The term “Hobson’s Choice” hearkens back to the 17th century. As the story goes, a fellow named Hobson owned a stable that rented out horses. He saw that his best horses were being rented more often than the lesser ones and were thus being worn out more quickly. To even out the wear on his horses he devised a solution that today carries his name – you could rent the horse in the stable that was closest to the door that day or not rent one at all. In other words, “take it or leave it”, also known as “Hobson’s Choice”.
So what does that have to do with survivalism?
It is my belief that a small but growing percentage of the population has become aware that things cannot go on the way that they have for much longer and that a hard landing is coming at some point. Of that fraction, a few have decided to take action and prepare themselves for what’s coming. These eager, newly-minted preppers then take the next step and gather information and advice on how to proceed from the blogs, magazines, and books out there. And what advice do they find? By and large it goes something like this: “The only viable solution is for you to spend enough money that you can move to a secure location, isolated and safe from the coming storms, where you can continue the comfortable life you know and deserve.”
Most don’t realize until it’s too late that they have been presented with what appears to be a Hobson’s Choice. They can either: 1) Try to spend their way out of the city and into a survivable location even if it means taking on crushing debt and spending far beyond your means; or 2) Accept that their lower station in life means that they’ll never reach that goal and give up and wait in despair until their newfound awareness of the inevitable doom becomes a reality and they are overrun and die a horrible death at the hands of the unprepared scum that live all around them.
In other words, the Hobson’s choice is between Yuppie Survivalism and inevitable, near-certain death.
Faced with those two options, which one does the prepper choose?
Which one would you choose?
Yeah, me too.
And where does that path lead? Unless you’re a one-in-a-million uber-wealthy dude or dudette, that super-secret bunker in Idaho is almost certainly not going to happen. If you try, you’re going to realize too late that you’ve been sold a bill of goods. And even though it was not entirely your fault – because you got played by the hucksters out there – the exercise will probably leave you with lasting damage to your pocketbook, family relations, career, self-esteem, and even your health. Your good intentions brought the very problems you were trying to avoid down on you and yours. From that point on you mistakenly equate prepping with Yuppie Survivalism and vow that you’ll never get involved with prepping ever again.
(Astute readers will point out that the above scenario does not reflect a true Hobson’s Choice since very few preppers have enough resources to actually exercise the Yuppie Survivalism (“take it”) option. And they are right. That’s why I noted earlier that this only appears to be a Hobson’s choice. For preppers of normal means it’s actually a false dichotomy, as we’ll see later.)
OK, so what CAN you do? Well, that’s what this article is all about. I spent years pursuing the Yuppie Survivalism option but – thank You, Lord! – was able to realize what was happening and change direction before wife #2 decided to subject me to a repeat of what wife #1 did. It got rather strained for a while and it’s still a sore spot, but I’ve managed to work around it. Perhaps you can learn something from my experiences.
But first, a VERY BIG caveat. As Jim and I have discussed in an email exchange before I wrote this article, I’m in a position that is probably shared by only a small minority of his readers. I’m still employed in a good-paying job that I’ve held for quite some time. That, and having my “wake-up” experience take place many years ago has given me time to pay off debts, acquire some savings, and put aside prep items back when they were still relatively inexpensive. I realize that many of Jim’s readers are not currently in a position to do what I did. All I can say to you is that I can sympathize with your situation because I’ve been there, too. When my first wife left me and cleaned me out financially in the early 1980’s I went from a comfortable middle class lifestyle to living in my car in November in Colorado – all in a matter of days. I never saw it coming so I never made any preparations for it. I had just moved here and didn’t know anyone so I was on my own. Collecting aluminum cans out of trash bins to recycle for gas and food money was an experience that shaped my thinking about a lot of things in life. Not that I’d want to repeat the exercise, mind you, but it did open my eyes to the wisdom of Jim’s option of junk land and wheat and the whole Prepper Emergency Essentials (PEE) option. Stepping down from something good to something not so good is unpleasant. But it’s far better than going from something good to something that well and truly sucks.
And that’s really the crux of this article – the wisdom of implementing as much of Jim’s plan as possible while you’re still able to easily afford it. If you wait until you’re homeless (like I was for a time) then even Jim’s plan involves making additional sacrifices during an already difficult time. So why not make it easy on yourself and peel off some of that disposable income while you have it and take some steps towards the Bison option? Consider it cheap insurance for an unexpected illness, divorce, or other serious life event that turns your world upside down. It’s not 20 acres in Idaho with fallow fields, a year-round spring, and five years of quality storage food, but it’s not being hungry and cold and living in your car during the winter, either.
If you’re not at the place in life where this applies to your situation, but would still like to continue reading, thank you! As you’ll see, I haven’t gotten it all figured out and your comments and suggestions would be welcome. If you do want to skip this one, no worries – you can always re-read some of Jim’s past articles in the Bison Newsletter compilation that you purchased. [You did purchase one to support Jim, right? ;-) ]
Step 1 – Getting the Proper Mindset
One of the first things you need to do is disabuse yourself of the whole Hobson’s choice view of prepping. Accept the fact that for all but a few the Idaho retreat is not attainable. But take comfort in knowing that if Jim is correct and the Post Oil Dark Ages (PODA) truly are coming, then it probably wasn’t the best solution anyway.
Instead, consider the simplified view of survivalism/prepping as a continuum of options that trade off costs and benefits. Let’s arbitrarily assign it a scale of 0 to 100. At the “0” end is the “do nothing and hope for the best” option. The cost is zero, but the benefits are also zero if anything bad happens to you (like my experience of being suddenly homeless in winter). At the other end of the spectrum at 100 is the fully-stocked Prepper’s Dream Fortress in Idaho – incredible benefits (under certain assumed conditions) that unfortunately come at an incredible cost.
As you go down the scale the cost goes down but so does the comfort level. If your retreat is up in the 90-100 range, please invite me to your hideout for a nice warm meal and a safe place to sleep when TSHTF. If you’re down in the single digits your primary concern is survival, comfort is a distant second, and I’m not on your Christmas card list anyway so I won’t bother dropping by.
(Experienced preppers will immediately realize that this scale is not linear. That is, going from 90 to 80 is far less painful than going from 20 to 10. But we’re talking simplified concepts for now.)
The conclusion that you need to reach on your own (so you truly believe it, not just read about it) is that there is no perfect option out there. I repeat – There Is No Perfect Option Out There. Everything is a tradeoff, and you are the one who is best qualified to assess what constitutes the best tradeoff for your particular circumstances and personal makeup.
Once this concept is grasped it becomes easier to see why having a backup Bison PEE option that will keep you at the 20-30 level is far wiser than constantly working towards getting something in the 90’s that you’ll never actually own and ending up at 5 when a big setback hits you from left field. If you wait until you need the Bison option you’ll likely be in difficult straits and the effort involved will considerably greater than if you had done it during good times.
And if you don’t believe that a setback from the 90%+ option can happen, then let me tell you what happened some time back to two families I know. They were convinced by what they read on some survival sites that the bottom was going to fall out any day. So they quit their jobs and moved to Idaho to live on mortgaged properties while competing with the locals for income. Within two years they were back. During a downturn in the economy the banks foreclosed on their properties and small businesses and they lost everything and had to start all over again. One fellow was so soured by the experience that he never went back to prepping. The other still tries to prep but they live paycheck-to-paycheck with him as the sole wage earner at age 66, in an industry with constant outsourcing overseas. They have little equity in the home, no savings, and a still-broken family situation. Very sad.
Step 2 – Taking Action
With all due respect to Jim, I don’t believe that many preppers are going to make the jump from middle class comfort straight into a BPOD. I’m sure there are many reasons for this but let’s just assume that it’s accurate. So what should they do?
I would argue that the most probable course of action for most people would be to use your spare income to implement as much of the Bison plan as possible as cheap insurance against societal disruptions.
Does that make this just another bugout plan? Yes and No. Yes, in that you’re still living where you are and not taking the big first step of moving out of the city and onto junk land. No, in that you’re not working toward a fantasy retreat in Idaho but rather taking actual steps to acquire a real place to move to with real supplies for when circumstances force you out of your current lifestyle. And I do believe that’s coming to many in America over the next few years.
Is this enough to see you through the PODA? Absolutely not. Is it a reasonable, actionable first step in that direction? Absolutely! I believe it’s far better than having only a few pieces of Yuppie Survivalism in place. And better to be 80% prepared in two months instead of trying to be 100% prepared in twenty years.
Jim has noted that the Bison Plan can be implemented for only a few thousand dollars and explains in his book how a person earning minimum wage can make that happen. If they can do it, how much easier will it be for someone who spends that much for their daily Starbucks fixes over the course of a year? Suppose one has managed to put away enough cash in savings to purchase a replacement car when the one you’re now driving to work dies. (This is not unrealistic - I do, as do many of the people I work with.) If you used the bulk of that money (and your spouse was in agreement with this course of action) you could have the most or all of the PEE items in place in short order. Junk land could be purchased outright rather than with monthly payments. Wheat could be purchased in bulk from Wal-Mart. Many of the other PEE items (Corona grain mill, Katadyn water filter, etc.) would require nothing more than an Amazon order through the links on Jim’s blog (shameless plug).
Step 3 – Mitigating Risk
OK, I freely admit that this is one area where I don’t have good solutions for some of the shortcomings you’ll face if you go this route. The biggest problem that I can’t figure out a solution to is vandalism and theft of your large prep items like wheat and solar panels if you’re not already living on the junk land with them. (Smaller items can be brought with you when you finally move there.) Jim’s point about moving onto the junk land not only solves the bugout drawbacks (timing, travel, fuel, crime, etc.) it also helps ensure that your preps are being watched over. But that also has the downside of your needing to quit your job and move to that junk land, with all the complications that entails. No easy solution, but here are some of the suggestions I’ve seen:
- Direct, hidden burial of your items on site or nearby
- Buying a cheap, run-down house in the small town that you plan to escape to. Build a hidden high security room of your own construction in the basement. Leave the doors unlocked and let the vandals trash up the already poor quality place, hoping they don’t discover the room and break into it at their leisure.
- Place the items in a storage space near your junk land and move them onto your property when you finally relocate there.
- Store it with friends / acquaintances in the area you’re moving to
- Store it at your present location and take it with you when you finally go
- Have sufficient money/PMs to take with you so that you can buy them once you arrive
The flip side of this is that I believe that some risks, if handled wisely, can be mitigated more easily while you are still at your present location with your present income. For example, if you give up watching TV and use that time to learn survival-related skills, you can more easily recover from the inevitable mistakes you’ll make as you learn. Also, your higher income stream would allow you to upgrade some of the PEE purchases - for example, multiple Corona Mills, extra water filters, additional ammo, etc. Just don’t overdo it and end up with more stuff than you can take with you J
Another problem that most preppers have to address (myself included) is how to prep when the spouse is not on board. Everyone who is in that situation will have to decide for themselves how to handle this without violating their own conscience. But here’s how I handled it:
After the dust-up over my earlier prepping mistakes, I backed away for a few years to let things settle. When I wanted to get back into more “normal” prepping our finances were in better shape due to our increased income and lower expenses. So I proposed that every payday we would both continue to deposit our paychecks into the household account but each would hold back an identical small amount to spend on whatever we wanted. She readily agreed. That was the money I used to start purchasing prep items.
As time went on I formed a small side business under an LLC. She was OK with any income from that business being my own since by that time our expenses were even lower as debt was paid off and more money was available for other things. The additional income is used to buy preps.
Over that time period I was able to put in place most of the Bison option. While I don’t have a dedicated piece of junk land but I do have three close, trusted friends who have offered to let me set up a travel trailer on their land if needed. The other PEE preps are loaded into a small trailer parked at a friend’s place. If things go sideways here I can put my dog and some critical items (already listed on a pull sheet so I don’t have to think about it during the stress of the moment) into my minivan, drive over to my friend’s, hook up the trailer, and be on my way to a new life. And I have enough money set aside for the purchase of a used travel trailer or fifth wheel, more wheat, and a piece of junk land if and when that time comes.
Is this as good a solution as an already-established Bison homestead? No, not really. But for now, with the constraints of my current situation, it’s the best I can do and I’m OK with that. Knowing that I have a soft place to fall if the rug gets pulled out again reduces my stress level and lets me get on with life.
Implementing as much of the Bison plan as is feasible for your situation is very cheap insurance. The benefits far outweigh the relatively small cost that many middle-class preppers would need to make it happen. If a prepper can afford a high-end AR and all the things necessary to feed and maintain it, why not spend that money instead on the PEE option that will get them through a life-altering event in relative comfort and safety? Why would anyone pass up a deal like that?END