Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Self-reliance is a principle of service

My grandmother used to say that charity begins at home. I would also add that so does self-reliance. In a recent news article in the Mormon Times, writer Michael De Groote said it well, when he said, "Being self-reliant means that people set their own course and solve their own problems. Once they do this, they can help others get on their feet."

Quoting Dennis R. Lifferth, managing director of welfare services for the LDS Church, the article goes on to state, "To truly be a servant to others, ... we must have some discretionary time and the ability to serve others. This means we have a responsibility to be educated, have our own food storage, put our financial affairs in order and be employed. "

With unemployment nearing doubly digits in most of the United States, it is likely that all of us will be affected, either directly by losing our own job or indirectly through a member of our family or a friend losing their job. I am reminded of a story told to me recently of a family faced with the unemployment of both the parents. They got together and went out into the fields surrounding their community and picked corn on the cob, bringing it back into town to sell. By the time the father was able to find work, the family actually had more money in the bank than they had before the job loss. All because of their hard work at selling corn.

Some people find it too easy to coast when faced with adversity. True self-reliance means using whatever resources we have to keep going. About the time I heard the story about the family surviving on the sale of corn, I listened to a news account about a Marine facing the end of his enlistment. He wanted to go to school and realized that he had saved no money during his enlistment. He tried a job delivering pizzas. However, he couldn't face the prospect of the image of a Marine delivering pizzas and quit his job after one day. He basically decided that he would rather spend his money on drinking with his buddies than preparing to go to school.

How many of us make the same decision, we would rather keep up appearances that work at a job we believe to be beneath us. Work is work and all work is valuable. If I think I am worth $100 an hour and therefore cannot work for $10 an hour, I must remember that I am only worth what someone will pay me today.

Being self-reliant means, in part, developing a positive attitude towards work and then serving others as our time and resources allow.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Do the job with the right tools

It is difficult, but not impossible, to pound a nail with a screwdriver. I speak from experience. Unfortunately, many of today's products, including many items found around the average home or apartment, can only be fixed with very specialized tools. Making a part or product dependent on specialized tools accomplishes a number of things for the manufacturer. It provides motivation to have the product repaired only at authorized repair facilities and a makes it possible to charge a much higher price for the repairs made.

Having a special tool for a repair, is not the same as manufacturers tying in their consumables to the original manufacturer. For example, if you buy a new car, the manufacturer will specify that a certain brand of oil filter, air filter or other consumable be used exclusively. Not that the manufacturer's brand is superior to third party products (they usually are rather average) but that the manufacturer can get a higher margin of profit off of each item or vehicle.

The number of specialized tools is endless, all you have to do is watch the New Yankee Workshop and count the number of tools used by Norm Abram. But are all of those tools really necessary? Some yes, some no. If you are producing a TV show to sell tools they are, if you are actually trying to build something, you can do without most of them.

In trying to fix a faucet a while ago, my son-in-law decided to help me. Thankfully. He immediately got in his car and drove to Home Depot and purchased the replacement cartridge and the special tool to replace the cartridge. With the special tool, the job took five minutes. Without the tool, it would have never happened. Now what do I do with the tool? Guess what? I have another faucet to repair and now all I have to do is buy a new faucet. I already have the tool.

Eventually, or maybe even at the beginning of life, you end up prizing room more that having the right tool. Unfortunately, at those times of life, is when you most need to save money and when having the tools would be the most useful. When you have enough money to pay for someone else to do the repairs, you have too much money.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A fundamental need for tools

One night I was called by a friend for an emergency. A leak had developed in a bathroom faucet and the leak was so great that the water was literally running into the sink. When I arrived, I found that the family did not own so much as a wrench or pair of pliers, not even a screw driver. One of the ingredients in gaining control of your life and your finances is to acquire basic home and car repair skills and a simple set of tools to do the jobs. However, the tools must be cared for, clean, and accessible. Likewise, the tools must be of high enough quality to be useful. Many of the so-called discount tools are not strong enough for even simple household or car repair jobs.

Whenever I have a repair job I first calculate the cost of hiring a repair person to do the job. Then I find out what the tools would cost. Inevitably, it is far cheaper to purchase the tools and do the job myself than to hire it done. There are a few qualifications however. First is whether or not the job can be done at all without the special experience necessary. For this reason, I seldom do plumbing jobs. But if I can see it done once, I can usually do the job myself the second time the repair comes up.

Second there is the consideration of time. I could do almost any job given enough time. But time is money and unless you are retired or out of work, some jobs just take too long to justify doing the work yourself. Like painting your house. One summer we hired one of our daughters to paint the outside of our house. She did the job in stages and took a few weeks to finish. When we hired the job out to a painter, we paid about the same, but had the job done in two or three days. (Note: our daughter did a better job than the painters).

A rusty or broken tool is no tool at all. It breaks my heart to see good quality tools rusting in the grass or lying broken on the garage floor. The job the tool can do is only as good as the condition and quality of the tool. Cheap screw drivers are just that; cheap. I usually end up using them as pry bars or to open cans.

There is a huge "do it yourself" trend in the U.S. but many young people have had no exposure at all to simple home or car repairs. Schools used to teach "shop" and "home economics" but neither of these subjects are taught in today's modern school system. If the students are allowed to take a "shop" class they seldom make anything more complicated than a napkin holder.

Fortunately, many of the larger chains of home repair sales, like Home Depot or Loew's have classes on how to do things, with hands on help. It is sometimes amazing was a few tools and a good attitude will do to save money.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mormon Times begins four part series on church welfare

Mormon Times is a supplement of the Deseret News, a local Salt Lake City, Utah newspaper. Published weekly the supplement brings news and commentary relevant to the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon). The LDS Church has just recently published a new guide for leaders in the Church. The most recent article quotes Dennis R. Lifferth, managing director of Welfare Services for the church:
The welfare department began working on "Providing in the Lord’s Way: A Leader's Guide to Welfare." According to Lifferth, the guide and its summary booklet were meant to summarize the basic principles of welfare in such a clear, straightforward way that there would be no misunderstanding. The hope was that the guide’s principles would be "a real blessing for these bishops as they face the increasing problems that we are facing in the world."
According to Mormon Times, the English versions of the "Leader’s Guide" and the "Basic Principles" presentation were sent out worldwide on Feb. 22. "Basic Principles" was translated into 16 languages, while the "Leader’s Guide" was translated into 28 languages. More translations are planned.

The "Leader’s Guide" summary booklet is available online.

The Mormon Times will have three more articles on this important development in the Church's Welfare system. Next week's article will be "Self-reliance isn't selfish."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Most useful and needed self-reliance skills

In a recently released Church DVD "Basic Principles of Welfare and Self-Reliance," The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emphasized the path to self-reliance lies through obtaining "sufficient knowledge, education and literacy; by managing money and resources wisely, being spiritually strong, preparing for emergencies and eventualities; and by having physical health and social and emotional well-being." (Quoting Sister Julie B. Beck, Relief Society General President).

Here is an exceptional video on the history of the Church's Welfare System:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Checking out Urban Legends

It is truly amazing how many unfounded stories circulate on the Internet in the form of chain E-mails. How do you know if the latest threat to society or heart rending loss is real? Larry Richman at LDS Media Talk has provided a list of ways to check the validity of a source before you pass it along to the your entire E-mail list.

To quote Mr. Richman, in part,
Check the facts on a fact-checking site. The following are the big four: is the grand-daddy of all fact-checking sites. Some of the worst chain spams even quote Snopes with an embedded link to give their e-mail an added level of authenticity. is an excellent site from Rich Buhler. About Urban Legends is an subsite that has been hosted for ten years by David Emery, who is passionate about finding and debunking rumors, myths, pranks, and odd stories. Break The Chain has been around since 1999 and is an authoritative source on stupid chain mails.
We usually call this type of story or news article an "alligator story" after the reference to alligators in the New York sewers. Don't fall for alligator stories. Check your facts.

You might want to be prepared to have a lot of popups if you follow some of the above links.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The recession is over -- we can all go out and spend money

Yeah, sure. Recent news articles paint a rosy picture of the end of the current recession. According to the New York Federal Reserve "there is almost no possibility that the economy will be in recession by the middle of this year according to the Fed's model, which has accurately predicted the last 7 recessions, back to 1960."

Without going to the "experts" what do the most relevant statistics say?

Although the next release of the Employment Situation is scheduled for May 8th, 2009, as of April 3, 2009, nonfarm payroll employment continued to decline sharply in March (-663,000), and the unemployment rate rose from 8.1 to 8.5 percent. Payroll employment has decreased by 3.3 million over the past 5 months. In March, job losses were large and widespread across the major industry sectors. There were 13.2 million unemployed workers in the U.S.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the CPI-U decreased 0.1 percent in March after rising 0.4 percent in February. The index for all items less food and energy increased 0.2 percent in March, the same increase as in February. So despite the current recession, we still have a small increase in inflation. The housing price index continued to decline in March.

Bankruptcy filings in the federal courts rose 31 percent in calendar year 2008, according to data released today by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The number of bankruptcies filed in the twelve-month period ending December 31, 2008, totaled 1,117,771, up from 850,912 bankruptcies filed in CY 2007.

I don't want to paint a totally gloomy picture. But it is unreasonable to suppose that this long standing problem will not be resolved in one or two more months. It is time to be prepared and continue to avoid debt, prepare for emergencies and rely on counsel from the Prophets of God.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Gardening in containers

As suggested by the Provident Living Website, "You can plant in almost any kind of container. Try using plastic jugs, garbage cans, milk cartons, cans, plastic bags, baskets, a wagon bed, kitchen canisters, or clay pots. The bottom of the container should have several small drain holes and be lined with 2 to 3 inches of small gravel before you put in the topsoil. Hang containers from windows, put them on windowsills or in window wells; line your sidewalk or driveway with them, or hang them from your ceiling."

There are an abundance of resources on container gardening. Try some of the following:

Vegetable Gardening in Containers
, Texas A&M University

Guide to Container Gardening

Vegetable Gardening in Containers, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


You can even grow plants upside down on grow poles.

There are even places to grow a garden in the center of large cities. On a recent trip to New York, we looked out our hotel window into a rooftop garden. Here is an article on one in Vancouver.

"A garden is never so good as it will be next year."-- Thomas Cooper