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A friend who has known me personally for years recently wrote me the following:
“What’s with the Jekyll and Hyde? The Rock Waterman I know is a cheerful, upbeat, pleasant optimist. Yet when I read the stuff you post on your food storage blog, you seem like a completely different person. You are full of dire warnings and pessimism about the future. This doesn’t sound like you. Why are you going around selling fear? How is it that someone who is clearly an optimist in person can come off as such a pessimist in print?”

The answer, of course, is that as far as the future is concerned, I consider myself neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I’m a realist. And I’m not selling fear. I’m selling freedom from fear.

But my friend’s email got me to thinking. Who exactly am I writing these things to? Why is it I feel the need to constantly go on about how scary things are getting, and how the economic outlook for this country promises to get increasingly worse?

The answer, I realized, is that I’m essentially writing to my younger self. I’m trying to get through to people like me; the younger, dumber, carefree optimistic “me” who somehow felt the future would take care of itself.  If I were able to go back in time and grab that younger me by the scruff of the neck and give him a good shake, I would warn him that difficult times were ahead, and that his life would be much more tolerable if he were to take just a few simple steps to prepare.

I was raised in an environment that stressed the importance of having a year’s supply of food and provisions on hand in case of emergency, and I believed wholeheartedly in that counsel. Being prepared for the unexpected was a good idea. My parents had a garage full of bulk food set aside for the family as I was growing up. Yet somehow I never seemed to get around to acquiring my own pesonal store of goods once I got out on my own. I always put it off for later, because food storage was something I never seemed able to afford.

So I went through my twenties, then my thirties, then my forties, and into my late fifties never having done one single thing to prepare for any kind of setback. And guess what? in every single one of those decades, I and my little family faced calamities we were not prepared for. Mostly it was times of unemployment, and sometimes those periods of unemployment lasted a brutally long time. There was also frequent illness and other setbacks.

At other times, even when we did have plenty of money to spend on groceries, it would have been nice to have already had food on hand so that some of that grocery money could have gone for other things. Like car repairs. Or keeping the electricity on. Or preventing the phone from being shut off.

Throughout those hard times, I never seemed to learn. Once the days of scarcity had passed and I was back to work, I still never got around to setting aside a portion of my salary for food storage. I had a good reason, of course. I rarely felt I earned enough money to afford food storage, so I continued to have that attitude of “some day.”

Three or four years ago, I took a hard look at our situation and realized that “some day” had already arrived. I looked into the abyss and what I saw looking back at me was fear. I wished I could have  told my former self there was something he could have done back then to prevent things from getting this bad.

But all I had was the present version of myself, and all I had was now. So even though I knew there was no longer any way I could afford a year’s supply of food, I knew I had better do something. Because as bad as things were now, they were sure to get worse.

If I couldn’t afford a year’s supply of food, I would have to settle for having a week’s supply. That would be better than nothing, so that’s what I did. I used some of what would have normally gone for groceries, and bought a 7 day supply of food through I figured that if we ran out of grocery money, we would still have that food on hand to finish out the month with.

But lo and behold, at the end of the month we still had that week’s supply of food still sitting in the hall closet. So the next month we did the same. Now we had two week’s supply of food on hand. This was kinda cool!

We were already feeling more secure.  As time passed, my wife and I found ways to set aside more money each month, and each month we bought more storable food. It became our hobby.  Okay, more than a hobby; it was an obsession. But the obsession paid off. Eventually we had that year’s supply, and some for sharing.

As my fellow blogger Trevor Dobrygoski recently pointed out, “when the time comes, there won’t be any ‘I’ll do it tomorrow.’ Either you’re already prepared, or not. What it really comes down to is habit. Buying an extra can of black beans or a can of tuna when you go to the store won’t break the bank for most people. Honestly, that’s all it takes. If you have the extra money to get some extra food in bulk, by all means do it. Otherwise, start adding one extra item to your cart each time you go to the store for something.”

If I could reach back into the past and counsel my younger self, that’s the advice I’d give him.

So that’s the advice I’m giving you.

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