How many wealthy Americans are really making preparations for a catastrophe? It’s hard to know exactly; a lot of people don’t like to talk about it. (“Anonymity is priceless,” one hedge-fund manager told me, declining an interview.) Sometimes the topic emerges in unexpected ways. Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a prominent investor, recalls telling a friend that he was thinking of visiting New Zealand. “Oh, are you going to get apocalypse insurance?” the friend asked. “I’m, like, Huh?” Hoffman told me. New Zealand, he discovered, is a favored refuge in the event of a cataclysm. Hoffman said, “Saying you’re ‘buying a house in New Zealand’ is kind of a wink, wink, say no more. Once you’ve done the Masonic handshake, they’ll be, like, ‘Oh, you know, I have a broker who sells old ICBM silos, and they’re nuclear-hardened, and they kind of look like they would be interesting to live in.’ ”
Canned goods are going to be your best friend when it comes to getting vitamins and minerals. Fruits and vegetables perish rapidly in a survival situation, but can last for up to two years in cans. Buying store/generic brands products helps you save more money. When purchasing canned goods, you need to use them on rotation. This means you keep a log of the use-by date and use them before that point. When you use them, replace them with more supplies to keep your stocks replenished.
Mayday (since 2003) Seconds From Disaster (since 2004) National Geographic Explorer (since 2004) Drugs, Inc. (since 2010) Wicked Tuna (since 2012) Life Below Zero (since 2013) Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (since 2014) Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks (since 2014) Live Free or Die (since 2014) StarTalk (since 2015) The Story of God with Morgan Freeman (since 2016) Mars (since 2016) Genius (since 2017) The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman (since 2017) One Strange Rock (since 2018)
Another insidious distraction is the desire to immediately figure out how to respond to all the scenarios we end up dreaming of. Let's save that for later; by prematurely focusing on the second half of the problem, we may end up glossing over some of the less tractable scenarios - or make haphazard assumptions that will cloud our judgment in other ways.
Things must be simple and easy. You want to limit the number of important decisions you’ll have to make or things you’ll have to remember in a crisis. You should not have to remember where things are, put them together, worry about not having something important, or lose time while you do the work you should’ve done beforehand. You shouldn’t be thinking, “Well, wait, will I need the camping stove I have in the other bag?”
Vegetable shortening. Extremely cheap and energy-dense (2,500 kcal per dollar, 4,100 per pound), making it a unique choice when space or money is in critically short supply. In contrast to other common fats, store-brought cans of vegetable shortening should stay fine for 4 years or more. The product is very bland, but it's perfectly palatable when spread on crackers, mixed with bacon bits, and so forth. It does not provide complete nutrition - but again, that won't harm you in the short haul.
A thermometer that won't run out of juice. Responding to serious emergencies can be stressful and physically taxing, making it easy to catch nasty infections along the way. To know how bad things have gotten, it's good to have a reliable way to take body temperature; keep in mind that many low-cost axillary thermometers use LR41 batteries, and that you probably don't have any spares lying around. One good choice is this ($35). A traditional glass thermometer will also work, but is more fragile.
Now, chances are, if you follow the advice contained in this section, you will not feel an urge to ramp up spending the moment you hit the 6-month mark. So, keep going; with the initial rainy-day fund established and good fiscal habits in place, you can start treating the extra funds with more flexibility - for example, "borrowing" against them to self-finance larger purchases, or aiming to retire a bit earlier and a bit more comfortably than the government expects you to. And by the time your savings are sufficient to get you through a full year of unemployment, I bet that your outlook on life, work, and personal finance will change in an interesting way.
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