How to Survive What is Coming

Sunday, March 29th, 2009 at 5:55 pm | 1,894 views | trackback url

Everyone is feeling the crunch of the financial market teardown, from jobs lost to increased expenses to losing your house and home to bankruptcy. This is just the beginning, unfortunately. As more and more jobs are lost, as more and more markets dry up, it will cascade and probably accelerate through various different markets. We haven’t seen the bottom yet, even though lots of “experts” claim we have.

I’m no expert in any of this, but I’ve lived on a thread for years before. I’ve lived through my employer’s downsizing and living out of boxes while I try to find a new, more-affordable place to live. I’ve struggled hard through very hard times, and I’ve always made it through, and I’ll do it again if I have to. You can too.

So here’s a few things that I’ve noticed and gathered, which may or may not help you with your own situation, whether it be technical or social or fundamental.

Technology Preparations

  • Backups: This should be obvious, but keep backups of your websites and data! Be prepared to migrate your websites and domain names to another hosting service on very short notice, in case your current hosting provider closes their doors because they’ve gone bankrupt or can’t support your business any more. In case you don’t get any notice, you’ll have a recent backup handy.

    I use rsnapshot to back up all of my data on an hourly basis to several encrypted arrays (local and remote), so I always have copies near and far, where I need them. I also back up all of my Windows machines with rsnapshot as well. Here are some instructions on how to do that using cwRsync and another: Automatic backup of Windows computers using Linux

  • DNS: Make absolutely sure you control your own domains from end to end. Do not put these in the control of your hosting company. I run my own DNS and have for many years, so this isn’t a major issue for me, but it may be for you. You don’t want your provider taking your DNS down with them, especially if they null-route your domain names and there’s no way to get them back.

  • Processors & Power: Replace any older computers with newer systems that have efficient PSU units. I strongly recommend going with the Antec EarthWatts units as they’re rock-solid performers. I replaced an AMD Duron 1.2Ghz machine with TWO dual-core, AMD64 2.4Ghz processors, loaded it with RAM, and both machines consume less power than the single 1.2Ghz Duron was consuming, because of these power supplies themselves.

  • Appliances: Get yourself a Watts-Up Power Meter and start measuring things. This should include your lights, power strips, laptops, computers, printers and other “tech-gear”, but also your refrigerator, television, blender, toaster, air filter, dehumidifier and other bits. My own tests showed that by turning down my refrigerator by one notch from “Coldest” to “Colder”, kept my food at the same quality, but saved me about $30/month in power costs alone. Replacing all of my light bulbs with Compact Fluorescent bulbs saved another big chunk (see “Lighting” below).

    The most important thing to remember here is those power-bricks you leave plugged into the wall, while you’re not using them. Turning that television off, but having its little LED panel or LCD screen running still consumes power! I have a portable Black and Decker vacuum cleaner that has a wall charger. When the vacuum is charging, the LED remains lit. When it is fully charged, the LED goes out… but it still draws power to trickle-charge it. That vacuum takes 1-2W of power, fully charged, just plugged in and waiting for me to use it! Waste!

    The solution to these issues is to use something like the X-10 HA Home Automation system to turn these on and off on a regular schedule. This takes a little planning up-front, but the savings are HUGE and worth it.

    If you know your portable vacuum takes 4 hours to charge from completely depleted to full, you’d set a 4-hour timer on the power strip that it plugs into, and activate it when you charge it. When it charges to full, the timer activates, turning off the power strip, saving you lots of power (and money!).

    Similar treatment should be applied to other appliances and things you don’t use on a regular basis; turn them off if you’re not using them. I have a series of power strips and UPS units set up in a staggered fashion in my office so I can turn these things off as I need them, without affecting my ability to function. I have my 24″ monitors set up on their own strip, sound/speakers/USB hubs/devices on a 2nd set of strips, computers on a 3rd, printers on a 4th, WAP and routers on a 5th, and so on. When I leave the office, I turn off the monitors, sound and printers, but leave the computers running. When I’m working in the office, but I know I don’t need the printers that day, I’ll leave those off. Likewise, when I go on extended vacation, I’ll turn off everything with the master strip that all others are plugged into.

  • Misc: We’ll probably end up seeing more companies embracing MySQL and less of them continuing to support Oracle. OSS wins again here. Any company with an actual vision, product or doing something useful will probably continue to sustain, even through the hard times. Companies embracing sales of “eye-candy”, bling and other wasteful expenditures are over.

Home Preparations

  • Lighting: Very soon, I’ll be re-replacing my CFL bulbs with the higher-brightness, longer-life, MUCH lower wattage, LED lighting systems. A typical incandescent bulb ranges anywhere from 60W, 100W and up for normal living lighting. An equivalent CFL would consume 12W or so. You can get a 23W CFL to replace those 100W incandescent bulbs that you’re using, saving 77W per bulb. If you use 10 x 60W bulbs in your house today, replacing those with CFLs will save you $78.84 each year, or $432.00 for the life of the bulbs!! Each 100W bulb you replace will save you $12.96/year and $71.04 for the life of the bulb. That’s a significant savings! Use the GE Lighting Calculator to get a feeling for how much you can save in your own home by switching; you might be shocked and surprised how much money you’re wasting on incandescent bulbs, heat and electric bills.

    IMPORTANT!!: CFL bulbs contain mercury!! Please be sure you dispose of CFLs correctly! Check Earth 911 for a recycling center near you. Also check Lamp Recycle for detailed information on how to properly dispose of CFL light bulbs. You can’t just throw these in the trash!

    In contrast to CFL savings, a 2W LED light would replace that 12W CFL, and that 60W incandescent. The other great benefit is that the LED lights don’t generate heat, which means you can pack more together behind some creative lighting fixtures (Japanese paper lanterns for example), and they last a LOT longer than CFL and incandescent bulbs. Multiply the savings above by a factor of 10 to see how much LED will save you, and the bulbs will last you much longer.

  • Food & Groceries: You’re probably used to driving to the supermarket once a week (or more), spinning around each aisle and grabbing your regular weekly foods.

    Don’t.

    Not only are you wasting a ton of money on gasoline to drive there and back, you’re making many more trips than is probably necessary. You can shop in bulk once a month or every couple of months, and reap enormous savings. Not only will shopping in bulk allow you to take the time to plan for savings periods (like buying things off-season), but it also cuts down on the time needed to do the piecemeal shopping each week. Many of the major retailers let you shop online, as well as print coupons from their website to bring into the store if you must.

    For perishables like greens, milk, fruits and breads, you can continue to shop regularly as you do.. with one change: don’t drive; let someone else do it for you. When I lived in San Francisco, we had a service called “Webvan” that would deliver groceries to your door, for a very nominal fee. You end up saving some money because you’re not driving back and forth anymore (typically short trips; the single largest waste of fuel) diesel fuel to drive these vehicles are cheaper than standard fuels (and now many use hybrid vehicles), and you’re gaining time back you can spend with your family or around the home.

    Webvan may be gone, but Peapod is not! Peapod allows you to browse the “aisles”, upload your own shopping list, search for your favorite items, and you can even use manufacturer’s coupons (just give your coupons to the driver and the money is deducted from your next order). Peapod carries a HUGE amount of items, including organic foods and other “niche” items.

    In California, we had CostCo, which I loved for in-store bulk shopping. Out here in New England, we have BJs Wholesale Club. Not quite the same, and more geared towards “retail” than “bulk” like CostCo, but still useful. I buy months worth of paper products, shaving creme, razors, soaps, and other things at BJs when things are on sale, and keep them for months and months. As an example, I’ve been living in my current place for over a year, and haven’t had to shop for toilet paper or paper towels since I moved in (and with a 4-year old daughter, things can get messy! :)

    Links: BJs Wholesale Club, Sams Club, CostCo, Amazon, Shop Rite, Peapod

Holiday Preparations

  • Presents & Gifts: Forget Thanksgiving and Christmas for retail markets. Nobody has the money to throw around anymore, and the resulting reduced spending may signal the close of many retailers who rely on Christmas sales to float them into and through the new year. Repair, reuse, recycle.

    You don’t need to “buy” things to bring the spirit of the holidays to your loved ones. Make a piece of art, a craft, cook some baked goodies. There’s plenty of ways to show you care and love someone, without having to open your checkbook. Check your local Freecycle or Craigslist for some great, quality, gently used or new things you can give to your family and friends, at MUCH less cost than buying new.

  • Deals: Whenever possible, search for major deals. Use sites like FatWallet, SpendFish and Overstock for comparison shopping to maximize your spending, if you do choose to spend. The growing cost of local retail and markup just isn’t worth it anymore. Here’s a big list of other deal shopping sites to choose from.

  • Coupons and Rebates: Coupons, coupons, coupons. Don’t discount the power of your local grocer and their weekly flier specials and coupons. Saving $20/week over the course of a year can put $1k back in your pocket. That could be an additional mortgage payment you might not be able to make, or some needed medicines for you or your children or anything else you might need in an emergency or otherwise.

  • Eating out: Learn to cook, if you don’t already know how. Spending money going out to dinner, while easy and fun and tasty… can add up over the course of a year. Resist that temptation. Host a dinner party and ask your neighbors to bring a favorite dish of their own. Rotate recipes across your friends, so you host one night, and bring a dish the next night and so on.

    Everyone gets a turn, and you build a stronger community of friends by doing so. Doing this also exposes you to some great ethnic recipes that you probably would never have had, if you didn’t expand into your local community a bit.

    Links: Freecycle, Craigslist

Social Preparations

  • Find at least 5 people with walking or bicycling distance from you that you trust. I mean really trust. If you’re not already in the center of that group of friends, put yourself there. When supply for products dries up, and shipments between states and towns are happening a lot less frequently, you’re going to need to lean on them a lot more than you probably do right now. And they’ll need to lean on you as well.

    Be there for them, and let them be there for you. This includes consolidating driving trips, carpooling and doing other things to keep costs down.

Wall Street as we know it, is over. New York may no longer be the center of the US financial sector when this is all said and done. We may see a split between Boston, New York, Chicago and other metropolitan financial market regions. Micro-markets may crop up, as things begin to congeal and globalize themselves. Everything will cascade as markets we never realized were related begin to feel pressure as other “unrelated” markets drop out.

Follow some of these steps (or all of them and more than you find elsewhere), and you’ll find yourself saving thousands of dollars a year and getting more peace of mind back, as well as more time you can use to spend with your family, learning new hobbies, maturing other businesses or just relaxing and enjoying a stress-free life, while others are stressed and struggling and trying to make ends meet.

The key to “making more” is not to earn more, but to spend less. It’s not about the money, and never was.

Last Modified: Sunday, March 29th, 2009 @ 17:55

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