Despite the state of the world today, being a prepper is still seen as unusual. It seems that most people just don’t want to know what could go wrong – either that or they still expect someone else to take care of them when it does. Either way, they think it’s odd that some of us are ready to look out for ourselves.
What’s really odd is that just a couple of generations ago it was the other way around. Most people were much more self-reliant, and if you weren’t ready to cope with a crisis your neighbors would have thought you were the unusual one. That self-reliant spirit has been pretty useful in US history, most spectacularly during the Great Depression.
The Depression began in 1929 and had a huge impact on life for most Americans. It took WWII and the move to a war economy to shake off its last effects; for twelve years hardships and poverty affected millions of people. Those people, mostly, just got on with it as well as they could. They fell back on their own resources, pulled together and slowly rebuilt the economy and society.
When I was a child I heard stories about the Depression from my grandfather. In 1929 he was a young man living on a farm, and the economic collapse was a real threat. Luckily, he like most of his generation, had the right mindset and skills to get through the disaster. In fact, he was someone that any of us would recognize as a fellow prepper. Here are just a few of the ways he was ready when the Depression hit.
Look for Livestock
Most people now have, at best, a pretty vague idea of how food gets from the farm to a Styrofoam tray in a chiller cabinet. I knew different growing up, and I learned that from my grandparents. There were always chickens in the yard and at least one hog in the sty. The chickens were mostly for eggs, but on special occasions a fat young bird would end up on the table. The rest were egg producers, but when they stopped laying they’d head for the pot and be turned into tasty soups and stews. Granddad also traded surplus eggs (and hens) with the neighbors.
Chickens were cheap and easy to keep; they’d forage around the yard for a lot of what they ate, and as for the rest there’s a reason we call small sums of money “chicken feed”. A pig was a bit more expensive, because a chunky hog will eat a lot more than the leftovers generated by a frugal family. It was still a good investment, though, because when the hog was slaughtered in fall it would yield enough ham, bacon and sausage to last through the winter.
Do It Yourself
Nowadays, when something goes wrong around the house, most of us search for a local business that can fix it for us. The sink’s blocked? Call a plumber. The car’s broken down? Call the garage. Run out of bedrooms? Call a builder. During the Depression that wasn’t an option for most people, because they just couldn’t afford it. Luckily most people had at least some of the skills they needed to fix or make things themselves – and if they didn’t have a particular skill, chances were they had a friend or neighbor that did.
Look on Amazon and you can get yourself a good-sized chicken coop for just $299.99. What did people do before Amazon existed, though? Well, they built a chicken coop themselves. One good thing about chicken coops is that pretty much anyone can knock one together out of the materials they have around. I’ve seen coops made from old doors, scavenged boards and car parts. Granddad was a pretty fair bricklayer though, so he built one from glazed bricks salvaged from an old factory. It wasn’t just weatherproof; it was easy to keep clean with a hose. In fact, it was so good he was asked to build two more for neighbors. That’s how it worked; skills were a commodity that could be traded, just like surplus eggs.
Help Each Other
For a lot of people now – probably the majority – our neighbors are strangers. A couple of generations ago it was very different. Neighbors knew each other and helped each other out. If you wanted to go out you could leave the children with the neighbors instead of paying a babysitter. If you were cooking and realized you had no salt left you’d ask the neighbors. And if you had tools or skills your neighbors needed, you’d volunteer them.
My great-grandfather had a very useful item that was much in demand – a steam engine. Back then most farms still relied on animals and muscles for power, but a steam engine could be hitched to anything that could take power from a belt. Steam engines were already old technology at the time, but they still weren’t cheap; few farmers could afford powered machinery and the engine to power it. In fact, great-granddad didn’t have a thresher for his wheat, but a neighbor would let him use theirs in exchange for the use of the engine.
Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
The USA is awash in credit. It’s incredibly easy to borrow money, whether that’s a mortgage, a bank loan or a credit card – how many mailers do you get every week telling you that you’ve been pre-approved for another card? In our instant gratification culture, credit is a quick way to get all the things you want but can’t afford.
The trouble is, easy credit is a disaster on many levels. When you get that shiny new pre-approved card, it’s tempting to go on a shopping spree with it – and easy to forget the ruinous interest rate charged on everything you spend. Debt is easy to take on but very, very hard to get rid of again. If you find yourself using one card to pay off another one you’re in a lot of trouble. When millions of people get mortgages they can’t pay off, the whole global economy is in a lot of trouble; that’s what happened in 2008.
For my grandfather’s generation, being in debt was nothing to be proud of. If you wanted something you either saved money and waited until you could afford it, or you did without. Defaulting on a debt was a shameful thing to do. The only exception, usually, was for a mortgage – and paying the monthly check was a solemn obligation.
That old anti-debt social code might seem restrictive and judgmental to us today, but it meant people were a lot better prepared for hard times. When money was short most people had one debt to worry about; their mortgage. Sure, they might lose their home if they couldn’t keep up the monthly payments on it – but they weren’t going to lose their home because they couldn’t keep up the monthly payments on their car, boat, snowmobile, home theater system and the money they borrowed to pay for a vacation.
Most importantly, whatever people had when they went into the Great Depression was theirs. No finance company had their hand wrapped round it just waiting for the chance to tighten their grip. Avoid debt whenever you can. Any time you’re tempted to borrow money for something ask yourself the all-important question; is this something you need, or something you want? And if it’s just something you want, will it really kill you to wait a few months until you can buy it for cash? Plus here’s something else to consider: If you can’t afford to put a few dollars aside every week to save up for it, you sure as hell can’t afford the repayments on a loan.
Look For Solutions, Not Excuses
It seems like everyone has an excuse for failure these days. Whether their parents made them wear a dress just because they were a girl, or their distant ancestors had a bad time way back before the Civil War, people’s troubles are always someone else’s fault.
In my granddad’s time people didn’t waste their time making excuses, because nobody cared. If you had a problem you were expected to find a solution. Put the effort into doing that and your friends and neighbors would pitch in to lend you a hand – but if you just sat around complaining about your bad luck, you were on your own. People had their own troubles to deal with, and they didn’t have time to help people who wouldn’t help themselves.
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