Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dollars and Sense

--> The temperature here at the marina had dropped to the mid-50s this morning when I awoke at 5:30, but should rise to the mid-70s by mid morning. My friend and partner in Connecticut called to say she was struggling with a flash snow storm which arrived on the heels of Hurricane Sandy last week. Thousands around her are without power and heat. For many people, Sandy WAS a life altering event. I’d like to extend my sympathy to all the folks struggling through the aftereffects of Sandy and the one-two punch of this new winter storm. Prepping is both a mindset and a process that is just as useful for surviving these natural disasters as it will be for later cataclysmic events. A little space heater is keeping my enclosed aft salon cozy while I reflect this morning on why I decided to move to Florida back in my late 20s. An elderly Canadian architect friend, a snowbird, gave me some sage advice when he said: “Lance, older gets colder…move south!”

I took his advice and headed to the Sunshine State in my 12-year-old Volkswagen Beetle (with 190,000 miles on it) and $500 (my life savings) in my pocket. I put a valve through a piston at Crescent Beach, FL (ten miles south of St. Augustine), rolled into the shell parking lot of a mom and pop motel and starting knocking on the doors of beach houses within walking distance, looking for handyman work that afternoon. When an owner asked me what I could do, I walked around his house and said, “Well, I could replace those broken panes of glass, and clean your gutters, rescreen your porch, repair your deck and handrail and paint your garage door for a start. I’ll even cut your grass and trim your palms. Let me show you what I can do.” And he did!

Everyone gave me work, and because I was competent, fair in my pricing, showed up on time, and always finished the job, I soon had all the work I could handle. Within two weeks, I had moved into an older beachfront rental house at a deeply discounted rent ($200/month) in return for doing some repair work. I bought an old VW van a month later (for cash) and quickly built a handyman/caretaker business. Three years later I owned 2.5 acres of prime oceanfront and built a magnificent home. Was it just luck?

Of course not! It was self-reliance, confidence and focused energy. It was also my survival instinct. Many mariners have said there’s no better bilge pump than a five-gallon bucket in a sinking boat. Unlike most of my contemporaries, I had been willing to turn my back on ten years of college education and a Ph.D. to perform handyman work…it also turned out to pay much better!

Many people who read my novels and my blog are “wannabe” preppers and survivalists, who feel that hoarding canned goods, digging a spider-hole in a bugout location and buying a reliable automatic weapon and plenty of ammunition will be sufficient to make it through TEOTWAWKI. It’s simply not true! What will work is preparation and careful planning; surviving is a learned skill; it’s not an event, it’s a process.

What I advocate is finding a suitable boat, moving aboard to keep your expenses at a minimum while you fix it up, and making practice runs to various bugout locations for increasingly longer periods of time until you’ve developed the survival skills and self-confidence to support yourself and your loved ones. The best part is that it’s fun!

Sure, I understand that most of you have homes and families and are afraid to take a risk. Many have educations instead of skills or trades; too many of you already feel enslaved by debt bondage. Many are waiting for that cataclysmic event that will change your lives. I believe your priorities are wrong. Preppers get ready before the event, while survivalists react after the event.

I’m suggesting a proactive series of life-changing decisions. You need to think about moving to a gentler climate, where the weather isn’t a seasonal adversary. You need to re-evaluate how you’re currently spending your time, energy and money. Is it really worth working two jobs to support that luxury car or SUV? Do you really need all the stuff you’re making payments on? Stop using credit! Start by lightening your load; start liquidating everything you don’t really need. CraigsList will help you make the cheapest, easiest move in your life. Dump your debt, even if it’s at a temporary loss. Give that house with its underwater mortgage back to the bank. (Remember “mortgage” means “death pledge”). It’s never too early or too late to move south and start over again. Stop using credit to buy stuff you can’t afford or don’t really need. Get rid of the 2nd car; within three years the money saved on payments could buy you a floating home. 

Rent until you can find the right boat to move aboard. Reduce your living expenses while you start increasing the quality of your life. Remember boats don’t require property tax. Many marinas include electricity and water in the monthly dockage…the more amenities at the marina, the more expensive the monthly fees. Tie up behind someone’s vacant house if possible. Banks have lots of vacant waterfront foreclosures that could use an on-site caretaker. Examine if you really need insurance…after a cataclysmic event, to whom are you going to submit a claim?

Learn new skills and employable/barter-able trades. Become self-employed. I found that I could easily earn $1,000 a week sanding and varnishing teak and bright-work on yachts tied up at the marina. I could earn $100/day just washing and waxing yachts. Lighten up! Start enjoying your life while you’re getting prepared. Ride a bike to work. No need for winter clothes, snow tires or heating bills. Grow a kitchen garden year-round. Learn to harvest the gifts of the sea. Wouldn’t you really rather spend your days fishing under the shade of a palm tree than fending off customer complaints on the phone? Or trying to collect delinquent accounts from a debtor? Or trying to sell a product or service that no one really needs or wants? Maybe the crisis that you’ve been preparing to escape from is really your current life!

I realize that for some of you, bugging-out is not a viable option, particularly those with elderly/sick relatives or family/friends they can’t or don’t want to be separated from. Sheltering in place, or “bugging-in” might be the only option. I’ll address this issue in a later installment.

A quick message to Boomers and Seniors like myself. There has never been a better time to buy a liveaboard trawler or motoryacht than right now. If you have sold your home, buy a boat and join the thousands of us who enjoy the sun and sea every day. You’ll find that your pension and Social Security check will go much further than you ever expected. 

I’m at the end of today’s message. The brilliant sun has warmed it up to 72 already and I’m ready to hop on my bike and peddle up to the fruit market where grapefruit are selling at 4 for a dollar today.

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