Friday, May 18, 2012

Advice to a Reader in Greece

Hi ferfal,
My name is George, I am from Greece and I only recently came across your blog. It’s a great blog, and although I haven’t been able to read all of your posts, I like the “simple-yet-effective” way you have of describing things.
As you know, things are really bad here in Greece, and they are getting worse, so I would like your opinion on a few subjects. I have already read a lot of your posts about money, employment, food, supplies and the “right mentality” that you need.
My questions are a bit more “practical”: For example, I would like to buy an alarm system for my apartment, but I have no idea which one to buy, and the ones you advertise on the right-hand side bar of your blog can only be found on amazon.com (which doesn’t ship them to Greece).
I searched amazon.co.uk, which does ship all of its products to Greece, and I came up with this: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Milenco-Sleep-Safe-Window-Door-Alarm/dp/B002PIBG1C/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1337336829&sr=8-3
What is your opinion? Is this alarm any good?
I would also like you to suggest a few other sites like amazon.com that ship to Greece/Europe, not just to USA.
Furthermore, I faced a similar problem regarding many others items you suggest (they can only be shipped in USA).
For example, I thought the Solar Radio-Mobile Phone Charger was a great idea, but the products you recommend can only be found in amazon.com (not amazon.co.uk). I searched the English version of the site, and I came up with these two models:
Which one would you suggest?
I am also interested in a generator, like the Black&Decker one you advertise, but this product is not available anymore. So, in order to keep this email short, maybe you could do a post with some up-to-date products that can be found in Europe as well, not just in USA. I know that I’m probably asking you for too much, because this kind of thing requires a lot of time and research, but since things are really bad in Greece (and in all of the other PIIGS countries I suppose), I think that European readers will find this post extremely helpful.
I also have a few more questions for you:
-What about heating for your house? I live in an area where it gets really cold during the winter, so we need heat, but oil is getting really expensive, so what should I use instead of it? Is a fireplace a good idea? What about using pellets? A friend suggested that I should use a couple of inverter air conditioners, which are cheaper that using oil, but not cheap (+ what happens if there is no electricity?)

-I own a small car, a second-hand Toyota Yaris, which is great for the city traffic. Should I keep it, or should I swap it for something else (like a cheap jeep for example)?
- I recently inherited a farm, but it is a small farm, so there is no way you can live of the land. Furthermore, this farm is located pretty far away (it’s a 30 minute drive by car), so you need to burn a lot of fuel everyday. Should I keep this farm, or should I sell it? If I should sell, should I sell it now, or later? My parents have suggested that I should invest all the money that I have saved all my life in buying an old house that is for sale near by and live there, but I know nothing about farm life and all my friends are living in the city, not in the village. What is your opinion? I am thinking of buying a few gold coins with my savings.
- I am currently working as a web designer and I am studying “business administration” at the university – do you think that this job (business administration) will provide me with enough money in the future? (If not, will I be able to find a job abroad?). What about web designing (Ι don’t have a degree for it, but I am self trained)? Which one is the better option for me? (I think business administration, since that is what I am studying, but you never know).
- My parents live in an old (but good) house by themselves (I rent a house in another city, where my university is). My problem with my parents house is that it is “too big”: It is a two story house, which means that they pay A LOT of taxes for it, but there are only two people living in it. Do you thing they should sell this house and buy a smaller one? Or maybe accommodate some friends/relatives who will become too poor to have a house for themselves in the future?
-I know nothing about gardening, fixing things, etc. Is it easy/worth the effort to learn those type of skills? What is the best way to learn them? My mother recently told me that she is interested in taking up gardening, and since there is a terrace in my parents house, maybe she could plant a few seeds (not as a way to make a living, but maybe as a good way to save a few euros by producing something yourself instead of buying it. It would also be a good way for my mother to pass the time, since she recently retired from work). I would like your opinion on how easy it is to plant seeds on a terrace, how safe it is from thieves, and what kind of seeds would you suggest (easy to plant-eatible seeds).
Thanks for your help ferfal – your blog is really great,

Hi George,
I’ll work up a post with the items I recommend so as to keep for reference. Of the chargers you mention, the second one, Aquabourne,  has the best reviews and is reasonably priced so I would go with that. You might want to take a look at this one, 172 reviews and 4.5 starts is pretty good.
For items that are harder to find try looking on ebay, on advanced options look only for items that ship to Greece. I’ve found several sellers that will not ship to Greece because fraud seems to be on the raise, predictably so, I’m afraid.  For other stuff like generators, etc, look in your local websites where they sell used products like Craiglist. Here in UK for example there’s Gumtree.com, I’ve found several good deals there.

-About heating, you first have to figure out what’s cheapest, if electricity, natural gas, heating oil, pellets or wood. Sometimes because of local production or because of subsidies, one will be cheaper than the other. Add window insulating films and draught excluders so as to make them more energy efficient. You might want to close guest rooms or any other room you don’t use often and turn the heating off there. Reducing the amount of space that needs heating helps a LOT. Right after we moved we had a problem with our boiler in one of the coldest days of winter here in Ireland. I bought two electric oil heaters and we all slept in the master bed room. It was pretty cozy. If you have a fireplace you might want to consider installing a much more effective wood burning stove. You can make it a cooking stove so as to double for cooking and heating. Try lowering your heating thermostat a degree or two and wearing more clothes. Its surprising the amount of money you can save that way. I’d go for a stove that uses wood or wood and pellets rather than just one that uses pellets. One day wood may be all you have available. An electric space heater or two seems to be a good idea if electricity is cheaper, but always try having alternative heating and cooking methods as well. Sometimes wood stoves can be found on the second hand market so keep an eye on it. Without knowing the specifics of your home I can only give you broad general advice but this should give you a few ideas.

-About the car. Honda and Toyota are generally good solid vehicles that perform well and are easy to repair. Id stick to it, mostly because it’s a good car and low on fuel. Don’t get a Jeep if you don’t need the capability. If you can afford it, then yes, having the AWD option is nice and can help during riots or when evacuating. I got a Honda CRV and I’m happy with it, a Toyota RAV4 is also a good idea and dont use as much fuel as bigger off road vehicles. If you drive around a lot and if you are on a tight budget though, it might not be the best thing to do right now. My Honda does 20-23 MPG (miles per gallon) which isn’t bad but isn’t great either.

-Inheriting a farm is more than just a piece of real state, its family, blood and identity. No, I would not sell it. I would take care of it as well as your time and finances allow. One thing you want to do as soon as possible is plant fruit trees and timber trees. You’ll be thankful in the future. Half an hour commute isn’t that bad and you’re renting right now, you might as well buy a house and fix it up or start building one if the farm you inherited is actually just land and has no appropriate housing. In that case I would have an architect design a minimalist living place with the option of expanding it as more money is available, you get married, have kids and or just need/want more space. I did such a project for a friend of mine that also had a large farm and wanted to live there. A lot of people do it on their own but designing your first house with no professional training is like taking out your own pancreas without medical knowledge… it wont be pretty. Then again the 30 minute drive back and forth isn’t just time, its also money on gas. You have to figure out if its worth living further away given that you are studying in the city. If I were you, id love to stop paying rent and start developing my own place, or if you have the money simply buy instead of renting and work upgrading your place in the country during weekends.

-Business isn’t a bad career but even if you get a job later working for someone else I recommend to keep a private practice of some sort too. Business consulting, or keep doing web design, whatever it is, but have something of your own. That way if one day you have to make your own work you’ve already started to some degree. Yes, going abroad is a possibility. You never know when you may have to do so. In fact, many Greeks are doing just that. You already have very good English so that’s a valuable tool. If you can Id’ try learning a bit of German given their financial relevance in the coming decade and more.

-About your parents. Life is too short, if they are happy with the big house that’s perfect. They probably have grandkids on the way anyway. If they want to move to something smaller then maybe they can get a smaller house and a studio to rent out for extra income after selling the bigger house. Maybe they can buy next to the farm you inherited. You could stay in the city and go there on weekends to do some home improvements of your own.
-Gardening and fixing things. Is not hard and the best way to learn is doing it! Lots of info online. My wife loves plants and has a “green thumb”. As you say,  its about having some fresh produce and not making a living as a farmer, which is MUCH harder than people think, basically suicide to try doing that during the current Greek crisis. Tomatoes and strawberries are easy enough to get started but it depends on your location, what grows well there and what you want to grow. Again, I’d invest my time and money in trees and shrubs such raspberries, use plants and trees to design your landscape.  If your mother likes gardening, then even more so, it might be something for them to look into, buying a smaller house next to the small farm you inherited.
Tomorrow I’ll upload a video in youtube with more advice for my Greek readers.
Take care and good luck!
Join the forum discussion on this post!


Anonymous said...

Dear FerFal, dear George,

I can only recommend the following book for any person who would like to learn how to work a vegetable garden. It's easy to understand yet very exhaustive, and it describes the "organic deep-bed method" which, although a little labor-intensive (a good thing for a prepper anyway b/c you can stay fit without having to subscribe to a gym) allows you to grow a lot of produce on limited space. And you can find it on amazon.co.uk.


I thought I'd just share. I hope it's OK. A big thanks and kudos to Fernando for sharing his wisdom on this blog (it's my first comment, but I've been reading for a long time. Can't wait for Amazon to ship his book.)

Be safe everybody,


docfire said...

Ferfal, Would you post the house you designed for your friend in this article? I'm a owner builder, and thinking about putting up another place. I would love to here some of your ideas on survival architecture.


Maldek said...

Hey to greece!

Currently greece has not yet hit the ground. There is a lot of room towards "worse", before it can possibly get any better I am afraid.

The idea with physical gold sounds good to me.
The idea with buiness administration, not so.

Let me explain. Studies like BA (or other "hot-air" education) have its place in a society with a big goverment. These jobs do not create any value, they do what it says "administration" work.

So you will want to join a big company or the goverment basicly.
In smaller companies there is not much use for this kind of work and you will be labeled as "overqualified" for the job - meaning you cost too much and earn the company too little.

Now the field of web-design is a field where you are in competition with chinese guys, who are highly proficient and dead cheap.

On the other hand they do not speak greek. So if you have good skills in this area it might be wise to specialise on your strengths. Work like this can also be performed from home and/or part time.

That will come in handy, because the typical 8-16 job with decent paycheck and benefits might be something you will not find easily in the years to come.

That said, forget about gardening as a means of income. Thats romantic bullshit. If your wife/parents have a lot of free time and love doing it, fine. Every little counts, right?

Dont expect it to pay your power bill, your gas, medical bills, a new car etc. - for these costs you need an income.

Anonymous said...

Greece is going through a major shake down. The country was held-up at gun point and it gave up the wallet. But the thieves were not satisfied and now they have the country upside down by the ankle and shaking it to see what else falls out of the pockets.

Don't sell the farm. When this is over it may be land will be about the only thing with value. Also, if you are sitting on money, it may not be a bad a idea to trade some of the currency for a house. That too will hold it's value.

Jose Garcia

Anonymous said...

Regarding the Alarm System. I recommend Visonic. Their "Powermax +" system is available on Ebay. It's basically like a professional system, except it's wireless (which means you can install it yourself) and it will call your cell phone directly in he event of a break in (which means you don't need to pay a monthly monitor fee).

You can upgrade the system as you go- start with the basic kit, then add more motion detectors and door sensors later. Made in Isreal.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all your comments - I will check out the book for my mother. As for the alarm system, the "Powermax +" is too expensive for me.

But thanks for your interest - take care

izzit said...

Don't know if this is too late but:
You have a job in a crashing economy, one you don't despise? Keep it.
Consider the taxes, and then, if you decide to keep the farm, use it to start a business. Get articles on "permaculture" and start planting things. You could even build your own solar-heated house. See if there's any small business you could run on the farm weekends. Or, if you're really not into farming, try to rent it out to someone who is (read the "wanted" ads at the back of the permaculture magazine for this).
Consider what stage your parents are at. Do they have a stable pension? Are they hoping for your economic or social support? At retirement, their suggestion to move in next door is NOT a purely business suggestion.