Financial records and “continuity planning”

Most businesses have established (or at least should have) business continuity plans for ensuring the business can continue operating in the event of a localized or general emergency. This is the case with households, too. Emergency evacuation plans and 72-hour (bug-out) kits are essential. But there is another emergency that is far more likely yet far less often planned against: the death of a spouse.

A recent article on Yahoo! Finance brings this home:

A case in point for not making big decisions soon after a spouse’s death is Maureen Saunders. The financial chores following the death of her husband, Hubert, from pancreatic cancer in 2006 at age 65 were crushing enough. Although Saunders, now 58, balanced the checkbook, her husband was the main financial decision-maker, especially when it came to investments. His death left her “in uncharted waters, not only emotionally and spiritually but also financially.”

Saunders had to wrangle with the life insurance company, which didn’t believe she was her husband’s beneficiary. She had a “total meltdown” in the bank when she discovered, after bouncing some checks, that the Social Security Administration had rescinded Hubert’s latest direct-deposit benefit payment. She proved that her husband died after the deadline to be eligible for that month’s payment, but it took weeks for the government to return the money. She did not realize that she would not be eligible for a survivor benefit until she turned 60. “You’re so vulnerable and raw, and there is always another form to fill out,” says Saunders, who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla.

This is an area I can certainly do better on, even though I’ve discussed it before. But our recent mortgage application, relocation, and trying to find stuff after the move has reminded me that there is a great deal of financial information my wife would not know how to find if something were to happen to me. I need to get everything organized, document where to find everything, and then sit down with her and go through it.

On the bright side, we did find out that our efforts to establish credit in my wife’s name have paid off. She’s from another country, having moved here as an adult, and as such did not have a credit history. We started working on that, and during the mortgage application process we found out we were not only successful in establishing credit, her credit score is higher than mine!

Getting organized, however, is essential. Probably the best place to start would be to get her acquainted with the regular bill-paying, and then move toward the bigger, long-term items. We have time, of course, but then everyone does–right up until they don’t.


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Home food production – Begin with the end in mind

There is one good thing about uprooting your family and moving to another state: You get to choose a new home. Having lived in two previous homes, we’ve learned a few things about what is important to us. One important factor is home food production. Even if it’s a small garden to supplement our grocery purchases, it’s important to us.

So when I went house shopping in our new town (I say “I” because my wife was 400 miles away and only able to offer guidance based on the MLS listings or from photos I sent) one of the main considerations was either the presence of food production space or the potential for it. In some ways, the having the room to put in gardens or trees was preferable, as we didn’t want to inherit any bad placement or planning.

As it was, though, the house we chose has both–established fruit trees and dedicated vegetable garden space and room for more if we choose. The house itself was nice, but one look at the yard and that clinched it. This house had “us” written all over it.

I’m sure we’ll find some of the former owners’ choices don’t work well for us, and some changes will need to be made, but few things indicate “this will work” as well as fruit hanging on the trees and a garden rapidly approaching the point of harvest. We know you can grow food here because we see it being done. We are literally enjoying the fruit of someone else’s labors.

So whatever difficulties our new situation may introduce into our plan to return to self-reliance, at least our yard is not one of them. In that regard, knowing what we wanted up front has paid off already.

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Step Two – Financial baseline

When starting a new job simultaneous with moving into a new home in a new state there is a certain amount of chaos wrecked on the home finances. There are unexpected expenses in moving out, unexpected expenses in moving in, and extra start-up costs for all the new services, not to mention replacing all those things you threw out before you moved thinking you wouldn’t need them in your new place.

And there’s always the unexpected house repairs for things that the inspector missed.

It suffices to say that for the first month or two you’ll be doing well just keeping track of whether or not you have money, let alone how much and where it needs to go. Chances are your paycheck will fluctuate for awhile, too, as taxes, shared costs on benefits, and other items kick in.

The sooner you can make sense of the chaos the better, of course. Any and all information you can collect will be helpful. Start up a list of all the recurring bills that have come, along with any you are still waiting to come. At the very least you’ll be able to establish what you don’t yet know.

Then as your bills start arriving, start recording the amounts, noting what expenses are one-time start-up costs and what are more likely to be the ongoing amount. Start using this to put together a baseline of what you think your monthly living expenses will be. Then over the next few months start validating your list, adjusting as needed as you get more data. If you’re lucky you’ll have a fairly solid baselin within a month, but expect it to take at least three months for things to really even out.

Obviously if you see problems popping up (ie. more expenses than income) you need to start making adjustments. You may wish to over time anyway, even if your cash flow is positive. For example, our original plan in moving in was to get cell phones and skip getting a land-line this time. But further research quickly showed that IP phones, cable DSL, and other potential money-savers weren’t such bargains after all. And our cell reception at our home is a bit spotty. So now we have a land-line and cell phones.

Even when we just had the cell phones we didn’t use nearly as many minutes as I had expected. Chances are we’re going to pare back our service. It’ll only save us $10-20 a month, but every bit helps. $20 a month toward food storage goes a long way, for example.

Right now we’re not through our first month, so our baseline is still fairly unstable. But I’ll be tightening it up as quickly as I can. It’s driving me nuts to not yet have a reliable budget. I must have ORDER!!!!

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Step One – Shelter: Update 2

We have closed on our new house, moved in, and have been there a week and a half. It’s been an adventure. Our air conditioner blew a fuse our first weekend here. We have numerous electrical outlets that don’t work. Our phone lines worked for a few days, then croaked. The connection to the house is fine, so the phone company won’t help. I’m currently pirating my own phone service by running a cable from the outside box to my DSL modem, which in turn connects in one phone.

And we have an ant problem.

Some of the “loveableness” of the house has rubbed off, but I still like the place. It will be a great home once we get things settled in, some things repaired, and some things banished back to the depths of hades from whence they sprang. We still have ample room for storage, and that will be a very good thing once we get into a position to capitalize on it.

Stay tuned.


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Update: Step One – Shelter

This weekend we entered contract to buy a house. It’s been a bit of a challenge, and it wasn’t looking good there for awhile. But we did it, and now we’re in the application and documentation stage.

The first problem came when I went out with the realtor to finalize which house we were going to pick. There were three to choose from; two we’d already seen and liked, and a third that we’d noticed and wanted to look at. At the first two we noticed problems we’d not noticed before, like signs of water damage, broken windows, evidence that the air conditioner was broken, etc. The third house, however, was looking pretty good.

And then suddenly it wasn’t. We realized that while it might be relatively close to my work, it was not going to be close to anything else that mattered to us. The layout started to feel wrong. Soon about the only things I felt good about were the neighborhood and the yard. We changed course and tried looking in some different parts of town that we’d not really considered all that much previously.

Oddly enough we found the best house yet on the first try. It’s got everything we find important: lots of bedrooms, good layout, plenty of storage, lots of mature trees, a big yard, a designated garden (well-cared-for and growing vegetables, no less), fruit trees, and room to practice baseball with the kids. It’s two blocks from the kids’ elementary, four blocks to the junior high they’ll attend, and four blocks to the high school. And while perhaps not as close to work as some of the others we were looking at, I’ll have several more options for my commute that may prove handy.

So we put in an offer, with several other parties supposedly hot on our heels. No other offers materialized, however, and while the sellers counter-offered, it was still acceptable. And we’ve found a lender who thinks he can get this closed in less than a month. So we’re ready to roll, full speed ahead.

We are going to love this house.

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Step One – Shelter

With my new job comes relocation. I’m not looking forward to it, and other than my new job itself, it demands the bulk of my attention every day. There are a lot of decisions to be made, and a lot of information needed to make those decisions.

There are four main issues here. First is that we have our current house. The housing market has not been good in our city, and even though we put 20% down when we bought it six years ago, we now owe more on it than we can likely sell it for. We have two options: Short sale, or rent it out until the market comes back.

Second is finding a place to live in our new city. The family is still in our old city, which makes it a bit difficult to look at houses together. Here the decision has been largely between renting a place for awhile or trying to somehow buy a house.

Third is the fact that we don’t have a lot of money left. We’ve been living on our savings for over two years, and we were just about hitting the bottom when I got this job. We don’t have much money for a down payment, and houses here are not cheap. Their “low” prices now are at the “high” range we hit in our old city before the real estate bubble burst.

Fourth is the fact that we are rapidly coming up on the start of another school year. We would very much like to get our kids into school on time down here.

In spite of the hurry we’re in, we’ve had to take it a bit slowly, trying to find out what we don’t know and then find the information. We’re putting together the pieces, and I hope to get the last pieces in place this week. We’re finding we have options, but we may not be able adequately satisfy all our concerns. The kids may have to start school a little late, perhaps. It may cost us more money to get what we want now than if we were to wait and build up our resources.

But other than the job, the place we choose to live is also very essential to achieving self reliance again. We want to place ourselves in the best situation we can for regaining a measure of security. This next week will be very important.

Stay tuned!

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A New beginning (hold on to your hat!)

Posting has been non-existent for the last few months because I’ve been very busy and very stressed. But barring some bizarre glitch out of nowhere I have landed a good job after over two years of un- and under-employment. While I will deeply miss the game store that my partners and I have dragged into profitability, I’ll be making significantly more than the game store is likely to provide any time soon.

The only trouble is that the new job is in another state. We will need to relocate. Subordinate problems include the fact that we are within a few thousand dollars of the bottom of our savings, the housing market locally is still fairly poor, and the cost of real estate is higher where we are headed. We’re also getting rather low on our food storage. And we’ve got perhaps a month and a half before school starts up again.

So we will be starting over practically from ground zero in a brand new place, and needing to do it quickly. On top of that, I feel a sense of urgency to get back to at least the level of preparation we were in before the recession hit. There are no guarantees that we’re not headed back down again, and I’d like to be able to ride it out again if necessary.

This blog will be taking a bit of a chance of direction. It’s now going to focus on my quest to achieve self-reliance as quickly as possible while trying not to drive my family crazy with severe austerity measures. It’s been a hard two years, and we need a little budgetary relaxation to help us decompress. At the same time, we’ve learned to get by on next to nothing, which will help us stretch my new income farther if we don’t relax too much.

So stay tuned! This could be fun! Oh yeah, on more thing, just to make things interesting: If there’s a “Self-reliance and Emergency Prep Mecca”, it’s Salt Lake City, Utah, and that’s where we’re headed. Self-reliance is practically a tenet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (of which I’m a member), but the Utah “Mormons” have made an industry of it. Some of it is good, and some of it seems rather exploitative. I’ll try to explore the culture and the businesses surrounding it a bit, and call it like I see it.

I may be out of touch again for a little while, though. I start work next week, and my time will be somewhat limited while I prepare to move myself, and then my family. I’ll post when I can, but I make no promises as to when or how often. Thank you for your patience.

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Dealing with stress

My brother has an excellent post on his site about dealing with stress:

“If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance. In each case it’s the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” She continued, “and that’s the way it is with stress. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won’t be able to carry on.”

I know I don’t deal with stress very well. I let things build until eventually it has to be released–and far too often not in very productive ways. That usually just adds to my stress, of course, because then I also have to patch up damaged relationships as well.

Ideally I will take some time to identify my primary stressor, and then deal with it. Often it’s some particular task or conversation that I’m avoiding. If I just push forward and get it over with I’m usually much happier. Unfortunately I need more practice at that.

How do you deal with stress? Drop a comment below, and then head over to my brother’s site and adds to the discussion there as well!

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Self reliance at work

Wolverine at American Preppers Network has an interesting post on teaching self reliance.

I told him that I wasn’t taking the self-defense class. I told him that we should be teaching a self-reliance class to the group too. He asked me to explain, so I posed a question to him. We have had a lot of blizzards this month and it is possible that at some point we could get snowed in at work. If that happens how are we going to get fed, sleep, and take care of daily needs? He thought about it a minute and responded that maybe we should have something in place for such an event.

Read the whole thing.

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Practicing evacuation

Angela at Food Storage and Survival recently posted a great entry on practicing evacuations with the family:

When it came time for the activity, I told everyone that we were going to pretend that we were sitting around the house together when we got a phone call or someone came to the door and the local dam was breaking and we had 10 minutes to get out of our house.  We may or may not return to it and if we return the things we left could very likely be damaged or destroyed.  In the meantime, we’re evacuating to the next town or possibly farther, but society will still be intact where we’re headed.  What are you going to take?  Ready?  Go.

Read the whole thing. There are some excellent lessons to be learned in it. I think our family may do this soon.

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