping, and his site is one of the reasons for mine.  It is full of so much information that sometimes I wish someone would break it all down for me into bite-size pieces that I can apply immediately.  I hope you’ll find that one of the themes of my life and this blog is  ‘Put your money where your mouth is.’  Well, that’s exactly what I’m going to do, and Advice and Beans will be a bridge between the advanced staged prepping you’ll find elsewhere and the foundation you need to get you there.

On the other hand, the last prepping blog I read had some good information, but the author posted eratically, sometimes once a month, sometimes once every three.  It seems it would be hard to develop a community with such a sporadic schedule.  As you, the reader, are the most important part of Advice and Beans, I hope the dialog will be much more frequent!

So what’s the plan?

My current plan is to have a new original post up Monday, Wednesday and Friday of every week.  For the first several months, these will be the ‘fundamentals’ posts discussed earlier, the baby steps of prepping or the discussing of why we do it. 

Every other Saturday there will be a special column ‘Boys with Toys’, where I review one of my favorite pieces of gear, a book, or something a reader requests.

Once or twice a week I’ll be doing a little bit called ‘What Can I Do Today?’. This will be something that you and I can and should do, well, today. It is something easy and usually won’t take more than 15-20 minutes. Also, my commitment to you is anything I suggest in ‘What can I do today?’, I will be doing myself!

Plus, every time I come across what I consider a useful, pertinent or interesting article or video I will link to it as well, so you’ll find something new here almost every day! 

And while I won’t commit to it quite yet, once a month I plan to post a podcast (basically, a video blog post).  These may range from showing you how I have my preps set up, doing a video version of Boys with Toys, or demonstrating actual techniques, such as starting a fire with one of those cool magnesium things or showing you how to vacuum-pack your own food.  If I get better at video editing and such, I may try to do more of these as time goes on.

So what’s the long-term plan for Advice and Beans?

Very few people make a living doing exactly what they want, and I am no exception.  While I love my current job, Advice and Beans is a baby step toward the goal of having a small business that is exactly what I want to do with my life, supports my family, or at least supports itself.  More ‘putting my money where my mouth is.’  If the site and store paid for the hosting costs and bandwidth of the site, I would consider it a success.  Any more would be a blessing. 

However, that said, I will not turn this site into a giant page full of flashing advertisements.  I do plan to have a couple of ads that I pray will help defray the cost of the site, but they will be tasteful and useful or they will be removed.  Additionally, within some posts I will have an Amazon Affiliate advertisement, but only to products I would (or have) bought myself.  Each advertisement through Amazon where someone buys something, I get a very small commission. So, if you like the site, I hope every once in a while you’ll click through to Amazon and make a purchase!  (You can even just use the search feature on the right hand side of the page, it doesn’t have to be an actual linked product!)

Finally, at the Advice and Beans store, I will be selling a small selection of items such as mylar bags, oxygen absorbers, and other basic prepping items.  Being in Procurement and realizing that I want to develop a community here and not just a business, any item I put up in the store will be at or around the lowest price I can find it on the net.  I for one check prices on darn near everything, and I expect many of you do the same.  Thus, I won’t try to sell you overpriced junk you don’t need.  Additionally, each item I sell that needs it will come with an instruction sheet, so you’ll never have to guess how to use it (as I did with some of my very early purchases).  All items will also have a 30-day, no questions asked, money back guarantee (though if the product is not defective, you’ll have to cover return shipping).  I would much rather have a reader than a sale, so if you’re not happy with something, I will make it right!

Well, that’s about it in the way of introduction.  Next post bright and early Monday morning we’ll define what we mean when we say ‘prepping’ to make sure we’re all on the same page!



05 2010