Wednesday, April 14, 2010
THE ECONOMICS OF UNCERTAINTY
Planning For Exigent Times
One would have to be living in a fool’s paradise not to be concerned about the economic pitfalls which pockmark the road ahead for the citizens of a society which spends money with an unprecedented profligacy in the face of widespread joblessness. If I owned a copy of the mythical “crystal ball”, I might shy away from looking into it for fear its knowledge might lead to a case of full-blown depression. Whoops! There’s that ugly word – depression. In one way or another, whether it be the imposition of a new “hidden” tax, a reduced valuation of our currency, or the undermining of a free-market profit motive, we are apt to see its affect in the availability of certain goods and services, or in our ability to afford them. Because I continue to teach family and community preparedness throughout southwestern Utah, I face questions on this subject from virtually every audience. Because it is a multi-faceted challenge, there is no single or simple answer, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Sometimes fragments of wisdom appear in unexpected places. On a box of herb tea some years ago, I noticed a list of ten simple steps to a happy life. One of them so impressed me that it became a fixture in the book of rules I try to live by. It said simply, LIVE BENEATH YOUR MEANS. Four simple words that seemed at the time to fly in the face of the “good times” going on all around me. It fit in well with the concept of greater self-reliance which had motivated me throughout much of my life.
One of my regular pastimes is to walk the aisles of food stores and supermarkets, taking the measure of products and prices, and noting the shopping habits of people around me. From all this, and a few other personal observations, I have a few strategies which seem to fit in with the economics of uncertainty, worth sharing.
• Have a budget, and stick to it. Know how much you are going to spend before you leave home.
• Shop from a list.(I carry two: one for things we need, the other for long-term storage items.)
• Keep a record of purchases, and learn from buying experiences.
• Try to place an increased emphasis on non-perishable food items, with a long shelf life.
• If you are shopping for one or two items, don’t take a shopping cart.
• Avoid impulse buying, even if you feel guilty for checking out with so little. Shop less often.
• Consider leaving the kids at home if possible; they live for impulse buying. Shop smart.
• Bigger isn’t always better. Super size packaging may actually cost more per unit and be wasteful in the bargain. Gallon-size quantities might look attractive on the storage shelf, but be impractical in use. Don’t be afraid to carry a pocket calculator, and use it for comparisons.
• Brand loyalty can be costly; the more generic product probably comes from the same source. More than 20% of the cost of highly-promoted food items goes to packaging and advertising.
• Cut down on fuel costs by shopping less often, combining errands and car-pooling with neighbors and friends. But keep your tank above the half mark for possible emergencies.
• By working from a planned storage surplus, you can avoid paying the higher price out of necessity, and paying less by buying only when the price is right.
Cereals tend to be the most over-priced and “seductive” food items on the store shelf. By combining rolled oats and other grains, dried fruit, nuts and sweetening of choice, home-made granolas can be made far more cheaply and more nutritiously.
Home Preparedness is not so much an event as a process. We get there often by baby steps, multiplied by time and persistence. One corner of our bedroom dresser usually holds an accumulation of pocket change I leave in tidy piles. I sometimes notice that the stack of quarters has magically diminished in height – almost overnight, but I don’t say much about it in the interest of marital harmony. Recently though, my wife informed me that her (our) stash of quarters has grown to more than $500. What she has been practicing is what I call “cookie jar economics”; an art form which underlines the whole concept of gradualism I have been talking about. Both at home and in the marketplace¸ it is a good time to look for ways to live beneath our means.
Al Cooper teaches Family & Community Preparedness classes by invitation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org His radio program can be heard at 4:00 PM Mondays on KSUB talk radio, 590AM