Last week, I was sitting at home before the day started and was thinking about what all I needed to get done. It was a Saturday, the one day we have to get caught up around the house before relaxing on Sunday. Drinking my morning coffee, the thought of needing tires on the car hit me and for some reason it didn’t leave. The tires on the car needed replacing, but it wasn’t 100% out of tread so to this point it wasn’t the top priority. I called the tire shop that we go to and found out they were open for another hour or so. We headed in and got some new all-season tires. The car rides smoother and I felt much better knowing that since we’re in the middle of Winter now. Fast forward a few days and I was leaving for work. As I was walking to the car, a few little snow flakes hit my face but I didn’t think much of it. I hit the road and was quite surprised that 10 miles up the road it was covered in snow with a snowplow truck nowhere in sight. Apparently, this storm came literally out of nowhere and hit the area that we live in just before dawn. It wasn’t on any weather report the evening before. Had I not replaced the tires, I believe I would have slid off of the road or into something before I made it to work. I only slightly slid 2 times for a few inches, but had the old tires been on I don’t really want to know what would have happened. Had I known this storm was approaching as quickly as it was, I would have taken our more “winter capable” vehicle, but that’s just it… sometimes you don’t get that warning. As it happens, it pays to be prepared and it costs to not be prepared.
We must learn from the past to anticipate what the future holds, but not everything can be planned. Much can be accounted for when trying to lessen the chances of being struck truly off guard. While we’re still getting started in the New Year (it’s still January!), it’s worth some thought to try to get more organized and prepared for what’s to come this year. Here are some things that we’ve learned along the way that help us almost daily!
Find the True Price
The first thing that we’ve noticed is that there is most certainly a premium for convenience. This may seem obvious, but it’s hard to see unless the individual items are setting side-by-side. In general, the more packaging around a smaller amount typically results in a higher price. Think about apples for example, if you buy Apples by the pound it’s far cheaper than buying pre-cut apple slices in the “Kid Friendly” lunch section of the grocery store. There’s also something to be said about unit cost in grocery stores here as well. Manufacturers of products will gradually reduce the size of the package while keeping the price tag the same. The unit cost (price per whatever unit they measure in be it pounds, liquid ounces, etc…) goes up without much notice as it’s a gradual change. You’ll notice the opposite of this with gasoline, because the price changes while the unit size stays the same (and everyone complains about the prices on the news). All of the staple food items in our home (eggs, cheese, rice, breads, etc) have a price range that we’re familiar with since it seems every time we’re in town we return with one or more of these items. When we purchase food, we look at the unit cost instead of the price tag since that may be misleading. It’s almost always in our best interest to buy the larger size of the product even if we have to put more money down up front. This is where convenience can bite you. If you’re not prepared, you may not realize just how much money you’re parting with unnecessarily on repeat purchases. We create a meal plan weekly and stock up on the weekends when we’re in town anyways to minimize transportation and waste costs. Whether it’s a forgotten ingredient that requires an extra trip or the fact that we purchased way too much perishable food to be wasted; it all costs money. If an item is perishable, only buy as much as you will reasonably use. The larger size may not be a better deal in this case. Did you ever see someone walking in the rain with a gas can because they ran out of gas? Imagine what they would pay for 1 gallon of gas at that very moment. Don’t let the equivalent of this happen to you on a day-to-day basis because you haven’t thought ahead to “fill the tank” before you believed you needed it. Do the legwork up front and know the true cost of what you need to buy. This will help you be better prepared for the things you can’t anticipate.
Let Technology Help
Here’s an inconvenient truth: Our brains are not good at storing and recalling information in an organized and timely fashion. As much as we think we can multi-task and tackle everything all at once, something will always slip through the cracks. What we have learned is that we have to record anything important that we’re not going to take care of immediately. Anything from notepads on the refrigerator for groceries, to sticky notes for things to do around the house and even taking notes with our phones and other devices. By recording this elsewhere, and sticking to this list, it will allow your brain to do what it’s good at (think, make decisions, solve problems, etc…) rather than standing around knowing you didn’t remember something. Every year we like to go camping on the river during the summer. While we generally know what all we need to take with us, there’s always that one thing that we seem to leave behind and have to buy ($$$) or make do without. What we have started doing is keeping a “Camp List” saved on our laptop. It takes almost no room on the computer (and we won’t lose it), and every summer we can open it up and look it over. We can add to the list anything we need especially for this year and print it out. No more worries about getting there and leaving the fishing poles at home!
Find Where to Draw the Line
There’s only so much that you can do to try and prepare for anything life throws at you, especially financially. The best offense against the crappier financial times is to have a strong defensive game leading up to that time. Getting rid of debts and other liabilities, saving money in an emergency fund, keeping up with asset maintenance, seeing doctors and other health professionals regularly and having the proper insurance in place are all things to be done BEFORE the storms arrive. Ultimately, the cost of rough patches in life’s road involves more than money. So often it requires time and energy, your peace of mind, stress levels rising and your health being neglected and generally anything else associated with your quality of life. There is a reason that the Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared”. There is a line you have to draw within reason, where you know you’ve prepared all that you can and you know you can handle most of life’s curveballs so it’s time to get on with life. Avoid the extremes… You’re not going to shop around for ambulance services if you’re in an accident and are bleeding or drive 40 miles out of your way to save a few cents per gallon of gasoline. It kills me seeing healthy people driving in circles for 10 minutes trying to find a close spot in a parking lot when I just park at the end and see them waiting in their vehicle blinking for a spot as I walk in the store. There is a pretty good buffer zone between irresponsibility and paranoia. The trick is finding that sweet spot in your life where you are comfortable, but not worried. It’ll be different for everyone. Don’t let fear be your motivation and do not let greed be your motivation. That’s when we end up doing something dumb. Keeping a level head means you’ll probably win, especially if you are as prepared as possible. Our favorite Christmas movie (we watch it on every Christmas Eve) is “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Remember about the scene in the middle of the movie when the depression hits and there’s a run on the bank? It was level-headed George who ultimately won in the end. He saved the business, sacrificed his trip and made friends for life. He wasn’t panicking like the townsfolk or greedily taking advantage of those he was in the business to help.