A month of living on a zero-based budget

Originally published at Notes From The Bunker. You can comment here or there.

Note: A followup to this post can be found here: A Month Of Living On A Zero-Based Budget – Pt. II

If you really think about it, preparedness comes down to several key functions. One of those functions is resource management. What is resource management? Resource management is making the most efficient use of the resources available to you while conserving, preserving, managing, maintaining and monitoring those resources for future usage. Or, to cut it down into a one-word definition that doesnt quite fit, resource management is largely about budgeting.

We know that after a major crisis the most valuable resources we have are the things we need for our survival, safety , and continued comfort, right? We want food, water, shelter, light, heat, medical attention, security, communications, and that sort of thing. Once the crisis starts our opportunity to acquire those things through ‘conventional means’ (like driving down to CostCo) is usually limited or completely unavailable. Thus, after a crisis, what you have at that moment is one of your most valuable resources. (Not the most valuable resource, but one of them.) Managing those resources becomes one of your key preparedness skills and objectives….after all, you can’t just crack open all your MRE’s and have a party for the neighborhood and expect to have something to eat the next day. You have to manage, or ‘husband‘ as they used to say, your resources so you always have options.

What is your most valuable resource before a crisis? Well, this is just an opinion, but it seems to me that your most valuable resource before a crisis is whatever enables you to get all the resources you’ll need for after the crisis. Currently, in our fairly moderately-civilized clime, the most valuable resource at the moment is money. Money is, if you think about it, an amazing multitiool of concentrated energy. Trouble is, most folks seem to handle their money poorly…and the missus and I were pretty much in that group. Oh, the bills got paid, we had our enjoyments, and we were never hungry…but we weren’t getting as much put away for a rainy day or for goals in the future. So, for the month of July, we decided to live on a zero-based budget. A zero-based budget means that you know you’re going to earn ‘x’ amount of dollars that month, so you write up a budget that spends every dollar of that amount. When you subtract how much you spent from how much you made, the answer should be zero. If your answer is a positive number, that means you didn’t plan propely where all your money should go, a negative number means you overspent.

Lemme give you a very stripped down example. Lets say you bring in $2000 in a month. Once you subtract everything you plan on doing with that money, you should have $0 left. You might think “$500 for rent, $100 saving, $100 auto expenses, $300 groceries, $100 entertainment….”, etc, etc, until you’re down to zero. Thats a zero-based budget. If you wind up needing more money for auto expenses you have to pull it from somewhere else…like groceries or entertainment. If you need an extra $25 for gas that month you’re gonna have to live with $25 less entertainment or something….but all the numbers need to add up to zero.

So, we decided to give it a shot and see how it would work out. We knew that there was a good bit of impulse buying in our behaviors and that sort of thing. We wrote up a budget, made a stack of envelopes with each one labelled with its purpose (‘groceries’,’fuel’,’dog expense’,’dining out’,’entertainment’, etc, etc, etc.) and put the cash into the envelope that was allocated to that function. Going to go put gas in the truck? Take $20 from the ‘fuel’ envelope and put gas in truck. Ordering pizza? Take $10 from the ‘dining out’ envelope and go get the pizza. What if we burned through the ‘dining out’ envelope and still want a pizza? Well, you can take $10 from a different envelope but that means you have to deal with $10 less in that envelope’s subject…maybe pull $10 from ‘groceries’, and now we have $10 less for groceries that month. So you have a definite interest in staying on your budget as well as creating a realistic one. Savings came off the top…in this case 25% went right into savings via direct deposit…so it was easy to pretend it wasnt even there. The remaining 75% gets budgeted to take care of us for the month of July. (And, yes, you could simply use a debit card and keep track of things rather than having cash segregated into envelopes but there’s a very emotional component of spending cash that just isn’t there when using plastic…fishing $20 out of your pocket and watching it disappear makes you much more careful about how you spend it than a piece of plastic does…thats why they give you chips to play with in Vegas rather than cash.)

What did that mean for average day-to-day living? Well, it required a bit of impulse control. There was about $10/day budgeted for ‘spending money’, but you couldnt spend more than that without repercussions. Want to buy a pair of $295 boots? Go ahead, but then you have only five bucks pocket money until the end of the month…so weigh your choices. Grocery shopping meant actually doing some math and comparing prices, which is something I’ve always done but was something the missus never really showed too much interest in. And, yeah, there was a little grumbling about ‘why shouldn’t I be able to just drop $100 on [item] if I want’? But, having stuck with the budget for a solid month, we have more money in the bank at the end of the month than if we had not. And we have a better idea of how much we spend and on what. Previously, like many folks, money got spent like this: pay the bills, buy groceries, whatever is left is free to spend. Sadly, that’s not a really good plan.

Several of you reading this are going to say “Hey, this sounds really familiar” and it should, it is pretty much exactly what Dave Ramsey promotes on his radio show. I’m not a Kool-Aid drinker by any stretch, and I disagree with him on a couple things, but the zero-based budget part and the ‘baby steps‘ are probably the two things about this guy’s money-handling philosophy that I can wholeheartedly endorse. I can endorse it because, for us, it works. We have no debt except the mortgage, we have an amount of money on hand for emergencies, and by following a budget (which really isn’t confining or restrictive if you plan it right and keep your eyes on the big picture) we’ll have a much larger emergency fund (six months of expenses) socked away so that if, Crom forbid, something ugly happens we’re in a position to ride it out. Example: our water heater went Tango Uniform a couple years ago. Not cheap to replace. But, since we had a bunch of cash set aside for emergencies we just went ahead and had the new one put in immediately…with no hiccup to our day-to-day finances. That emergency fund was then replenished from monies that would have been directed into savings over the next few months. No crisis.

Now at this point I’m sure a couple folks are trying to see how this ties into the general theme around here of preparedness. Let’s say the monhtly income around here is ‘x’, and once savings are taken into account there is 3/4 of x to use for a budget.Preparedness becomes part of the budget. There can be an envelope somewhere marked ‘storage food’ or ‘preparedness’ and you can budget whatever amount you want for it (as long as your overall budget still zeroes out). So, maybe instead of dropping $500 into savings every month, $200 into dining out, $100 into entertainment and $100 into a vacation fund you decrease each one of those by, say, $20….and you now have a new budget item of ‘preparedness’ and $80 to spend every month on it (or carry that $80 to the next month to buy bigger-ticket items) and your budget still comes out to zero.

One of the biggest reasons people give for not preparing is that they say it’s expensive or they just don’t have the money. By budgeting, and sticking to that budget, it’s amazing how much money you find that you actually have. If you dont think so, try this experiment..think about how much money you made last month, now try to think where it all went. At some point you’ll come up with a number short of the amount you made and figure “I have no idea where the rest of it went”…see, thats how you wind up not having enough resources to do the things you want.

One big facet of preparedness is resource management. For us, money is another item or resource to have in place against that upcoming Rainy Day….right up there with the cases of Mountain House, South African ball, jerry cans of fuel, and MagLites. The best way that we’ve found, for us, to husband this resource is through the method above. Might work for you, might not. But even if it doesn’t, that doesnt mean it isnt a good idea…it just means you might need a different method.

I’m already 50% past my usual self-imposed limit of 1000 words but I should mention that this months experiment in budgeting would have been completely impossible without the amazing self-discipline of the lovely missus who really threw herself into this experiment. I was curious about her opinions about this months experiment….she said that while there were moments where she didn’t like feeling she couldn’t spend money on something, she did like the fact that at the end of the month we had more money in the bank than in the months where we didn’t budget. And she’s a smart enough gal to have an eye on the big picture…a little dissatisfaction in the short term from having to deny yourself something is worth the payoff of later on being able to do things you really want to do. And, of course, she likes the security of having a wad of cash available in case theres an emergency.

So there you go…one month on a zero-based budget. We both think it was a successful experiment and this months budget will get a little tweaking here and there but otherwise, we think it was a great success.

Strongly suggested reading: The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. This is the book that lists out everything mentioned above, provides worksheets and templates for budgeting, and is just generally an excellent motivator. Be warned there are some religious themes in there, but they can be ignored without detracting from the contents.

Cannery trip planned

Originally published at Notes From The Bunker. You can comment here or there.

w00t! At this point it looks like we are on track for a trip to the local LDS cannery in a couple days. My mission (so to speak) this trip is to round out incomplete (“broken”) cases. Since a case holds six cans of product, any quantity of product I have that is not divisible by six gets supplemented. For example, according to my spreadsheet we have 15 cans of sugar. That means there are two full boxes of six cans, and one partial box of three cans (12 + 3 = 15) So, I’ll get three more cans of sugar and that’ll give me a total of 18 cans, or three full boxes of six cans each. Get the idea? I’ve about five different broken cases to top off.

If you’ve never been to an LDS cannery, it’s an awesome place. You know how when you go to CostCo or Sams Club you wonder if people are looking at you funny when you roll up to the register with a cart full of six cases of canned vegetables and five 50# sacks of rice? You wonder if people think you’re weird or something.. At the cannery, if you don’t walk out of there with a hand truck full of cases of canned food they look at you weird.

Prices? Uber-affordable. Matter of fact, here’s a link to their page with .pdf and Excel formats of their order list. Check the prices…good stuff.

There’s no requirement that you be a member of their church (or even a believer in anything). They start the session with a small ‘bow your head and give thanks’ moment, which I usually use to check the laces on my shoes, but other than that the whole thing is completely religion-free. You are, however, expected to put in some sweat equity….you can’t just buy the stuff, you gotta take part in the canning process. You might be asked to run the canning machine, weigh the product as it’s put into cans, put labels on cans, add dessicant to the cans, whatever. I’ts an assembly line where every one gets a role…probably a good thing since it means you gain familiarity with the process of how stuff is canned. That familiarity is handy because they will also let you buy cans and lids to use with their portable can sealer that you can check out for home use. In case you want to can stuff they don’t sell….like ammo.

Anyway, they provide an awesome service and I encourage everyone to check them out. (Locations)  I usually offer to buy lunch for missionaries when I see them wandering/pedalling down the street…it’s my way of saying thanks. It’s this sort of thing that makes Mormons my favorite religious group. (That and their hot women.)


Originally published at Notes From The Bunker. You can comment here or there.

Well, blogging isn’t just doing the low-hanging fruit of posting links to interesting things. Sometimes, ya gotta make an effort. So, let us recap and round up whats going on here Commander Zero’s Post Nuclear Bunker Of Love and Taqueria….

Managed to pick up a few goodies the other day…a recap:

This place is closing up its doors in anothe couple weeks. I was in there last week and everything was 50% off. Picked up a couple pairs of boots and, other than that, didnt really see much I needed. But, hey, really nice GoreTex insulated military desert boots for $25/pair in my hard-to-find 10W are reason enough for me to rejoice. There wasn’t much of anything else he had that I wanted…I have all the right-handed ALICE pack straps I need. (Seriously, it was a stack of, like, 150 shoulder straps and all were right-handed. WTF???)

In addition to the boots, from other sources I picked up another military sleep system. This takes care of the redundancy I’m after and I can now stop collecting the darn things. As you know, one is none and all that jazz. These will go nicely, I think, in the carriers I picked up from SG a few weeks ago.

The Missoula Gun Show will be this coming weekend so I’ll keep my eyes open for any other targets of opportunity. And, it is rumoured, we may have a trip to the LDS cannery to look forward to this weekend as well…in which case I’ll finally get to round off some ‘broken’ cases that I’ve been wanting to get taken care of.

Link – Photo tour of Soviet era shelter

Originally published at Notes From The Bunker. You can comment here or there.

Well, here’s something you dont see everyday. An extremely well preserved fallout shelter from the Soviet era. I’m running both links through Google’s translator since, as they said in ‘Transformers’, “[Russian alphabet] looks like every key on a calculator that you dont use!”

Automatic translation isnt an exact science, so let’s keep the snarky commentary about mistranslated words out of comments.



Link – Company Selling Zombie Preparedness Kit For $24,000

Originally published at Notes From The Bunker. You can comment here or there.

ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) – Preparing for a zombie apocalypse does pay off, but it’s hard work. Although battling the hordes of eBay bidders and gathering everything piecemeal could be one preferred method, an Illinois-based company has created an easier way.

Optics Planet created a one-stop solution for zombie battlers everywhere called Z.E.R.O.

Z.E.R.O., short for Zombie Extermination, Research and Operations, is a kit that contains everything someone would need to keep alive in the end times. Initially priced at $31,375, the kit has been discounted to $23,999 with delivery available to the customer’s home or armed complex.


Okay, I wanna say two things about this…neither of which is directly related to zombies (sorry).

1) I’ve had some dealings with Optics Planet. Neither dealing resulted in a completed transaction. Problem? Well, let’s put it this way: call them to make sure that when they say they have something available and ready to ship they really, actually, honest-to-Crom have physical possession of that item at that time and at that location.

2) There is virtually no kit of anything….first aid, ‘survial kit’, whatever….that is as well thought out and as economical as anything you could put together on your own from stuff you sourced on your own. The trick in putting a kit of any type together is to have the knowledge and information to put the kit together properly. In my experience, especially with the internet, knowledge and information is pretty much free these days.

Now, I can understand the appeal of just writing a check and being done with something, but if you put your own kits together you have a better idea of what you can and can’t do because in the process of putting together that kit you have to weigh the merit, value, and utility of every piece of gear. That, my friend, is how you gain knowledge. Sure, you can start off with someone elses recommended list and that works fine, but there really is no cookie-cutter solution to your needs. So while a pre-made kit of anything is a great place to start, it should never be the end of the equippage process but rather a beginning.


Jerry Ahern passes

Originally published at Notes From The Bunker. You can comment here or there.

This was brought to my attention by a reader:

Jerry Ahern, novelist, author of nonfiction books and many magazine articles, passed away Tuesday, July 24, 2012. He was well known internationally for his extremely popular “Survivalist” series of novels. Mr. Ahern was a fan of the Detonics line of handguns, so much so that he acted as president of the company, then named Detonics USA, from 2004 to 2007, while it was located in Pendergrass, Georgia.

Yes, I gave Ahern a lot of ribbing about his books but..I read them, which means that even though I thought they were predictable, formulaic, pulp it was fun and entertaining pulp. And, in all seriousness, those books probably influenced me a bit.

I like to think this means he died the perfect survivalists death – well-prepared and never needed any of it.

ETA: Obit

Gifties – Pt. I

Originally published at Notes From The Bunker. You can comment here or there.

Well, birthday season approaches and some gifts have started to magically appear in the hands of my mailman (who is actually a very bitter woman..I call her my femailman…not to her face, of course.)


These two gems arrived today:

These little goodies are a happy alternative to bulky speedloaders. I’ve touched on the subject a time or two (here & here) explaining what I like or dislike about them. Here’s a nice article about them as well. I was quite jazzed about someone finally making these in a size other than .38/.357. While a good quality speedloader (Safariland, HKS) is my first choice for revolver reloads, the speed strips are compact, non-mechanical, relatively cheap, not bulky, and still speed up the reloading process considerably. I’ll be taking these out to the range later this week to try out. If you’re interested in some for yourself, Amazon carries ‘em. ( Tuff Quickstrip Black 6 Round – Pack of 2 (.44/.45/.460 Caliber)

Next goodie was a tiny little 8gb USB drive.( Kingston DataTraveler 108 8 GB Flash Drive DT108/8GBZ ) I usually keep a little USB drive on my keychain since I like to keep certain files handy. For example, I’m always on the lookout for bargains on guns so I keep a scanned FFL and a copy of PS1508 in .pdf with me so I can ship handguns back to myself without paying the exorbitant UPS and FedEx charges. And, of course, it’s a handy way to carry around files to share with my fellow LMI. (Nothing inflammatory or incriminating or needing to be encrypoted…mostly .pdfs of gun manuals, ebooks, that sorta thing.) Anyway, this little drive takes up virtually no space but packs enough memory to handle even a fair amount of video. Handy thing…

My most sincere thanks to the sender of such fine bits of swag. Mighty generous! I love birthdays…especially my own.

Expect a review of the Tuff QuickStrips at some point in a week or so. Gotta go load up some .44 Spl. ammo for the ‘ol S&W M24 and head to the range to give ‘em a workout.

Putting the ‘poo’ in ‘apoocalypse’

Originally published at Notes From The Bunker. You can comment here or there.

It occurred to me that while I have plenty of posts about food and being able to shove more cake down your piehole, I dont have any posts about the other end of the gastrointestinal tract.

In many situations, when the power goes out the water pressure sometimes follows. Even if you’re in an area that is served by gravity, rather than pumps, all it takes is some physical disruption to the delivery system (damaged pipes, etc.) and turning on the taps gets you nothing but a gurgle and a feeling of impending doom.

Now, drinking water isn’t that big a deal compared to water for sanitation. We all store water, and a method to purify it, right? Worst comes to worst, we take our Katadyn and a five-gallon jug, have someone stand watch, and we pump some water from the nearby river or lake. Unfortunately, sanitation takes a bit more water than that.

The average flush toilet in this country uses something like 1.6 to 4 gallons of water depending on your toilet. If you’re good with a bucket you can ‘flush’ your toilet with a well-heaved bucket of water into the bowl. But let’s be real here….we’re guys – give us a shovel, a roll of toilet paper, and a modicum of privacy and we’ll be fine. We are, after all, the gender that has raised bodily function jokes into a social greeting and form of entertainment. Chicks, on the other hand, can get a little fussy about this sort of thing. Don’t think so? Try to remember back to your dating days…what was the one thing that chicks weren’t willing to put up with in your bachelor pad? Filthy bathroom. Your kitchen could look like a food-decay laboratory, and she might think the 48″ metal lathe in the living room was ‘manly’, and she might even tolerate the sheets that crunched when you lay down on them, but if the toilet in your bathroom looked like a Third World squathole you may as well forget about any sort of action.

More than aesthetics and squeamishness, the improper handling/disposal of…uhm….’waste’…is a major health risk. When there’s a huge disaster just about anywhere in the world what follows about a week later? Cholera, typhoid, dysentery and a host of other serious diseases related to ‘improper hygiene and sanitation’. The classic example is Typhoid Mary who, through her career as a cook, managed to kill and sicken quite a few people before she was forcibly isolated for the public good.

Solution? Well, you know that old saying about not crapping where you sleep? That and some serious attention paid to handwashing and cleanliness will go a long way. But, more importantly, when the water-flush porcelain commode becomes an artifact of a happier, less apocalyptic time, a Plan B is going to be needed.

Fortunately, there are some options. (Although none are as familiar as what we’re used to.)

There are all sorts of ‘portable toilet’ systems out there. All are pretty much the same thing – some type of toilet-seat situated over a removable plastic bag. That’s pretty much the basic design. After that, it’s bells and whistles. Some systems use a powder or other medium to reduce odors and turn liquids to solids, some use heavy deodorizers, and some are about as simple as you can get. (Like the guys overseas who improvise toilet seats out of their tri-fold shovels.)

The old Civil Defense sanitation kits are probably the forerunners to what we see today in terms of products like this and this. The old CD kits might be a good foundation to use in designing your own kit. I suppose in an emergency just about any suitable container, such as a garbage can, and a pile of plastic bags can be improvised into use as a portable toilet but why improvise when you can get something a little more purposeful? And although this seems like some sort of redneck joke, I can see where might be pretty practical at a hunting camp or similar venue.

Regardless, in addition to a toilet seat and some sort of catchment, there appears to be some other things that will go along with them to make things a lot easier and safer. The old CD sanitation kits packed:
Sanitation Kit Contents List

Kit Item
Commode Seat, Plastic
Can Opener (manual)
Sanitary Napkins
Hand Cleaner (can)
Polyethelene Gloves (pair)
Water Dispensing Spout
Tie Wire (bag closing)
Cups and Lids (plastic)
Commode Chemical (pack)
Poly Bag Liners (commode)
Instruction Sheet
Toilet Tissue

If I had to guess, and I do, I’d say the cups and lids were for the gents to use in a quiet corner of the shelter. No point in filling that commode any faster than necessary, right?

So lets say you’ve purchased some sort of portable toilet system. What should be packed away with it? Well, right off the top, you’re probably not going to ever find that you can have too many plastic receptacle bags. Really. Go long on these. Next item up is the future currency in just about any disaster – toilet paper. Again, having too much is pretty impossible. How much to have? Just keep buying it and stocking it away. Make sure you protect it from wet (obviously) and from critters that like using it as nesting material. After that, I’d think you’d want a large amount of hand sanitizer/cleaner/soap, a few gallons of bleach and a spray bottle, maybe some Lysol spray, gloves for handling clean up, some method of sealing the bags, and a few other sundries..(like a shovel for burying the bags). Given the critical nature of a piece of equipment like a small portable toilet it may be a good idea to have more than one. Given the relatively low price of some of these packages, it might be a bit more comforting for each person to have their own.

Unfortunately, in large natural disasters like Katrina, Haiti, Japan, etc. it seems that cholera and associated diseases spring up immediately afterwards. While you can’t do much about other folks’ behaviors, you can certainly minimize risks to yourself – wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, especially after bathroom breaks. Disinfect the hell out of anything that is used communaly by anyone for anything..toilet seats, door knobs, radio handsets, bicycle handlebars, etc, etc. And have a plan and supplies in place so that when the water supply or sewage elimination options dwindle to nothing you can still manage with a degree of safety and cleanliness.


The blegging continues for another couple days.


Linkage, blegging, gun show

Originally published at Notes From The Bunker. You can comment here or there.

I was sent a link to this blog and am passing it on: Getting Your Life In Order

And although I’ve mentioned it before, it’s time to mention it again, one of my favorite cooking-with-food-storage blogs: Safely Gathered In

As I’ve said in the past, I think the hallmark of maturity in the long road to preparedness is when you start putting more value, effort, resources and thought into things like food rather than guns. Guns are important, no doubt…..but think about how many times you eat per week vs. how many looters you shoot per week. I dunno about you but my meal-to-looter ratio is pretty high these days…thus, guns an ammo are now back-burner stuff as I work on keeping the grocery supply topped off.


The blegging continues. About a dozen folks have been kind enough to throw a few bucks (and some it was more than just a few) in the direction of the blog to pay for hosting and domain registrations for the next year or so. I’ll mention it once or twice more in the next couple posts and then you won’t be hearing about it again for a good couple years at least.


The Missoula Gun Show approaches! This is the largest show in Montana and while not as big as it has been in the past it is still an awesome show. Should be interesting to see how the current events will affect the turnout and the market.