Workplace Emergency Kit

Let’s face it. Many of us spend upwards of a third of our lives at work. With that many hours spent on the clock, odds are that at least once or twice in your working life you’re going to have some sort of emergency situation crop up while you’re at work. That being the case, it just makes sense to assemble a small workplace emergency kit to keep on hand.

What we’re talking about here is a small collection of stuff that will serve to make you more comfortable should you need to spend the night at work. Road conditions can go south in a hurry, especially in the winter, and you may be better off just hunkering down at your desk until road crews can get things cleaned up.

I know, I know, you already have a bug out bag or get home bag, right? Why would you need even more stuff stashed at work when you have that pack in your vehicle? If you can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t have access to the BOB or GHB in your car, you simply lack imagination. Some people aren’t able to park immediately adjacent to their workplace and instead use lots or structures that might be several blocks away. In bad weather or during civil unrest, you might not want to make that trek.

And, y’know what? Murphy’s Law dictates that the one time you have your car in the shop and forget to grab your BOB from the trunk will be the day that the skies open up and dump 14” of snow right after lunch.

The point is, redundancy is key to emergency preparedness. The stuff we’re putting in our workplace emergency kit isn’t going to be pricey. In fact, you likely have most of it sitting at home already.

Food and water

Remember, we’re only talking about spending the night, not hiking off into the wilderness for weeks at a time. A few dollars for the vending machines is great but they might not be working if the power goes out. Or, you might get there too late and they’ll already be ransacked, leaving just that one questionable tuna sandwich in the Wheel of Death.

A package of trail mix, a couple of granola bars, that sort of thing should suffice. Stick to things that don’t need to be heated. Junk food is perfectly fine for an evening.

Toss in a couple of bottles of water to wash it all down. Adding in a good water filter, such as a Katadyn Hiker, wouldn’t be the worst idea, just in case something is affecting the plumbing system at work and the water becomes questionable. If you want a more inexpensive filter, go with a Sawyer.

Warmth

Bedding down at work is no one’s idea of a fun time. That said, you can make things a little more comfortable for yourself by adding to your kit a small fleece blanket. They go on sale incredibly cheap around Christmas. Over the years, we’ve bought several and keep them in our vehicles, at work, and around the house. They aren’t huge, usually like 4’ x 5’ or so, but plenty big enough for keeping off the chill while you snooze.

I practically live in hooded sweatshirts from September through March so I added one to my kit. I just find them really comfortable. You might consider sweatpants and thick socks, especially if your job requires business attire. No one wants to spend the night in a suit and tie.

Tools

Wanna be the hero of the office in an emergency? Be the person with the flashlight. Many workplace, especially office buildings, have a distinct lack of windows. In a power outage, things get really dark fast. Just finding your way to the bathroom and back can be fraught with peril. If windows are available, be sure to open interior doors to allow the limited light to filter in.

I suggest a minimum of two lights, preferably three. A headlamp keeps your hands free while you do what you need to do, of course. A second flashlight is your backup. The third light is a cheap one that you can hand out without being too concerned if it never gets back to you. I like this Coast model for the headlamp and the Streamlight ProTac HL USB for my flashlight. That latter is pricey but oh, so awesome. Of course, I always have my ProTac 1AAA in my pocket, too, as part of my EDC load out.

Naturally, a spare set of batteries is wise.

I’m of the opinion that every kit, no matter the intended purpose or the size, should have a knife in it. Consider it a superstition if nothing else, okay? Depending on where you work and who you work with, whipping out something like an LTWK GNS might not go over very well. Keep it low key and just toss in a decent folding knife. You probably have one in your pocket or on your belt already. Like I said before, redundancy. In this case, I’ve added an Ontario RAT folding knife. Small, unobtrusive, and scalpel sharp.

First aid kit

Most workplaces have at least one first aid kit hanging on a wall somewhere. Don’t count on it being well stocked nor up to date. Take the time to assemble a few of your own medical supplies for your kit. Include things like pain relievers (ibuprofen, etc.), anti-diarrhea meds, antacids, and a box of adhesive bandages. Go as in depth as you want, though, and add what you feel might be necessary. Better to have it and never need it than need it and not have it.

Entertainment

It is better to assume the power will go out and you won’t have access to the Internet, then be pleasantly surprised, rather than to count on Facebook and Netflix to entertain you and be disappointed. Reading material is always a good idea. But, remember what we said about lighting. If the power goes out and you’re deep inside an office building, you’ll need a flashlight or some other illumination tool in order to see your book or magazine.

Consider investing in a portable power pack for your cell phone. Even if something goes awry with the cell signal, you’ll still be able to play a game if you have one installed. There are also any number of handheld games you can buy fairly cheap at toy stores. Find one you like and toss it into your kit, along with a spare set of batteries.

A deck of cards makes for good fun, either by yourself or with your coworkers. Now is probably not the time, though, to try and fleece Joe from Accounting using your mad poker skills.

A small radio, preferably one that is crank powered, will not only help keep you entertained but it will help keep you informed about the situation at hand.

Container

Store all of your workplace emergency gear in an unobtrusive canvas shopping bag or a duffel of some sort. The idea is to hide it in plain sight, more or less. Keep it under your desk or in your locker. If someone sees a shopping bag like this, they won’t think twice about it. On the other hand, coworkers might become intrigued by a tactical, or tacticool, pack.

The workplace emergency kit isn’t a run off to the hills and live off the land sort of deal. Rather, it is there to help you get comfortable if you end up having a slumber party with a few coworkers when the weather, or demonstrating crowds, have turned frightful.

How far can you walk?

If you had to bug out right now, in your current physical condition, how far could you go on foot in a day? I don’t mean under the weight of a heavy pack or while trying to dodge someone who might be tracking you. I mean, how far do you think you could you make it in a single day if you had to do it, say, tomorrow?

Near where we live is a large lake. It is about 8 square miles in size, so while not huge it is a pretty good-sized puddle. Unique among lakes in this area, it has a recognized “shore path” that surrounds it. This single track path is publicly accessible year round. The path consists of varying surfaces throughout, from concrete to stepping stones to loose gravel to just plain grass. There are low spots where you are mere inches from the water and high spots that overlook the waves crashing against the shore.


The shore path is anywhere from 21 to 26 miles in total length, depending on the source consulted. This past Saturday, my wife and I set out to walk the entire path in a single go. We’d walked most of the path in segments over the course of the last several months. A few miles here, a few miles there, always an out and back approach. For the veteran thru-hikers out there, a 20-25 miles walk is rather routine. For us, though, we had no experience with such a hiking distance and we certainly didn’t do much of anything to train for it. We just decided to go for it and see how we’d do.

My wife is in far better physical condition than I am, that’s for sure. We’re both in our mid-40s and, while active, we’re certainly no athletes. I’m about 40lbs overweight, truth be told. At the beginning of 2016, we made a commitment to go hiking at least once a week and we’ve stuck to it. Haven’t missed a week yet. But again, those were mostly short walks. I think the longest may have been about 9 miles or so.

Knowing that we weren’t going to be out in the wild at all, we didn’t need to pack much for the hike. I loaded my Vertx EDC Gamut with the following:

Extra pair of socks
Two bottles of water
One bottle of soda
Shemagh
Sunglasses
Meds (ibuprofen, Tums, etc.)
Bandaids

For snacks, I had:
Trail mix
Chocolate covered cashews
Fruit Loop cereal
Grapes

My wife had a similar load out, though she went with a bit healthier food with mandarins, oranges, and such. Her pack came in at 8lbs and mine at 10lbs. All I carried in my pockets was a cell phone, my trusty Streamlight ProTac 1AAA flashlight, pocket knife, and the keys to our van. I wanted to travel as light as possible. I wasn’t sure how long the hike would take and the path isn’t lit at night so I felt the flashlight might be wise, just in case.


The lake is sort of long and narrow, stretching mostly east to west. That being the case, we parked the van at a state park that sits on the eastern edge of the lake and traveled clockwise. This meant the sun was almost always at our backs rather than in our faces. We started our trek at 9AM almost on the nose. The weather was sunny and cool, with temps in the low to mid 60s.


The first leg of our hike was the longest. We traveled roughly 9 miles in 3.5 hours. There are four towns along the path and the segment we did first was the longest distance between them. By the time we reached our first break point, we were certainly ready to sit down for a bit. My back was hurting just a bit but my legs were far better than I feared they’d be. We ate lunch in a park near the lake shore, taking full advantage of the restrooms while there. We also made sure to stretch our legs and backs before hitting the trail again.

We made it to our next stop in about two hours or so. I found throughout the hike that it was better to not look at a clock until we’d hit our destination. I knew the area pretty well, having grown up nearby, and could gauge fairly well where we were along the lake as we went along. Distances can be deceiving, though, because the roads around the lake don’t follow the same route as the path. So while I would know where we were in relation to the next town, it often took us quite a bit longer to get there than I’d have guessed.


At each rest stop, we made sure to take off our packs and stretch, concentrating on our ankles, legs, and backs. We stayed hydrated and munched on snacks as we went along.

By the time we made it to the last town, which left us about 2 miles to go to get back to our starting point, we were really feeling it. Our feet and legs were the worst. We both took a couple of ibuprofen when we were still a couple of miles out from the town, hoping it would kick in by the time we sat down for our last break. It was sobering to know that we could have made that final stretch of a couple of miles in matter of minutes with a vehicle but on foot we were looking at about another hour of walking.

We saddled up and finished the last leg just as the sun was setting. Checking our GPS when we reached our parking spot, we’d covered about 25 miles on foot in 9.5 hours. My wife kept pretty good record of our break times and such so we know we were actually walking for about 8 hours all told. We were wore out, tired, and sore. But, we were also damn proud of ourselves at having completed the hike.

The next day, we were both a little sore in spots but nothing at all like we’d feared we’d be. I had a pain in the back of my left leg that felt like a pulled muscle, but that’s about it. Not too shabby for an overweight old(ish) fart like myself.

Could I have hit the trail again the following morning? Probably, though I’d have been moving pretty slow. As the day went on, the aches and pains went away for the most part. Today, two days after the hike, I’m about 90% recovered. I sure wouldn’t want to have to do another 25 miles right now but probably could if I needed to do so. Again, though, this was without any sort of heavy pack. I don’t know that I’d have been able to complete the entire route while lugging a 30lb pack. Not in my current physical condition, at least. And I’m working on changing that, too.

I’ll say this, as well. The Vertx EDC Gamut pack was extremely comfortable the entire trip. While it wasn’t loaded down too badly, I see no issues with doing so. The padded straps were great and the pad along the back of the pack was awesome, too.

The takeaway here is this. If you plan to bug out on foot for any considerable distance, give it a dry run. See how well you hold up as the miles go on and on. Maybe you can only make it 5 miles, maybe only 3. That’s okay! The important thing is to know that NOW and take that into account as you make your plans. Do what you can to get yourself conditioned to walk longer distances, too. That won’t happen overnight but if you keep at it, you may be surprised at how quickly you can improve your stamina and such.

Basic Online Security

In today’s day and age, it is almost impossible to get by without easy access to the Internet. We use it to communicate with one another, pay bills, buy things, sell stuff, settle bets, and look at lots and lots of cat pictures. Unfortunately, the Web also opens us up to a variety of threats, some more serious than others.

Identity Theft
This is one of the most serious risks we face online. Except in very rare cases, we’re not talking about someone literally stealing your identity and living their life as though they were you, showing up at your house and trying to convince your spouse that they are the one who has lost their mind as you’ve always looked like this.

No, identity theft typically refers to someone taking some of your personal information and opening credit card accounts and such in your name, then buying a metric ton of crap with the card. Sometimes it will also involve them hijacking one or more of your current accounts, too. This crime is extremely damaging to your credit score as well as your financial well-being. It can take years to undo the damage, too.

Scams
As a society, we buy a ton of stuff online. Books, music, gadgets, gizmos, even groceries and prescription medications, all that and more arrive on our doorstep after a couple of mouse clicks. Shopping is more convenient than ever. The downside, though, is that there are tons of scammers out there, all trying to separate you from your money. A Craigslist ad where someone is selling an item that isn’t what it seems. A buyer who wants to overpay you by a few hundred dollars using a chek and have you send the extra back to them. Even the now legendary banker in Nigeria who wants to enlist your help in stealing several million dollars.

Phishing is a specific type of scam perpetuated via email. You’ll receive a message in your inbox that purports to be from ebay, PayPal, or your bank. It’ll say that you need to verify some sort of activity on the account and will include a link for you to click. Going to that link takes you to a fake website that will capture your log in information and send it to a thief in some country whose name you can hardly pronounce.

Cyberstalking / Bullying
It used to be that if you had a disagreement with someone, you might holler a bit back and forth but at the end of the day, you’d basically agree to disagree and you’d all move on with your lives. With the advent of the Internet and with it the idea of being able to remain somewhat anonymous, some folks lost their damn minds. It has become commonplace for an individual to be targeted by one or more cyberbullies for seemingly infantile reasons.

Victims of cyberbullying have had their personal information shared publicly, been shamed and mocked, had personal photos altered and then posted on social media, and far worse. While it isn’t impossible to identify the culprits, many in the law enforcement community feel this is a low priority investigation. Compared to murder and kidnapping, it sure is, but to the victim it can be horrible to experience.

Invasion of Privacy
Somewhat related to cyberbullying are instances where someone’s private information is stolen and shared publicly. Often, though not always, this involves personal photos, typically those of a racy nature. Occasionally, it is a former lover who shares photos that had been sent to them while still in the relationship but more often it is someone who has hacked into an online data storage account, such as Dropbox or something similar. There have even been instances of blackmail, where someone threatens to release personal photos or other information if they aren’t paid a specified sum.

It is creepy enough to know that someone we’ve never met has seen racy photos we’d intended strictly for a spouse or significant other. Far worse when we learn those photos have been shared over and over among countless people online.

What can we do to protect ourselves?
Our goal with this article is to share with you some basic strategies that will help protect you in the online world. Naturally, there are no guarantees in life and you could follow each and every suggestion to the letter and still end up victimized in some way. But, these ideas and suggestions will go far toward preventing a negative experience online.

Password creation
Passwords seem to control our online existence, to a large extent. We need a password for every online account, including banking websites, social media, and email. A password is our chief line of defense against hackers. As hackers and their software become more and more sophisticated, though, it becomes difficult to create a password that is both hard to crack and, at the same time, easy to remember. Granted, once you’ve used a password a few times, it should be fairly easy to recall, even if it is just a string of gibberish. Even so, there are ways to create a very formidable password that can be easily remembered with a second or two of thought.

A strong password should have 8 or more characters. It should use letters, numbers, and special characters (i.e. %, $, #, etc.). The letters should be both upper and lower case. The password should not contain any names or recognizable words. A study some years ago found that a high percentage of women incorporated the name of one of their children into their password and men used the name of a vehicle. I don’t know if that’s still true but most brute force hacking programs will use names, words, and phrases.

With those considerations in mind, try this. Pick a favorite book or song. We’ll use The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King, one of my personal faves. Take the first sentence and write down the first letter of each word. So, “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” becomes Tmibfatdatgf. Now, think of a phone number you’ll always remember, but not your own. Perhaps the phone number you had when you were growing up, if you still remember it. Write down the last four digits of that number. In my case, that’s 7834. Mix that in with the first few letters. Now we have T7m8i3b4fatdatgf. So, we have upper and lower case letters as well as numbers. All we’re missing is a special character or two. Put in the @ symbol for a letter a in that password and we’re good to go. T7m8i3b4fatd@tgf would be very difficult to crack and would be nigh impossible just to guess. At the same time, it should be easy to remember after using it a few times and, until it becomes memorized, it’ll be easy to figure out since you know how it was created.

You shouldn’t use the same password on multiple accounts, either. Because of the sheer number of passwords we use on a daily basis, this can quickly drive you crazy. There are software programs, such as Roboform, that can help with this. You need only remember the password for the program and it will keep track of all your individual passwords and even create them for you if needed. However, this also means that you are relying on the program to gain access to your online accounts. If you forget that password or the program glitches, you might be dead in the water. While it seems to fly in the face of security, you might consider keeping a written log of your passwords. Don’t keep this on the computer, I’m talking about actually writing out by hand the passwords you use. Keep the list somewhere easily accessed by you but perhaps difficult for someone else to find.

Dummy email accounts
Most online accounts, whether we’re talking about Amazon, banking, or social media, require us to provide an email address. In some instances, it is primarily just for password recovery but with others the email account is used for regular communication. What I suggest is that you create an email account just for use with these websites. A Gmail account would work well. See, many people use an email account provided by their Internet provider. That’s all well and good but if you switch providers, then you need to go back and change that email address on each and every one of those online accounts. This is a giant pain in the ass, trust me.

Not to mention, the email account you use for these websites is going to be inundated with an ungodly amount of spam. We have one account that receives roughly 100 spam emails each and every day. Once you get the hang of creating filters and folders, though, it becomes nothing more than a mild nuisance.

What you might want to do is create two email accounts. One for use with the more secure stuff like banks and online bill paying and the other for social media and such. This way, if one of the accounts is hacked, it won’t jeopardize the other stuff. Either way, get in the habit of checking the email at least once a week so you can clear out the spam and read any actual messages that arrive.

Shopping
We as a society do a ton of shopping online, no question about it. Amazon and other sites have made it incredibly convenient to have just about anything you can imagine delivered right to your door in a day or two. I’ll admit, I’m a huge fan of Amazon Prime and have taken advantage of the free shipping many times this year.

If you do much of any online shopping, here are a couple of suggestions. First, if possible, stick with one specific credit card for every online purchase. Monitor that account diligently to ensure it hasn’t been compromised. If you only ever use the card for online purchases, it should be very easy to see if something is amiss when you check the account. Plus, if something does go awry, there’s only the one account you’ll need to cancel.

On top of that, stick to shopping on well-known and familiar sites like Amazon. While the larger sites are admittedly more appealing targets for hackers, they are also more likely to have better security as well as being less likely to be run by some shady thief sitting in his mom’s basement.

Always double check an online order before finalizing it. Be certain there are no hidden fees and such being tacked on at the last minute.

Social media
To cover social media security in detail could take an entire book but I’ll try to summarize a few key points for you here.

First, and this goes for all of your online activity, anything you post on the Internet is essentially there forever. Comments, Facebook posts, tweets, photos, videos, all of it can conceivably be found and retrieved later, even if you try deleting it. Yes, this should concern you. No, you shouldn’t have posted that picture last week.

While we’re on the subject of photos, before posting a quick pic or two, take a look at the background of the photo. Make sure there’s nothing in view that could be embarrassing or worse.

Avoid posting comments about your vacation until you’ve returned from it. While your friends might be reasonably trustworthy, all they need to do is share your post and suddenly a whole mess of people you’ve never met know your name and that you’re out of town for a week. Might not be all that difficult for someone to figure out where you live and suddenly you’re coming home to a living room that looks like a hurricane went through it.

More and more employers are checking social media accounts, too, when researching applicants. Something to bear in mind before you post that rambling diatribe about how jobs suck and bosses suck worse.

Accepting friend requests can be a dicey issue. On the one hand, you want to limit the number of people who can read your posts and see your photos. On the other hand, though, no one should live in a bubble and meeting new people can be a great thing. Like many bloggers and other quasi-famous people (I’m actually very well-known…in very small circles), I maintain two different Facebook profiles. One is my professional one, where I interact with readers and fans and accept most friend requests without much worry. The other is personal and, with rare exception, the people on my friend list are those who I’ve either personally met or I’ve known online for several years.

What I suggest for most people is to avoid accepting friend requests that come from people with whom you have zero connection. If you have several friends in common, you might go so far as to sending a message to a few of them to see if they truly know the person. Never hurts to ask. Remember, once you’ve accepted their friend request, they will likely have access to all of your photos and the information you’ve put into your profile.

The Internet has long been likened to the Old West. There’s little in the way of actual authority and people need to learn to fend for themselves. A little common sense goes a long way, of course. Keep in mind that nothing is guaranteed, online or in real life, and even the most diligent can fall victim to scams, hacks, and other hazards. But, taking care of the basics will take care of most risks before they become true problems.

Who are today’s preppers?

Before we can really talk about where we stand today, we need to first take a brief jaunt through the last few decades.

Back when I first became interested in disaster planning, no one had ever heard of the term prepper. Like YouTube, MP3 players, and deep-fried Snickers bars, it just didn’t exist. In those days, harkening way back to the early 1980s, you had survivalists. These were people, predominantly men, who for various and sundry reasons thought it prudent to invest money and energy into amassing large quantities of firearms and ammunition as well as building some sort of survival retreat. In the movies and in all sorts of novels, those retreats were often carved into mountains or sometimes hundreds of feet below ground level.

While there certainly were, and still are, retreats like that today, the vast majority of survivalists didn’t have the means to build such elaborate shelters. Instead, they relied on smaller bunkers built in basements or they acquired land out in the middle of nowhere where they planned to hunker down if the excrement hit the rotary air movement device.

By and large, these survivalists were the butt of many jokes among the mainstream population. They were seen as paranoid whack jobs who didn’t have the sense God gave a turnip. And truth be told, that was an apt description for more than a few of them.

Flash forward a couple of decades and a new breed of survivalist began to arise. A warmer, gentler survivalist. One more concerned about power outages and natural disasters than nuclear holocaust or martial law. One for whom firearms were first and foremost intended for hunting and home defense rather than for engaging in running gun battles with bands of mutant zombie bikers. While I’ve seen a few different claims of origination, the fact is the term prepper came to refer to a more politically correct version of the traditional survivalist.

As time went on, the mainstream media took the term prepper and sort of twisted it around a bit. Shows like Doomsday Preppers didn’t help, either. Within a relatively short period of time, prepper became synonymous with survivalist, at least as far as the media was concerned. At the same time, though, FEMA and other agencies went all in with promoting disaster readiness. Even the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) got into the act, using a fictional zombie apocalypse as a way to get people interested in disaster planning.

The end result is sort of a Catch-22. We have the media and Hollywood telling us that only the weirdos and nutjobs get involved with prepping. At the same time, various and sundry official agencies are encouraging the average citizen to put together emergency kits and set aside supplies, just in case.

This leads to an interesting dichotomy. Lots of people are preppers but many are reluctant to admit it. Various sources estimate there are 3-4 million people in America who will ‘fess up to being preppers. No doubt there are countless others who actively prepare for disasters, to one degree or another, but don’t think of themselves as falling under the whack job umbrella.

So, with all of that said, who are today’s preppers? They are an incredible cross-section of the population. In our ranks we have doctors, attorneys, nurses, construction workers, engineers, scientists, cashiers, students, teachers, waiters, waitresses, hostesses, athletes, celebrities, accountants, stay at home moms and dads, and more. Preppers are everywhere, in all walks of life and throughout each socio-economic strata. Like we see on board game boxes, prepping is “suitable for ages 9 to 99.” I’ve met preppers who aren’t old enough to vote and preppers who are old enough to remember when automobiles were but a novelty.

We have gun nuts and primitive bow hunters. Bushcrafters and weekend campers. Urban office workers and rural farmers. And literally everything in between.

Prepping isn’t about a return to the “old ways” and a longing for burlap. Rather, it is a true melding of the old and the new. We embrace traditional values and skill sets, for the most part, but we’re not afraid to put a modern spin on them, too. Most preppers I know want to learn traditional skills like home canning but are intimidated by stereotypes. They’re afraid that if their friends find out, they’ll be sizing them up for a homemade gingham dress.

As survival instructors and educators, a big part of our job is to assure our students that the knowledge they seek isn’t anything shameful or embarrassing. Showing them that preppers come in all stripes, from all backgrounds and lifestyles goes a long way.

Living Alone: Solo Home Security

Living alone can have some significant advantages. No one drinks the last of the chocolate milk before you get a glass of it. The thermostat is always set right where you want it. You can be fairly certain that if you leave your sunglasses on the kitchen table, they’ll still be in that same spot come the next morning.

However, living solo isn’t all just Netflix bingeing while you eat Cheetos naked on the couch. You’re also the only person available to respond to bumps in the night, knocks on the door in the middle of the afternoon, and mysterious morning visitors. You have to be your own backup, so to speak, which while difficult isn’t impossible. It just takes some forethought and planning.

Force multipliers

Quite often, when you hear the term force multiplier, the first thing that comes to mind is some sort of offensive weaponry. However, what we’re really talking about in this case are things that allow you to sort of be in two places at once, as goofy as that sounds.

Keep in mind, one of the goals here is to decrease the amount of time it will take for you to learn someone is trying to enter or has entered your home. The faster that happens, the more time you’ll have to react accordingly.

There are many different types of alarms available. A security service is one option, of course, though they can be pricey. One product I particularly like is the Brite-Strike Camp Alert Perimeter Security System and Survival Signaling System (CAPSS3). It consists of an alarm unit that has a pin inside. When the pin is pulled, a 135dB alarm sounds until the pin is replaced. This is quite loud and will certainly get your attention.

There are numerous DIY approaches to alarms, too. A very simple one is to hang an obnoxiously loud wind chime on the back of your exterior doors before you retire for the evening. If the door is opened, the movement will cause the chime to sound. It isn’t a perfect solution, of course, but will also only cost you a few bucks if you haunt the thrift stores in your area.

Keep in mind that with any alarm, professional, DIY, or some combination thereof, children, pets, and others will likely set it off more than once accidentally. Or, in the case of cats, probably deliberately.

Even putting up a few signs or stickers that purport to advertise you have XYZ Security System in place can be a deterrent to many would be home invaders.

Dogs are an excellent force multiplier, if you’re so inclined to make a lifetime commitment to one or more of them. They will guard the house when you’re home and away. Their sense of smell is thousands of times better than yours and they can detect trouble coming a long way off. Understandably, this isn’t an option for everyone, though.

One more consideration is some sort of camera or surveillance system. These systems have come way down in price in the last few years. They can be hooked into your home wireless Internet, too, so you can monitor your home from anywhere on the planet that you can get online with your phone, tablet, or computer. If movement is detected in your bedroom, for example, an alert is sent to your phone via an app. With just a couple of taps, you’re looking at a live video feed, letting you know exactly what’s going on.

Alarms and cameras allow you to be alerted to trouble without having to be standing in front of the door or window as the psycho drifter or neighborhood junkie comes through.

Perimeter defenses

Of course, ideally the assailant would be stopped before they enter the home, right? So, let’s talk a bit about perimeter defensive measures. For some people, this can be a little tricky. I mean, we want a safe and secure home but, at the same time, we don’t want to feel like we’re living in a prison. So, it can be a bit of a balancing act. Here, though, are some suggestions at which most people will not balk.

Take a good, hard look at your exterior doors. They should have adequate lighting after sundown. What’s adequate? You should be able to easily read newsprint while standing near the light. If you can’t, the light isn’t bright enough. Remove any bushes or shrubs that are immediately adjacent to the doors. There is little sense in providing an easy hiding spot for someone.

Make sure the locks on each door work. Deadbolts are recommended, too. Replace the hinge screws with 3 inch wood screws. The screws used to attach the hinge to the door frame are likely an inch or less long. They are just strong enough to hold the door in place. Replacing those screws with longer, stronger ones will afford a much higher level of protection.

Planting shrubs with long thorns, such as hawthorn, under all ground level windows will deter someone from crouching there to try and break in.

You might consider applying security film to the inside surface of your windows, at least those on the ground floor of the home. While this film doesn’t prevent the glass from breaking, it keeps the glass in one piece to keep someone from coming through the window. It works similar to safety glass in a car’s windshield.

While this sounds straight out of Home Alone, keeping knickknacks and such on windowsills may provide a small degree of advance warning if someone comes through. If nothing else, it will slow them down as they quietly move the trinkets around rather than knocking them to the floor.

Armed defense

Okay, so let’s say that despite your best efforts, you find someone breaking into your home in the middle of the night. You heard the wind chimes on the back door and when you peeked into the room, you saw two people standing there, loading up with your laptop and such. What do you do?

There are two basic options. First, you can retreat back to another area of the house and call 911. Tell the dispatcher your location and that there are intruders in the home. Let the professionals handle it from there. Lock the door of the room you’re in and keep your head down until help arrives. There is absolutely no shame or embarrassment in this approach, either. Discretion is indeed the better part of valor.

The other approach is to go on the offensive. If you have a weapon, ideally a firearm, and have been trained in its use, do what you feel is necessary to resolve the situation. However, a few words of caution.

1) Make sure you have a good, working knowledge of the self-defense laws in your state. The ideal would be to consult with an attorney to ensure you know exactly what is and what is not allowed in your state with regards to armed self-defense.

2) One of the advantages of living alone is that anyone in your house at 3AM who wasn’t there when you went to bed is probably not welcome. This as opposed to parents who have to wonder if the noise they heard is an intruder or their 17 year old sneaking in after curfew. That said, it would be the height of uncool for you to ventilate your best friend who was just hoping for a quiet place to crash after he had a fight with his girlfriend. Be certain of your target before pulling the trigger.

When the dust has settled, make two phone calls – 911 and your attorney, not necessarily in that order.

Home security can be easier when there are multiple people on your side. More sets of eyes and ears are always welcome. But, solo security isn’t impossible, provided you take the time to plan accordingly.

Premade Survival Kits: Good or Bad Idea?

Whether or not to purchase a premade survival kit is something of a hot topic in the prepping world. Any time it is brought up, you’ll see several people rather vehemently opposed to the idea. And, in many ways, I agree with them. A survival kit is, or should be, a personal thing. It should take into account your experience level, your skill sets, and your climate. A survival kit assembled by someone living near the Everglades will likely look rather different from a kit for someone living in northern Canada.

Most of the survival kits you can buy today are utter crap, to be honest. The contents are cheaply constructed and likely won’t hold up to any sort of real world use. The emergency blankets are thin and likely to tear. The tools are made of soft metal and will bend into pretzels the first time any pressure is placed on them. Knives are dull, difficult to sharpen, and won’t hold an edge. The list goes on and on.

However, just because most of them are crap doesn’t mean ALL of them are crap. There are some good ones out there. They aren’t cheap but they are worth the investment. Look to companies like Survival Resources and Echo-Sigma for high quality survival kits. They and others like them have taken the time to choose gear that works, rather than just what’s cheapest.

How do you tell a good kit from a bad one? The first thing to look at is the price. In all honesty, if the kit costs less than $25, even for a pocket sized one, odds are the contents are less than ideal. Naturally, as the kits get larger, the price goes up. Expect to pay upwards of a couple hundred dollars for a fully stocked backpack.

Why would you want to spend that kind of money on a premade kit? Well, quite often if you break down the cost of the individual components in the kit, you’ll find you’re saving money. Maybe not a ton of savings, of course, but nickels and dimes add up to dollars. See, the makers of those kits are able to buy the supplies in bulk, which reduces their cost. Those savings are then passed along to you.

The next thing I look at is the individual components. Are they recognizable brand name items or are they generic? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about buying store brand groceries and such. But, I have found that many of the generic sorts of survival items just don’t hold up. Listen, if you’re going to rely on a product to save your life, don’t you want it to be the best you can afford? Take a look at the pictures of the survival kit contents and check reviews on some of those items.

Also, look at how the manufacturer or seller is counting the items in the kit. If the ad says the kit has 175 items but 100 of them are matches or adhesive bandages, that’s a clue that the kit probably isn’t all that stellar. Same goes for kits that include a whole mess of water pouches. I mean, okay, a few might not be the worst thing but a few dozen or more just add weight to the kit. A better solution is to invest in a good quality portable water filter, like a Katadyn Hiker.

Take a look at the container for the kit, too. A bucket is a pain in the ass to carry around for any length of time. It might work well for a shelter in place situation but you’ll not want to have to transport it on a bug out. A metal tin is great for a pocket kit as it’ll help protect the contents. A pack is going to be necessary for any large kit meant to be carried any distance.

Here’s the thing. As I said at the outset, a survival kit is a personal thing. However, until you gain some experience and skills, you might not know what you do or don’t need in a kit. A premade kit is a great way to explore some options and play around with different components. See what works for you and discard what doesn’t. Over time, you’ll develop your own unique kit that is best suited for your own needs.

What’s in an MRE?

MRE stands for Meals Ready to Eat. It is a staple ration for the United States military. In recent years, civilian versions have become very popular with preppers and survivalists. The resale of military issued MREs is against the law. However, you can easily find civilian versions that are made by the same contractors and held to the same standards as the military MREs.

They are popular with the prepper community because they last a long time on the shelf, upwards of five years if stored in cool, dark conditions. Plus, each MRE contains quite a bit of calories, usually around 1,200 or so all told. They are self-contained and the package is waterproof. Each MRE is packaged with a heater, so you can have a hot meal rather than just snacking on cold pasta. There are several different “meals” in each case, too, rather than just a case of freeze-dried chicken or something. The food in the MRE doesn’t require rehydration. All great stuff when it comes to food storage.

But, what’s actually in the MRE? Many people buy them because, well, someone told them they should. However, they’ve never gone so far as to open one up and try it out. They don’t want to waste one, I guess. There’s typically 12 meals in a case and they aren’t cheap. A case runs about $130 or so, which means you’re spending a little more than $10 per meal. Given that I could feed my family of five for an entire week for less than $130, it’d take some serious convincing me to get me to spring for a case of MREs.

That said, I happen to have a case of them sitting at home in my basement. I got them a couple of years ago and sort of forgot I had them until recently. Well, what better time than now to crack one open and see what’s inside. I enlisted the aid of two of my sons as taste testers, too. Grabbing a meal at random from the case, we ended up with the Pork Sausage Patty meal, which turns out to be one of the breakfast offerings, as you’ll see.

The MRE comes in a thick plastic pouch. It opens at the top by pulling apart the sides, so you don’t even need a knife or scissors to be able to dig in to your food.

Inside are several items. Here’s the breakdown.

1 – Ration heater pouch
2 – Silverware and condiments packet
3 – Chocolate chip toaster pastry
4 – What snack bread
5 – Blackberry jam
6 – Orange beverage powder
7 – Hashbrowns with bacon
8 – Cocoa beverage powder
9 – Pork sausage patty – maple flavored

The silverware and condiments packet contains a spoon, napkin, a wet nap, sugar, salt, pepper, instant coffee, and coffee creamer.

Both of the beverage pouches contained a powder that you then mix with water. You can mix them right in their pouches, too, if you lack a container. Both of my boys inhaled the drinks before I could snap pictures, unfortunately. However, the orange drink was reported to taste like liquid Jell-O and the cocoa was deemed a hit.

I knew it would take a bit for the heater to warm up the main course so I got that set up first. The instructions state to add a small amount of water to the ration heater pouch, then wrap the pouch around the food. It also suggests adding a small weight to increase the surface area of the food pouches coming into contact with the heater. Within ten minutes or so, hot food!

After getting that set up, we moved on to try the other parts of the meal. The wheat snack bread was thick and soft and the jelly was pretty good, we all agreed.

The chocolate chip toaster pastry was on the thin side but tasty with lots of chocolate flavor.

After waiting more than 15 minutes, the ration heater was barely warm. I tried shaking it up a bit to try and get it working better, but no luck. Finally, I gave up on it and just opened the food pouches, dumped the contents on a plate, and heated it up in the microwave.

The hashbrowns weren’t bad but were very bland, even with the bits of bacon and, I think, green pepper. The addition of some salt and pepper helped. None of us detected even the faintest taste of maple on the pork sausage patty. It was a good ¾” thick, though, and filling. The taste wasn’t anywhere on a par with, say, a Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage patty fried in a cast iron skillet. But, it didn’t taste completely like ass either, unlike so much of what passes for long-term food storage these days.

Here’s the final analysis. I was disappointed the ration heater didn’t work properly. I followed the instructions to the letter but it never got above what I’d consider lukewarm. If I were out in the field and wanted the food hot, I’d have had to build a fire and heat a pot of water, then have the food pouches sit in that for a while. Doable, in most circumstances, but defeats the purpose of having the ration heater to begin with.

There’s a lot of food here for roughly ten bucks. Between my two boys and I, we wouldn’t have been full after splitting the MRE three ways but we’d not go to bed with those missed meal cramps, either. The taste of each food item was adequate or better. The serving sizes were good, not so small as to leave you wanting more but not so big that you’d wonder what to do about leftovers, especially if you split the contents between a couple of people.

All of that said, I don’t know that I’m convinced the MRE is worth $10+ each. I think maybe socking a case or two away in case of emergencies isn’t the worst idea but your money could probably be better spent by picking up extra items at the grocery store and setting those things aside for a rainy day. You’d certainly end up with more food on your shelves going that route.

3 Underrated Survival Skills

When we talk about survival skills, most of the attention is on the sexy stuff like fire starting, shooting, and first aid. After the fun stuff, we might work on food storage and water purification. Following that is the really boring stuff like hygiene. However, there a few survival skills that don’t even make the list in most cases. They are the softer skills, the ones that you might not notice but are still vitally important. Lack of proficiency in these skills becomes readily apparent in day-to-day situations and will certainly lead to difficulties in truly difficult times.

The good news is that it costs virtually nothing to practice and improve these skills. You’ll need to spend some time and energy but the impact on your wallet should be about nil.

Conflict Resolution

Regulars here know I’ve mentioned this one a time or two. I feel this is one of the most important skills sets to possess. I talk about it at length in Prepper’s Communication Handbook. What it boils down to is this – much of the difficulty we have in getting along with one another as human beings stems from an inability to not just communicate effectively but to resolve our differences efficiently, effectively, and peaceably.

Conflict is unavoidable. Often, it is the result of miscommunication. Think about it. How many times just in the last month have you gotten angry or upset with someone because of something they said or perhaps posted online or sent via text, only for you to find out later they didn’t mean it the way it came across to you? Or, how many times has someone been angry with you and you didn’t have a clue as to why? And that’s just in your personal life. Add in the conflicts in the workplace and it might seem like there’s more bad blood between folks in your life than there is peace and quiet.

Resolving conflict starts with effective communication. Be up front with the person and explain why you are upset. Often, that’s all it takes because many times the conflict is the result of a miscommunication, as I mentioned before. Once the other person is able to explain what they meant to say originally, things calm down.

Sometimes, the person did truly mean the message to be taken the way it came across but they didn’t realize it was hurtful or upsetting. Give them the opportunity to straighten things out.

I know this sounds like petty, stupid stuff. Here’s the thing, though. Interpersonal conflict often starts with small, petty grievances. Just minor annoyances. Over time, though, if they aren’t resolved they fester and become toxic. We all have one or two people in our lives, often co-workers, who just set our teeth on edge the moment we see them. Now, imagine trying to get along with them during a crisis. Yeah, might be a good idea to try and resolve things now so as to hopefully provide for smoother sailing later, come what may.

As I mentioned, clear and reasonably open communication can work wonders for resolving conflict. A great approach is to explain to the person what they said or did and how it affected you. Don’t make it about them, put the blame on yourself. Do this even if you believe the other person is largely at fault. This takes the pressure off the other person and they’re more likely to open up and talk about the situation.

For example, “When I read your text, I felt like you weren’t taking me seriously and that hurt.” Instead of “You sent me that text and you obviously aren’t taking me seriously.” See the difference?

Reading Comprehension

This is a meme I’ve shared a time or two online. It really sums up the problem with reading comprehension online.

Listen, I know an awful lot of people hated school, for one reason or another. Lots of people struggled with reading and writing. I totally get that. However, being able to read, retain what was read, and understand the meaning of what was written can truly be vitally important.

If you don’t read and follow the directions precisely when working with a new piece of equipment, it could become damaged or it might cause injury.

If you aren’t paying close attention to the guidebook, you might mistake a lookalike poisonous plant for an edible variety, pop it into your mouth, and spend the next two days with a case of the shuddering trots.

I’ve found the problem is often one of rushing through the reading. We all have so many things occupying our time these days, we sometimes just breeze through reading something, trying to hit the high points, and then end up missing some of the important information in our haste.

On top of that, our reading speed tends to slow down a bit as we age. When I was in my 20s, I could easily devour an entire paperback novel in a day, maybe two if it was one of Stephen King’s doorstops. Nowadays, it takes me a bit longer. I just finished reading The Fireman by Joe Hill and it took me a full three weeks. Great book, though.

Here’s a great way to work on your reading comprehension. Let’s say you read a post on Facebook and a question about it pops into your head. Before posting a comment, reread the post and see if the answer to your question is actually there. Remember that meme I included earlier in this article?

Another strategy is to read more intentionally. By that, I mean to consciously slow down your reading and take the time to ensure you truly understand what you’re reading. Don’t be afraid to look up the meaning of any words you don’t know.

Again, this isn’t a skill that is often thought of as critically important. In fact, many people would scoff at it being included in a list like this. However, reading comprehension is related to being detail oriented. Notice the little things, the subtleties, and you’ll learn far more than the average person.

Learn How To Learn

My friend John McCann is extremely knowledgeable, skilled, and intelligent. He’s been around the block a time or two and is well known and well respected amongst his colleagues and peers. Yet, for all that, he’ll be the first to tell you that he is not an expert but a perpetual student. This is a truly wonderful approach to life in general.

If there is one thing you should have learned in school, whether we’re talking about public school, homeschooling, college, technical university, whatever, is how to learn. I know, sounds kind of funny to put it like that – learn how to learn.

Here’s the thing. Different people learn in different ways. Some people are very visual learners. They need to see it in front of them, such as someone demonstrating a process, in order to understand it properly. Others are more hands on types of learners. They learn best by doing rather than just observing. Some folks can pick up new information through reading and others require endless repetition.

The trick is to figure out how you learn best, then concentrate on that method any time you’re presented with a new skill or knowledge to gain. Many people struggled in school because classes are generally only taught in one way and if you don’t learn best with that method, you can fall behind rather quickly. That leads to frustration and, well, it can become an endless loop. If there is a skill you wish to learn, tailor your education to match your learning style. In this day and age of marvelous advances in technology and such, you should be able to find a way to obtain the information you seek presented in a manner that makes it easiest for you to learn.

Understanding and Improving Credit

For many people, their credit scores are truly a survival priority. No, a great score with TransUnion isn’t going to matter when you’re dealing with a wildfire or flood, much less an EMP. But, keep in mind, our daily lives are impacted by our credit scores. Your score can determine whether you qualify for a bank loan and, if so, the interest rate you’ll receive. It may also affect your ability to rent a home or apartment, the rate you pay for auto insurance, and whether you can get a decent credit card to use for emergencies.

What follows is an excerpt from Prepper’s Financial Guide. I’m not a banker nor a financial consultant. However, what follows is advice and information based upon what I’ve learned from repairing my own credit failures years ago. Read through and have a good understanding of these concepts before deciding to pay any sort of “credit repair” business. Many of them are scams and you can do yourself just about anything they promise to do for you.

Credit Score

In the banking world, you are, for all intents and purposes, your credit score. That number represents your reliability when it comes to debt repayment as well as an indicator of your overall responsibility. It affects many areas of your life, from determining whether you qualify for a loan to the loan terms you might receive, even your rates for insurance. The higher your credit score, the better the rates and terms you’ll receive.

There are three credit bureaus in the United States–Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Each of them have a file with your name all over it, whether you like it or not. This file, called a credit report, is supposed to contain an accurate documentation of your repayment history. I say it is supposed to because they aren’t always 100% correct.

Now, persons far smarter than I have attempted to determine exactly how a credit score is generated. We know, for example, that late payments tend to decrease your score and being responsible with your debt load increases your score. However, when it comes to calculating the exact number, well, it is sort of a mystery.

Credit scores range from 300-850, again the higher the better. There are gray areas when it comes to deciding what is “good” credit versus merely acceptable. Lenders have their own guidelines. However, as a general rule of thumb, a score of 740 and up is considered excellent and those individuals usually enjoy the most favorable rates and terms. A score of 680-740 is still considered pretty good. The rates extended won’t be quite as awesome as those in the upper bracket but lenders aren’t going to try and bend you over a barrel, either. The next level down, 620-680, is the lowest rung still considered acceptable by most lenders. You’ll still likely get approved, all other factors being equal, but the terms aren’t going to be all that stellar. The further down you go from there, the less likely you’ll even be approved for credit, let alone see terms that are even close to acceptable.

Again, those ranges are merely ballpark figures. Every lender is slightly different in terms of what they consider good versus average credit scores.

Credit reports vs. credit scores
Obtaining a copy of your credit report is a fairly straightforward process. Getting your own credit score, though, is a whole other ball game. See, the score won’t be printed on the credit report. The credit bureaus keep those scores locked up tighter than a clam with lockjaw. You can request a copy of your credit score from each of the three bureaus, but they’ll charge you a fee for providing it.

There are some credit card companies that have the means in place to provide their customers with their own credit scores. This is a great option for many people, provided you can be responsible with the credit card itself. As this is an option that sort of comes and goes with different companies, you’ll have to do your own research to find which ones currently offer it.

Credit Reports

It is important to review your credit report on a regular basis. This might be the only way you’ll ever learn of errors on it as well as see indications of fraud or identity theft. Fortunately, getting a copy of your credit report is very easy. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires the three credit bureaus to provide, upon request, one copy of their credit report, free of charge, to each consumer once a year. The report may be ordered via one of three ways:

Online: Visit http://www.annualcreditreport.com/. Be wary of lookalike websites with similar domain names. This one is the only one set up as a result of the FCRA. There are a lot of scam sites out there that will either charge you or just outright steal your information. Ordering your report online grants you immediate access to it.

Mail: There is a form entitled Annual Credit Report Request that must be filled out, then mailed to:

Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Response time is about two weeks from when the request is received.

Telephone: Call 1-877-322-8228 and order your report. As with mailing, it will take about two weeks to get your report.

It is important to rely upon one of these methods, rather than contacting the credit bureaus directly. The website, mailing address, and phone number listed above are the only ways to obtain your free copy each calendar year. The credit bureaus are likely going to charge you if you go directly through them.

You are entitled to one copy from each bureau every 12 months. Rather than ordering all three at once, I suggest you stagger the requests and order one from a different bureau every four months. This allows you to react quicker in the event you do see something amiss on the report.

Reporting Inaccuracies

Go through each credit report line by line, even including your name, your address, and all of your other identifying information. The balances listed for each account will probably not be accurate right down to the penny as there is a lag between when you make a payment and when that payment is reported to the credit bureau. However, look for accounts that are listed as open, even though you closed them years ago, or accounts that are listed as delinquent even though you’re up to date on all payments.

Be sure to check for any accounts you weren’t aware of as these are indicators of possible fraud. Bear in mind, though, that the names listed as account holders may differ slightly from the ones which are familiar to you. Banks change names from time to time.

Should you find something amiss on your credit report, you need to get it handled as soon as possible. These things take time so the faster you act, the sooner it can get fixed. Every credit report will have instructions on how to report possible errors, which will need to be reported in writing directly to the credit bureau. They have 30 days or so to investigate the matter and respond back to you. Typically, what will happen is the credit bureau will contact the person or entity (both are considered to be Credit Reporting Agencies, or CRAs) that originally reported the information. The bureau will notify them of the dispute and pass along the information you’ve provided on the matter. The CRA must conduct an investigation and report the findings back to the credit bureau.

If the CRA provides documentation that the information is valid and correct, it stays on your credit report. However, if they are unable to provide that documentation, the information is changed or deleted on your credit report.

Of course, you could also skip the credit bureau and contact the CRA directly about your dispute. Depending upon the circumstances, this may or may not speed up the process. It is one thing if you are dealing with a large company that likely has processes in place for dealing with disputes and knows how to handle such matters efficiently. Another thing entirely if you’re dealing with a landlord or some other relatively small-time operation.

Credit Score Management

While we might not know how to calculate our own credit scores precisely, we do know of several factors that come into play with increasing the number.

Payment history

First and foremost, strive to make all of your payments on time, every time. Every late payment counts against you and payments that are completely missed count even more. Pay close attention to due dates and remember that even just paying the minimum is far better than not paying anything at all.

I would venture a guess that the vast majority of bills you have each month can be paid online. Plus, a lot of companies today allow you to schedule payments ahead of time. This can be a great option, provided you are certain the funds will be in your account when the payment is due.

For those who, whether by necessity or preference, still wish to mail checks, here’s a system we used successfully for years. Once a week, sit down with all of the bills that came in the mail. Write out the checks and get the payment ready to mail for each one, sealing the envelope and everything. On the outside of the envelope, where your return address goes, write in the date by which the payment must be mailed, being sure to allow plenty of time for it to arrive before the deadline. Keep all of these payments clipped together on the fridge in the order they must be mailed, the soonest one on top. Check the stack every day or so and mail out the payments as needed, covering your written “mail by” date with a return address label.

Sometimes, we get into trouble because we have several accounts that all require payment at nearly the same time each month. If that’s the case for you, call your credit card companies and see if you can adjust the due date for your account. I’m not talking about a one time deal but permanently. If you have a bunch of stuff that is always due on or near the 20th of the month, maybe get one or two of them moved to the 10th or something to help space things out.

Payment amounts

Whenever possible, pay your balance due in full each month. Doing so not only avoids you having to pay interest charges but it indicates you know how to manage debt responsibly, which increases your credit score. If you have fallen behind a bit and can’t pay the entire balance on a credit card, try to at least pay off any new charges plus the interest fee for the month. This will prevent your balance from growing each month and help you to get a better handle on the account.

Always pay as much as you can afford on each account every month. Sometimes that won’t be a whole lot, I know, but do what you can to pay off balances quickly.

Historical accounts

Sometimes, when we finally pay off an account, we’re tempted to close it completely so as to avoid getting into further trouble. That’s not the worst idea in the world. But, consider keeping at least one old account open. Use it from time to time, making small purchases and paying the balance in full when the bill arrives. This helps you to build a positive history of debt management.

Diversify your debt

Creditors like to see that you know how to handle different types of debt. As situations warrant, diversify your debts so as to include installment loans, credit cards, and a mortgage. I’m not suggesting you run out and buy a new set of furniture for the sole purpose of trying to increase your credit score! But, if given the option of using a credit card or an installment loan, go with the one that not only gives you the most favorable terms but is one you might not have used in the last few years.

Debt ratio

Ideally, your credit debt should be around 30% of your net income. This figure does not include mortgage payments. Debt ratios are a key figure in determining whether you’ll get approved for a loan or line of credit. Creditors want to see that you not only have the necessary income to pay the loan but that enough of that income is free to be used for the payments.

Credit management

Avoid ever maxing out a credit card as this is a big red flag for creditors. Keep the balances low if you can’t pay them off each month. At the same time, though, and I know this sounds counter-intuitive, you need to use credit to build up your credit score. Paying cash for everything and never using a credit card or installment loan doesn’t provide any positive information to the credit bureaus. If you’re nothing but a blank slate to them, you aren’t going to enjoy any sort of stellar credit score and should the time come you need to open a line of credit, you won’t qualify for the most favorable terms.

Examine monthly statements

It should go without saying but go through each billing statement every month and make sure everything is accurate. On top of checking for errors, be sure you understand what each charge is for, especially when it comes to utility accounts like cell phones and internet services. Those companies in particular are notorious for adding fees and charges for services you didn’t order or that just plain don’t apply to your account. Should you find something you don’t understand or you believe to be an error, contact the company immediately to get it handled.

Along these same lines, any time you experience a service outage with your Internet or phone, you should notify the provider as soon as possible. Most of them will, if asked, credit your account for the outage. While this might only turn out to be a buck or two, that’s still money that stays in your pocket.

The takeaway here is that you need to pay attention to your credit and how it affects other areas of your life. Having the means to pay your typical living expenses in cash each month is great but consider the fact that at some point down the road, whether you like it or not, you may just need to apply for a loan. Managing credit effectively will go a long way toward improving your overall financial existence.

TeamNewt Charity Auction

Newton “Newt” Martin is many things. A world class knife maker. A military veteran. A son.

And now, a leukemia patient.

The diagnosis came as quite a shock to Newt and his family. By all accounts, Newt is responding well to the treatment but leukemia isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy. On top of the physical toll is the missed work and the medical expenses. Bad enough to have to deal with the illness but adding financial stress to the mix makes things so much worse. We can’t do much to alleviate pain and discomfort but for damn sure we can help with the financial end of things.

One thing that I’ve found to be true in the knife/outdoor/survival community is that we watch out for one another. Regular visitors to this site as well as my Facebook pages know I’m fond of saying, “We’re all in this together.” This is where we show what that truly means.

#TeamNewt has put together a charity auction to raise money for Newt and his family. What follows are the different prizes. You’ll find custom knives, one of a kinds, book sets, DVD sets, and package deals with all sorts of gear. The auction officially begins on Monday, May 23, at 9AM Central. Any bids received prior to that time stamp will be deleted. The bidding concludes at 10:00PM Central, Friday, May 27. The highest bids posted by that time will win the auction prizes. We will contact the winners directly to obtain shipping information.

To place a bid, simply comment below. Each bid must include the Lot Number on which you are bidding as well as the dollar amount of your bid. Be sure to use a valid email address, too, as that is how we’ll contact you at the conclusion of the raffle. If you don’t see your bid appear immediately, be patient. Occasionally, comments are delayed due to spam filters. The time stamp of your bid is what matters.

Prizes will be shipped once payment has been made and verified. Payment via Paypal is preferred. Payments made by money order or cashier’s check will significantly delay shipping of the prize. Payment must be sent no later than Tuesday, May 31.

Bid high, bid often, share this page far and wide. Let’s do all we can to help Newt and his family through their time of need. If you’re the praying sort, a knee mail or two wouldn’t hurt.

For direct donations

If you’d rather just send a buck or two and not monkey around with auctions, you can do so via PayPal. Please send all funds to: newton@martinknives.com. Thanks!

Lot #1 – Palmetto Bubba

  • 1095 high carbon steel
  • Stainless steel pin and lanyard tube
  • Blue/black textured G10 scales
  • 5 5/8″ overall length, 2 7/8″ blade
  • Black leather pocket sheath.

Lot #2 – Make Ready to Survive DVD set

Set of 13 DVDs from the Make Ready to Survive series produced by Panteao Productions. More info on each title in the series may be found here.

Lot #3 – CRKT Saker

 

  • 1075 carbon steel
  • 9.19 inches overall with a 4.53 inch blade.
  • Scandi grind.
  • Leather sheath.
  • Walnut scales.
  • Generously donated by CRKT.

 

Lot #4 – Deer Creek Forge American Trade Knife

  • 1095 high carbon steel.
  • 10 inches overall with a 5 3/8 inch blade.
  • Scandi grind
  • Brass pins and lanyard tube.
  • Leather dangler sheath.

Lot #5 – Martin Knives MCF Fighter

  • The MCF is the flagship blade for Martin Knives. This one is a custom model crafted of 440C stainless steel.Blade length is 7 inches and the top clip is sharpened. Comes with a leather sheath (the sheath on the right in the photo). 

Lot #6 – Ver Steeg Blades Imp

  • Custom Imp by Ver Steeg Blades
  • 4.25″ overall with a 2″ blade
  • O1 tool steel
  • Winning bidder will work directly with Ver Steeg Blades to choose handle material
  • Generously donated by Ver Steeg Blades.

 

Lot #7 – Forest II Red Maple Burl

  • A2 Tool Steel.
  • Overall length is 9.775 inches with a blade of 5 inches.
  • Generously donated by American Knife Company.

Lot #8 – LTWK Genesis

  • Genesis generously donated by LT Wright Handcrafted Knives.
  • Flat ground blade 4.25 inches long, overall length 9 inches.
  • A2 steel.
  • Black micarta scales.

Lot #9 – Denali Natural Canvas Micarta

  • Overall length of 13.875 inches
  • A2 tool steel blade of 8.5 inches long.
  • Generously donated by American Knife Company.

Lot #10 – Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit

The Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit by GoalZero comes with a Nomad 7 Solar Panel, Guide 10 Plus rechargeable battery pack, a USB cable, a 12v adapter, 4 AA rechargeable batteries, and a AAA battery adapter. This kit has been generously donated by Survival Resources.

Lot #11 – The Last Chance by Ed Martin

  • Overall length is 12″ with a 6.5″ blade.
  • This knife is a prototype and is the only one of its kind in existence.

Lot #12 – Cooking Bundle

Cooking Gone Wild Seasoning bundle generously donated by Starla’s Seasonings. Prepper’s Cookbook and Meals in a Jar courtesy of Ulysses Press.

Lot #13 – Echo 7 Knife by Dogwood Custom Knives

  • 8.5 inches overall with a 4 inch blade
  • O1 tool steel.
  • Comes with a custom made sheath from Reliance Leather Works.
  • Generously donated by Dogwood Custom Knives.

Lot #14 – Scorpion by the Jones Brothers

Scorpion by the Jones Brothers.
–Overall length: 7.5”
–Blade length: 3.25”
–Steel: ATS-34 with Paul Bos heat treat
–Flat ground, sharp on both edges
–Removable carbon fiber scales with stainless hardware
–Kydex sheath with large Tec-Loc

Lot #15 – Ulysses Press book collection

Ulysses Press will select a collection of 20 books from their catalog in the prepper/survivalist/outdoors genres. Collection will contain both newest releases as well as bestsellers.

Lot #16 – Custom ESEE 5

ESEE 5 knife customized by Bark River Knives. The spine has been squared off, the powder coat was removed and the knife polished. A convex grind was done as well.

Lot #17 – Attleboro Knife

“The Attleboro”is designed to commemorate the ultimate sacrifice made by Army Special Forces MSG William B. Hunt and to honor all the military members involved in Operation Attleboro during the Vietnam War.
–Steel: CPM S35VN
–Black phenolic laminated handle

Lot #18 – Martin Knives Kephart

Kephart by Martin Knives. No longer produced. Handle is osage.

Lot #19 – Hedgehog leatherworks.Right Hand, Advanced model Kabar sheath

Extremely high quality sheath for a full size KA-BAR knife. Note: this is only the sheath, the knife shown is not included. It does, however, include the ferro rod.

Lot #20 – Gossman Knives Nessmuk

This is a custom Nessmuk knife, courtesy of Gossman Knives.

  • 8 3/4″ overall with a 4 1/4″ blade
  • 4″ cutting edge
  • .140″ thick by 1 1/2″ wide
  • CPM 154 steel.
  • Scales are brown canvas micarta.
  • Leather sheath.