Tuesday, September 20, 2011


"There is no cause to worry. The high tide of prosperity will continue."
—Andrew W. Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury under Harding

Oh Darn
One of the primary skills older generations were very familiar with and we've largely lost or relegated to experts is basic repair. Even something as simple as replacing a washing in a faucet or replacing a button on a shirt people will farm out to someone else or just junk it and replace.

Depression-era folks knew how to maintain their possessions, because they knew they couldn't afford to pay someone else to do it. And those who were really good at fixing things up could hope to find odd jobs and work for food in the process.

Today, we'll just give the item away to a charity like Goodwill, throw it out, or have someone replace it. We act like aircraft workers, junking entire sections of something when they seem to be getting a bit old and replacing them rather than fixing. That might make sense for aviation where failure can mean death, but when that shirt needs ironing?

Learning basic, simple repair skills can make a significant change in your expenses. Again, this is an exchange between time and cost, which would you rather spend? It will cut into entertainment and leisure time to darn socks and replace that squeaky board, but it will save a significant amount of money over time, especially over bringing in an expert to do the work for you.

Some work will always require greater skill, but even that you can work around. Most people have friends and family around, and you can network with them. Maybe you're not so great at carpentry, but your nephew Jack might be, and your aunt Clarinda is great with that sewing machine. If you find something you're particularly comfortable and skilled with, you can use that to exchange for work others can do.

In essence, this is all paper money is: bartering. The big thing coins and paper did for barter is to make it more convenient. We're still exchanging goods and services, we're just doing so with coupons in the shape of quarters and ten dollar bills, checks and that plastic card. Exchanging services for like services is one of the oldest and most established economic systems on the planet.

Knowing how to fix things around your house means knowing how to fix things for your neighbor, too. These days chances are you don't even know their name let alone what they can do. Lending a hand can to each other means you build better relationships with neighbors, and in the process strengthen your neighborhood and community.

So its more than saving a few bucks on a new clock or not having to put up with something that doesn't work quite right, it means building a community and a network of people you can lean on as they lean on you. The more specialized and money-based our society has become, the less we have that and the more we've come to rely on experts and government instead.

The more self reliant you are, the more ready you are for disaster or tragedy.

Here are some basic skills that can help in tough times; learn them when things are going well and you will be ready:
  • Basic plumbing (how to replace a pipe, washer, install a new faucet, snake out a pipe, etc)
  • Basic carpentry (how to cut, measure, and nail)
  • Basic sewing (replace buttons, fix a tear, hem a piece of cloth, etc)
  • Basic auto repair (replacing parts, fixing a tire, systems checks such as oil and transmission fluid)
  • Basic mechanics and electronics (how do these machines work, in essence? learn to replace basic parts, diagnose problems, tighten the brakes on your bicycle, and adjust your systems yourself)
  • Basic first aid (bandaging, splints, stopping bleeding, CPR etc)
None of these require special training, and all of them are available online to study for free, or at the library in book form to check out for free. If you don't feel comfortable self teaching, the local community college will have basic classes for pretty cheap.

Learning this kind of thing will make it significantly easier and cheaper to deal with minor problems - and most problems you face will be minor. That's why the technical assistance line guy asks all those stupid questions first such as "is it plugged in?" because every single person who does that work will attest that its usually something dumb and simple.

The only real problem is that as globe light bulbs disappear by imperial command from the left, its tougher to darn socks.

This is part of the economic Depression Era Survival Kit.

1 comment:

Eric said...

It's kind of odd that in the modern world it is often actually cheaper (or very close to break even) to replace something as opposed to repairing it... I suppose it is a result of incredibly efficient production and logistics system, but when it happens it just leaves you standing there feeling like you live in an upside down world.

A few summers ago I broke the wooden handle off an old set of post hole diggers. The other handle was in pretty bad shape and I thought I'd be industrious and just replace the two handles instead of buying a new set of post hole diggers.

I went to the hardware store and looked for wooden handles... they were $12 per. A brand new set of post hole diggers? $25. I bought the new set of post hole diggers and spent the rest of the day fighting an odd pang of guilt over the $1 bill I had left on the table.