Friday, January 15, 2010

The Unprepared in Action

One of our neighbors is currently using our shower because her family fails to prepare each and every time winter comes around.

They know that their water lines are going to freeze and rupture because that happens to them every year: as soon as we get a decent freeze, something bursts over there. They don’t get off their butts and wrap their pipes, which is insanely cheap and easy to do: just use newspaper and duct tape if that’s what you have on hand.

What’s worse is that, even though they know the consequences of their decision to avoid preventive maintenance, they don’t keep extra parts or supplies on hand. Instead, they wait for the pipes to freeze and then make a special trip all the way into town to buy what they need.

This time, they sent the guy’s daughter, who has no idea of what to buy. She came back with fittings that were too large and the wrong type of PVC glue, so they still don’t have running water. Even worse: the father, who does know what to buy, went into town after the pipe burst – but did not bother stopping to pick up the necessary supplies. He sent his daughter out on another trip even though he knew that a) he was already right there in town and b) she had no idea of what she was doing.

Oh, yeah, and they do have television, which does broadcast weather-related information. They know when a freeze is coming and have plenty of prepping time, but still choose to sit around and wait for the inevitable.

I’m just ticked because one of the neighbors is using our stinkin’ shower. Why should we help them out? They aren’t even trying, so we’re only teaching them that our family is right here to bail them out despite their lack of effort.

They have no idea that we’re prepared for bigger problems than ruptured pipes. They don’t know that, should the food supply go haywire for whatever reason, we aren’t nearly as worried as they’re going to be. They shouldn’t come knocking on our door, but something tells me that they will anyway because they’re being taught that we can, and do, solve their other problems. Will it really be beyond their rudimentary imaginations to think, “Hey, maybe they have food?” because we already provide the shower, among other things?

Society is full of people who rely on others to take care of the essentials. I have too much pride and work ethic to let other people take care of me, so I can’t imagine being like the neighbors. How can they be comfortable letting us provide them with running water? Why don’t they feel like crap for not being capable of taking care of themselves? What is it about them that prevents them from saying, “This is embarrassing. I’m going to make sure that this doesn’t happen again”?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. I don’t understand the unprepared person’s mindset; all I know is that, when things are really bad, there are going to be a lot of people in this country with no idea of what to do – and they’re going to try to find the natural leaders who were prepared in advance.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Walmart Destroys New Merchandise

Everywhere I go in the real world or online, somebody’s complaining about the recent revelation that Walmart, among other companies, destroys and discards unsold clothing instead of, say, giving it to charity. People are outraged over the wastefulness as well as the “corporate greed,” as they put it, that encourages Walmart employees to do things like destroy overcoats and other, perfectly good textiles before dumping them.

Let’s look at a few truths about businesses here in the United States.

One: Some manufacturers or distributors REQUIRE retailers to destroy and discard unsold items in order to receive most, if not all, of their (the stores’) credit for them. The publishing industry is a fine example of that attitude: if you report unsold books as “Unsold and destroyed,” you get a big chunk of credit…versus the small amount of money that you would make if you sold the books at a deep discount or gave them away. So, instead of shipping back all those unsold copies of some politician’s crapfest of a book, you remove the front covers and toss the tomes into a Dumpster. It’s fast, extremely cheap, and easy – and it works.

Why not just ship all the unsold stuff back to the warehouse? The associated costs are significantly higher than trashing the unsold merchandise, that’s why. If Walmart actually paid the expense of returning unsold goods (because you know that the makers or distributors won’t pay that bill), they’re going to have to jack up prices. They’re happy capitalists, so they aren’t going to eat the cost of shipping a truck full of books, clothes, and other goods back to the warehouses: that’s not nearly as cost effective as simply doing what the makers and distributors want (destroying and discarding them).

Why not put the merchandise on the clearance racks and shelves? Walmart does that quite often, actually. I do plenty of clearance-rack shopping at all sorts of stores. However, the fact is that not every single item will sell no matter how low the price. Walmart has to do something with that size-negative-8 dress that nobody in my entire county is anorexic enough to wear.

Two: Doing useful things with unsold goods inevitably leads to fraud, which will cost the company a big chunk of money and, of course, increase our prices.

Let’s say, for example, that my local Walmart agreed to donate unsold clothing to the local Goodwill in exchange for the tax write-off. As soon as Wally World does that, people are going to buy a three-dollar shirt from Goodwill, bring it back to Walmart, and return it for eighteen dollars.

Let’s say, for example, that Walmart starts giving away the clothing to a homeless shelter. As soon as they do that, people are going to bring the clothes to Walmart and return them for full, retail price.

Let’s say, for example, that Walmart contracts with an outlet store in order to move the new goods at reduced prices. People will buy the reduced-price goods and return them.

And no, you can’t stop people from returning the clothing in a fraudulent manner. You could, I suppose, mark the clothing, but any idiot can defeat any mark that a) isn’t obtrusive enough to discourage people from buying and wearing it; and b) actually helps Walmart employees figure out that the item should not be returned. Kid Sis works at Walmart and, despite having been there for only one year, knows many of the tricks that fraudsters use in order to scam the store. Some of them are rather creative, which is surprising because the average thief barely has three spare brain cells to rub together.

Oh, and when stores like Target and Walmart try to defend themselves with various policies, such as strict requirements for returns or not giving away free things? Customers gripe. A lot. They get pissy because they must have a register receipt in order to return or exchange anything. They complain because the store insists on giving them a gift card instead of cash or a credit-card refund. They whine because they don’t like having to show their receipts to the greeter as a loss-prevention tactic.

Three: Walmart owns the clothing, so they can do whatever they want with it, including destruction. I don’t like the wastefulness all that much, but I REALLY dislike having to pay more because a bunch of oxygen thieves found an easy way to scam Wally World out of a good bit of money.

As for the “Walmart only cares about the money!” war cry: yes, that’s true. They’re capitalists, just like me. I want the freedom to do whatever I want with anything that I own – even up to destroying it if that’s my preference. Nobody gets to tell me what to do with my stuff, and I don’t get to tell anybody else – including a giant corporation – what to do with theirs.

Don’t shop at Walmart if that’s your preference. Frankly, I don’t care what you do with your money and I don’t think that I have any right to dictate your spending decisions to you. But if you’re going to be angry because a corporation is wasteful, you’re going to have to be angry at almost every corporation – and, in fact, many smaller businesses – in this country. Even the mom-and-pop stores in my community are wasteful. They throw out perfectly good food. They destroy merchandise that they just can’t move even at discounted prices. They use disposable products when reusable versions could work just fine.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cat Food and Your Stockpile

When you stockpile food for your cats, remember that they require a certain diet – one that doesn’t include dog food to a great extent.

It’s perfectly okay to occasionally let the cat have the dog chow, but don’t make a habit of it. Cats have to have more proteins, for example, along with some other things that either aren’t present in dog food or are not present in enough quantities to satisfy the kitty’s physical needs. Cats who’ve been fed a steady diet of dog food have gone blind before because their bodies weren’t getting what was necessary.

I’m bringing up all that because some people on tight budgets tend to buy one bag of pet food – dog food if they have dogs and cats – without knowing the consequences. It’s also easy to justify storing only one type of dry food because that costs less money and requires less storage space.

You can grab water- and airtight pet-food containers at Tractor Supply or the pet store. They aren’t too terribly expensive but do a good job of keeping the cats’ food safe. Alternatively, you can break out your Food Saver and make your own, custom-sized bags of vacuum-sealed pet food.

Of course, feeding the cat from your stash is not necessarily a terrible idea. Some people make their own pet food which, if done properly (i.e. including the right ingredients for the pet in question), can save you some money and storage space. There are plenty of good cat-food recipes online, including a few for kitty treats if that’s your thing.

I’m not even going to suggest getting rid of the cats before the world goes berserk because a) I love cats and really don’t want The Homestead to be feline free, and b) where I live, it’s very difficult to find good homes, even for the most-adorable kittens, because the economy around here really sucks. People are having to choose between medication and food for their current pets, so they aren’t likely to take in another kitty who needs a good place to stay.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Sorry about being absent, folks. I had final exams; graduation-related stuff; employment searches; family time; and a whole buttload of other things going on all at once. However, I hope that 2010 is fantastic for each and every one of us and that we accomplish as many prepping-related tasks as possible in the New Year.

It looks like I’ll be starting grad school in the fall (Lord willing) because I really need to work on my MFA. The longer I take off between now and then, the harder it will be for me to get started, much less finish. That’s pretty much gospel truth because I know myself fairly well at this point: the sooner I start a project, the better.

Going to school isn’t a terrible idea, especially if you can find some classes that teach useful skills. At the local community college, for example, you can study agriculture and ranching. One of my brothers went there to learn welding, which took him only one year (certificate program). Even if you don’t pursue a degree full time, or even part time, you can take a class or two that seem interesting. Local colleges can teach all sorts of neat things, from leatherworking to animal husbandry, and I’m pretty sure that you can find good ways to use those skills after you acquire them.

However, college is hardly the only place to learn new things. If you don’t want the expense or hassle of going to classes, you can head to YouTube and find all kinds of videos about almost anything. MB wanted to do some Fiberglas-repair work on his car’s bumper a few months ago but had no idea of what he was doing. He went to YouTube, watched a few videos, and did a first-rate job of repairing his bumper.

The local library is a great, free way to grab good books on various subjects. My library isn’t worth a fart because it’s tiny and run by women who want romance novels and the latest fiction best-sellers more than anything else: what few books they have aren’t overly useful. That’s okay, though, because your library might be better. You can also use to trade books through the mail. The site’s open to all U.S. residents and has a large number of users, so the odds of finding a good book on your favorite subject are pretty good.

Anyway: in this New Year, I think it’s a good idea to intentionally focus on acquiring a new skill, big or small. This year, for example, I’d like to learn how to can my own food. It would be really nice to hit the farmer’s market, grab plenty of fresh vegetables, and preserve them. I’ve already started the process by acquiring basic, required tools (jars, for example) as I find them, especially if they’re on sale at the time. It’s not much, but it’s a start, right?

In the meantime, I’m off to make myself some lunch and see about getting a shower.
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
-George OrwellAnimal Farm