Survival Prep Is the New Savings

Photo credit: F Delventhal, CC BY 2.0.

Now that I am the proud owner of “Extreme Survival Kit Two,” a gray camo-patterned survival backpack that contains enough supplies for two people to survive for three days, I am forced to confront the idea that I might have to someday use it.

It’s a bit like taking off in an airplane, that moment when you think “okay, if something’s going to go wrong it’s going to happen now,” except life-changing Cascadian earthquakes could happen at any time and they could definitely happen every time your neighbor comes into the apartment and closes the door hard enough to make your floor shake.

They can also happen while you’re in the shower, or while you’re in bed trying to fall asleep. I used to live in Los Angeles, and all of the minor earthquakes I experienced seemed to happen while I was in bed trying to fall asleep. Now I have to worry that the Cascadian earthquake is going to get me on the one night I wear a T-shirt to bed instead of pajamas.

So I was very excited to read Anne Helen Petersen’s new Buzzfeed feature, Hunkering Down With the Survival Mom, Queen of the Common-Sense Preppers. I like being prepared! I like common sense!

I don’t like being reminded that we are living in a world and a culture that could turn out to be as flimsy as my apartment floors.

Forget the color-coded bunker, the carefully organized bug-out bags, and the piles of cash she keeps strategically stashed around the house. The most compelling thing about [Survival Mom Lisa Bedford] is how much sense her entire philosophy makes — and how it casts the rest of our utter unpreparedness into sharp relief. How little we save, how nonchalant we are given our children’s lack of basic of survival skills, how blasé we remain even as environmental and economic catastrophe devastates those around us.

The thing about how most of us are one or two paychecks away from being broke, from not being able to pay our rent or mortgage or buy food? That’s what Petersen is referring to.

That, and a major disaster such as an EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, that would knock out the world’s electronics and bring everything—businesses, ATMs, Twitter feeds—to a halt.

What do you do if you’re worried that you might lose your job and/or the entire world might lose its access to the internet? The Survival Mom, like most financial planners, recommends saving. Money, clothing, paracord bracelets, and food:

If a mom is worried about a potential loss of income, Bedford has a straightforward first step: Buy a month’s worth of extra food. “Then you won’t have to ask, ‘Do I buy groceries or do I pay the electric bill?’”

That’s the kind of advice that sounds reasonable but carries with it all kinds of questions: Does this hypothetical mom earn enough so she can save? If so, should she save her extra income instead of putting it towards canned foods, with the idea that she could withdraw it if she needs to? If she doesn’t currently earn enough so she can save, how is she going to pay for a month’s worth of extra food?

This hypothetical mom could in theory build her grocery stash up over time, a few cans and boxes a month, just like a lot of us build our savings accounts. Which brings us to the thesis, as it were, of prepping: do a little work now and save yourself anxiety later.

Bedford’s advice feels more and more common sense, because financial disaster (from lack of health care, from job insecurity, from the disintegration of the social safety net) is a fear common to almost all Americans.

Get your survival bag, get your month’s worth of groceries, put $5,500 into your Roth IRA. Do it now, before you grow old, lose your job, or feel the initial jolt announcing the Great Cascadian Earthquake. The future is hard to predict and impossible to control, but buying a bulk package of toilet paper is easy and it can give you a little peace of mind—maybe.

It’s a good thing that Petersen ended her paragraph right there, without writing anything else afterwards. Except, of course, she didn’t:

And if you’re struggling to level the financial playground, then prepping is a way to assure that after the shit hits the fan, you could finally be on top. Think of it this way: If the American dream is increasingly impossible, then survivalists are readying themselves for the world in which the principles of hard work and self-reliance will once again triumph, in however macabre a fashion. It’s the striving for that dream, and the spending, however moderate, that accompanies it, that’s transformed Bedford’s hobby into a massive industry.

In other words: for some people, success may only come if everything else falls apart.

That sounds like a societal problem even greater than the ones for which we’re currently preparing.

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