Showing posts with label underground economy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label underground economy. Show all posts

Monday, October 13, 2014

From Around The Web

Weapons Man talks physical security. Excellent stuff.

Hat Tip to Claire Wolfe for pointing out: Breaking 43 Years of Silence, the Last FBI Burglar Tells the Story of Her Years in the Underground. 

Her story is certainly interesting. While the woman's politics are pretty far from mine and I suspect most of yours there is certainly something to be said for people who have strong beliefs and follow through on them.  She only receives partial credit for staying under the radar since nobody was looking for her but some things she did in terms of getting away with something as well as staying 'underground' were solid and deserve mention. In no particular order those are:

1) Keep your mouth shut.

2) Continue to keep your mouth shut.

3) Stay off the grid. This means living in a place that is not in your name, working under the table, Today this also means no electronic communication or social media.

4) Stay away from co conspirators and people from your old life. This is probably the biggest single thing people do wrong.Lumped in with #3 no social media, email, etc.

Things she (and to some degree that group) could have done better.

1) While the woman in question did leave her immediate social circle she stayed within the same general community. Some kept right on with the same causes in the same place. For the gal in the story she moved in similar groups out west under an assumed name. Cops might look for a liberal (communist/ whatever) activist in a lesbian farm compound but are unlikely to look for one say, cleaning stables at a ranch. This could extend to all manner of  interests and hobbies, especially obscure ones. like say benchrest shooting, falconry, etc. 

Casual individual hobbies, especially common ones for a person's age/ gender/ social group/ area would likely not be an issue. Think about how many white men between 18 and 60, especially in the south go fishing. On the other hand if you used to be a competitive fishermen who did tournaments all over going back to one, even as a spectator would be full of danger. 

2) They talked. In this particular case the statute of limitations was long past and the political winds were such that no consequences came from it. However if a person had died or national security interests were evoked they could have been punished. Furthermore something vague like "Denying constitutional rights" or some sort of conspiracy charge there are always work around methods for the government if the will is there.

3) Building a new ID and just moving on was relatively simple in that time. The old 'paper trail' method was definitely an option at that point in time (and probably was until the late 90's-2000ish when computers really started to be common. 9/11 certainly compounded that problem) so instead of living as a nomad working under the table she could have built an ID and had a whole lot more options.

4) After a decade or so the gal went back to just living under her own name. There were not warrants or anything. Heck after a year or two she could have just gone home and had a normal life. Depending on the situation a year or 5 can clear up a lot of problems. That being said if an organization/ group has any sort of memory it is not that hard to find people living semi normal lives these days with a computer. A group with a list of enemies might just have some well constructed search queries they run on a regular bi monthly schedule just to see if anything pops up.

5) The operation could have been compartmentalized. Specifically setting it up so the crew doing the job did not know each other's names would have been prudent. That would have meant one individua getting caught did not automatically mean the whole group would.

Along these general lines our old post Disappearing For a Bit is worth reviewing.

This is why people record conversations with the police. Or better yet, do not talk to them.

I recently stumbled in the the Raconteur Report via back links. Cool blog I will have to check out more often.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What Did You Do To Prepare This Week?

This week we were kind of busy with a sick kid and Christmas as well as the usual mundane life stuff.

We picked up a battery charger for Wifey's cell phone, a big bag of food for Dog and some odds and ends of pantry stuff. Also Wifey found us a BBQ for $20 from some folks who were moving. The propane tank that came with it alone is worth twice that and the BBQ while simple is pretty new and in good condition. The BBQ is a win in terms of life but the propane tank is probably the bigger preparedness win.

I have been doing some wheeling and dealing in terms of guns. Definitely a lot of contacts lead to a few discussions which now and then brings about an actual transaction. Oh well that is the nature of the thing.

The Solo Stove was tested which was both fun and successful.  My rifle plates finally showed up which was cool.

Of course plenty of running and some lifting happened.  This coming week my schedule is a bit more open so I am going to work in more body weight stuff which has been a weak spot as of late and at least one road march. I have been eating pretty decently (well minus Friday night and Saturday) and that has been having some good effects on my body and performance.

Next week I am going to put some lead downrange. Also want to go over the kit for car 1 and put something together for car 2. In any other motivated time I will start reassembling the old BOB. Testing of the Pathfinder Trade Knife is close to done so a review will come out once my thoughts solidify.

What did you do to prepare this week?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Nobody Gets to Tell You How to Make a Living

I found myself thinking of something Christopher said on the Soprano's. He was talking to a couple young guys (hoodlums really) and offered to cut them in on a hijacking. They said they were sort of working with another guy. Christopher said something to the effect of "Unless somebody is putting food on your table they have no right to tell you how to earn". [Obviously Christopher and I differ on some things as he was a professional criminal and showed no regard for the property or rights of other people. However the point is still sound.] I think that people have the right to earn a living as they see fit as long as they aren't hurting others. Buy, sell, trade or whatever.
Of course I have always followed every law to the letter. I pay taxes on every dollar I have ever made and also every barter transaction. It is just my nature.

However a friend of mine who is a bit less worried about these technicalities. This friend has worked under the table a lot. Sometimes for companies and many times for individuals who needed odd jobs done or a spare hand on a project. Often these were people he knew or folks who got his name via satisfied customers. This friend has started small businesses without licenses or permission slips. He may have forgotten to report any time he has been paid in cash. Often more of his income comes from various side jobs than legitimate over the table type work. The thing is that this friend of mine never really saw a reason why local government (or any government for that matter) or anybody else had a reason to say how he should be able to work.

This friend told me is that he realizes that there may be consequences for his actions. He does a lot of things to mitigate those consequences. He lives in an area where people tend to mind their own business. He is reasonably discrete, putting up signs advertising ones under the table business isn't advisable. Also he stays away from stuff that would require a lot of dedicated space like a shop or a bunch of equipment as that would be hard to keep low key. He saves extra because much of his work is under the table work and doesn't qualify for unemployment. He also avoids particularly dangerous jobs because he is not covered by workmens comp. At the end of the day, after he takes some reasonable steps which limit risk, he really doesn't care. He doesn't worry all that much about getting hung up with the IRS or somebody though he acknowledges that would be pretty bad.

The point, if I have a cohesive one, is to worry about what you can do that other folks are interested in buying or trading for instead of worrying about licenses and regulations and the like. Take reasonable steps to manage risk then stop worrying about it. If you have the sort of personality where you can't stop worrying about what could happen then maybe working 9-5 at the plant/ firm suits you better anyway.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Getting Into Precious Metals

When I was home for leave my very good friend and nominal coauthor Ryan were able to catch up. He mentioned that he was somewhat interested in precious metals but wasn't quite sure where to start. I meant to send him some info but whoops, it never happened. Anyway it popped back into my head recently. I thought this might be a worthwhile blog post to boot. So anyway.
A lot of big names in survivalism say that you should not get into precious metals until you have your beans, bullets and bandaids squared away. One big name defines that as a years worth of food. I am not going to say they are wrong but I look at it differently. To me precious metals are not part of my preps parse, they are the ultra conservative portion of my financial planning. To me a dollar that is going to silver isn't a dollar that would be going to beans or bullets, it is a dollar that would be going into savings or investments. You could look at it either way or some other way.
[I realized in writing this that it is important to define some terms for newbs. When talking about pre -64 90% silver the term face value is used. Face value is the value of the coins at the time of minting, back when they were just money. A dime is a dime face value, 10 dimes are a dollar face, etc. 90% silver is often sold this way in $5 or $10 rolls and $50, $100 and $1,000 face bags.  It is important to note that these bags are not weighed but sold by face value. Typically with newish or normally circulated coins the difference between the actual weight and the theoretical weight at manufacture is tiny. However in large quantities when dealing with seriously worn coins it matters. Either negotiate a significant discount for or pass on big bags of heavily worn dimes.  Bullion is just that, metal that is made into a bar, ingot, coin or round that is sold essentially as metal. To me this includes the new American Eagles, Canadian Maple Leafs and such. They may or may not have a nominal monetary value but the cost of the metal is the real value. Precious metals are traded as commodities like oil, corn or whatever. Numismatic is a phrase that means collectible. Basically these are coins or whatever that are rare and or in particularly good condition and thus have significant value beyond their metal content. This is a totally different game than bullion with its own rules. It is one I don't fully understand and do not involve myself in. If you want to collect coins that is great but I would consider it a hobby not part of your financial or preparedness efforts. Spot price is the value of an ounce of silver or gold (or copper, platinum or whatever but they are outside of the scope of this post) strait out of the ground. Obviously it costs money to make that metal into a coin or bar and those folks have expenses and want to make a profit. Also the guy selling it has expenses and wants to make a profit. The difference between spot price and the actual purchase price is called a Premium. For various market reasons some products have higher premiums than others. For example an American Eagle gold coin always costs a few bucks more than a Canadian Maple Leaf or a Krudgerrand. In silver big names like Englehard can carry a premium of a buck or so. Feel free to ask if you have questions about anything.]

Are you ready to invest in precious metals?
By the theory I do not subscribe to you should have a bunch of beans, bullets and bandaids. (Certainly you should at least have a functional weapon with some bullets, and enough food, etc to deal with a snow storm or a hurricane.) If you look at it more as a financial thing like I do one would want to take care of any nasty debt like credit cards or anything above say 8% interest rate and have some cash savings. If you do not have some basic survival stuff like a pistol or a shotgun, some food, a way to cook it, etc and have an outstanding balance with Visa at 18% then it might be wise to throw your resources at those issues. Lets just say that you have some basic preps and no nasty debt before jumping into PMs.

How To Buy?

It depends on your overall situation. If you have a good amount of money sitting around you could go order a big bag of silver and or some gold and be done with it. The stockbroker seeing the writing on the wall and ordering a hundred thousand dollars in gold is kind of an urban legend in contrarian investing and precious metals circles. For most folks we don't have a lot of money lying around so we will be making purchases as our income allows. The concept of dollar cost averaging is worthwhile to consider here. However like any financial plan I recommend that you pay yourself first. Maybe you buy a one ounce round every payday or whatever you can afford. Figure it out and stick to it unless your situation changes significantly. This doesn't need to be a big thing just come up with a reasonable plan and execute it regularly instead of waiting till the end of the pay period and hoping there is something left. You may or may not want to go full on Dave Ramsey and allocate every dollar before you get it. We don't have a complete budget but we plan our saving and investments and execute them consistently. However our financial situation as bills relate to income is pretty comfortable. If we had credit cards with big balances, car loans and whatever we would go full on OCD. Typically like diets I would say the worse your situation is the more you need to be strict about it.

What to buy?

"The Moneylender" said "Buy silver before gold, buy small gold before large gold." I think that is pretty darn good advice. Silver is a good way to start for a lot of reasons. First it is affordable. Right now spot is about $32 which puts a one ounce round probably at $35-36ish. Pretty much anybody can afford to pick one up a paycheck. If you can't free up a bit under $40 a paycheck I suggest seriously looking at your overall situation. Also you can make a mistake and overpay by a bit and it won't kill you.

Silver can be purchased in two basic products, pre '64 90% silver and 99% bullion. There are other options but we are keeping it simple here.Pre '64 90% silver is dimes, quarters, 50 cent pieces and silver dollars made before 1964. Yes our change was made of silver. The stuff I am talking about has no real numismatic (collector) value and typically dates from the early 1900's to 1964. The advantage of this stuff is that it is in small pieces. A dollars worth of silver is right about .77 of a troy ounce of silver. Thus a dime is about .07, etc. I am too lazy to look up and type all the exact weights but you can look them up here. The other option is  99% silver bullion. This is rounds or bars or ingotts made of as close to pure silver as one can easily get. Some like Eagles or Canadian Maple Leafs are minted by a country and many others are made by numerous private mints.These are made in all sorts of weights but 1, 5, 10 and 100 ounce are the most common.

Both have advantages and disadvantages. 90% silver is in small denominations. At today's prices even one ounce rounds are too large to make small transactions like a few groceries. Also they are readily recognizable at least to folks who know our change used to be made of silver. The biggest disadvantage is that many dealers charge almost crazy premiums if you buy this stuff in small (under $100 face value which is 70 some odd ounces and costs about $2,500 bucks) amounts. We will revisit this when we talk about where to buy the stuff.

Bullion is generally a bit cheaper per ounce [Remember for these purposes you are buying METAL, not a coin or whatever. Thus the goal is to get as much METAL as possible for your dollars.] than 90% silver. Also it is typically in convenient weights. If the going trade is an ounce of silver for 5 pounds of beef or 20 pounds of wheat (or whatever) it is a lot easier to have nice round denominations. Also some folks say that it is good for a coin/ ingot to say it's content and purity ie "One ounce of .999 pure silver". These folks thing people who are less than knowledgable about PM's may be more inclined to accept their value.

Whatever you decide to go with silver is a great place to start. First of all it is reasonably affordable. Second of all it is in small enough denominations to sell a coint or two to a dealer and buy groceries or a tank of gas or to barter a little bit at a time to get whatever. I would recommend purchasing a pretty good amount of silver before thinking about gold. If you are into round numbers maybe $100 face (70 some odd ounces) or 100 ounces of bullion could work but it all varies based on your situation.
Silvers biggest advantage is that anybody not living on the street (heck even a wino could cut down their Thunderbird consumption or panhandle a bit more agressively and pick up a 90% dime or quarter from time to time) can afford to buy it, if slowly and in small incriments. The biggest disadvantage of silver is that at some point it gets HEAVY. I know a guy who needs to use a truck to move his silver, while that is a nice problem to have he would face some hard choices if he needed to evacuate in a hurry. This brings us to gold.

Gold is a lot more expensive than silver and could be a bit overpriced right now, at least in relation to silver which is probably a better deal at this time. It is sitting somewhere around $1,660 an ounce. Gold comes in two basic varieties. Old coins and bullion. Old coins are just that, old coins from back when Gold was money. Bullion and new coins such as Eagles, Maple Leafs and Krudgerrand's pretty much fall into the same group. Sometimes you can get good deals on the old coins, particularly European coins from aprox 1890-1917. Just be sure to stick to ones folks will recognize like Swiss and French Francs, British Sovereigns and the like. New coins/ bars are convenient because they are typically in nice round (1/10th, 1/4, 1/2 and 1 ounce) sizes and have the weight and purity clearly written on the coin. I don't find one vastly superior to the other. Even weights are nice but old coins are kind of cool too. One noteable advantage of old coins (not numismatic/ collectable, just old very common coins in ok condition) is that they are typically the lowest premium way to buy small gold.
As we said before buy small gold before large gold. Small gold would be gold coins that are part of an ounce, typically 1/10th, 1/4 and 1/2 ounce and are also called fractional coins. As to how much of this stuff to buy before going to large gold (one ounce coins/ bars) I would say at least a couple ounces, maybe a few. For large gold I would purchase one ounce coins or ingots. I don't see a reason to get anything bigger than that. For large gold I would just be sure to get something common like Eagles, Maple Leafs, Krudgerrands or Credit Swiss ingots.

As we talked about Golds biggest advantage (already considering that it is durable, recognizable, divisible and there is consistent demand for it) is that it is a very compact store of value. For the price of a one ounce gold coin you could get a nice bag of silver or a lot of other stuff. One could toss 50k in gold into a daypack and evacuate or into a ruck to GOOD but silver would be problematicly heavy. Also gold has a certain allure and enough folks have been able to use it to bribe/ buy their way out of a warzone or terrible situation that it bears considerations.

Where to buy?

Fundamentally there are three options. Brick and mortar dealers, online dealers and private  individuals. I will discuss the first two at length and then briefely hit the last.
It is important to note that you really need to be a smart consumer when it comes to PM's. Check on Spot Price and know what sort of premiums a given product typically carries. Also be sure to consider the full cost of getting a product to your door. This means your time and travel to a shop or shipping from an online dealer.

Brick and mortar dealers are often coin shops that deal numismatic stuff and have bullion as a sort of side effort. Also pawn shops and I have heard some jewelry stores deal in bullion. Brick and mortar stores have some advantages. The first advantage is that they are convenient. Hard to beat picking up a silver round or a small gold coin every payday on the way home. Also if you decide to pay cash they have the factor of discretion. Personally I just can't see Cops kicking in the doors of everybody who bought a few silver rounds or a gold coin so this is not much of a concern for me. However if you have some other issues going on this could be useful. Another advantage is that some of these folks can help you learn about PM's. The old guy hanging out in his coin shop might be willing to help you learn about testing silver and gold or grading coins if you have the gift of gab and are a decent customer (or offer to help clean up or whatever). Also if it is a small shop and you are a good customer they may give you a call when products you like come in. Furthermore the coin/ pawn shop guy can be a good "grey world" contact who knows how to get stuff.

This is not to say that brick and mortar shops don't have disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage of brick and mortar dealers is often price. Some of them for whatever reason charge crazy prices. I once laughed in a coin shop guys face when he wanted $10 OVER SPOT for beaten up no name 1 ounce silver rounds. It varies shop to shop based on their business model, competition and how informed their customers seem to be. Heck it may even change based on how much they think they can get away with on a given customer. The next disadvantage is often availability. Especially with the folks who have bullion as a side business like numismatic coin or collectibles dealers and pawn shops they predominantly sell what they have bought. This means they may have 90% silver one week, 1 ounce rounds the next, a couple 1/4 ounce Eagles here and some Krudgerrands there. With these guys you need to either be patient or flexible. Since brick and mortar stores are a local thing I can't make any meaningful recommendations but I have had good dealings with a few in the past.
Online dealers tend to have the best prices and greatest availability which are their biggest advantages. Also comparison shopping is easy and you can do it on a Sunday morning in a bathrobe. The first downside is that you have to pay shipping. One absolutely must consider this in their "is this a good deal" calculation. It also makes frequent small purchases cost prohibitive. Paying $5 or 8 to ship something worth $35 or $40 is cost prohibitive for sure. That it is difficult to impossible to be anonymous could be a disadvantage or turn off for some folks. Also if for whatever reason you needed to turn cash into metals TODAY an online dealer would not be a wise route.

One of the biggest benefits of established dealers who make their living selling metals is that their livelihood rests on their reputation. If through bad intentions or neglect they sell some fake stuff they are totally hosed. Due to this they are as a rule honest and above board in their dealings. This doesn't mean they they will always have competive prices just that the products will be what they are sold as.
Personally I used APMEX for a long time and have heard good things from Zero about Montana Rarities.
Personal transactions vary from boringly easy to the wide open wild west. I have purchased silver from a family member. I had some cash and they had some silver and we swapped. Online type purchases of PM's from private folks have, at least IMO an uncomfortably high likelihood of fraud. I have been burned in a small way on Ebay and will not make that mistake again. Also there is just so much fake gold floating around. In the last few years some really legit looking stuff has came out of China.

Face to face transactions would have the same risk of counterfeits. I would need to be a lot more competent at testing gold, have calipers to take measurements and a scale to consider doing this. To make matters worse there are also security concerns. Remember that Marine who got shot trying to sell a gold necklace? If conducting such a transaction would meet somebody in a pretty public place, ideally with obvious cameras and carry a gun. If it was a significant transaction I would wear soft body armor and bring a couple friends with their own guns. No need to show up like gangsters, two guys at the next table sipping coffee would go unnoticed but could be very helpful if things went sideways.
Unless somebody you know and trust  is selling what you want to buy I am not a big fan of personal transactions there are just too many issues involved for the couple bucks you might save.

Well I hope this gives some insight on my thoughts about getting into PM's and helps you make some informed choices about purchasing PM's.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Going Galt

The topic of "Going Galt" comes up now and then. The relatively recent bail outs and health care legislation have made some normal productive and even successful people consider a radical change in lifestyle. Having just finished Atlas Shrugged last night I have some thoughts.

Bottom line up front the premise of my belief is to do whatever is best for your life as an individual or a family unit.

Continuing along that premise. Unless you are a doctor who just found a cure to cancer or a physicist who just figured out cold fusion or the like what you do as an individual isn't going to make jack squat of a difference to anybody who is outside of your family or is seriously economically involved with you. If you run a business that employs 40 people in a town of 750 there would be some impact on the town. However if you have 3 employees (or none) and live in a town of 5k do you think the town as a whole, let alone the county or nation will feel a difference if you decide to stop working? No is the simple answer.

Yeah if everybody did the same thing the county/ state/ nation would change but you don't influence (let alone control) everybody, just yourself.

Also I have a hard time seeing how one can truly "drop out" unless they decide to go be a hermit in a shack or a cave somewhere. We have a highly complex world with great division of labor. A single person doesn't even have enough knowledge to make a darn #2 pencil. Also with the multiple complex methods of taxation it is basically impossible to not be economically contributing to "the system". Maybe you could dodge income taxes (we will revisit that) but good luck dodging taxes on fuel and basically everything you can't produce yourself. Even if you don't pay taxes on something and the person who sells it to you doesn't report it as taxable it has already been taxed. Aside from maybe small farm products from someone who grows the food that feeds the chickens or cows good luck. Also that farmer is going to have a hard time avoiding property taxes and taxes on the diesel he uses.

Since "going galt" typically involves leaving the normal economy and going to the underground economy we need to revisit "the wedge". First we need to look at the difference in your pay if you do not pay any taxes. Next in a more confusing way comes the fact that your earnings will change. Some jobs simply can't exist in an entirely underground economy (though they can with one foot in and one foot out). Other jobs will earn a heck of a lot less money. If you have a great job working for X major corporation it is unlikely that they will be willing to call you a consultant and pay you with a personal check or cash. Also you can't get an under the table job with a comparable company.

Will the lives of you and your family really be better if instead of making 100k doing whatever you make 19k digging ditches? It is a lot harder to buy a chunk of land or pay off a mortgage when you barely make enough to live. It is also a heck of a lot harder (or impossible) to pay for good health care or finance a child's education when you make just enough to scrape by.

There are some benefits that can be gotten from really changing your lifestyle and potentially working under the table. You might be able to spend more time with your family or otherwise doing whatever gives you joy. The need to earn a good living to support a certain type of lifestyle being removed means you could move to an area you want to live in where it is hard to earn a good living. I am not saying that "going galt" can't have some real benefits. I am just saying that you need to make that sort of decision based on what will (however you define it) make your life and the lives of your family better, not because of some sort of pie in the sky conceptual ideal.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Working In And Around The Underground Economy

There was an interesting ad on the radio today. It was about ratting out reporting to the proper authorities unlicensed businesses in general and contractors specifically. On a random note blogger seems to have eaten my past posts on the underground economy. Anyway moving on. I got to thinking about the underground economy. More specifically the benefits and issues that come with this sort of thing.

Personally there are some areas where I would be concerned about getting involved with the underground economy. One issue that keeps coming to mind is liability. For example one of the big benefits of legitimate and licensed contractors is that they are bonded and insured. Not so much a concern if somebody is doing a couple odd jobs or some general labor but you want the guy cutting down a 60" tree that is right next to your house to have insurance.

I would also be worried if somebody was doing a dangerous job. The odds that somone will get injured mowing a lawn or replacing a few shingles on a roof are slim. However if you start getting people working at heights, around animals and with power tools there is an element of risk. It's all good with Bob the underground carpenter until he slips and gets badly cut, working for you on your land. I don't know how that would play out in court but I am pretty sure it would end up there, which is never good.

As an individual (of course I always pay my taxes and even send a few extra bucks just to be nice) I would have some concerns working underground. It makes collecting unemployment difficult to impossible but if you save it isn't a big issue. More significantly is workmens comp and disability concerns. Again risk is a concern. Working with power tools, at heights, etc are probably risk factors. One mitigating factor in this area is that most people who are part of the underground economy still have one foot in the regular economy. These folks do stuff like sidework off the books, fail to report cash sales, barter or otherwise minimize their tax liability.

Think about the potential implications of doing a certain activity in both economies. Be sure to at least keep an eye on the worst case scenario. Don't be penny wise and dollar foolish.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Disappearing For A Bit: A Guest Post By The VP of Awesomeness

[ TOR here real quick. Today's post is brought to you by the VP of Awesomeness. He was a bail bondsman for a long time so I solicited his thoughts on this topic. My comments will be at the end in italics.]

Ok, let's face it, bad things happen to good people. I learned that shortly after I started by Bail Bonds business... I've seen people get in trouble and have to "disappear" for a short time. Just a couple points to cover in case this ever happens to you.

Always try to be the "Grey Man". Avoid the lifestyle bumper stickers at all costs. The ones that were successful at hiding, all drove average vehicles, wore nothing that would stand out and did nothing to draw attention to themselves.

Cash is king, while I do have some gold & silver put back, on the run or short term bugging out, use only cash. Split it up in your gear, don't keep it all on your person. Now the only exception to this that I've seen, that actually worked, was a Money Card. The woman was running from a violent relationship, her sister was putting money on a Walmart prepaid card, which works like a Visa for the most part, but you really have to trust the person applying the funds as they may have access to the card history.

IF you decide to travel with a firearm, I would keep it limited to something compact and easily hidden. While I would MUCH rather have an M4 and a chest rack full of mags, I keep it to a quality handgun & mags VERY well hidden.

Prepaid cell phone. If you find yourself in need of communicating, this is the ONLY way to go. Even then, use it enough and "they" can track it. Keep it short and sweet.

It really helps to have some sort of GPS in your vehicle, getting lost can lead to all kinds of problems. Follow the traffic laws, more people are found by your average traffic cop doing his job than by Hi speed warrant teams.

Unless you a have very deep pockets, you're going to need a source of income, and having a job on the books will not cut it, if you plan on staying free for any amount of time. So it's more often than not, it's going to be something in the building trades. Now, with the Job Market being what it is, unless you have usable skills, you may have some trouble finding something.

Find out where the Day Labor's hang out, you will be with a bunch of Hispanics, but if you are Legal & speak English, you should have a better chance at finding something. Something else that has worked, find a construction site and offer to do clean up afterwords. Salvaging cans and scrap metal is an option too. Just keep in mind you're trying to stay alive and free, not trying to compete with Donald Trump.

Keeping your expenses low. Living in your vehicle can be done and is being done a lot more than most people realize. Staying in a hotel will eat up funds and assist in getting you found. The successful one's I've spoke with, most were Van Dwellers, shopped as places like Aldi's and live cheap. I've added a link to a guy who lived successfully in his little Toyota Pickup for quite awhile to give you some idea's..

Use common sense, keep your head low and be the GreyMan...
Use common sense, keep your head low and be the Grey Man..

There really isn't much else to say. One significant point I just want to rehash is to think about who is looking for you. The implications are significant because who is looking for you (how they look) plus their motivation and resources/ reach will dictate how you need to act. 

I can not help but reiterate that having a functional vehicle with up to date tabs  (registration) is essential. Nothing flashy but the turn signals/ lights/ etc need to work. Also it is worth noting that having a valid license and insurance card is essential. Unless there is a warrant for your arrest if you have the right basic paperwork all but the worst traffic violation (driving 100 in a school zone or hitting someone) is handled with a simple ticket. Don't have that stuff and your likely going to face arrest and have your vehicle impounded and things will likely go downhill from there. 

Personally I think everyone should keep some cash around. For an average person a months worth of cash expenses is a good start and not a bad finish. If something weird is going on that is plenty to take a sudden 10 day vacation, particularly if you keep expenses down. Lets face it some lifestyles and jobs are a bit more prone to potential problems than others are. For a person with more risk having a higher percentage of their total assets on hand in physical cash would be prudent. 

When it comes to guns a good pistol with some mags is probably the way to go. Keep in mind that you are worried about basic self protection, not fighting off zombies. In a case extreme enough that your disappearance is going to be lengthy having a cache with some firepower would be wise. In many areas of the US even if a cop asks if you have a gun saying "Yeah I have a Glock/ 1911in my  backpack/ trunk (depending on the region)" will not raise suspicion. However having 2 semi automatic rifles, a shotgun, a sniper rifle and a carbine sitting on the back seat might cause problems. 

When it comes to communicating with friends and family it really depends so much on who is looking for you. If anything short of a widespread law enforcement search or  heaven forbid men who have  split their adult lives between the back woods of FT Bragg and the 3rd world then a quick pre paid call to tell Momma that you will be away for awhile but are safe would be fine. 

I like the van/ truck idea. 

Edited to include: Three more things jumped out at me while pondering this through the day. 

First is about essential prescription medications.  I am not highly informed on this topic but between meth maggots/ the abuse of prescription drugs in general, insurance and computers I do not think it is not so easy to discretely purchase meds these days. This is yet another reason to have some extra lying around, at least a 30 day (and ideally 90-180 days) supply. 

The last two are really just a bit more explanation of my thoughts on the "Grey Man" concept. I am sorry but aside from loitering around alleys and other obvious non typical behavior the biggest thing cops seem to profile is appearance.  While certainly not always the case often scum bags dress like scum bags. Having a normal average appearance with decent clean clothes helps a lot. If you want to avoid police scrutiny instead of looking like a member of Pantera or somebody on the Discovery Channels gang special look like a normal clean cut guy. The sort of boring guy you won't look twice at or remember seeing. 

Going along with the "Grey Man" theme DO NOT BREAK ANY LAWS YOU ABSOLUTELY DON'T HAVE TO! Think about it. You have gone to great lengths to disappear for awhile.  This is not the time to enjoy a nice cold roadbeer or punch the loudmouth jerk at the next table or try and get some weed. in a strange town or whatever. The "Grey Man" follows the rules, all of them, all the time, or at least it seems like he does. This is part of why he is so boring and nobody is interested in him.

Hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did. Please give the VP some kudos for being nice enough to share his knowledge with us.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Savings and Debt

A lot of conventional advice says to pay off debt first. Dave Ramsey says to stash a grand (or a bit more or less if your income is real low or high) then pay off all consumer debt before getting an emergency fund set up. I am not so sure this is the way to go. It is complicated and there are a lot of variables (how secure your job is, interest rates you are paying, etc) but I like holding cash. If you loose your job and get into trouble having a bit less debt will help but it will not put food on the table or pay to keep a roof over your head, for that you need cash. Suze Orman seems to be thinking more along the lines I am.

As for how much of an emergency fund you should have. Folks say as little as two months to as much as a full year. I think it varies based on your financial situation, job stability, 1 vs 2 incomes, etc. Right now I am comfortable with an emergency fund of 3 months. (Not factoring in cash on hand or precious metals) My job is pretty secure and since we have minimal debt our lifestyle could really be changed if need be which would allow that cash to last awhile. I have a couple of friends who have good jobs in the trades. One was out of work for 4 months recently. He got unemployment which helped but he was fine. With the time he went on a long trip to visit his brother who is going to school a couple states away and did a lot of hunting. He was able to do this because he lives the same modest lifestyle he's had for awhile though income grew significantly and saves a lot. Another friend works in a trade where he is fairly often unemployed between projects. He has an under the table (far lower paying) job for in between projects and also saves a lot. He usually is unemployed for about 2 months strait during the winter.

If we were a one income family and I worked in the private sector we would want to save some more. People like my friends and real estate agents who work on commission  or contract need to save more.  Chief Instructor once said that you should plan on a month out of work for every $10,000 a year earned and that is probably worth considering. The more at risk your income is the more you need to save. At the end of the day you know your individual situation better than I do.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

quote of the day

"Taxes don't redistribute wealth, they redistribute people."
-Art Laffer

 This morning (my time) on Fox News. One of my personal luxuries is that a couple times a week I will spend some time in the morning on a cardio machine watching Fox News instead of running or lifting or whatnot.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Prepper Myth Busters: Dropping Out To Your Land

Mayberry wrote a great post today. I enjoy his blog a lot, enough so in fact that I read it daily. However today's post had me thinking all day long. So here we go. The whole dropping out of society idea (to your little piece of land to grow stuff) is probably second only to Batman in the Boondocks in terms of ideas which need to be examined. I don't think any sane people consider Batman in the Boondocks a good plan so that one is already taken care of.

I do not think this idea so much needs to be busted as tempered to reality. It is often followed by a series of what are IMO unrealistic ideas. Some of them are just a touch foolhardy and others are slightly dangerous.

The idea goes something like this. Quit your job, buy a trailer and a chunk of land and live there to grow stuff happily ever after. Since you can grow your own food you need almost no money and thus can just do whatever suits your fancy and be left alone by the government and out of the system.

Well the first problem is that you will still need money. At a minimum you need to pay property taxes. For a couple acres of junk land this isn't generally a huge issue but it just goes to show very clearly that you are going to have to earn at least some cash. Also you will probably want a vehicle for getting around. In order to be legal and not get hastled by the cops you will need insurance which costs something also.

The price, quality and water access of land is a big wild card here. Often the 'junk land' that we speak of in this context is well, pretty junky. If it was nice prime land with water people would probably be growing something there. This of course depends so wildly on region and can vary significantly even well below the county level. The cost of a few acres of productive land is often going to be higher than for an acre of unproductive land without water.

It is worth noting that zoning varies widely throughout the country and even in individual states. In some places you can do a lot without any permits or restrictions but there are still almost always some rules. Sorry. 

So I don't think anyone would argue that they will need to have some income. I think if you make less than 5k a year there is no need to pay taxes. Going 'underground' [I pay my taxes and suggest you do the same:] also goes with the whole unplugging from the system vibe. The first thing to consider is "the wedge" but also consider what going underground will do for your situation. How would you imagine your take home will change, sort of a personal wedge. For example quitting your job as an ER Doc because you pay too much in taxes to make 10 bucks an hour driving fence posts would be false economics. Yeah you avoid taxes but your take home income dropped 85%, talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Some jobs and skill sets transfer to the underground economy far better than others do. I can't go into work tomorrow and say I want them to pay me cash instead of direct deposit. As noted above quitting a good paying job to take a huge cut in pay and save a few bucks on taxes doesn't pass the smell test as a strategy. I can note that in my observations the skilled trades go to the underground quite smoothly. Many contractors, plumbers and electricians are basically one man shows anyway. Also the people they deal with tend to often be other one man shows (hiring help when they need it) and for a variety of reasons often deal in cash or are at least open to doing so. These folks tend to be either somewhat involved in the underground economy, or at least sympathetic to it. I once knew some guys who worked for a tree service and their boss was nice enough to loan them tools (mainly stump grinders) to do small size jobs on the weekend for cash.

For many people going completely underground isn't an option. However the one foot in one foot out approach could work and in many ways is more desirable anyway. Unless you live really dirt cheap being able to say you make no money will not stand up to any IRS scrutiny. Though if you report 30 and take home 40 by forgetting to report that you work for cash on the weekends it would be hard to notice without serious investigation. Maybe your spouses stable over the table job stays but your business goes all or partially underground.

My other big concern is that people think they can almost eliminate the need to bring money in. They thing, I have a rifle and a truck and the trailer/ land are paid for so I just need a few bucks for propane and taxes. In reality they have cut their housing costs dramatically and may have eliminated some bills by going off grid. The smart money folks say that housing should cost 25-33% of your take home which is a lot but doesn't eliminate the need for income. Of course you can cut in other areas but will still need income above and beyond that super low subsistence level. The need to have savings (cash and in the bank) and a fundamental surplus in income are not escaped by getting an acre and a travel trailer. Of course living gentile poverty style does mean it doesn't take a lot to get by. Maybe you need $400 a month to live, so you need to earn $600. Stuff is going to break and you will need to fix or replace that stuff. In most of these super bare bone budgets there isn't much slack (preps could cover this here or there but that's not a long term solution) and I wouldn't want to have to choose between not getting enough propane to cook and not freeze at night or getting fewer beans. 

I guess in closing you can drastically seperate yourself from 'the system' by having a paid off residence where you can grow your own food and earning your income partway or totally underground. Following this train of thought will let you get by earning at least 1/3rd less money and not worrying about food. You can not however completely drop out of 'the system' because of the inescapable need to earn at least some income and local zoning regulations. So you can't escape the system but you can sure visit it less often.


Monday, October 12, 2009

quote of the day

"When the price of something is fixed below market level, that something disappears from the legal market."
-PJ O'Rourke

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Off To The Farmers Market

I am going to the local Farmers Market. Wifey wants some vegetables and I would like some strawberries. Who knows what I will find there. Will post on it when I return.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Book Review- Gang Leader For A Day

When I worked at 711 I had kind of a weird habit. I would get home late (1-1:30AM) and have some beers while chilling out. That is pretty normal but here comes the weird part. Since there is nothing on at 4AM I repeatedly found myself flipping all the way through the channels and stopped on a CSPAN interview with an author that seemed interesting for whatever reason. One of these was Sudhir Venkatesh. This quiet academic Indian fellow talking about the time he spent with a crack gang was interesting. I thought nothing of it for a long time.

Several months after that incident I ended up reading Freakanomics. One chapter of that book looked in depth at the economic info derived from Sudhir's work with the gang. I found that very interesting and a couple weeks ago I saw this book while trying to spend a gift certificate and get something to read in the field.

I read it and enjoyed the book a lot. At a bit under 300 pages it is a quick easy read. It is probably the only book I can think of that Wifey and I have read and enjoyed. Though it is admittedly off center of the topic of this blog (and by default what its readers enjoy) it is just plain a good read. I would say there are some pretty leftist sentiments in the book but it is easy enough to ignore a sentence here or there and doesn't detract from the quality of the book.

It did leave me with some more thoughts on the underground economy:

As has been previously noted people will hide their income if there are significant motivators to do so. The higher the motivation the more people will probably hide income. As shown in the book people needed to have a low enough incomes to stay in their government housing. This made a strong incentive to have some income be off the books. This is not that different from a white collar guy who forgets to mention the money he made on a side job to stay in a lower % tax bracket.

In addition to people being driven to the underground they will also do what is necessary to get things done. If the normal channels don't work to address significant needs people have they will go outside of them quick fast and in a hurry. This is true for people getting stuff in their apartment fixed or getting things they want (drugs, sex, guns, booze, whatever).

This also brought home that most undergrounders are working for pretty small stakes. Of the people in the book who worked in some underground capacity most made at most a couple hundred bucks a month. There are probably HUNDREDS of people mowing lawns, walking dogs, cat sitting, doing small home repairs, etc and making small money for everyone who makes 100K under a fake SSN or some sort of other underground way.

This leaves me with a couple thoughts. First of all it is a lot easier to have one foot in the underground economy then to dive deep into it. It would be almost impossible to prove (assuming you earned it underground and aren't stupid) that you made 47,500 last year instead of the 38,263 that was reported by your primary employer. Heck even if you made 30-40% of your income underground it would be fairly hard to prove without serious examination. Maybe your primary business somehow doesn't ever receive payments in cash (because you don't like dealing with the haste) or you have some sort of side job that is underground.

I think underground goes hand in hand with bargaining and bartering. This is in part because it is usually small businesses and one man kind of operations. You can bargain with Jimbo the car guy but you can't bargain with Les Schwabb. Also they are more of the wheeling and dealing type which makes them more open. They can see how getting $200 work of firewood for a $100 job is a good deal even though they don't walk out with 20's in the wallet. If nothing else they can swap the wood for something they do need that costs $150.

I think underground activity tends to happen mostly in clumps. Very rarely (I imagine) do you find one undergrounder in a sea of legit businesses. Undergrounders are created by certain sets of conditions that lead groups (though not together or in a planned way) to functioning outside the system.

From an abstract perspective the most interesting thing to me about the underground economy is that it is such a group of odd fellows. Any time you have little old ladies who watch kids to supplement their retirement, HS girls who walk dogs, tradesmen, prostitutes and drug dealers that would be an odd luncheon. The only thing these folks have in common is that for reasons of financial interest or legal necessity (I would love to see a W-4 that says the guy made $120,453 from managing crack sales) they do not report at least some of their income for tax purposes.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

My Gypsy Uncle

This one has been crock potting in my head for awhile. Ever since spending some time with my Gypsy Uncle over Christmas I've been thinking about writing this post. For no apparent reason today seems like as good a time as any.

My Uncle is as underground as you can possibly be. He hasn't had a bank account in I don't know how long and has never had an ATM/ Debit/ Credit card. The ID he carries around is an Alaska state drivers license that expired in 1995. He does not have a phone, a car or a permanent residence. Without dying I don't think he could get more underground without actually being physically underground.

He sort of stumbled into being underground by less then honorable circumstances. He had a surgery without any insurance and owed the hospital some money. After that he got some random chick knocked up and a few years later they came after him for a chunk of cash. That sort of thing kinda snowballed and staying underground at least economically is really his only option. I am not defending his life decisions, just stating the facts.

He does not have a phone or a cell phone. Mom and I tried to convince him to get a pre paid just so he could get messages. We told him it would just cost a bit to get it and some minutes every once in awhile. If he had one and just turned it on once a week to check the messages (if any) that would be great. By his own admission the fact that he is somewhere between difficult and impossible to get a hold of has lead to him missing lots of big stuff like weddings and funerals.

Awhile back Mom hadn't heard from him in almost two years and really wanted to see him. She and another one of my uncles literally canvased a small town to find him. When he isn't hanging out in their family home town he is usually in this tiny rural town. After awhile of walking around and asking they found the house where he crashes. My uncle was hanging down by the river tanning so they just sat around till he came back.

He works intermittently (when he gets flat broke) and tends not to stay at a job very long. For work he tends to do various forms of construction for cash. Without a savings account, a penchant for savings in general or consistent work it is impossible to get ahead. The good side of this is that his expenses are very minimal. The downside is that the retirement plan is pretty bleak.

If he worked consistently it would be possible to get ahead though savings and accumulation of anything but a modest amount of real property would be a big red flag. He could in theory have been building a savings in precious metals and such but that is very haphazard without a permenant residence.

Not sure how much any of this pertains to anything but maybe it will interest someone.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Building A Home On The Cheap

We have gone over RV and travel trailer living in the past, mobile homes have been discussed also. Let us assume that you want to live in a more permanent but want/ need to do it on the cheap. It is worth noting that cheap for a permanent structure is nowhere near trailer/ RV/ mobile home sort of cheap. The bottom line is that cabins/ houses/ whatever you want to call them just plain cost more.

Please check out some background by reading this post by Steve. All the good advice in it aside it got me to thinking. Three different people and their residences come to mind; I will now talk about them. Hopefully you will get something out of it. Here I go in no particular order.

Uncle B lives in a nice little cabin. It sits in a mid sized town that was small 20 years ago. The origin of the cabin is kind of a funny story. Grandpa was in construction and was building a park which included demolishing the structures that were on the land. He had a lot adjacent to the family home where they had a barn and kept the horses. Grandpa chose the best of the cabins on the land he was working on, sawed it in half with a chainsaw put it on a truck and drove it to the land in the middle of the night. This structure is fairly small but ingeniously designed to have a lot of space.

The cabin is about 20' x 35'. It has two small (queen bed, desk, dresser, small closet and its full) bedrooms on the left side that are about 10 feet wide. The little bit of space on the left side between the wall of the middle bedroom and the north wall was a tiny bathroom. The remaining space was split up with about 25' of living room and the rest was the kitchen. A brick fireplace is in between the two spaces. It looks like at one time the oven might have been attached but it was replaced by a gas oven. Later on a laundry room was added which tacked about 10 feet onto the end of the place. This place has pretty much everything you need and could be built pretty cheaply. My uncle and I were talking (he is a contractor) about homes and I gave this floor plan some serious thought. We agreed that adding a loft (very cheap space) would help out a lot. Admittedly in the cabin storage is somewhat short but between the barn and assorted outbuildings (one of which is basically a small apartment without a bathroom) there is plenty of space to put stuff.

This place has three lessons for me. First sometimes you can get a place just for moving it. This is of course more economic if you have the truck and such to move a place. However if that is your only expense for getting a livable structure it is worth looking into. The big thing in this is that for it to be cost effective the structure probably needs to be pretty close to your home site. Certainly not an answer for every situation but it is worth keeping in mind. The second lesson is that to a certain degree the floor plan and its livability are more important then total square footage. The third lesson is that if you have enough space on your lot additional storage space can always be added later on as funds allow. The cabin started with a tiny porch and no laundry room. After it became Grandmas full time residence I think the laundry room came pretty quickly. A few years later Pa and my uncles all got together and built a car port and a wrap around deck. Build a small place now, a shed in a year or two, a barn a few years later, maybe another room or two down the road, etc.

The second place is probably the smallest and almost definitely the cheapest. It belongs to one of Uncle B's friends who we will refer to as J. He owns ten beautiful acres of woods with an amazing view. He got the land about 20 years ago for a darn good price. He lives in an A frame. No foundation and no septic. He has a grey water system and an outhouse. To be honest I am not sure if there was a single permit involved in the place getting built. In any case the work was done by him, I imagine Uncle B and a friend or two. He has a nice barn also which stores all manner of things. The morale I learned from this place is that if you are willing to adjust your lifestyle (he has an outhouse) then substantial savings can be made.

The third place is the one I know the most about as it was recently built by a friend of mine. His folks have 40 acres they inherited and he was given a couple to build a house on. He of course has access to the rest should he want to have a cow or something. Most likely he would just get more involved in his parents rather substantial efforts (cows, pig, chickens) and have a piece of the rewards.

My friend built what could be best described as a studio house. Pretty simple layout with a bedroom in one corner, the bathroom kitty corner to the bedroom with the kitchen on the same wall to make plumbing easier. A wood stove sits by the doorway and the rest of the place is open. It sits on a slab and there is a small mud room in which the washer and dryer live. If I recall correctly he built the place for $45,000.

It took him about a year to build partially because he built as he could pay for materials. He thus owns the place free and clear. Being a union machine operator and generally a handy guy who knows lots of other handy guys he was able to get everything but the septic system and the plumbing done for trade or greatly discounted cash prices.

The good part of this plan is that he got the place for significantly less then it would have cost to have someone else build it. The bad sides are numerous but it is a question of what is important to you. When you get cabinets and such from leftovers at a great discount some weird combination's come up. When people are doing work for free or lower cash rates they show up when they can and feel like it. This means stuff takes a lot longer then if someone is there all day long. Expect to have lots of pauses while waiting for someone to come and finish their piece of things.

The building process being far lengthier is a big problem if you are paying rent/ mortgage/ whatever somewhere else. Paying for two places to live puts a strain on all but the biggest budgets. Living on site in a travel trailer/ barn (tent if you are a bachelor and the climate is mild enough) would be a good option. A friend of his who I don't know was building a place in the same manner and having serious financial problems because he was paying rent. My friend probably would have done things differently if he didn't have a room in his folks place. The bottom line is that he got far more of a place for his cash then through any other means. He did concede that if his time was factored in the cost would be far higher and really it was a pain in the ass. When he adds on two more bedrooms and a family room in a few years he is going to just have a contractor do the work.

I guess the biggest thing to keep in mind is that you need to think outside of the box to really cut costs. Thinking outside of the box means making sacrifices in some form or another. It is just a question of what you are willing to live without. Doing the average thing and getting a loan which you use to purchase a turn key home or having one built is going to lead to an average sized mortgage and all that comes with it.
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