David Spero

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Prepping on a Low Budget – Six Strategies to Get Out of Debt Quicker

Posted by David Spero

Many of us feel a sense of anxious urgency about our prepping.  We know that if we suddenly find ourselves trapped in a Level 2 or 3 situation, we are not yet ready to be able to survive such a challenge; but what we don’t know is if/when a Level 2/3 situation might suddenly appear.

To put it as bluntly as possible, the biggest constraint we have is the lack of cash to invest in our preparing.

Well, we can’t give each and every one of you many thousands of dollars of cash, but we can equip you with the tools to cut down on your own monthly outgoings.  In this, the second part of our new series about prepping on a low budget (please also see part one), we look at how you can get out of debt more quickly, freeing up the money you currently spend on paying off what you owe, and enabling you to use it on more productive things instead.

Strategy 1 – Prioritize Paying Off Your Debts

So what is the first thing you should pay off?  Generally it will be the balance with the highest interest rate.  Look at all the debts you have, and understand what the APR is on each of them.  You might be amazed to see the difference in APRs.  For example, maybe you have a discounted car loan at 1.9%, a student loan at 5%, a revolving line of credit at 7%, and two credit card debts, one at 15% and one at 24%.

In such a case, you should make nothing more than the minimum payments due on everything except the 24% credit card debt, and you should do all you can to get that 24% balance reduced down.  At 24%, you are paying $20 a month on every $1000 you owe; if you can reduce the total owed by an extra $100 in payment this month, then next month that will give you a $2 reduction in interest you pay on the now lower total amount outstanding.  $2 might not sound like much after having paid off $100 extra the previous month, but if you are making payments over, maybe, two years, then in approximate terms, that $2 is a recurring benefit over the 24 months of the loan and will (sort of) save you $48 over the remaining period of the loan.  That’s a much more significant saving, isn’t it.

That is one of the key things about reducing your interest payments.  A trivial seeming $1 a month reduction in interest payments might seem of no value at all, but it is saving you $1 a month for every subsequent month, as long as the loan remains open, and over many years, that really adds up.

The other key thing is that if your interest bill is now lowered by $1, next month your payment is going more to paying off the balance and less to paying interest, so you are paying off more principal, which means that the following month, there will be even less interest to pay and even more principle paid off, and so on.

You might already know that if you start missing payments, your debts start to spiral out of control.  The flip-side of that is that if you start paying more than your minimums each month, you quickly start to reduce your balances much more positively than you’d have thought possible.

After you’ve paid off the worst loan (in terms of interest rates) you’ll then successively move through everything else you owe money on.

Generally, the last thing to pay off would be your house mortgage, because that probably has the lowest interest rate associated with it.  Plus, for most of us, the interest is tax-deductible, reducing the real interest cost by as much as 30% or more (depending on whatever your top marginal tax rate is).

There’s no better way to control your outgoings without making any impacts on your lifestyle at all than by simply prioritizing how you pay off your debt, starting with the highest interest bearing debts first, and then working successively down to lower and lower interest bearing debts.

Exception – Prepayment Penalties

Some types of loan might have prepayment penalties associated with them.

Make sure that the loans you are focused on paying off as quickly as possible have no prepayment penalties associated with them.  If there are penalties, you are probably advised to concentrate on paying off other debts first.

Strategy 2 – Keep a Credit Card with No Carried Over Balance

Many credit cards have a deal whereby if you pay off your balance completely when it is due, then each month’s charges don’t incur any interest if you keep paying them off when the balance comes due.  Okay, we probably understand that already.

But did you know that if you don’t pay off your card entirely, then all charges immediately start accruing interest without the grace period you’d otherwise get if you were clearing the balance each month?

In other words, if you have to keep some balance on a credit card, have two credit cards.  One which you are paying off, but on which you add no new charges, and a second one which you keep current, so when you add new charges to it, you can pay them off when they come due, next month, without incurring any fees on those.

Strategy 3 – Consolidate Costly Credit

If you can, it is very helpful to consolidate your debts and to move them to the lowest cost source of money.

For some of us, this can best be done by getting a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC).  You’ll probably get an interest rate around 4% – 5%, and possibly might even be able to claim the interest as a mortgage/tax deduction on your 1040, depending on your circumstances and the nature of the amounts owed.

Let’s say you owe $5,000 at 12% and $5,000 at 18%, and you manage to get this transferred to a HELOC at 6%.  That means your monthly interest payment will instantly reduce by $75 every month – more if you can make your new interest payments tax-deductible.  That’s another $75 a month that you’ve suddenly created – and it is money you should then use to keep paying down your debt, at a new faster rate.

If you can’t get a HELOC, maybe you can still get some smaller loan from your bank or credit union, and if not at 6%, definitely still at much less than what you’re paying to the worst of the credit card and other lending sources.

Move the money you owe to the lowest cost lender.

Strategy 4 – Refinance Your House

We just spoke about rolling credit card balances to a HELOC.  But what if you have a home mortgage with a high interest rate on it?  Why not ‘kill two birds with one stone’ – refinance your home to a lower rate and also increase the amount you’ve borrowed to pay off other debt.

At the time of writing, there’s even a federal scheme that allows some home borrowers to get a federally subsidized new home loan with no origination fees and no qualification requirements.  Ask if you qualify for one of those.

Strategy 5 – Roll Balances to a New Card

Maybe you sometimes get offers in the mail giving you ‘pre-approved’ credit cards and allowing you to roll over a balance from another credit card, with an initial grace period of no interest charge applying.

Make sure there truly are no charges – no ‘cash advance’ type charges or anything else at all, and if it truly is a way of getting some months of free interest, then if the interest rate that commences at the end of the free period isn’t worse than what you’re paying now, why not cut up one credit card and start using the ‘free money’ offer on the new credit card?

We know some people who have done this repeatedly, each time getting a new grace period of some months before any interest starts being charged.

Needless to say, don’t go into debt initially with the plan to do this into the future, but if you are already in debt, this might help reduce the cost of paying off the money you owe.

Strategy 6 – Renegotiate Your Interest Rate

You mightn’t realize this, but many times you’ll find you are able to negotiate the interest rate you are charged on your credit card balances.  The credit card company doesn’t just have one interest rate that everyone, everywhere in the US, uniformly pays.  It sets interest rates more or less individually, based on your credit score, your history with the card issuer, your address, and many other factors.

If you have been making your payments regularly – or sometimes even if you haven’t – you might be able to negotiate a lower interest rate.  Even if you only get a 1% reduction in your interest rate, this could save you thousands of dollars.  Look at our table of interest costs in the middle of the previous article in this series, Seven Thoughts About Borrowing Money.  Say you had a $10,000 loan at 18% and were making payments over a 10 year period.  If you can reduce that to 17%, and if you keep your monthly payment much the same as it was before, that means you now pay your loan off over nine years instead of ten, and your total interest paid drops from $11,922 to $9,587.

You pay your debt off a year sooner, and you save yourself $2335 in interest, all as a result of getting ‘only’ a ‘small’ one percent reduction in interest charged.

That’s sure worth making a phone call and asking for, isn’t it!

Why would a credit card company/bank drop your interest rate?  Because it costs them a lot of money to get a new customer; and it costs them much less to keep you as a good customer than it does to lose you and buy in another customer – the marketing cost of getting each customer, and the promotional cost of a ‘no fee for the first year’ and/or a ’100,000 mile frequent flier bonus if your sign up for our card’ and/or a ‘no interest on balances rolled over for six months’ or whatever other offer they are giving to new customers is massive.

Summary

There are sometimes good reasons and sometimes unavoidable reasons to go into debt (we discuss them here).  But there are almost never valid reasons to delay paying off the debt you’ve incurred.  The most compelling reason of all is that getting out of debt is just plain smart – your disposable income will skyrocket when you no longer have so much of your paycheck already committed to debt repayments.

The six steps above will help speed you towards a debt free future.  It will help, but you’ve still got to do some heavy lifting too – make paying off your debt a priority, and accept some lifestyle sacrifices while doing so.  In return, you’ll have a much healthier financial future. – The Prepper Journal

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By David Spero

Some preppers base the security of their retreat on hiding it so that it won’t be found.

They glow with pride about how carefully they’ve chosen their retreat location, and its remoteness from main roads and likely off-road flows of people too.  They mutter about ‘OPSEC’ meaningfully, and talk about keeping an ultra-low profile, and won’t even tell you what state it is located in.

This is all good stuff and great to talk about, but it won’t keep you hidden.

We don’t mean to discourage any of these things, but we do mean to alert you to the fact that it is not possible to keep your retreat 100% hidden, all the time, from everyone.  Maybe careful measures will extend the time it takes for the first adversary to stumble across your retreat, but maybe also your location will be discovered by chance rather than by careful searching.

Sooner or later, you will be found.  And once one person finds you, he will tell someone else, and before you know where you are, everyone in the area will know about your retreat and come visiting.

We discuss the subject of Opsec further in our article ‘The Ugly Flip-sides of Opsec‘ and in that article we recommend you should plan on a controlled release of information about your retreat, on your terms, rather than suffer an uncontrolled exposure at some unknown but certain time in the future.  You should read that article too; for the balance of this article, we focus primarily on the uncontrollable ways in which your retreat will be found.

Some Location Giveaways

Here are some types of unavoidable give-aways that will draw attention to you and your retreat.  Your concern isn’t just the people who stumble across your location by chance, it is also the people who are drawn to it due to some sort of indicator that calls attention to it, even from some distance away.

For example, what will you do for heat?  As soon as you start burning anything, you’re giving off odors that in a de-industrialized rural area will travel a long way.  One more smell in the city means nothing.  But in the countryside, anything out-of-place that doesn’t blend into the natural smells – and particularly a burning smell, something we are instinctively taught to notice and fear, will be much more prominent and will be noticed from a reasonable distance.

You’re not only giving off smells, you might be giving off smoke too, providing a visible indicator pointing to your location and visible for many miles around.

Talking about smells we instinctively react to, what will you eat?  Even if you only cook ‘low odor’ foods (rice and beans, perhaps) those odors will travel a long distance, particularly if the person smelling them has his sense of smell sharpened by hunger.

Don’t worry, we’re not going to ask what you do about bodily waste, but let’s just say there’s a reasonable chance there may be some smells associated with that, too!

What about energy?  Will you have a wind turbine?  If so, won’t that be very obvious, especially when the blades are turning, indicating that it is still operating and being maintained?

Solar cells neatly lined in rows on your roof and kept clean of debris also indicate that rather than being an abandoned old shack, your retreat is a cared for location with added value sophisticated contents.

It is true that generators can run incredibly silently, but it is also true that the outdoors itself can be very silent on occasion, making even the slightest out-of-place sound, like a generator running, draw attention to itself.

Will you ever leave your house?  In the winter, you’ll be making footprints in the snow.   Will you grow any food in the summer – any type of cultivation or other landscaping will of course be obvious.  Will you ever go hunting – the sound of each rifle shot might be heard for miles.

Will you have 24 hour blackout curtains on all the windows – heck, why not just build your retreat with no windows at all, then!  If not, your retreat will be a beacon of light at night.

The Unavoidable Paper Trail that Leads to Your Retreat

Think about everything that has happened from the moment you bought the property.  Your purchase of the property has of course been recorded in the county records.  If there were any existing buildings on the property, those are probably already part of the county records.

Maybe you bought some unimproved land and built your own retreat structure.  Did you file building permits with the county?  Do you have utility connections (visible or not)?  Maybe even internet or telephone service?  Did you have any contractors do any work on your house?  Or building inspectors visit?  Did you get mail or courier deliveries at that address?  Do you have occasional deliveries of propane or firewood or diesel fuel?  Does a septic tank service company visit to pump out your tanks?

Even if you think you’ve done everything off the record, sooner or later, the county assessors will update their database and discover the improvements on your property.  Their staff know the areas they are responsible for very well, and if they find a new driveway that didn’t formerly exist, they’ll want to know where it goes.  If they happen to see a contractor’s truck going in or out of the driveway, they’ll doubly want to know what is going on.  Or maybe they’re just doing one of their two/five/ten year revaluations of all property in the county, and someone notices from an aerial photo the presence of buildings and clear indications of agricultural improvements on a block of land they had formerly categorized as unimproved forestry land.

Have a look at, for example, this impressive site that records all details of every property in the entire state of Montana.  Chances are there’s a similar database either for your state or at least the county within your state, whether it be publicly online or not.

Other Problems

What do you say if meeting locals in the nearby town in terms of where you live?  Someone, and probably several or even many people, know that you’re out there, even if not exactly where – you’ll be the guy who lives somewhere up back of (some other place).

What about your travels to and from your retreat?  Have other people seen vehicles they don’t recognize (ie, your vehicles) in out-of-the-way places and wondered who you are and what you are doing?  Have you left tire marks, or do you have a formal driveway or some other indicator of a house on the property?

And so on and so on.  Will anyone else for 50 miles around you know about your retreat?  Unavoidably, and of course.

There are countless ways your presence will be inadvertently revealed, and your life will be a misery if you try to hide it.

The preceding examples show some things you have done or will unavoidably do that draw attention to your retreat.  But that’s not all.  Your retreat could also be found accidentally.

Accidental Discovery Too

We know that in a Level 2/3 situation, there will be an exodus of people from the cities.  Remember that for every rural dweller at present, there are about five or six city dwellers.  In theory, this suggests that the countryside might become five or six times more crowded with people than before, so this by itself increases the chances of someone stumbling across your retreat unexpectedly.

In addition to that, think of everyone you know who confidently says they’ll hunt deer or other wild game for food in a Level 2/3 situation.  Deer will rapidly become an endangered species, that’s for sure!  The woods will be crawling with hunters all eagerly looking for game to shoot, so if your retreat is anywhere close to any sort of hunting, expect an influx of hunters in your area.  Ditto for fishing.  Ditto again for any food bearing plants in the vicinity.  Maybe even for people seeking to fell trees for building materials or to burn.

There’s another potential source of disclosure too.  Google Maps, Bing, and other mapping providers are increasing the frequency of aerial mapping surveys, and the quality/detail of the images they post online.  Many counties have aerial survey maps online too.

Your retreat might be miles from anywhere, but that won’t stop a plane from snapping a beautiful aerial shot of your retreat from the air as it flies over doing a photo-reconnaissance sweep.  Your dwelling will be online for everyone, everywhere in the world, to see next time they open up Google Maps.

Okay, so this presupposes that Google Maps or any of the other online mapping services is still available in a Level 2/3 scenario – a dubious scenario, for sure.  But if your information is/was online, it is probably also printed out somewhere, and a more resourceful looter will access good old-fashioned printed county records to identify tempting targets to go hit.  If you were a looter, wouldn’t you consider an obscured out-of-the-way retreat to be more tempting than one close to three or four neighbors?

It also means that from whenever your retreat first starts to appear on these documents and online records, there will be a small but growing level of awareness of your presence, prior to WTSHTF.

Summary

Figure on being found, sooner or later.  You can not rely on remaining hidden.  Once one person finds you, expect them to share that information with more and more people.

Unfortunately, the more unusual your location, and the more creative you’ve been at obscuring it, the more ‘interesting’ it will be for people to talk about it, and the more curious they will be about exactly who you are and what you have.

By all means do all you can to extend the time until you are found, and hopefully to minimize the frequency of times you are found, but sooner or later, you will have uninvited ‘guests’ arrive unexpectedly.  You need to have a plan for what to do once the veil of obscurity is lifted from your location. – Code Green Prep

Adding a simple piece of wire to your walkie-talkie could double its range.

By David Spero

Some things in life you can never have too much of.  But for this article, we’ll concentrate just on radio range/efficiency!

There are many ways to boost the range of your two-way radios.  We write about this topic regularly (please see our complete section on communication related topics to access these articles) and basically, the suggestions we offer fall into one of two categories – either getting a more powerful radio transmitter and more sensitive radio receiver, or boosting the effectiveness of your antenna.

Between these two choices, improving the effectiveness of your antenna is always the better approach.  More powerful transmitters and more sensitive receivers are, of course, more expensive than standard grade units, and a more powerful transmitter is also going to need much more power to operate – chewing through batteries maybe ten times faster, and/or becoming a power-hog when you’re off-grid and power is precious and limited.

One more important issue – the more powerful your signal, the further it goes, and the greater the number of people who might receive it.  This is seldom a good thing, particularly when you are trying to keep a low profile.

This is why our focus is not just on greater transmitting power, but also on better overall efficiency of the antenna so it can receive weaker signals more clearly, and – with our radios – if we improve our antenna, we often then cut back on our transmit power, keeping it at the minimum needed for the range we require.

Enough introduction.  By now, you’re probably keen to understand the 10¢ device and how it can double your radio range.  Actually, we may have misstated the truth – the device might cost you less than 10¢!

How a Piece of Wire Can Double Your Radio Range

This device is simply a piece of wire which dangles down off your hand-held radio transceiver.  That sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it, and a bit like the ‘patch’ devices that used to be sold to gullible fools to add to their cell phones, with claims either that they would magically filter out harmful radiation or boost the phone’s range or something.

But we’re not trying to sell you anything, and there is actual solid radio theory that readily explains how and why this works as it does.  And, most of all, you will actually perceive the great boost to your radio’s signal yourself – you will know if it works or doesn’t work.

Without going too much into the theory, but also giving you enough to understand that this is a bona fide scientific real thing, most antennas need two parts in order to work properly.  Sometimes the two parts are obscured as part of a single overall antenna structure, but any good antenna definitely does have two parts to it.

However, with a hand-held transceiver (HT) the people who design them have pretty much unanimously decided that people prefer small portable robust units rather than larger, bulkier, and more fragile units.  They have taken that perception and used it to justify making the antennas small and inadequate.  They know the antenna is inefficient, but it is also small and strong, and they feel that is more important to most people, most of the time, than is a bulkier more fragile antenna but with better range (and with removable/replaceable antennas, if you do want/need a better antenna, you can simply buy one, as most of us do).

The manufacturers are probably correct in their assumption, and most of the time, we accept the limited performance we get from our HT antennas – but sometimes we need better performance, and that’s what this article is all about.

We explain this so you understand the answer to the question ‘If this is so great, how come it isn’t already being offered on all radios?’.

To be more technically precise, the antenna on most hand-helds is typically some type of quarter-wave monopole radiator, usually inductively loaded to shorten its physical length while preserving its electrical length, most commonly a normal-mode helix.  Adding this extra piece of wire changes it to a half-wave dipole.

You already know that the first thing you should do with any HT is to replace its standard ‘rubber ducky’ stub antenna with a better antenna, with ‘better’ being in part synonymous with longer/bigger.  See our two-part article about adding an external antenna to your HT, and if you have one of the lovely little Baofeng UV-5R radios (see our commentary about why these are usually your best compromise choice here) then you’ll see on this page the first thing we recommend you do to optimize the Baofeng is adding a specific improved antenna (the Nagoya 701, costing a mere $6 or so on Amazon).

But even these improved antennas are still massively inadequate because they don’t provide some type of radiating element for both halves of the antenna.  Instead, the radio designers use various compromises in their design that basically end up as using your body as the other (‘ground’) half of the antenna system.  You’ll be unsurprised to learn that the human body, while wonderful in many ways, is not very good at doing double duty as a radio antenna!

So, to address this limitation, you can add the missing other half of the antenna to the radio yourself.  All it needs to be is a specific length of ordinary wire (bell wire or phone wire, ideally multi-strand so it is flexible, and insulated).  For 2M, this would be about 19.5″, for 1.25M, it would be 11.5″, and for 70cm, it would be about 6.5″.

For best results, you want to strip the insulation off a short piece of the wire and then connect the exposed wire to the ‘ground’ or outside part of the antenna connector.  This is very easily done with the Baofeng units – just unscrew the antenna sufficiently to be able to poke in the wire then screw down the antenna again to secure it.  It might help if you break off/file down/drill a bit off the side of the plastic shroud surrounding the antenna mounting screw, making it easier to get the wire in and firmly clamped by then antenna.

You can also use various types of washers or electrical clamps and connectors to create a connection too, depending on how much work you want to put into this enhancement.

Once you have connected your wire, just let it hang down freely while using the HT.  Don’t grip the wire when holding the HT, but let the wire hang down separately.

When the radio is not in use, you can wind the wire around the set or do whatever else you like to store it conveniently.

What Sort of Improvement Will You Get?

You will notice a significant improvement in both transmitting and receiving on 2M, some improvement on 1.25M, and much less improvement on 70cm.  We’ll spare you the antenna theory issues as to why this is.

But on 2M, you can expect your signal strength to increase by perhaps 6dB.  Some hams report as much as a 9dB improvement, but we find that improbable.  A 6dB improvement is the same as increasing your transmitting power four-fold, so it is a huge/massive improvement, and truly could double your range – or could now allow you to reduce your transmitting power while still getting a signal out as far as before, and getting a greatly improved receive signal.

Now for an interesting extra point.  Not only do you not always need to boost your transmit and receive capabilities, but sometimes this can be inappropriate.  Sure, you can maybe offset a more efficient antenna by reducing your transmit power, but if you are already receiving very strong incoming signals, and particularly if you have some unwanted signals on nearby frequencies, boosting the signal from the antenna to the receiver can sometimes cause problems.  If you find, after adding this extra wire to your HT, that it actually receives more poorly than before, even though it is transmitting better, you have a problem with your receiver circuitry being de-sensitized by strong adjacent signals, and in such a case, you should stop boosting your antenna.

For this reason, there is another way you could conveniently control your antenna, making it easier to selectively add or remove the extra wire.  Have just a short lug connected to the antenna ‘ground’ base on the HT, and protruding slightly from the radio.  Then if you need a boost in capabilities, you can conveniently clip whichever antenna you want onto the radio, but if your receiver is being overloaded, you can unclip it again without any great hassle or bother.

Some Extra Tips and Suggestions

First, if you use your HT on more than one band, you will need different length wires for each band (19.5″, 11.5″ and 6.5″ for the common 2M, 1.25M and 70cm bands).  If you regularly switch bands, what you might want to do is have the 6.5″ wire mounted permanently, and keep two extender lengths, 5″ and 13″, then if you switch bands from 70cm, you connect the extender onto the bottom of the 6.5″ wire.

Note that the connection needs to be electrical, not just physical.  There are easy and complex ways of doing this – the easiest is stripping a bit of insulation off the end of the 6.5″ wire and off one end of the two extender wires, then simply twisting the two together.  Slightly more elegant would be to have an alligator clip on the extender wire, and more elegant still would be to have a paired socket and plug connector at the end of each wire.

Second, you don’t actually need to have your antenna wire physically connected to the ground of the main antenna at all.

You will get best results if it is connected, but if that is difficult – or if it is impossible, for example, with a radio that has a fixed antenna that you can’t unscrew to access its ground – you can create a capacitive coupling between the radio and your antenna, by simply terminating your wire in a metal path (tin foil or copper or whatever) and affixing the patch somewhere on the radio.  The bigger the patch size, the better, and some locations will work better than others.  Some trial and error experimentation might be called for to work out the best place to place the patch.

Of course you could also open up the radio casing and hard wire/solder the wire to a ground point on the radio’s circuit board or access the antenna’s connector internally, then have the wire coming out through a hole in the case, and that would be slightly better than the capacitive coupled device, but is more hassle.

Third, some people have chosen to connect the extra wire to the antenna’s connector rather than to the radio.  There’s no reason not to do this, and if you don’t want to do anything to your radio, and/or if it is easier to add the extra wire to the antenna’s connector rather than to the radio’s connector, that’s an equally fine solution.

Lastly, if you’re still not convinced about how a simple piece of wire can add so amazingly to your radio’s range, Google ‘tiger tail antenna’ to see many credible articles confirming it works.  But, really, you don’t need to do this, because it only costs you 10¢ and only takes you five minutes to do it yourself.  You’ll hear the difference, as will the people you’re communicating with.

And surely that’s what counts. – Code Green Prep

By David Spero

Choosing a retreat location is the hardest thing you must do, because there are so many variables, issues, and choices to make.

Furthermore, many of your choices are far from clear-cut.  They depend on things uniquely to do with you, your circumstances, and to do with the areas you are considering, and require you to make difficult value judgments where a choice for something might then impact on your ability to also optimize some other important feature.

This all makes it difficult for you, and of course, difficult for those of us who try to write on the topic too!  But write we do; indeed this article means we now have over 90,000 words already published about choosing a retreat location (more than a full-sized book), and there’s plenty more still to write.

This article can be considered as a follow on from several other articles that directly or obliquely consider the choice between an in-town or out-in-the-country type location.  See, for example, our two-part series, Identifying Good Towns and The Robustness of a Town’s Services, plus articles such as Where to Locate Within a Town, The Importance of Good Nearby Neighbors and Will Your Nearby Town Thrive, Survive or Fail.

In this article we identify some of the respective good and bad points associated with living either in a rural area far from other people, or in a more concentrated population cluster such as a small town.  You can decide on the relative importance of these things, we simply offer them up for your consideration.

Positive Aspects of Town Living

  • You become a member of a local community, and with a group of people in the town, can select your friends and fellow community members from a larger group of people to choose from
  • If the town groups together constructively, there is better mutual security – ‘safety in numbers’ and with help closer at hand in an emergency
  • Probably have some community services such as medical, law enforcement, fire, water, sewer
  • Probably have businesses providing all sorts of commercial services – eg electrical and mechanical maintenance, plumbing, etc
  • Most places you need to go to will be within walking distance
  • A group of people in one location aids effective trading – buying, selling, exchanging, bartering

Negative Aspects of Town Living

  • It is harder to quality control your neighbors (and their neighbors, too) and you are more impacted by them and their actions
  • Some locals may pose present threats, others may become troublesome WTSHTF
  • An unknown number of people will be truly prepared, and an unknown but greater number may become dependent on you WTSHTF
  • A greater population density and more frequent interactions with other people makes it easier for epidemics to spread
  • A town is unlikely to be self-sufficient for food, and unlikely to be able to become so in the future (too many people, too little land)
  • You have much less privacy of any type in a town
  • The desirability to be discreet about your resources and capabilities and the lack of privacy will pose problems, for example, with antenna arrays, making your dwelling structure bullet proof, etc
  • Smaller sized lots make it more difficult to use them for many different purposes
  • Land prices are higher, limiting the amount of land you can buy in a town
  • Land taxes are probably higher than in the country too
  • Local city bylaws are probably going to be more restrictive in many respects (some possibly unexpected).  In particular, you can forget any opportunity to use firearms for any purpose on your town lot, and may have major restrictions on the fuel you can store
  • City laws (and laws in general) may be more aggressively enforced with a city police force and less ability to do things unobserved
  • A town’s services may fail WTSHTF and make the town less viable without the services than the countryside would be (never having the services in the first place).  For example, most country folk have their own septic systems, what do townsfolk do when their town sewer system fails?
  • You probably can’t hunt or fish or raise livestock on your town property; even if you could, just how much game do you expect to find in your back yard?
  • Might not even be allowed/able to collect rainwater from your roof.  Where else/how else would you get water in a town?
  • Less space for solar arrays, probably no chance of hydro, probably little/no chance of wind power
  • Impractical to consider activities that generate significant noise or smells
  • Towns are more likely to organize formal food sharing (ie confiscation) type programs in an emergency.  They have an additional level of government (city govt) and a significant concentration of people needing food.

Positive Aspects of Rural Living

  • Free of direct/immediate issues from neighbors, who are probably sufficiently distant to give you much greater privacy and to have less mutual impacts on what you and they do
  • Lower population density and fewer interactions with other people reduce the spread of epidemics
  • Your neighbors (and you too) are all more likely to be already self-sufficient in terms of food production
  • You may even have a chance to start growing food surpluses to trade with others
  • Because everyone was not relying on city services (eg water, sewer) to start with, WTSHTF you will all be less impacted
  • Land prices are lower – you can buy more land for the same money as less land in a town would cost
  • Land taxes are probably lower than in the city too
  • More land gives you more space for everything, and a greater amount of land spreads your risk of unexpected events over a broader area, hopefully making such events less impactful
  • With more space, costing less money, and more private, you can set up all sorts of things ranging from private gun ranges to antenna arrays to more extensive cultivation of many different crops to safety and privacy zones
  • You have the space for extensive solar arrays, might possibly be able to implement a micro-hydro system, and maybe add a wind turbine too
  • You can consider activities that are noisy or smelly or in some other way would be too attention-getting or objectionable in town (eg methane gas generation from cow dung)
  • You’re more likely to have a solution already in place for water
  • Fewer (or no) restrictions on hunting and fishing and livestock raising on your land
  • Easier to build structures with non-standard construction eg for fire-proof and ballistic protection and to erect obstacles against vehicular assault
  • Less likely to have as much county government interference as city folks do with both city and county government, and more able to live your life discreetly
  • Larger lots allow for inefficient but beneficial land uses such as forestry and harvesting trees for both construction materials and firewood/energy

Negative Aspects of Rural Living

  • Your nearest neighbors are probably too far away to be able to provide immediate urgent assistance in an emergency
  • Even communicating with neighbors may become difficult if cell phones and landlines fail
  • Might not have high-speed internet and state of the art cell-phone and data service
  • Although neighbors are far and few, you are more dependent on additional people to manage and secure a larger lot than you are in a town
  • There is probably less of a community spirit, and a smaller potential community anyway, at least within a few hours walk/bicycle/horse ride
  • There is a lack of convenient local services.
  • Nothing will be a short walk away, and if liquid fueled internal combustion powered vehicles become impractical in the future, distances will become a major problem

Towns Aren’t All Bad

Wow – looking at the imbalance between the pluses and minuses of town and rural life would seem to suggest that everyone should choose a rural location for their retreat.

But not all the bullet points are of equal importance, and you need to do more than just count bullet points.  You need to decide which are the most important factors for you, and whether you can minimize the negatives that inevitably are associated with any set of positives.

We provide considerable more detail on the brief bullet points we offer above in other articles on these topics.  We linked, above, to some of our other articles about town vs country living, and you can also visit our complete collection of retreat location themed articles here.

Summary

The difficult art of choosing an ideal location for your retreat involves trading off the pluses and minuses of each issue you need to consider.

To help you understand and evaluate the consequences of your choices, we’ve listed almost 50 different factors to consider when trying to select between a town or rural retreat location. – Code Green Prep

So just exactly how many cans of spam do you need?  :)

By David Spero

This question is a bit like asking ‘How high is up?’.  Clearly, the more food you store, the better you will be able to withstand a Level 1 or 2 event (Level 3 events assume, more or less by definition, that the problem will last longer than any stores you might have amassed).

There probably is an upper limit to how much food you could/should store, but few of us are going to reach that.  In case you wonder, there are two situations where you might end up with ‘too much’ food.  The first is if you have so much food that you can’t eat it all (or give it away or trade/sell/exchange it) before such time as it passes both its official and its real expiry dates.  The second would be having such a lot that you find yourself with food to last much longer than you have energy or water or other essentials.

In all cases, you need to balance your prepping.  Until you can – in all respects – survive a one week event, there is no point adding a second week of food.  Who needs food when you no longer have water?  When your heat has gone, and it is midwinter and you’re dying of exposure, food is again probably the least of your worries.  And so on.

So it is important to keep your prepping balanced.  A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the same with prepping.  When you run out of any essential item, your survival is threatened, no matter how much of other things you still have on hand.

But having said that, it is relatively straightforward to get a retreat that will provide shelter for an extended many year period, to get a well that will provide you with all the water you’ll ever need, and to get perhaps a solar cell array to provide you with at least some ongoing power.  At that point, food becomes a key consideration because you’re in the happy point of having open-ended indefinite solutions to your need for water, shelter and energy.

Of course, you need a lot more than the most minimalist amounts of food, water, shelter and energy, but you truly do need these big four categories of preps.  Other things you might be able to improvise or make do without, but you can’t make do without these four major categories.

So, assuming you have resolved everything to do with water, shelter and energy, how much food should you store?  You might say ‘Oh, I’ll store a year’s worth’, – this seems to be a commonly cited quantity to aspire to.  However, that answer in turn begs some other questions – just how many cans and bags and other forms of food is a year’s worth?

To answer these questions, you need to consider five factors, and to ignore one distractor.

The distractor is the claim you’ll often see made in prepackaged collections of long life foods – ‘Contains a three-month supply’ or maybe ‘contains 240 entrees’ or something else.  You need to see exactly how many calories the supplier is basing these claims on, and contrast it with your expected calorie need (point 2, below); and dollars to donuts, you’ll almost surely find that their ‘three month supply’ is more like a two month supply, their 240 entrees are more like 240 appetizers, and so on!

So let’s now look at the five factors to consider.

Will eat for food

1.  How Many People Will You Feed?

This question has some overtones that you should consider.  You probably already know how many people you’re planning to have in your retreat.  But might you have some unexpected extra people join you?

Maybe someone gets married and brings their new spouse.  Maybe a couple has a new child.  Maybe a friend or two come along and ask to be accepted into your community.  Maybe you meet someone after moving to your retreat who has an excellent set of skills and you want to have them join you, too.

In addition, you should also consider how you will handle people who come begging for food.  Will you send them away with nothing, or will you give them a token small amount of food?

However you answer these questions, you’ll probably end up realizing that it is likely you’ll have more mouths to feed than you originally plan for.

English:

2.  How Much Daily Food Will Each Person Need?

You may already be familiar with the US Recommended Daily Allowances that specify how much of a wide variety of vitamins and minerals and other elements a person should consume each day.  Here’s a link to them if you’re not.

Perhaps the most relevant issue though is not how much of each vitamin and mineral is in your diet (in theory, most ‘healthy’ diets contain plenty of all of these, in practice you’ll probably augment your stored food with a multi-vitamin supplement), but instead how many calories of energy you are getting from the food you eat each day.  This number isn’t an official standard because it varies depending on your gender, age, height/weight, and your level of activity.

So when you see labels on foods talking about ‘based on a daily allowance of xxxx calories’ they are not saying ‘this is the scientifically calculated exact number of calories you need’; they are simply basing their percentages on a somewhat arbitrary number.

The harder you work, the more you need to eat.  A daily intake of 2,000 calories a day may be enough for someone who does little or nothing every day, but if you’re going to be working in the fields, then you can expect to see your needs increase to maybe 3,000 or more calories a day.  Here’s a helpful table.

So you should adjust the quantities of food people will consume upwards to reflect the probability that people will be working harder than formerly, and so will eat more, too.

3.  Non-Essential Foods Actually Are Essential

We’ve written before about the surprisingly serious potential problem of appetite fatigue.  What this means, in part, is that you can’t optimize your food storage and serve the same food item, the same way, every day for a year, even if it is the cheapest and easiest product to store and prepare.

You need variety and so you’ll need to add some non-essential items into your food store too.

Good food can be a morale booster, and bad food a morale drainer.  In difficult times, good food can help people remain positive, and for sure, you are prepping for what will be difficult times.  So you will want to also supplement your food supplies with non-essential comfort and luxury food items.  At the end of a long hard day with everything going wrong, it will be a wonderful thing to then break out something like maybe a retort pouched piece of shelf-stable long-life smoked salmon and treat everyone to a ‘feel-good’ delicacy.

4.  Allowing for Wastage and Spoilage

We know you’re planning on not wasting a single ounce of everything.  Everything you have will be cooked, and everything you cook will be eaten.

But we also know that the real world isn’t quite as perfect as you might hope for.  For example, what happens if a water pipe bursts and water floods onto and into your dry stores?  What happens if you have a problem with rats or mice?  At a smaller level, what happens when something goes wrong with a meal?

Depending on your degree of vulnerability to such unexpected things, we’d probably add another 5% or more to adjust for these imperfections.

To increase the genetic diversity of U.S. corn...

5.  Food as a Trading Good Too

We suggest you add further food to your minimum calculations to give you some ‘currency’ that can be used to trade for other things in the future.

We’ve written several pieces about how current US currency will lose its value in a Level 2 or 3 situation, and until such time as a new currency replaces it, all manner of different things will be used as trade goods.  When time allows, please visit our complete subsection on the site about the future economy and how it will evolve.  Understanding these issues is important.

In particular, it goes without saying that food will be greatly in demand, and would be almost universally accepted in payment for just about any other thing you might wish to exchange or trade.  You might want to have a mix of staples and also higher value items (herbs and spices and flavorings in particular) for future trading purposes.

6. How Many Months/Years of Food to Store

Now for the big question.  You know, from answering the previous five points, how much food a day or week or month you should set aside.  But now – how long a supply do you need?

We suggest that you must have at least one year of food, and ideally closer to two years.  Indeed, if you can go to three years, better still.

Think about a worst case scenario.  TEOTWAWKI occurs after the planting season one year, meaning you’ll not be able to get any measurable amount of food from your own gardening until the harvest season next year – maybe 15 months later.  (Is this the point where we extol the great sense of having a greenhouse? :)  )

Let’s also say that things go very wrong with your first year of gardening, and you only get six months worth of food from your efforts.  So add another 6 months to the stockpile you need, and you’re now at 21 months.

Now let’s say the next year has a flood, or spring frosts, or a drought, or something.  Let’s say you only get six months worth of food that year, too.  Now you need 27 months of stored food.

Furthermore, you really need to always keep at least 6 – 12 months of stored food in reserve, because it is an unavoidable truism in agriculture that some years are good and some are terrible.  So add another 6 months to your stored supply and now you’re at 33 months.

Make your own decisions as to how you’ll plan and project your food needs, but be pessimistic rather than optimistic, and we expect you’ll end up agreeing with us that you must have one year, should have two, and ideally would love to have three year’s worth of food in your store.

English: Photo by R L Sheehan of commercially ...

Avoiding Stored Food Expiration

You don’t want to have to regularly junk your stored food and replace it with a fresh set of unexpired food, and neither do you want to go into an emergency situation with your food nearing its expiration dates.

There’s an easy answer to this concern.  Eat what you store, and store what you eat.  That way, you are steadily eating your stored food as part of your normal everyday diet.  It means you are turning over your stores regularly, and hopefully eat everything before it expires.

It also means there is less disruption WTSHTF.  You keep eating much of the same food you’ve been eating prior to then.  That can be a bit of a comfort in itself, reassuring you that not all has been lost and destroyed in your world.

It also imposes a bit of a discipline on you when choosing food supplies.  If you’re like us, you probably have some 25-year-shelf-life pails of long life shelf stable freeze-dried foods – perhaps you bought them on special, and perhaps you thought ‘This stuff is barely better than prison grub, but in an emergency, I can’t expect to enjoy good food’.

But what is the point of buying food you don’t like and wouldn’t normally eat?  To save money?  Think about that – you’re happy spending, shall we say, $10 on a meal today, but you’re not willing to spend a comparable amount to set aside a meal for the future.  That’s a bit contradictory, surely!

So, as much as you can, considering shelf life issues, buy and stock up with the types of food you like to eat, not the types that are cheapest or which have the longest lives.  As long as you are able to eat what you have stored before it expires and keep regularly replenishing it, shelf life isn’t such an issue.

Shelf life only matters when you’re storing food you won’t eat, not when you’re storing food you will eat!

Summary

You’ll eat more food than you expect in a Level 2 or 3 situation; and you’ll probably have more mouths to feed as well.  Add to that a greater need for food variety, and allow some extra to use as trading goods, and you’ll soon realize that there’s no such thing as ‘too much food’ in your stockpile.

When you plan for some worst case scenarios, you’ll quickly realize that a one year supply is probably insufficient, a two-year supply barely enough, and a three-year supply a much more comfortable level to keep. – Code Green Prep

By David Spero

You already know that your retreat should be far from a big city, but what about small towns?  We’ve written before on the subject of being close to a suitable ‘good’ small town (see ‘The Importance of Good Nearby Neighbors and Small Towns‘ and ‘Will Your Nearby Town Thrive, Survive or Fail WTSHTF‘, but we’ve not really considered the issue of actually living in a small town.  Hence this article.

In this first part of the article, we talk about the differences between what we view as ‘good’ towns and those we view as ‘bad’ towns’.  In the second part of the article, we talk about the measuring a town by the robustness of the services it provides.

There are several issues to consider when deciding if you want to live in or close to a small town.  The first issue of course is identifying suitable small towns.  But what makes a town suitable?  In the second of the two articles above we lightly touch on one measure of suitability – whether a town is likely to remain a viable and close to self-supporting entity in a future Level 2 or 3 situation.

That is indeed an important consideration – a town that will collapse when society collapses is nothing more than an instant gang of marauders inconveniently living right next to you; whereas a town that can survive with only moderate impairment is a positive resource that can add to your own chances of surviving.

There are other considerations too.  Two very obvious additional considerations are :

Location and Size

Similar considerations that apply to your choice of a location for your (possibly remote/rural) retreat apply to your choice of a town to live in.

You don’t want the town to be too close to a major city, indeed, if anything, you want a town to be further away from a major city than would be the case for a rural retreat.  This is because towns are like beacons, calling to people.  They are names and places on maps, whereas individual retreat properties are vague amorphous things with nothing to identify themselves on a map (unless it has aerial photography!).  It is conceivable that refugees will think ‘I’ll leave my big city and travel to this small town – I remember driving through it once and it seemed like a friendly nice little place, I’m sure they’ll welcome me and look after me there’.

So, more distance than for a rural retreat and/or some geographical barriers are definitely called for when considering a town’s location.  We discuss this further in our article on Transportation and Roading Implications of a Retreat Location.

You don’t want the town to be bisected by a freeway or in any other way be part of a major throughway that you can expect refugees and marauders to be traveling along.

You want the town’s population to be bigger than very small but smaller than very big.  Let’s try to be a bit more specific.  You want a town to be at least a couple of hundred people in size.  Any smaller than that, and it isn’t so much a ‘town’ as it is a semi-random grouping of people living close to each other.  There are less likely to be existing town services, and less of a feeling of belong to a specific township in the minds of the residents.

In somewhat irrelevant support of that, in Montana cities can’t incorporate unless they have more than 300 residents.  In case you’re wondering how it is you’ve seen some much smaller incorporated towns and cities, that is because they don’t have to automatically disincorporate if their population dwindles below 300 – the smallest incorporated town in Montana has fewer than 100 residents.

So, ideally, you want to set about 200 people as the lower limit for a viable/suitable sized town.  At the other end of the scale, once you start to go over 1,000 residents, the feeling of connectedness starts to weaken.  People become more individually anonymous and therefore also less individually accountable for themselves and for the town as a whole.  In a town of a few hundred residents, pretty much everyone knows everyone else, but once you grow from a few hundred to a few thousand, that is no longer the case.

One important thing about measuring the population of a town – if there are population clusters living in unincorporated county land close to the town, those people may identify themselves as residents of the town and will of course be part of the town’s economic base, even though they don’t live in the town as such.  Similarly, two towns very close to each other tend to coalesce into one larger whole – even if both are small and there’s a mile or two between them, residents will of course happily travel to one or the other for their shopping and other needs.

The Differences between a Town and a Group of People Living Closely Together

Town hall TorringtonHere’s an interesting way of distinguishing a collection of people who just happen to live closely together from a ‘real’ town.  A ‘real’ town is more likely to have some sort of public/community amenity – a park, a statue, a town hall, something like that.  Even if it ‘just’ has a church, it has some type of focal point for the population, and the people have shown themselves to recognize the township as something more than just a semi-random grouping of people who happen to be living in close proximity to each other.

Maybe the town has a 4H chapter, or a Masonic Lodge, or some other sort of social cornerstone as well.  A Chamber of Commerce is another good sign.  For that matter, even a local bar/tavern/restaurant is at least a place where locals can go and do a bit of socializing.

Something else that distinguishes a town from a mere grouping of people living close to each other – a volunteer fire department (or a full-time one), or any other type of community service like that.  Let’s also not forget a public library – ideally in its own building rather than a truck that visits once a week.

Does the town have its own newspaper, or radio station, or even television station?  If it does, that is better than if it doesn’t (although with the small-sized towns we’re most interested in, it is unlikely they’ll have their own radio/tv station; and any newspaper is probably a weekly rather than daily).

You want to find a town where there is a sense of community identity, and ideally community spirit and community pride too.  This helps to subtly make the people in the town feel accountable to each other and their community, and modifies their behavior in a positive way.  It also encourages people to ‘fight’ for their town – not in a literal sense (well, not in normal times, anyway) and encourages them to make some effort to help preserve and protect the town from problems.  Because part of protecting the town is protecting the townsfolk, in these types of town, people are likely to be more helpful to each other, and more willing to help out.

Some people might consider seeing neighborhood watch signs an indication of positive community involvement, but we don’t think they are either as relevant or as common in small towns as they are in large cities, and we’ve seen little clear evidence suggesting that neighborhood watch groups actually signify or do much at all in communities of any size.

Another perspective is that small towns tend to be more crime free to start with, and the criminals are better known – there’s less need for a neighborhood watch group, and if there is, perhaps it denotes as much overly officious nosiness as it does a sense of protective community.

A Suitable Town Should Have Some Viable Industry or Shops or Services

You want a town that has some local industry and commerce and services.  Some towns seem to be nothing more than a clustering of houses with almost no stores or anything else.  Other towns have a surprising amount of retail stores, multiple gas stations, and other service providers.

A town with some commerce is better than one with too much or too little.  You know, for example, that the gas stations will be out of business very quickly if society collapses.  The big box super-store will also disappear when it can no longer get its daily deliveries of goods to sell, leaving a bunch of employees without work.  But a small country store or butcher shop or something like that – hopefully those sorts of places can transition to become intermediaries in the new economy after TSHTF and will continue to provide valuable services to both food providers/sellers and food consumers/buyers.

A post-collapse town will need to be able to adjust to a new economy which will be much more focused on trading with local farmers, and providing services to the town’s residents and nearby rural farmers.  Some types of service based businesses (especially low-tech ones) will be able to continue as before, others might be able to adapt to provide slightly different services that will become more in need.

Quality as Well as Quantity of Residents

We don’t mean to sound elitist when we offer up this section heading, but the clear truth is there’s a world of difference between a prosperous thriving town of 500 people, with well maintained streets and buildings, and high levels of income and education on the one hand, and a moribund decaying town of 500 people, with empty boarded up buildings and those still inhabited in a poor state of repair, and a massively greater than normal level of unemployment with few college graduates, on the other hand.

Which would you rather live in?  Of course, the former.

Sometimes the difference between one town and another is massively obvious the minute you drive into the town.  We can think of one town in MT in particular where the only local resident seemed to be an aggressively prowling policeman in his cruiser, looking for revenue opportunities – understandable, perhaps, because there’s no way a town of not quite 1000 residents can afford their own police department unless the department is charged with generating as much revenue as possible, ideally from non-residents.

You want to be careful if considering a town that is also the county seat.  It will have a disproportionate number of local government employees, all desperate to do something, and not otherwise contributing to the local economy.  When TSHTF, these people will need to redefine their jobs and seek new income sources to keep themselves paid, and will instinctively want to use their government authority to ‘take control’ of the problem and manage any ‘solutions’.

With all due respect to such people, let’s just say there’s an appreciable risk that their ideas of a solution, and their need to levy other people to support themselves, may not coincide with your own ideas.

Political Leanings

We know this is a bad measure to use, but we’d try to get precinct level voting records for the last few elections to see not just how the various congressional districts and counties voted, but also in more detail, how people specifically in the town itself voted.  The problem with county level voting records is that there can often be a difference in voting in different parts of the county, the more detailed you can get your information, the better.  If there were any ballots or initiatives, that will give you a feeling about how the town feels about things, and of course, the Presidential elections are another good bell-weather measure of political feelings.

We’ll let you decide for yourself which views are the views you’d like to be surrounded by!

If time allows, attend a public meeting or two.  Have a look on the notice boards at the library and at other public places and see what sorts of issues (if any) might be gripping the population at present and get a sense for the general feeling of people about these things.

Read back issues of whatever newspapers service the town, so you can get more of an idea about what challenges the town faces and how they confront these challenges.  It is amazing how quickly you can form a reasonably accurate understanding of a town, just by reading through a few back issues of the local newspaper.

Growing, Stable, or Shrinking?

We don’t like extremes.  We don’t like a town that is growing too fast, because such growth is usually the result of people moving to the town from elsewhere, and we’ve no way of knowing if those people will be adding to or detracting from the town’s identity, independence, political perspective, and so on.

A rapidly growing town is a rapidly changing town, and not only do we not like extremes, we also don’t like rapid change and the unknowns it presents.  Rapidly growing towns also often seem to be imbued with a desire to turn their back on their rural roots and to become ‘more civilized’ – an attribute which, to us, is not always a desirable one.

Furthermore, if you buy a lot in a growing town, you might find the density of residents around you increasing, with neighbors subdividing or building additional structures on their lots.

Rapidly growing towns also always seem to be placing pressure on their infrastructure and services, and on their roading and traffic capacities.

On the other hand, a shrinking town is not a nice place to be, either.  There are two sorts of shrinking towns – ones which have been reducing in size steadily for the last decade or two, and then there are the ones that had a single event at some point in the past which massively impacted on the town’s economy.  The closing of a timber mill or a mine; the coming of a freeway that took away all the through traffic, something like that.  A town that was once much bigger, but which shrunk in size 50 or more years ago but now is stable or slowly growing again is much more preferable than a town that is diminishing at present.

There are lots of problems with towns that are shrinking.  The town itself looks dismal and forlorn, with boarded up buildings and empty streets.  Furthermore, the last thing to shrink in any town are the municipal employees, making for top-heavy local government and greater costs together with under-employed people keen to justify their non-essential jobs.

While property prices are often low, they may also continue to go lower, which is not something you’d want.

Our favorite types of towns are ones that are slowly growing, more or less in line with the growth in the county and state and nation as a whole.  Our entire economy is based on an (often unstated) expectation of gradual growth, and if there is slight growth, then that equates to prosperity.  New businesses will occasionally start up, current businesses will see increasing amounts of business, and everyone feels pleased and happy.  They want to protect their prosperity much more than people in a shrinking town, where many people are, either openly or privately, debating as to whether and when they too will leave the town.  There’s much less community identification in the shrinking town.

Judging a Town by its Traffic Management

In our opinion, another measure of a town’s suitability is to look for stop lights.  If a town has stop lights, that either means it has more traffic than you’d be comfortable with, or an overly controlling mentality that seeks to regulate and protect its citizens from each other.  If it just has stop signs (or not even that) you’re in a town that doesn’t have as much traffic, isn’t as self-important, and which trusts its citizens to be sensible and sane.

Some towns are proud of the fact they have no stop lights, whereas we suspect some are proud that they are now big and important enough to have one (or more).  We’d prefer to be in the town that proudly delays getting stop lights as long as possible.

Okay, the presence or lack of stop lights is probably not the most important issue to consider, but it provides another perspective on the social values of the town. – Code Green Prep

Perhaps a broken window that lets in wildlife and weather, six months of unattended decay, and your retreat might end up being like this when you arrive.

By David Spero

So you finally find yourself confronted with the need to bug out to your retreat.  The good news is at least you have a bug out location, and you’ve practiced and prepared for the eventuality of having to bug out, unlike most of your neighbors and friends.

You load up your vehicle with everything you need to safely and successfully travel to your retreat, feeling confident and relaxed about having prepared prudently, and set forth.  Because you’ve planned and even practiced this before, you’ve nothing to worry about, right?

Wrong!

In this two-part article series we first look at the problems inevitably associated with bugging out, and then in the second part, consider how to address and solve these problems.

Part One – The Four Problems

It is true that you’re in a better position and have a better prospective future than your un-prepared friends, but your future is far from guaranteed.  Until you get to your retreat, you are as vulnerable as anyone/everyone else – perhaps even more so as you are limited to only what you have in your vehicle – something that offers very little security or resource.  You are now confronting a terrible number of unknowns and variables and risks where anything from random bad luck to more serious things may interfere with your journey to your retreat, your future plans and your future life.

Let’s look at four sets of risks that may interfere with your optimistic expectations.

1.  Getting There Safely

This is probably a risk you’ve thought about already, but just because you’ve thought about it, that doesn’t mean you can protect against it.

Clearly you need to bug out as early as possible, before the rule of law has totally collapsed, before the roads get jam-packed full of other evacuees from your city, and before modern-day ‘highwaymen’ start preying on travelers.

Maybe you are successful at doing this, and manage to beat the rush out of your city, but what happens if you have to travel through other cities on the way to your retreat?  It is one thing to beat everyone out of your city by (say) four hours, but if you need to pass through another city that is four hours driving from the start of your travels, you’ll have no headstart at all on the outflows of desperate people from the second city.  Maybe you beat the rush by a day, but have a two-day drive to your retreat – you’ll be no better off than anyone else on the second day of your travels.

How far is it from where you live to your retreat?  Each mile that you must travel is 1760 yards of potential for a puncture, a radiator hose bursting, or any other sort of unexpected problem with your vehicle.  Each mile that you travel is 5280 feet of risk from any type of unexpected ‘third party’ event – not just evil people doing evil things to you, but ‘innocent’ acts of bad luck such as a traffic accident, perhaps.

Maybe you don’t get involved in an accident yourself, but maybe a semi some miles ahead of you on the freeway has jackknifed and is blocking the freeway, with traffic backed up for miles, and with hours of delay.  Meanwhile you’re burning through your precious gas to keep the car warm (or cool) and you’re at risk of anything and everything in a stationary vehicle.

Talking about weather, do you have any seasonal issues to be concerned about?  Have forest fires ever closed the roads in the summer?  What about snow in the winter?  Remember that you don’t just need the highways to be ploughed and drivable, you need the last few miles of dirt road to your retreat to be passable too.  How will you handle that, if it is an issue?

If you’re in a vehicle visibly loaded with supplies (or, even worse and more conspicuously, towing a trailer), and if word has got out about whatever disaster it is you’re fleeing, you’ve become a tempting tasty target for evil-doers all the way along your route, haven’t you.  Our feeling is that you need to be in an ‘ordinary’ vehicle with no visible amount of extra supplies in it.

It isn’t just evil-doers you need to worry about.  It is do-gooders too.  Maybe the state’s governor has declared martial law and requires all people and vehicles to be off the road during hours of darkness.  So instead of driving all day and all night to your retreat, you suddenly find yourself needing to pull over and anxiously/uncomfortably wait until the morning before you can continue your travels.

Sure, we know that you drive many thousands of miles a year normally, and never have any sorts of problems at all.  But this isn’t normal.  This is anything but normal, and with Murphy’s Law waiting to trap you every possible way, the ‘simple’ act of getting to your retreat will be fraught with risk.

2.  Will Your Retreat be Secure

Okay, we’ll say that you managed the drive to your retreat safely and successfully.  Congratulations.  :)   And now you’re driving up the driveway, and round the corner, there’s your retreat, ready and waiting to welcome you.

You hope.

What say someone else has decided to make your retreat into their retreat?  What say you arrive to find it already occupied by people who could care less that you say it belongs to you.  They’ve got the retreat, and they’ve got guns and are willing to use them if you don’t leave and abandon your claims to ‘their’ retreat.

Or maybe you find your retreat looted, burned out, vandalized, abandoned, and unlivable.  All your precious preps have disappeared.

Now, please don’t tell us proudly about your ‘op-sec’ and how no-one knows about your retreat.  That’s sadly not true, no matter what you might think and hope.  We discuss the impossibility and the ill-advisedness of trying to keep your retreat secret in our two articles, ‘Is It Realistic to Expect Your Retreat Will Not Be Found‘ and ‘The Ugly Flip-sides of Opsec‘.

Here’s an alarming thought.  Maybe you hire a local person to protect your retreat, and to visit it once or twice a week to make sure it is safe and secure.  But how do you know that he won’t then turn around and make your retreat into his retreat when things go bad?

3.  Will Your Retreat be Functional

Let’s hope for the best, and assume you not only safely made it to your retreat, but that the retreat is still standing, secure, and unoccupied.  Great.  But your problems are not yet over.

You unlock the main door and go in to the house.  You are immediately overwhelmed with the smell of rat urine and feces.  You go to your store rooms and find that you’ve a happy thriving colony of rats, enjoying your supplies, with little or nothing left for you to now survive on.

Or maybe you discover that a pipe burst in the last freeze, and you’ve got water damage throughout the house.

Or maybe some tiles blew off the roof and you’ve had rain and other things coming in through the roof.

Maybe all those things work fine, but you go to flush the toilet and you discover it is blocked.  You don’t know it, but some time over the last year, a tree’s roots broke through the pipe to your septic tank, blocking the flow of water and, ahem, other stuff, and you’re going to have to somehow troubleshoot your problem and fix it.

Maybe you discover that your fuel tanks have rusted through and all your fuel has seeped away, leaving you with empty tanks and polluted ground.

Maybe everything works well, but after a week or two, you discover that there’s a design problem with your heating system, and it keeps giving problems and eventually becomes totally broken.  Or perhaps bad wiring burns out/shorts out your battery system.  Maybe ‘infant mortality’ (the propensity for electronic devices to sometimes fail early in their life) strikes and destroys your charging system or some other essential element of your retreat.

Maybe it is a more low tech problem.  Your well proves not to be capable of sustained supply of water – sure, it tested fine for a 15 minute test, but now you’re using it, day in and day out, it runs dry.  Or the reality of the power your solar cells can provide proves to be massively less than the theoretical amount they should have delivered.  You can probably think of many more vulnerabilities.

There are countless things that can go wrong with a property, both while it is occupied and also while it is unoccupied.  Unless you’ve been using the retreat on a regular and sustained basis, you have no way of knowing if the reality of its practical ability to support you will be the same as its theoretical promises.  You’ve no way of knowing if the equipment and services you’ve built into it will prove to be reliable low-maintenance and sufficient for your needs – indeed, you don’t even know for sure what your actual needs may be.

4.  No Ongoing Farming Activity or Experience

Okay, now let’s assume that none of these preceding three potential problem areas are giving you any grief.  Lucky you!  So let’s now look at the fourth potential issue.

Depending on when you arrive at your retreat, sooner or later you’re going to need to switch from eating from stored food supplies to growing your own future food needs.  And when you do this, if you are doing it for the first time, you’ve a huge new Pandora’s Box of unknown uncertain issues to confront and resolve.

Sure, you’ve got books galore on how to grow your own food, but have you actually ever done it, for real, before?  More to the point, have you done it for several seasons in a row at your actual retreat location?  The answer to this question is almost certainly no.

So now – for the first time – you find yourself grappling with who knows how many problems and issues.  Insects and other infestations and wildlife might attack/destroy/kill/eat all your harvest.  The soil might be lacking in some sort of nutrient – or it might have too much of another type of chemical in it – do you know how to understand and correct that?

You might do a great job of planting and caring for the crops, but when it comes to harvesting, you might discover that you lack the manpower to harvest the food before it spoils.  Sure, you grew a perfect crop, but you only managed to harvest a quarter of it.

You might discover that one part of your property has the wrong type of soil and another part has too much water (or too little water).  Another part might have too little sun.  And protecting your crops from wildlife and diseases will be a full-time job.  All the deer you were so enchanted to see when you first bought the property – what do you think they eat?  Yes, your food!

Farming is something that requires more than book learning.  It requires skill and experience – both in general terms and also in the specific issues and challenges posed by your particular property.  It is more than likely that your first few years of cropping will be full of challenges and disappointments.

If you are raising animals, that too is far from a guaranteed ‘can’t lose’ scenario.  Where do the animals come from to start with?  Who will care for their health?  Where will their feed come from?  Who will slaughter/butcher them?  Where will the meat be stored?

None of these issues are impossible to resolve, but they all assume a great supply of experience and know-how.

Read About Solutions in Part Two

If you’ve read this far, you now understand that bugging out is not as easy as it sounds, and, perhaps more importantly, moving into an empty unused retreat and relying on it instantly becoming the resource you hope it to be is something fraught with many uncertainties and possible problems.Code Green Prep