Ask Lee Now: Answering Readers’ Questions

We love to hear from readers! Please email your question or comment to Independent Living editor Lee Bellinger ([email protected]). Please include your name and home state. You may also reach us via postal mail (P.O. Box 1240; Clover, SC 29710-4240).

When Food Smells Like Your Basement

John B. writes: Lee, I have been a member of your inner circle for a while now. I’m glad you’re on our side. A number of years ago, 8 maybe 9 ago, I bought storable food with a 25 yr shelf life. Once purchased I stored the food in my basement and forgot about it. Recently I decided to check into this food and it is no good. It smells like my basement. My gut tells me that this isn’t fit for human consumption. If it actually comes down to the point where we have to eat this food, is there somewhere I can check (gov site) to check the status of this food?

Lee responds: A number of factors can affect the shelf lives of food. Some foods need to be kept sealed in their original air-tight containers until ready to eat and will quickly spoil once unsealed. Other foods (such as bulk dry grains) can be opened and consumed over a period of years if kept away from moisture and direct sunlight. I’m not sure what kind of food you have or where you originally obtained it, but it’s probably best to check directly with the manufacturer or distributor concerning its edibility. Any foods that aren’t sealed in air-tight containers can absorb odors from their environment. That doesn’t necessarily make them unfit for consumption; but it could make them a lot less tasty. Basements can be damp environments, so there is the potential for mold/mildew to invade unsealed food stashes. If in doubt, throw it out and start over with a fresh supply of emergency foods.

About the Need for Family Emergency Communications

Linda A. writes: Lee, I read your latest send on communications. I appreciate your including the amateur radio service. I am the Section Emergency Coordinator for Amateur Radio Emergency Communications here in Alaska. We have teams all over the state and in the lower 48 there are teams and individuals who operate on a daily basis. These groups can get messages all over the US. There are also amateurs all over the world. A couple of corrections please, amateur radio groups have clubs not chapters and they are local groups not ARRL [American Radio Relay League]. A large number of us are ARRL members. We do not broadcast on the bands, we are not allowed to do so by the FCC. Sadly, Radio Shack no longer carries the amateur radio radios or as you called them transceivers. Some great sites to get gear is,, All our radios will operate with a 12v battery so if the main power goes out we can still stay on the air. With a license you will need a radio, a power source, an antenna to match the radio. Thank you for what you do.

Lee responds: It’s always great to get valuable insider information from a subscriber – thanks! I really am fortunate to have a network of subscribers out there in the real world doing real things in places as distant and rugged as Alaska. By contrast, the endless commentaries and countercommentaries that are generated from Washington Beltway pundits and the Wall Street financial media are formulaic and lacking in real-world perspective. Anyhow, I refer readers who want to know more about radio and other emergency communications to Section 7 (Emergency Preparedness) of my newly updated 2015 edition Ultimate Self-Reliance Mega-Manual. It’s must-reading for anyone who wants to become more self-reliant both personally and financially, especial during a crisis. Call our office (877-371-1807) to get your copy.

Skills You Can Sell In This Rotten Economy

Victor B. writes: As a newsletter subscriber I look forward to every issue. They are very informative and cutting edge on the times we live in. What would you say are the top ten businesses and top 10 skills to have to be in a SHTF (Stuff Hits The Fan) scenario?

Lee responds: That sounds like a good idea for a future feature article! I don’t have room to flesh it out fully here. I would say in general, though, you want to get involved in businesses and acquire skills that are going to be in demand regardless of the economic cycle. You also want to be adaptable and (ideally) mobile – not tied down by enormous inventories, capital equipment, or business debt. Develop strong social networks both locally and over the Internet if you use it. Above all, be opportunistic. Look for the great bargains, the new unmet needs, the untapped potential in people who are out of work. In the aftermath of a SHTF scenario, there will be opportunities that most people either won’t see or will be too broke or too afraid to capitalize on.

Technology vs Your Personal Security

Sue H. writes: I seem to remember reading something in the past about the embedded chip that is now on credit cards, but I can’t remember what I read or where I saw it. Recently, my credit card company sent me the new embedded chip card to replace my card that is expiring, but I am not sure I want to use it. What do you know about the embedded chip and privacy issues? Does it give too much information away or track unnecessarily?

Lee responds: We previewed some of the privacy implications of the new credit card “chip” system in the August 2014 issue. Now the new cards, embedded with microchips, are being sent to millions of customers. Many are wondering the same thing you are – whether their upgraded credit cards are going to transmit more of their personal data. Keep in mind that whenever you use a credit card by any means – whether it’s through the new chip system, the old magnetic swipe, phone, or Internet – you generate electronic records. Those records can be combined with other information collected by government agencies, marketers, or identity thieves to generate a robust financial/personal profile of you. The chip system that merchants will be slowly transitioning to the rest of the year assigns a unique code for every credit card transaction. That theoretically thwarts the theft of credit card numbers. But even if the chip makes cards less vulnerable to fraudulent charges, it can also transmit more data about you to merchants and issuing banks. Some of the new cards will have the ability to transmit data through wireless networks – leaving the door potentially open to hackers or tracking systems wherever you carry your cards. As before, cash remains the most private way to pay in most situations.

In Collapse, Who Gets What, When, Where and Why?

Steve H. writes: I really enjoy reading your bits. I’d like you to answer a couple of questions for me, please.

1. When the economy collapses, will disabled people and welfare recipients receive the same amount
of money or will it decrease?

2. If someone borrowed money from a bank, would your payment be the same?

Thanks for your time and dedication to answering questions that really matter.

Lee responds: Thank you for being a loyal member of Independent Living’s family of readers! To answer your questions:

1. The welfare system will collapse in some form. It’s already in the process of collapsing even amidst this so-called economic recovery. The trust fund for Social Security disability benefits is projected to run out of money by late 2016. That will trigger automatic benefit cuts, unless Congress acts. My take is that in an election year Congress will act to prevent actual cuts. But the more the system gets bailed out and propped up, the more likely the collapse that needs to happen will take the form of inflation. The recipients of government programs may well get their benefits, but in steadily cheaper dollars.

2. Assuming you have a fixed-rate loan, your payments normally can’t be adjusted upward. Check the fine print on any particular loan, though, for hidden fees, penalties, or triggers for rate increases.

About Exchanging Out of U.S. Dollars

Kathleen H. writes: Please advise regarding exchanging US dollars for foreign currency such as the yuan. Do you suggest doing this?

Seth Van Brocklin responds: We continue to suggest diversifying out of the dollar through various means – foreign assets, precious metals, resource stocks, etc. Unfortunately, it’s tough to find any truly sound major currencies out there that can function as safe havens.

The Chinese yuan is heavily manipulated by the Chinese government. Officials there don’t want it to appreciate in a meaningful way against the dollar. And so far it hasn’t.

The Dreyfus Chinese Yuan ETF (CYB) is up 2.3% year to date. This instrument has appreciated a cumulative total of only 12.9% since its inception in mid-2008. The yuan simply doesn’t move much and won’t unless the People’s Bank of China allows its currency to float freely in the global foreign exchange markets. That probably won’t happen anytime soon.

In the meantime, if you want to hold currencies that have more potential to move sharply higher against the dollar, consider commodity currencies such as the Australian or Canadian dollar (or, if you’re willing to take on greater risk, the Brazilian real). You can also hold a basket of foreign currencies through instruments such as the Merk Hard Currency Fund (MERKX).

“Ask Lee Now” is presented for general educational purposes only. Because we don’t know enough about readers’ personal situations, the opinions expressed here should not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell any financial instrument at any time. We will not be responsible for financial decisions that readers make, and they should be made in consultation with their own advisers.