Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tips for Shopping at Walmart

Kid Sis works at Walmart, and has some tips for you re: grocery shopping and saving money. She’s passed them on to me, and asked me to spread the word, because she really wants those of us who could stand to save some money to get the best-possible deals. There’s nothing too shocking or secret about her tips, but I didn’t know all of these things until she told me about them. Maybe you’ll find them useful as well.

Walmart honors advertised prices, including online circulars. Go to and browse the ads. Be sure to hit up only stores that are somewhat close to your local Walmart. “My” Wally World won’t honor ads from Winn-Dixie, for example, because that chain does not have stores anywhere in my entire state (not anymore, anyway). It’s important to take the printed ads with you, because some Walmart managers insist on having them. Others don’t care, but being prepared is what this is all about.

Speaking of printing: Some store Web sites will let you print PDF versions of their circulars’ pages. The small print on these tends to be clearer than the Web-page version, which makes the cashier’s life a lot easier. You can also use the “shopping list” feature at each store’s site. When you see an advertised item that you might want to buy, add it to the list. Print this, along with the actual circular pages, and the cashier will probably love you.

I didn’t know this until recently, but Walmart substitutes another store’s in-house brand for their own (Great Value or Sam’s Choice). The catch is that the quantity/amount must match. So, don’t hesitate to take in circulars that offer another store’s own brand instead of a name brand. You can still get the deal – you’ll just get Walmart’s version, which usually isn’t too bad. (Some of their stuff is actually good, in fact.)

There are a few exceptions to Walmart’s price-matching policy. I can’t tell you if this is a company-wide deal, or if it’s local management’s decision. Whatever the case, when I shop at Walmart, these things are true:

One: Walmart will not honor store-issued coupons – just ones from manufacturers. Also: don’t expect double or triple coupons, because Walmart just does not do that sort of thing.

Two: “Mexican stores” (Fiesta, for example) often advertise insanely-cheap prices on various meat. Don’t expect Walmart to honor these prices. Ask anyway, because this could be true only at my local store.

Three: Walmart will not honor specials like “Buy one, get one ____” or “X percent off.”

You should also know that, in some situations, a sale will be quietly extended. Politely ask the cashier if the sale price on whatever you’re trying to buy is still in effect – even if the sale ended yesterday, or the day before. One example: holiday-themed items. After the post-Christmas sales on Sterilite storage containers ended (the Christmas-colored ones, that is), we still got several for the sale price. The manager wanted the things out of his store because, for some reason, customers want to buy red storage containers only around Christmastime. Personally, I don’t care. My books and preps store well in the box no matter what color it happens to be, so I’m happy to grab the container when it’s on sale.

Big tip: be polite to the employees. The nicer you are, the more helpful most of them will be. One very-nice cashier who’s been at the local Walmart longer than my family and I have lived in this community is happy to chat with us while she’s checking us out. She’ll also go ahead and automatically override the store’s price on things that are on sale elsewhere, whether we bring in the circulars or not. She does not, however, do this for all of the customers who come through her line. She has to kinda-sorta like you, or at least not dislike you, before she’ll bother.

When you buy refrigerated or frozen foods, dig down into the pile and bring up a package that’s closer to the bottom. Officially, employees are supposed to restock unshelved items – the groceries that shoppers discard wherever they want – only if those packages have maintained a “safe” temperature. Unofficially, some Walmart employees just don’t care, and will restock pretty much anything. In some cases, they don’t even check before they toss the stuff back on the shelves. Dig down into the stockpile: you’re more likely to dodge the potentially-unsafe foods that way.

Another interesting thing about frozen foods is the fact that ice crystals form on the outside of the packages. This is usually a good sign that the product, at some point, reached a warmer temperature than it should have. I actually received this advice from Dad, who used to drive an eighteen wheeler for a frozen-food hauler. Still, it applies to grocery shopping, so it seemed like it belonged here.

Don’t even bother buying things like bread at Walmart. If a certain product needs to be really fresh, Walmart’s not going to come through for you. The bread at my local store is never, ever fresh, even on delivery days. We go to the Mrs. Baird’s Outlet store up the street from Walmart instead, because even their few-days-old bread is fresher than Walmart’s crap. Sometimes, the money that you might save at the really-big store just isn’t worth it, because what you buy will suck.

You can save a good bit of money every shopping trip by doing these things. If nothing else, doing one-stop shopping at Walmart – instead of going to several stores to grab their advertised sales – will save you some time, which is even better than saving money as far as I’m concerned.

And, finally, I know that some of you are wondering why we would support Walmart of all stores. The answer: they are, quite literally, the only game in town for some items. There is no other place here to buy athletic socks, unless I want to go to the shoe store and pay five dollars for a three pack. No, thank you. The local Wally World has better prices than the competitors, too, which is good because our budget isn’t very large.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Home Security in the Middle of Nowhere

I don’t really have much to say about city or suburban home security because I haven’t spent much time in those environments. For two years, I lived on campus, so security was up to the school. We weren’t allowed to change locks, upgrade security measures, or possess most defensive tools, so I pretty much relied on other people to care for me. This sucked out loud, and I was quite happy to stop doing it after two years.

Most of my life, though, has been spent in the country. Home security is entirely up to my family and me, because nobody else cares. We can’t even install an alarm system because the Sheriff’s Department wouldn’t respond to it. We live too far out in the country for that, and the average response time is more than one hour anyway. We don’t blame the Sheriff’s Department for any of that, but we do acknowledge that we have to either take responsibility or leave ourselves open to criminals.

There are layers to home security. You don’t want to rely on just one method, because Murphy will monkey stomp your face for you if you do that. Overlap three or more layers and you can reasonably believe that your security setup is tough enough to deter most would-be troublemakers.

The key, in my opinion, is making your homestead the toughest-possible target. The average thug is not the sort of fellow who enjoys working up a sweat doing honest labor, so you can reasonably expect him to find a softer target if your homestead’s security presents a challenge. There are exceptions, of course, but a strong effort on your part will discourage most of the people who would otherwise consider targeting everything that you’ve worked to earn.

I don’t want to go into too many details about The Homestead, but I will tell you that we rely on four layers of security to keep things as secure as possible. This might seem like overkill to some of you, but none of the layers were difficult to put in place, or very expensive. They’re all easy to maintain, too.

We have a good layout; fences; dogs; and firearms. These four things all work together to discourage the bad guys.

The Layout
It should be relatively easy for you to see what’s happening outside your house. We can glance out the windows and see exactly what’s going on without letting anybody out there know that we’re looking. At the same time: they can’t just roll up and peer through our windows. Being able to see outside is important because, if you hear something or your dogs alert you to a stranger’s presence, you don’t want to open your door to see what’s going on. You want to keep that barrier between yourself and the stranger. After you take a peek outside and realize that the “stranger” is your aunt or the mailman, well, you can always open the door. The person outside won’t know that you checked him or her out before you opened up, and you can be confident in the knowledge that you’re doing what you can to keep yourself and your family safe.

The Fence
The Homestead’s perimeter is fenced, mostly to keep our dogs on our property. We used field fence, stretched between alternating t-posts and cedar posts. Topped off with two tightly-stretched strands of barbed wire, the fence is just a tad menacing. People, we’ve noticed, don’t like to get too close to it – just looking at all that barbed wire seems to give them the heebie jeebies. That’s fine by us, because even good friends, fellow church members, et cetera, need to be invited in. We hate when people try to just open our gate and walk in without so much as a howdy, and that nasty fence combined with the dogs discourages most visitors from trying it.

The Dogs
We have a few formerly-stray dogs: mixed breeds that just showed up here and decided to become part of the family. None were trained beyond the usual, small things that every (healthy, capable) dog should do: sit, come when called, et cetera. They aren’t guard dogs, and they will not attack on command. However, they happily defend their territory, because they’ve been treated like family members since they came to The Homestead. When you play with your dog…pet him…brush his fur…feed him yummy food…and tell him what a good dog he is…he’ll feel right at home. You’re still in charge, as you should be, but that dog will, more likely than not, defend his turf without prompting.

Our dogs will, when people show up, bark to let us know that we need to investigate. They have a light, friendly “woof” for family members and close friends, and they have a louder, more-aggressive bark for strangers. They didn’t receive any special training: they simply do this because they want to let the pack leaders (the humans) know that someone’s here.

The Firearms
Do I really need to go into details here? I don’t think that I do. Everyone in my family is an adult, and we all know how to safely and effectively handle every firearm in the house. We know the plan, and what each of us are supposed to do if something goes down. The firearms are backups to the other layers, so we aren’t likely to need them. Even so, we’re ready, because we don’t know this for a fact.

The key is to work out a plan beforehand, and rehearse it with everyone in the home. Many parents have their children lock themselves in closets when they (parents) send up the alarm to do so, for example. Adults often work out who will go where, with what, so that there’s no cross fire or confusion in an emergency. Know what you’re doing before you have to do it so that you won’t hurt someone you care about, or leave an important area unsecured or whatever.

Ideally, you’ll find a few layers to include in your home-security plan, and they’ll overlap so that they work together to keep you and your homestead safe. One plan is not ideal for every person or piece of property, so be sure to look at your needs, and your layout, and decide what will work best.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dumpsters are Awesome

Note: I'm setting up auto publish for this one. When this goes live, I'll be at one of the Tea Parties near The Homestead. Hopefully, my American readers will be doing the same.


I don’t go Dumpster diving very often, mostly because the Dumpsters within reasonable distance of my house are useless. Household garbage? I have plenty of my own, thanks. However, I keep an eye on the trash when I’m in better places, because I never know what useful thing I’ll find.

If you want to salvage perfectly-good items – even if you just sell them for a nice little profit – there are plenty of great Dumpsters out there. My best suggestion is to hang out on or near a university campus during the last week or two of school. Students are leaving their rented housing, and some will trash perfectly-good things.

You can find food in these Dumpsters, because students will just throw away twenty, fifty, a hundred bucks’ worth of canned goods and other such items. This is easier than hauling that food back home, or donating it to a local food pantry, which would be the responsible things to do with one’s resources. If you’re observant and cautious, you won’t poison yourself with canned goods that you fished out of a dorm’s Dumpster. Common sense tells you to bypass cans that are stained, dented, leaking, or otherwise not right, right? Right. (Heh. Three “rights” in a row, and pretty much grammatically correct. Awesome.) Avoid the foods that you’re not sure about and you’ll be fine.

Students trash all sorts of other goods, too. School supplies are common, including outdated textbooks. Do you home-school your children? Do you want something interesting and, hopefully, useful to read? Check out the Dumpsters. If the campus bookstore won’t buy back the book, some kids will throw it away. It’s still good, and the information in the thing is still accurate. It’s just not the publisher’s latest edition, that’s all. I have a 2003 edition textbook that’s still perfectly good. It just wasn’t worth even one penny to the bookstore, that’s all.

Students will sometimes throw away almost-new furniture. Do you need an end table? Are you looking to replace your couch? Hang out at the university. Many students will try to re-home, store, or sell their furniture, but some will just put it all out at the curb. This is particularly true at “nicer” schools, where the students’ parents tend to pay the bills. If you look around, and you’re fortunate, you could very well furnish a good bit of your living room and family area with discarded items. One of my professors FULLY furnished a rented house during graduate school by watching the curbs and picking up furniture that other students discarded.

Grocery stores also tend to have good Dumpsters if you’re hungry. Some stores lock up, and guard, their trash, but others don’t. If you can get in without risking trespassing charges, it’s worth a look.

Look for construction, demolition, and remodeling sites when you’re out and about. One of my brothers once took on a side job for his boss. His task? Hauling off the old materials from the boss’ home. Boss man was remodeling, and wanted all the old things gone. My brother got paid a little bit of cash, on the side, to dispose of all this stuff. However, we kept a good bit of stuff – like the almost-new water heater, the perfectly-good hot tub, the bathroom and kitchen sinks, et cetera – because they were still in fine condition, and we could put them to good use. My brother brought home doors and windows, too.

Oh, sure, there was some broken Sheetrock, and a pile of useless wood, to haul off. But we had a bonfire in the side yard and just burned all that junk. That’s a small price to pay, I think, for a big pile of good building materials.

One of my other brothers, the carpenter, sometimes brings home scrap materials. They aren’t any good to other people, so he sometimes gets them from his boss. Lately, he’s been bringing home pretty-good pieces of lumber, which are always useful around here. A good bit of the wood is new, in fact, and long/large enough to actually be useful.

Can you get into the city dump? My Dad used to do this when we lived in South Texas. One of the dumps in that area had a chain-link fence around the perimeter, but it had a hole that was almost big enough for him to drive his cargo van through. At night, he’d back up to that big hole, hop out, and go see what he could find.

Dad brought home everything from solid-wood desks and chairs to small items, like lamps and building materials. Nobody wanted these things anymore, even though they were still in fine condition, so Dad loaded them into his van and gave them good homes. American society is full of wasteful people, even when the economy sucks. People will throw away things for bizarre reasons, or no reason at all. When you realize, then accept, this, the treasure hunting can begin.

That applies even now, with the economy looking like dog poop. There are still people out there who are remodeling their homes, cleaning out their storage buildings, et cetera – and discarding things that could be sold or given away. Take advantage of their wastefulness and use their unwanted resources to get a big pile of things that you can put to good use.

Useful Links:

On Dumpster Diving, by Lars Eighner. This gentleman was homeless in Austin, Texas for a while; this personal essay is crammed full of his firsthand knowledge of Dumpster diving and related topics. Pretty much everything you could possibly want to know about food safety. How long are those canned goods really safe to eat? Find out here!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tough Decisions During Food Shortages

Late last year, Walmart shoppers in New York were caught up in a Black Friday stampede. Their fellow shoppers trampled them underfoot because everyone wanted to be the very first in line to buy cheap televisions, DVDs, cameras, and vacuum cleaners. A maintenance employee died in the stampede, which of course caused Walmart to shut down.

And then…some of the people who were part of the stampede started yelling and complaining that the store wasn’t open. They had just stomped a man to death – a person who was just trying to do his job – and all they could think about was consuming unnecessary crap. Heaven forbid they not get those cheap movies, right?

All this happened because of consumer goods: garbage that is not necessary to our survival in any way, shape, or form. People turned into savage beasts because they were getting really-good deals on these items. They actually killed for this crap, and the most uncivilized members of the crowd showed no remorse for what they had helped to do.

I’ve been thinking about that event lately, mostly because I’m convinced that we’re going to see people acting that way when it’s difficult to find, or afford, food. All sorts of events could mess up the food supply: hyper inflation…a natural disaster…economic collapse…you name it and it’s probably going to have some sort of effect on our food sources.

What are the unprepared folks going to do when you have to line up outside the grocery store, much like so many people do on Black Friday, in an attempt to get into that place before all the food is gone? They’re going to curb stomp each other, of course. Some stampedes will be accidental – fueled by the panic of thinking that you might not, in fact, be able to get your hands on that lousy sack of potatoes and bag of flour.

But other problems will be intentional. Some will feel the need to eliminate a few competitors, so to speak, in an effort to survive. I for one wouldn’t want my grandmother, or my Mom, or any other loved one for that matter, standing in a line, exposed and vulnerable to a bunch of thugs who would gleefully punch, stab, or even shoot their way through the line.

And if you think that law enforcement will be able to keep the peace, you’re probably wrong. Every grocery store, farmer’s market, convenience store, and other place that sells any sort of food in the affected area is going to be overrun by hungry people. There just aren’t enough LEOs in any given area to control a festering, starving, pissed off crowd. Even if there were enough people to do that job, can they really prevent problems? Of course not. They can try, but there will still be violent outbursts. The LEOs could, at best, step in after the violence starts – when it’s too late for the little old lady who’s been shoved into the asphalt and now has a broken bone or two.

The LEOs might be hungry too. What’s to stop them from rolling up and cutting to the front of the lines? Nothing, of course. Oh, sure, they might be brought up on charges after order is reestablished, but what are you supposed to do in the meantime? Stand there and starve, that’s what. The justice system won’t do you any good if you’re hungry now, right?

You and I have thought about all that unpleasant stuff, though, which is why we’re stocking up on food and other essentials as quickly as we can. We see the coming meltdown, and we know that we want to stay at home, away from empty stores and barren shelves, when that happens. We don’t want to be caught up in that situation, so we’re readying ourselves for it now.

The point here, though, is that some of your family members probably aren’t listening to a word you say. They might think that you’re paranoid. They could have excuses, like, “I can’t afford to do what you’re doing,” or “I’m not worried – the government/God/Bono from U2 wouldn’t let that happen.” Or maybe they just don’t care, because they figure that you’ll be there to feed them if it turns out that you’re right about all this doom and gloom stuff.

Should you feed the family members? I mean…why should you? They’ve been ignoring you, and some are actively mocking you for making your plans and putting them in motion. Frankly, some people are just jerks, and probably deserve to suffer because they’ve been so rotten.

But do you really want those loved ones to be out in that crowd, trying to fight off thugs and other unsavory types in an effort to get their hands on a few canned goods? Do you really want them to be out there in the elements, waiting for hours on end, for food that they might or might not be able to get? Do you really want them to suffer to that extent?

As much as I despise taking care of those who don’t even try to care for themselves (I loathe welfare with every single atom of my being, for example)…family is family. If Wayward Brother – the guy who lives a few hours away and wants little to do with us most of the time – shows up on the doorstep, he’s coming in and getting something to eat. He’s my brother. Even though he’s an obnoxious pain in the entire family’s ass, and even though we usually can’t stand to be around him for more than about a day and a half, two days…he’s family. We aren’t going to leave him out there to try and fend for himself if he shows up here.

I’m not saying that we all have to care for everyone we see. I’m not even necessarily saying that you should take care of the most-obnoxious relatives in your family tree. I don’t know your family’s dynamics, and I don’t know just how rotten some of your relatives really are. Maybe some of them really do deserve whatever happens to them.

I am, however, saying that we have to make some tough choices sometimes. It’s not easy to decide what to do in this type of situation. You have to figure it out now, though, because you need to have time to get used to the idea. Even if you’re going to welcome your own wayward brother with open arms and a huge smile…you have to adjust to the idea of helping the guy who’s been tormenting and mocking you for months, if not years, about what you’re doing. If you don’t want to help, you’re going to have to get used to the idea of telling him “No,” and being firm in that decision.

So…figure out, now, what’s really best in your situation, and give yourself time to make the mental adjustments. This is one less decision that you’ll have to make when the meltdown is actually happening, which frees up some of your gray matter to address other, more important things.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Guns, Women, and Self Defense

This one’s mostly for the women, because I know our perspective best. There are plenty of men out there who are happy to speak with other men about self defense, and related subjects, so I’ll try to leave that to them. Even so, a lot of what I have to say here could very well apply to the gentlemen too.

Survivalism is about preparing for everyday problems – not just about being ready for society to go completely berserk. Having eight years’ worth of food stashed; knowing twelve ways to obtain drinking water when the taps go dry; and being part of a massive network of fellow survivalists for working and prepping are all useless endeavors if you’re dead tomorrow because the bad guy with the knife wanted your purse badly enough to slice you wide open for it.

I strongly recommend handguns for self-defense purposes. The wonderful thing about firearms is the fact that a well-trained female with a decent handgun is on the same footing as a steroid-guzzling, violent offender who wishes to do nasty, unprintable things to her. Screw that guy and his eight-hundred-pound biceps: give the lady, the innocent would-be victim, a decent handgun; her smaller stature and lack of ‘roid-induced muscles will not matter anymore. She’s capable of defending herself, and her loved ones, against pretty much any two-legged threat. (And other critters…more than once, a rabid dog has been neutralized because somebody with a handgun didn’t feel like being mauled.)

There are a few exceptions, though. Many law-enforcement officers will tell you that somebody who’s high on PCP isn’t going down easily, and trying to stop someone who’s wearing decent body armor would be a bit of a challenge with a handgun. However, the average thug isn’t going to have either of those advantages.

The meth addicts where I live, for example, are capable of horrifying violence. If they’ve been addicted to the junk long enough, a bright light hitting their eyes can be enough to make them want to kill everyone around them. However, they don’t have superhuman strength, and they don’t have enough brain cells left to think about acquiring and donning body armor before they go completely out of their skulls. These crazy addicts are, right now, my primary concern, because they’re all over my community – and they’re very easy to set off.

And while we’re on the subject of bad guys: women can be criminals too. I certainly don’t mean to be sexist about this. Goodness knows that there are some nasty, female thugs out there, stealing oxygen from the rest of us. They can be predators, just like their male counterparts, so it’s important to recognize that possibility and be prepared to act accordingly.

Another thing to consider is the pending meltdown. What are people going to do in response? Some are going to either become violent, or continue being violent. I’m not saying that every hungry person will try to stab you for your beef jerky, but some will. Along with the usual “keep your mouth shut” advice, which is an excellent game plan, we need to be prepared to defend ourselves – just in case our tight lips aren’t enough. None of us know exactly what will happen, but would any of us be surprised to see riots, looting, and other dangerous situations?

Obviously, there will be problems after society melts down. We’re going to have to figure out how to deal with those problems, and I’m not convinced that simply lying low and keeping our mouths shut will be enough. Some of us are bound to encounter threats along our way, even though we’re trying to avoid those situations. I already carry, and I already practice and train with my firearm, so I have an advantage: this self-defense bit is one less thing that I’ll have to actively think about, and worry about, when the meltdown finally happens.

So, ladies: take a handgun class or two. Visit the shooting range and rent your way through the handgun inventory. Look for a handgun that you can safely, comfortably, competently use. Do what you need to do to carry that gun, and carry wherever you can, whenever you can. Be prepared to defend yourselves before, during, and after the world goes berserk, because we don’t know when or where nasty things are going to happen in this world.

Useful Links:

Cornered Cat - A wonderful Web site for women, by a woman. There's quite a bit of excellent information about firearms, self defense, et cetera here.

Palm Pistol - If you have hand problems, like arthritis, then this firearm might be useful to you. The Web site is taking pre-orders, but hopefully this gun will be available soon.

CrossBreed SuperTuck Deluxe
- My favorite holster. If you do order, be sure to include the "combat grip" option to make your firearm easier to draw.
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
-George OrwellAnimal Farm