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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Financial Security?

I'm getting close to retirement age and have been making preparations for the time when I don't have to get up before dawn and freeze (or sweat) my butt off just to put food on the table. I've worked blue collar jobs most of my life, so I have some savings and a retirement account set aside, but I also know that the concept of “financial security” is a recent invention and is about half myth. I promise, this isn't going to be a political post -- we don't do those here.

Let's look at the basics:
  • Finances are based on money, which in the USA is measured in dollars. Those dollars are backed by faith and trust in our government... the same government that can't live within its own budget, even though it gets to write the tax laws and the budgets.
  • There is no material backing for our money (the system is known as fiat currency) and it has no intrinsic value. It's not allowed to have any intrinsic value. To be blunt, it's imaginary money, and the US Mint is constantly changing our coinage to ensure that the metal content is less than the denomination (pennies aren't copper any more, and nickels are on the list to be changed soon) just so we don't melt them down for a profit. 
  • To make things worse, around 90% of those dollars don't even exist in physical form; they're digits on a computer spreadsheet. If anything were to shut down the communications between the computers that track our money, or the computers themselves, all of that digital currency disappears.
  • Banks loan out up to nine times as much money as they have deposited, a practice known as fractional-reserve banking that is legal and often encouraged by the government. This further decreases the value of the physical currency in circulation.

Security is the second part, and the most mythical.
  • Having money deposited in a bank is only as secure as the system that tracks it. No bank keeps their deposits physically on-hand; it's all digital in today's world. Digits are harder (but not impossible) to steal than physical cash, making banks less prone to robbery. Those deposits are insured through a government-run program (FDIC), but only up to $250,000. That's on the low end of any retirement fund, so don't put all of your eggs in one basket.
  • But I have an IRA/401(k) retirement plan, so I'm good, right? Sorry, but both of those are based on the stock market, which is an entirely different level of imaginary money. The value of a stock/bond/note is only what someone is willing to pay for it, so owning $100 dollars worth of stock today can turn into owning $1 worth of stock tomorrow if nobody wants to buy it. I lost about $80,000 worth of “value” when the stock market took a wrong turn in 2008, so I know how fast stocks can be devalued. There is no insurance for retirement accounts like there is for bank deposits.

Someone out there is laughing to themselves because they bought gold or silver to hedge against losses in the stock market. 
  • Unless you have physical possession of those precious metals, you don't own them. You may have a certificate that says you “own” a certain amount of gold, but unless you can put your hands on the metal, all you have is an expensive piece of paper.
  • Even if you have the metal in a safe or safety deposit box, it's not secure. There is precedent for the confiscation of gold by government decree: in 1933, the US government outlawed the “hoarding” of gold, and forced the sale of most privately held coins and bars to the Federal Reserve. They paid about $21 per ounce for the gold, then set the price at $35 per ounce to boost the holdings of the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve is a private bank, meaning it's as much a part of the government as Federal Express.
  • There is also the example of the “Liberty Dollar”, an alternative currency that was shut down by the US government. Although a judge finally ordered that the coins seized be returned to their owners, it took almost seven years for that decision. A lot can happen in seven years.

Bitcoin and some of the other crypto-currencies rely on the Internet and digital communication for their existence. I understand the basics of block-chain encryption and how the coins are “mined”, but they seem to be a fragile vessel for carrying wealth. Any disruption, natural or man-made, of digital communications would place your “money” out of reach or wipe it out completely.

I don't like to be the bearer of bad news, but money is a gamble. Regardless of what the salesmen may tell you, there is no guaranteed method of storing money for retirement. Cash buried in the backyard will lose value due to inflation (which can be astronomical; see Zimbabwe or Venezuela), and can be rendered worthless if the government decides to print new bills.

Real estate is about the only stable way to store wealth, since (volcanoes aside) they're not making any more of it, but I know not everyone has the opportunity or resources to buy land. I have a few family members who had rental properties that were sold when retirement time came. They didn't make a killing, but it was a nice way to ensure that they had something to rely on besides savings and the stock market.

This is one of those topics where I don't have an answer for you, but rather just want to make sure you're aware of the risks. We might all get lucky and the next major crash won't happen until we're all dead and buried, but I don't like to rely on luck.

If any of you have something to add, feel free to leave a comment here or on our Facebook page.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

David's $30 IFAK Challenge

aka The Better Late than Never post, as I catch up with the rest of my co-bloggers!

Why a $30 Dollar Limit?

As Chaplain Tim said in his first aid kit post, we all have different levels of training and ideas on what's important in a kit. Also, this is Blue Collar Prepping, the place where we admit to being on budgets and are proud of it! Everyone has written and explained what is in their kits and the reasons behind those items. To duplicate what several folk have in their big kits would be well over $200, if not more! Here is what I bought.

Adventure Medical Kits Trauma Pak with Advanced Clotting Sponge
Yes, I know that Erin started with this same pak, but I deliberately did not read anyone's post, just so I would not be influenced by what the others purchased. This is just a coincidence (Really!).

I wanted something very small and lightweight to fit into my lunchbox, a hard sided 6-pack Igloo cooler. Since I do carry my lunch and the fixings are sometimes frozen, everything else has to be waterproof. This is a waterproof package and if it's opened, it is resealable.

What's in the kit?
  • (1) QuikClot 25g Sponge (Zeolite)
  • (1) 5” x 9” Trauma Pad
  • (1) Pair Nitrile Gloves
  • (1) Hand Wipe
  • (1) 2” x 26” Duct Tape
  • (1) Triangular Bandage
  • (1) Package 4” x 4” Sterile Gauze Dressing, 2 dressings per package
  • (1) Package 2” x 2” Sterile Gauze Dressing Pkg, 2 dressings per package
  • (1) 3” Conforming Gauze Bandage
  • (4) After Cuts & Scrapes Antiseptic Wipe (Lidocaine Hydrochloride, Benzalkonium Chloride)
  • (1) Re-Sealable Bag for Bio-Waste and Sucking Chest Wounds

QuikClot Advanced Clotting Sponge, 25g
I work around things that can fall, break, or are very sharp (like sheet metal( and can poke you (like fence wire). The Trauma Pak has this exact clotting sponge, but I chose to double up on them, in case I ever have to stop bleeding.

It's worth noting that Adventure Medical sells a 50g clotting sponge as well. It's too expensive to fit in my budget, but it's a great deal at twice the sponge for on 1.5 times the price.

PhysiciansCare by First Aid Only

I wanted to find a small pack of normal first aid items -- band-aids, cleaning wipes, and the like. These are what I normally need and use every week.  I have extras that will go into the box when the original pieces are used up.

The kit includes one antiseptic wipe, one sting relief wipe, two 2" x 2" gauze pads, five adhesive plastic bandages (3/4" x 3") and four junior plastic bandages.

How Did I Do?

I think I did quite well, thank you!
  • The Adventure Medical Trauma Pack was $15.63
  • Quick Clot Sponge was $10.49
  • Small First Aid kit was $3.49
This totals up to $29.61, just under the $30 First Aid Kit Challenge target!

All of my shopping was done on Amazon, and several others have done quite well by brick and mortar shopping, so go and purchase what you need wherever you find it!

Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

If you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please post them so we all can learn. And remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Don't Forget Your Hat

There is a piece of prepping gear that I find oddly lacking in a great many preps: A hat. Not only is it missing in a majority of preppers kits, I find that those who have one tend to be missing a good hat.

Why You Need a Good Hat

When SHTF you can expect to be outdoors a lot, whether during the event itself or in the events after it. The sun is hot, unpleasant and miserable to be in when you have no shelter from it; injury and even death can result from overexposure to it. Thankfully, most of it can be avoided with simple protection, and avoidance is much easier than recovery.

Sunstroke can be a major problem when it occurs, and is a reason for hospitalization in and of itself. Wearing a wide brimmed hat can sharply reduce that. A hat can even be wetted down to help keep you cool, in addition to providing shade.

Next is simple sunburn. Anyone who has had sunburn can tell you how miserable it is, and how bad it can be if it is on your neck, face, or shoulders, and how hard it can be to carry a pack (or even wear a shirt) when it rubs against your neck at all. Sunblock can help a great deal, but it only goes so far, and will not protect against things like extended exposure. A hat will also only help so much, but it will do more than sunblock will.

Both sunstroke and sunburn can happen in any climate. Even in a cloudy climate, UV radiation can penetrate the cloud layer and cause damage. In fact, while hiking it can be wise to wear protection against the sun even when there is cloud cover, because people often do not notice the damage as quickly and will damage themselves without noticing.

Cloudy weather also brings another potential threat that a hat will help to protect against: rain. For those with glasses, keeping them from being rained on will preserve your vision. For those without glasses, a good hat will still allow you to see more easily in inclement weather.

What Kind of Hat?

I recommend a wide-brimmed hat with a rigid enough brim that it holds itself up and covers both your face and your neck. I personally prefer a hat with minimal venting, but that may depend on who you are and the climate you are in.

In any case, a good hat should run (at the time of this writing) from less than $15 (link 1) to $50 or more to in-between, depending on exactly what you want. Even if you are like me and require specially-ordered hats for your overly large skull, a good basic hat runs less than $100. Getting a fully custom made Beaver fur hat built for me specifically was around $600, which is about the top of the cost range.

In short, a small investment can save you a lot of hassle and grief.

Don’t forget to wear a hat.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Tim's $30 IFAK Challenge

This is my take on an inexpensive IFAK. You may notice that each of us have slightly different choices in our kits; this is because we all have differing levels of training and
we carry what we know how to use.

The Bag to Hold It All

I found a soft-sided cooler designed to carry six cans of beverage (with ice) that has a zippered compartment in the “lid”. The larger supplies fit into the waterproof base easily, and the smaller pieces don't quite fill the zippered compartment. There is room to add to this kit, which will probably happen after I finish writing this article. It has a carry handle on top and it's small enough to fit behind, or under, the seat of my truck. It looks like a lunch box and won't draw the extra attention that a large red cross would.

Bandages and Gauze

Gauze squares (pads) are used to clean wounds and absorb blood. They're what you grab when you need to put pressure on a wound to stop the bleeding. I bought the most common sizes, 2”x2” and 3”x3”. The boxes contained 10 of each, for $1.00 and $1.99 respectively.

Non-stick pads are used to cover a wound once the bleeding has stopped. They will protect the wound from debris and dirt and most will absorb any minor bleeding or other seepage from a wound. The 3”x4” size will cover small to medium sized wounds. $2.19.

Rolled gauze is used to secure the pads in place once the bleeding has stopped, as well as general binding together of things like splints and slings. 3”x 2.5Yd roll, $1.00.

Adhesive bandages (Band-Aid is a brand name, but that's what most people call them) are handy for covering small cuts and wounds. I bought two boxes, one of clear waterproof standard bandages in two sizes (3/4” and 1” wide) and one of knuckle and fingertip bandages. $2.19 per box.

Bandannas because I couldn't find triangular bandages, which have been a staple in my first aid kits for as long as I can remember. These 20”x20” bandannas will work if folded in half (they're thin, so folding them is best) as slings, bindings, emergency head cover, water pre-filters, and a host of other uses. I put two of them in the top compartment. $1.00 each.

Other Supplies

Vinyl gloves. Take a class on blood-borne pathogens and you'll keep gloves in every kit you own. I choose vinyl or nitrile gloves because I have too many friends who are sensitive to natural latex. These one-size-fits-most vinyl gloves were in the hardware aisle, near the paint supplies. 8 gloves, so 4 pair for $1.00.

Tape. I found several types of tape for about the same price, but I chose the clear “surgical” tape. It tears easily enough that you don't need scissors while still being strong enough to hold bandages together or to skin. The adhesive is fairly waterproof and holds up to minor stretching and motion on joints. 1”x10 Yd roll, $1.59.

Self-sticking tape. The common brand name is Coban, which is a 3M trademark. Make sure you look at the packaging and buy the latex-free versions. This is the duct tape of a first aid kit, it sticks to itself but not to skin or hair, and is stronger than you would expect. Handy for general binding and securing bandages, it comes in a variety of colors and sizes. I chose a generic brand 3” x 4 Yd roll because it fit nicely in the bag. $2.99.

Hand sanitizer. I found a one ounce bottle of Purell, which is gelled alcohol. It has an indefinate shelf-life and will disinfect wounds just as well as it does hands. It's also a handy fire starting aid, but that's not strictly first-aid related. $1.00.

Super glue. Generic super glue works wonders for closing small cuts. It stings a bit, but if applied over the top of a cut that is being held closed, it bonds the skin almost immediately (if you've ever glued your fingers together, you know how fast it sets). 2 tiny tubes for $1.00.

Emergency blanket. One of the cheap “Space blankets” found in the camping supplies aisle. This one wasn't as cheap as some I've bought, but they're all aluminum-covered Mylar and they all do the same job. Reflecting up to 80% of body heat, these little blankets are useful for treating and preventing shock. $1.99.

Flashlight. I have more flashlights than I know what to do with, but I always keep one in my first aid kit. Checking pupil dilation requires a light source (training required) and I have often needed extra light when trying to find or treat an injury. This one is a throw-away LED light, I can replace it easily and it is stored with the batteries out of the light. $1.00.

Everything laid out... 

.. and when packed in the bag

Things Which Eluded Me

I was unable to find a pair of EMT shears in either of the dollar stores that I shopped at, but I have spares so one will go into the kit. EMT shears are right up there with rolled gauze and triangular bandages in utility. There's not much you can't cut with them, as I used to show the Cub Scouts by cutting pennies in half. They make short work of seat belts, clothing, and light metal, and the rounded nose keeps you from inflicting damage (most of the time). They can be found on Amazon or picked up at an actual pharmacy/health care supply store for a few dollars.

Tourniquets are a specialty item, so I didn't expect to find them in a dollar store. Give me a stick and one of the bandannas and I'll make a field-expedient tourniquet. I can think of several ways to make one, so the lack of one doesn't bother me as much as some (tactical) folks think it should. 

With the recent (2016) changes in CPR training, they now emphasize rapid compressions and breathing is secondary, I'm finding it harder to locate CPR shields to protect the aid-giver from contact with potentially dangerous bodily fluids. I can get them online, so they're on my shopping list. Get CPR training through the Red Cross or American Heart Association, it's cheap and a lot of businesses will pay for their employees' training.


Supplies totaled up to $23.13, but the bag was $8.00 and that puts me at $31.13, slightly over the $30 limit. 

To remedy this, I also picked up a plastic container with a latching lid. Made of hard plastic and thinner than the bag, the 11”x”x6”x2” box held everything once I got rid of all the extra packaging. It only cost $2.75, dropping my total to $25.88.

I think I'll stick with the bag for convenience, durability, and the extra room to add to the kit later.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Scott's $30 IFAIK Challenge

When we the staff at BCP decided to try our hands at making a $30 emergency kit, I thought about the restrictions and, based on those, made an executive decision:

I would purchase everything from one physical storefront, traveling to and from it by foot or by bicycle.

I figure that there are plenty of other reviewers who will order things online, and plenty who will take time to carefully cultivate a specific list of what is needed. I, on the other hand, showed up at the store, and could only purchase what was physically available in a single visit.
  • The first thing I looked for was something to carry things in. I found a small laundry hamper (about 1.2 cubic feet) with comfortable handles and holes in the sides. This gave me a large enough container to hold everything, and has plenty of spots to which I could tie things. 
  • I then purchased a four-foot three-prong extension cord, and have since braided it into a comfortable handle. In a pinch, it will still serve as an extension cord.
  • I bought a binder pouch and put into it super glue, band aids, nitrite gloves, electrical tape, allergy pills, acetaminophen (paracetamol) and antibiotic gel. I figure that this is the core of my first aid kit. 
  • I also had bandages and rubbing alcohol, but those did not fit into the binder pouch. 
  • If I were to assemble this kit without the restrictions I put on myself, I would purchase proper medical tape of some sort.
  • I made sure to buy a razor knife (to cut things accurately) and some feminine napkins (in case of a major spill of some sort). 
  • I figured that being able to start a fire is important in an emergency, so I got a lighter and sparklers. Sparklers are not as useful for starting a fire, but they will stay lit in damp conditions, and along with the rubbing alcohol above they will make it easier to get recalcitrant tinder started. 
  • I put in a flashlight and spare AAA batteries. It is surprisingly bright, and LED flashlights have come a long way. 
  • Complimenting the light are a mylar blanket and emergency poncho in case of foul weather.
  • I decided to purchase some cotton string and a four-pack of glow sticks, so that I would have a method to mark off areas and possibly even signal for help.
  • At the end of my shopping trip, I had room in the budget for some one-liter water bottles and granola bars
Total cost: $28.66 including tax.

This should give me an inexpensive, light, portable kit that I can keep in the back of a car, on my shelf, or even strapped onto the back of a BoB. This is affordable for a college student, someone on a fixed income, or even someone who wants to start prepping and is not sure how to start. I figure this makes it a fairly accessible item.

  • If I had spent more time on this, I would have gone to another dollar store and gotten one of the cheap “back to school” backpacks they have in stock, or even a duffel bag. 
  • I also would have made sure to put in a suture kit and a tourniquet, but given the limitations of what I had on hand, I feel I did pretty well.

Don’t forget to practice.

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