Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Home Storage Food Online

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Provident Living Website has a form for ordering food from the Church's Home Storage Centers. Generally, the centers are located in areas with a larger concentration of the Church's members. If you are interested in visiting a center, you can contact a member of the Church and ask them to accompany you to a local center.

Although you may not be located near to a Home Storage Center, the form itself provides a way to compare prices and to see what foods can safely be stored for extended periods of time. The Provident Living Website also provides valuable help in all areas of preparedness, not just food storage.

The members of the Church believe that a cardinal principle of the gospel is to prepare for the day of scarcity. Work, industry, frugality are part of the royal order of life. Remember these words from Paul: “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (As quoted from Keith B. McMullin, “Lay Up in Store,” Ensign, May 2007, 51–53)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Education Pays

There is a inverse relationship between the unemployment rate in 2008 and a person's level of education. A graph from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows annual average for the unemployment rate for people with doctoral degrees was only 2%, while those with less than a high school diploma were at 9%. If you need any more incentive for staying in school, the same graph shows the median weekly earnings in 2008 for those with a doctoral degree was $1,555 while those with less than a high school education earned only $426 a week. That means half of all the people in the U.S. with less than a high school degree earn less than $426 a week. Those people with professional degrees made less but had a lower unemployment rate.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reported another monthly increase throughout the U.S. in unemployment. The national unemployment rate rose from 7.6 percent in January to 8.1 percent in February, which was 3.3 percentage points higher than a year earlier. The only state to increase employment was Louisiana. However, Michigan has a jobless rate of 12%.

Despite the clear message that staying in school or going back can pay significant dividends, this rule may not always be the case. In looking at the Occupational Outlook Handbook, out of the top twenty jobs expected to have the greatest increases in numbers over the next seven years, only four of the twenty involved a graduate or professional degree.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Life is like a journey in a wagon

In the pioneer days, my ancestors traveled long distances, across the continent and from Utah to Arizona, in horse or ox drawn wagons. These pioneers had to make hard decisions about what to take with them and what to leave behind. In a talk given on 13 November 1990, Ardeth G. Kapp said, "We read about the pioneers who, in the early history of the Church, left their possessions, "their things," and headed west. Those who were with the handcart company who would push or pull their carts into the wilderness would give much thought to what they would make room for in their wagons and what they would be willing to leave behind. Even after the journey began, some things had to be unloaded along the way for people to reach their destination."

She went on to say, "In our season of abundance and excess, even while we are counseled to reduce and simplify, there will be a high level of frustration until we understand the value of pruning. When someone asks the question, "How do you do it all?" our answer should be, "We don't." We must be willing to let go of many things but defend with our lives the essentials."

What if you had to leave tomorrow and all you could take with you had to fit in your car. What would you take and what would you leave? If there are things that you would leave, why do you keep them? If you fear the lose of things, then maybe things are more important to you than peace of mind and security. Preparation involves making decisions about what is really necessary and important and discarding the unneeded and the unnecessary.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Riding out the storm

“Many more people could ride out the storm-tossed waves in their economic lives if they had their . . . supply of food . . . and were debt-free. Today we find that many have followed this counsel in reverse: they have at least a year’s supply of debt and are food-free.” President Thomas S. Monson, “That Noble Gift— Love at Home,” Church News, May 12, 2001, 7.

Being debt free and having a supply of food is good start, but one of the most important preparations we can make in the present hard times, is for the loss of our employment. Life has no guarantees except that it will end. We cannot assume that the job we now have will continue. Companies go out of business, government budgets are cut, partners disagree, the ways that employment can end are themselves endless.

What can we do to prepare for the loss of a job? Unfortunately, many people strongly identify their self worth with their employment. This is evident when people are asked to introduce themselves, in the great majority of times (especially men) define themselves by the type of work they do. Reference is repeatedly made to the fact that men who retire suffer more physical and mental illness than those who continue working. This is especially true for professionals, whose lives are wrapped up their work. Coping with the loss can be overwhelming.

The starting point for an assessment of our job capabilities is a realistic inventory of our actual job skills. It is also important to evaluate whether or not your particular skills are needed in the geographic area in which you are presently employed.

Although I have been employed as an attorney most of my life, I left the profession voluntarily for more than six years to work in computer businesses. I distinctly remember driving home from the law office one day, thinking about my skills and possible job opportunities and realizing that I didn't have to be a lawyer. I think that this realization never comes to those who make no effort to broaden their skills and interests. I am constantly reminded of this when I see friends spending months and months pursuing replacement employment with the exact same job description and in the exact same geographic area.

An important part of our preparedness is broadening our job skills and becoming more adaptable to changing times.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Short term vs. long term food storage

Most food products lose nutrients over time. Prepared foods come with a date stamped expiration, after which the manufacturer does not recommend use. Notwithstanding the date stamp, many foods will still be edible long after that date. The reason for following the guidelines, is that knowing which foods fall into the category of extended shelf life is very difficult to predict.

However, there is a whole category of foods that have tested to extra long shelf life. As quoted from the Provident Living Website, "While there is a decline in nutritional quality and taste over time, depending on the original quality of food and how it was processed, packaged, and stored, the studies show that even after being stored long-term, the food will help sustain life in an emergency."

Those foods that store well for as long as 30 years, so long as they are kept dry and free from pest infestation, are wheat, white rice, corn, sugar, pinto beans, rolled oats, pasta, potato flakes and apple slices. Both non-fat powdered milk and dehydrated carrots can last as long as 20 years. Some other staples that have a long shelf life include items like salt, baking soda, and Vitamin C.

Foods high in oil and vegetable oil itself may only last one or two years.

Short term storage works well with a system of rotation, putting the newly purchased items in the back in a first in-first out system of management. If you inventory your food supply and find items that are older and have not been consumed, you can draw the conclusion that your particular needs do not include that item.

In all food storage situations, local laws and ordinances concerning food should be observed. Although in the U.S. food storage is somewhat unusual, it is not bizarre or strange to have a adequate food supply for times of need or emergency.

Monday, March 23, 2009

What a sacrifice!

A recent news article on the impact of the downturn in the economy quoted a young married woman as claiming that her concern about her job and her husband's job had her purchasing generic paper towels over a brand name. I was struck by this person's efforts to get back to the basics, regular no-name paper towels. What a sacrifice! But it did get me thinking about the impact our purchasing choices have on our own personal cost of living.

I really don't know whether the reporters who use this kind of example are serious or not. But look at the difference in cost between a generic or house brand of paper towels and the high end brand names and you will see significant differences in price per sheet or price per use, however you want to look at it. Underlying this concern about paper towels is another more serious issue. The notion that you have to use a consumable. A Swifter instead of a mop. A paper towel instead of a wash cloth. A disposable duster rather than a dust cloth.

Modern advertising has convinced the younger generation of middle class educated people that they can only be clean and sanitary if they use the "disposable" product instead of the germy old fashioned re-usable cloth. This attitude of disposable commodities permeates our society to such an extent that most people never even see the alternative, which in most cases is much less expensive (and has less of an environmental impact).

You may not spend much on paper products, but you could probably spend less. Using less expensive options is not so much an exercise in frugality as it is an exercise in realizing that paying to dust your home may not be the best overall solution. It is impossible to imagine how a person caught up in the spend to clean mode could understand the real issue of living providently. Next time there is a "spill" unlike the TV ads, try using a reusable wash cloth instead of a paper towel.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Learning to manage your money

Whatever your income level, you can always do a better job of managing the resources you have. Unless you are faced with a catastrophic loss due to injury, illness or death, how you manage your resources determines whether or not you survive or go into debt. Controlling your expenditures is definitely the first level of concern. but many people lose money through ignorance of their rights and knowing their options.

The U.S. Financial Literacy and Education Commission (the government has a commission for everything) has an extensive Website called "Mymoney." They have resources on budgeting and taxes, credit, financial planning, home ownership, paying for education, children, privacy, fraud, scams, responding to life events, retirement planning, saving and investing and starting a small business.

Education is the first step to enlightenment. Use the resources available to educate yourself as to the best ways to avoid debt and survive these hard times.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I find it sad

I read more and more stories in the news about older people losing their jobs. Now, that may be a sad state of affairs, but not as sad as the aftermath. So many of these people are quoted as not knowing what to do with their time. The loss of human productivity through lack of alternatives is appalling. It doesn't seem to occur to these people to volunteer at a local charity, or library, or homeless shelter, or volunteer at the local school.

What about learning? There are always hundreds of free classes, on-line, off-line or from schools, community colleges or universities. What about learning a new trade, a new language, a new way of life? What about starting a new business? Or just getting out and exercising and enjoying nature?

There are the exceptions. One man in our neighborhood, upon losing his job, has turned his whole back yard into a productive garden, growing fruit and vegetables to feed his family. Personally, if I were to lose my job (not likely, by the way unless through illness or senility) I have so many projects in place, lined up, that it would be years before I ever had a day off.

The tragedy of life isn't in the things we lose, but in what we do or do not do with what is left.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Some thoughts on the financial crisis

A recent article in USA Today highlighted the anxiety and need for second jobs of those impacted by the recent economic woes. Using the example of a bank manager whose wife was laid off by Anheuser-Busch. "There's definitely anxiety," says the husband, whose employer is cutting his salary by 5% this year. Now, if you have read any of my past posts, you can probably guess what is coming: (names omitted)

The family's income dropped from about $93,000 to $47,000 a year. After paying their $1,700 mortgage and some of their roughly $50,000 in credit card debt each month, the husband says, there's barely $200 left.

So they tap their savings, and weigh every expenditure — from an ice cream cone to a haircut.

"Sometimes you can't afford to get food," he says. "We just scrape whatever's in (the pantry)."

The wife remains unemployed, but is searching for a job.

In February, the husband tried to get food stamps and make payment arrangements with his credit card companies. But he was turned down for both — because he earned too much money to qualify for food aid, and he already had the lowest interest rates offered on his cards.

What is wrong with this picture? $50,000 in credit card debt on the previous income of $93,000 a year!!! Not only that, on an income of $47,000 a year he tries to get food stamps. Why aren't I sympathetic to this scenario? What happened to thrift, provident living and food storage? And we expect the U.S. Government to bail out these people?

The article also mentions a 39-year-old lawyer, who has three children and is concerned about her family's financial security. She fears her husband's job could be cut. What happened to savings and paying off debt? Why not use some of that $93,000 to pay off all those credit cards and the house too?

Now, someone is going to say, they probably got all that debt from medical bills. Not likely, with a job at Anheuser-Busch and medical coverage.

It is really time not just to think about the basics of provident living, but to do something about it. Get out of debt. Build up your food storage to have a three month's supply of food and other necessities, put off purchasing anything that you cannot afford. Live frugally and survive. What is more prosper in hard times.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

5 ways to significant savings

Here are some simple and reasonable suggestions for saving money. They do not take any major changes in the way you live or spend, but they are methods of savings that will, in some cases, dramatically affect the way you view your expenditures. Recent news reports indicate that Americans are saving more for the first time in years. If you aren't one of those whose savings have increased, maybe you could try some or all of the following:

1. Pay off existing debt and avoid interest payments.

One of the first ways to save significant amounts of money is to stop using credit and start moving towards paying off high interest loans. Begin by identifying the actual rate of interest you are paying on any credit balances. You are in real danger if you are paying only the minimum due on credit cards or other revolving credit obligations. Start by paying more than the minimum on the debt with the highest interest. Even a small payment in excess of the accumulated interest will start to have an effect. When one obligation is paid, take the money that went to that payment and apply it, plus the regular payment, on the next higher interest rate obligation. Although this method starts slowly, as payments accumulate, the debts will get paid faster and faster.

Once you have paid off high interest obligations. Do not use those credit cards again. Cut them up.

2. Substitute lower priced store bought items.

Many times brand name merchandise is no better quality or usefulness than the generics. But beware of generics that actually cost more than the name brand! Use the cost comparison labels in the supermarkets and try not to purchase items on a whim or spur of the moment. Plan all your purchases.

3. Plan shopping and activities to conserve fuel.

It is amazing how much time and money you can spend on short shopping or activity trips. Many the children don't need five extra curricular classes a week. Maybe, by making lists and keeping track of purchases, you can go to the store only once a week, rather than daily. Use your networking skills to carpool, even though gas prices have come down from historically high levels, there is still room to make significant savings through driving less.

4. Lower your thermostat.

High fuel costs do not just affect driving costs. Home heating and cooling costs can be one of the most significant expenses for a family. Lowering your thermostat in winter and raising it in the summer can have a dramatic impact on the cost of heating and cooling. Wear a sweater, rather than heat the house. Use the outside temperature to your advantage by opening and closing windows. Spend a little time analyzing your window coverings and shade possibilities. Spend more time outside.

5. Take advantage of sales.

The Internet has given all of us the ability to shop for values on items we need. But it has also made a available the ability to purchase items we would never have purchased. Be aware of the actual cost of items. I have seen items marked for sale, some of which were really higher priced than the "regular" cost. It may be necessary to monitor the price of an item over a period of time to see if a "sale" is nothing more than the usual seasonal variation in prices.

The amount that can be saved by being aware of your spending habits and taking charge of your spending can be significant.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Poverty -- a perspective

Once while traveling home from my mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I visited Lima, Peru. Lima is a unique city. The coastal desert of Peru is very dry, it makes the Sonoran Desert look like a jungle. Even though I had lived in Argentina for two years, nothing had prepared me for the poverty of Lima. I was by myself and walked or rode the buses around the city. It took me a while to realize that the cars that were stopping at the bus stops, were actually "buses." The private owners had a route and when they stopped, you just climbed in.

I soon discovered that in Peru, the rich people lived in the center of the city and the poorer people lived on the hills in the "suburbs." I climbed the hills and soon became very concerned for my well being. The pens were full of pigs and chickens and the smell was overpowering. I felt very rich and very vulnerable. I took the picture above and hurriedly left.

Years later, I was living in Panama. I worked in the Church in downtown Panama City, while I was serving in the U.S. Army. I took the above picture from a hill overlooking the city. Now, Panama is much more modern and the downtown is all high rise hotels and offices, but back then the areas with the metal roofs were crowded with the poorest people imaginable. The average occupancy of the downtown area, in some places was 50 people per room. In my work in the Church, I would often go into these poorer areas. By this time in my life I had no fear. I walked through the crowds and the garbage and refuse and felt right at home. I loved the people and I loved the City.

One day we were looking at old pictures from my missionary experience. When I came to the picture at the beginning of this post, I could not remember where this place was. I had not remembered going into a nice prosperous looking suburb, especially one with hills. It took me a long time to realize that this was the "poor" neighborhood in Lima.

I have now seen real poverty. I know what it is like to live without sufficient food or clean drinking water. I know what it is like to have a whole family, mother, father, six or seven children, some married and grandchildren, 23 people living in a one bedroom apartment with one bathroom.

I do not feel that I am any better than any of these people. They are all children of a loving Heavenly Father. But one thing I can say, if you haven't lived with these people you don't know poverty. Losing a few dollars (or even a lot) in the fall of the stock market is no preparation for real poverty. Get a perspective on life and appreciate the great abundance and blessings of our lives. One thing I did learn, we can certainly live happy and well without much more than a tin roof and some rice and beans.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Netbooks, the challenge to never stop learning

There are thousands of well paying jobs today that did not even exist ten years ago. Changes in technology are accelerating despite the economic crisis. Right now, for example, a whole new type of computer is being sold, the netbook. This category of computer is so new, you may not have seen one or you may have seen one and not noticed. Recently, Costco featured a display of netbook computers by HP for under $500. The first true netbook is considered to be the ASUS Eee PC introduced in 2007. As reviewed in Wikipedia, it was noted for its combination of a light weight, Linux operating system, solid-state drive and relatively low cost. Newer models have added the option of Windows XP operating system and traditional hard disk drives. Following the EeePC, Everex launched its CloudBook, MSI released the Wind, Dell and HP both released a "Mini" series (the Inspiron Mini and HP Mini), and others soon followed suit. Windows XP based models were also introduced.

A quick check of the prices shows that these mini-computers begin around $250 new.

It is even rumored that Apple may develop a model, perhaps a hyped up iPhone with a keyboard.

One measure of preparation is the ability to react quickly to changing circumstances. As these new products begin to sell in the millions of units, various secondary markets, programs, accessories and add-ons will likely become available. These new inexpensive computers are not a passing fad, they will fundamentally change the way computers are sold and marketed again, and probably yet again when the market is redefined. Meanwhile, those who ignore reality and fail to prepare through additional learning, as the old saying goes, prepare to fail.

At a recent software company presentation, I was disappointed at the antagonism the computer users had to change. Not only were they unhappy that they might have to learn a new program, they were positively angry at the prospect of something new. Too bad for them. In this changing world economy, change and preparation and learning are the keys to survival.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

When all around are losing theirs...

It is hard to read the news without encountering a comparison of the recent economic downturn and the Great Depression. I didn't live through the 1930s, but my parents and grandparents did. There is not one of the comparisons about the present economy that bears even the slightest shadow of resemblance to the Great Depression. I have written about this topic before, but it bears repeating.

In the 1930s the life expectancy of the average male was 58.1 years and female was 61.6. Today, the average life expectancy is around 75.2 years for males and 80.4 years for females. The average salary in the 1930s was around $1,368 dollars a year. In 2009 dollars that salary is about $17,296 a year. In 2007, the median annual household income was $50,233. In the 1930s on an annual income of roughly $1000, most families had between $20 and $30 a week for food, clothing and shelter. That same $20 in 1930 translates to about $250 a week in 2009.

Before we start wringing our hands about the economy, think about all the things you couldn't buy in 1930; computers, CDs, DVDs, cell phones, home air conditioning, household refrigerators, digital cameras, the Internet and on and on an on.

I need only mention segregation, lack of education, the fact that a huge percentage of the U.S. population lived on farms and any of a hundred or thousand other changes in our society, to show that there is no way that conditions are even faintly comparable to today to the 1930s.

Will the economic downturn have an effect on our lives and our society? Yes, of course, but lets not get carried away thinking we are in any way comparable to the suffering and deplorable conditions that existed in the 1930s.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The hidden costs of credit cards and debit cards

Visa announced a new ad campaign. In previous campaigns Visa showed people making major purchases for vacations and other large ticket items using their credit card. The new campaign is an attempt to overcome the effects of the major downturn in the economy. The company explains the goal of the ads to deliver "a single marketing message that is consistent with the company's core strategy of migrating cash and check spending to Visa. The campaign is not about spending more, it is about using Visa for more of your spending."

Previously Visa was concerned that people were not using their credit card and were migrating to using debit cards. However, even though the user does not pay a fee for the use of their Visa Debit Card, the merchant who sells to the user does pay a fee. That fee is passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices for goods and services sold with the "convenience" of a debit or credit card. This hidden cost is compounded even more if the user is charged a fee for the use of the debit card, as is done in many gas stations across the country.

Another hidden cost of using your credit or debit card is the cost of the world wide advertising campaign. See videos of campaign. Notice the absence of such values as thrift, industry, savings, self control and provident living. We are in the middle of a severe economic downturn and Visa is advertising ice climbing, surfing, travel and a lot of people doing things that have nothing to do with everyday living, especially those people shown flying in a private plane.

Credit and debit cards are not free. You pay extra for every purchase.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Economic Seff-Reliance

Brigham Young University has a Center for Economic Self-Reliance. In answer to the question, what is the ESR Center, BYU says the following:
Poverty is a word that conveys a lot of different meanings to different people. Some see hunger, others see disease, while others see squalor. These mental pictures often come from the media's publication of dire cases of starvation and cataclysm. Yet there is another, often more insidious side to poverty. It is the fact that it exists just around the corner, and that we choose not to see it. This is why as a worldwide community we respond more to disaster than the daily, grinding catastrophe that is poverty.

For instance, here in Utah where the ESR Center is located, almost ten percent (225,000 people) live in poverty. In the United States, almost thirteen-percent (37 million) live in poverty, while over forty percent (2.7 billion) people around the world live in poverty. For millennia the same questions have been asked, "What causes poverty? What can be done? How can I help in a way that builds self-reliance?"
The news is full of stories about those who have been recently impoverished or may soon become so. The mission of the BYU ESR Center is explained by their Web site:
The BYU Economic Self-Reliance Center (ESR Center) was founded in 2003 with the express purpose of answering those questions by focusing on helping families become economically self-reliant. As an academic research center, we do this by helping socially minded practitioners to better serve their clients. Our research agenda investigates and develops interventions that best promote economic self-reliance—both domestically and abroad.
The two main projects that are the focus of the ESR Center are Microfranchising and the Single Mom Initiative.

The ESR Center defines MicroFranchises as small businesses that can easily be replicated by following proven marketing and operational concepts. The overall objective of MicroFranchising is to promote economic development by developing sound business models that can be replicated by entrepreneurs at the base of the pyramid; therefore, the start-up costs of MicroFranchises will be minimal. The key principle is replication, replicating success to scale. MicroFranchising is a new tool designed specifically to assist these entrepreneurs to become more successful and reach economic self-reliance, through the provision of successful business models with the necessary initial and on-going training needed to succeed.

The Single Mom Initiative (SMI) represents the ESR Center’s effort to help families in Utah. Beginning in late 2005, the SMI was created in partnership with the Single Mom Foundation with the express purpose of helping single moms in Utah achieve economic self-reliance.

Although the U.S. is not considered a poverty stricken country, but with 7.6% over-all unemployment and with the rate certain to increase, there are many people who are facing poverty without the tools to survive. Maybe it is time to use what we have learned from dealing with poverty in third world countries, right here in the U.S.