Because of our financial constraints, aggravated by the economy and rural area we now live, my family cannot afford to own a second “retreat” home, nor do we have much land on which to build a shed or store much of anything. As a boy, my parents didn’t have much money, and through a mix of my dad’s “fix it or make do” attitude, the scout motto “be prepared” and my newfound need for better frugality, I’ve made a kind of checklist that every non-food purchase my wife and I make must go through, and it’s jokingly called the Dumpster list. Each point of the dumpster list should be met as well as possible, if that point is applicable. The list helps us stretch our dollars, limit our output of refuse, and choose items that are easier to transport and maintain should we be forced to evacuate or relocate during an emergency event.
DURABILITY. I try to purchase things that are built strong and proven strong. I buy denim or rip-stop pants. A lot of items I purchase are “military surplus” or Mil-spec items, because they are meant to take rough treatment and last a long time. Sometimes an item can be made stronger/more resistant/durable for a small charge. Having some sort of puncture-stop material added to our bike tires or spending the extra money for some sort of hard-shell case for a piece of essential gear would be examples of adding durability.
UTILITY rather than Fashion. Cargo pants are not always in style, but the extra pockets and (often) durable nature make them useful. Military-style clothing, available from surplus stores, is usually made in “large, medium, small”-type sizes, but have straps, drawstrings and Velcro to make them a perfect fit. Hiking or “combat” boots may look a little out of place or extreme, but they are made for walking and climbing, are waterproof, and often breathe just as well as tennis shoes. If you get some with steel toes, you are eliminating a lot of toe-injuries that could come from tripping, dropping something, or kicking old logs or stones when trying to carve out a shelter or forage for food. A junky old diesel truck might be ugly, but offers several benefits over a nice new car or SUV.
MULTIPLE USE. Our 72-hour kits (which go in the vehicles whenever we go somewhere) contain several items, most of which have multiple uses. I always carry a “Leatherman”-style multi-tool, for example, because I frequently need a knife to cut something with, a screwdriver to tighten something with, or pliers/wire cutters to bend or trim cable or wire. I carry an “entrenching tool” that works as a shovel, rudimentary saw, and pick. I large iron Wok is my favorite cooking utensil, because its depth allows me to boil water or heat oil, but wide mouth makes it easy to also cook things that need to be more spread out, like eggs or fish fillets. Its handles make it easy to be tied to a pack when we go hiking. When I buy my heavy-duty clothing, I try to choose colors or styles that allow them to double as nice church pants or everyday wear. I wear “web belts” because they adjust to my comfort with more precision than a regular hole-punched leather belt, and this adjustability allows them to be useful for other things, like tying down sleeping bags, bundles of wood, or to be used as tourniquets. The “teeth” in the buckle are also suitable for emergency scraping and small-scale sawing.
PORTABILITY. Strong but light materials are a great blessing. My primary firearms are lightweight but strong. One of the few camping items we ever splurged on were our ultra-lightweight sleeping bags, because they can fit into a very small space. Though we have no unrealistic plans of “heading to the hills” with the rest of civilization in a TEOTWAWKI situation, keeping our load light helps us be prepared for last-minute relocation or evacuation in the event of an emergency. Having lightweight material in a pack also greatly extends your ability to trek longer distances because it puts less strain on your body (which is essential for those who are “out of shape” or injured.
REPAIRABILTY/SALVAGEABILITY. I try to acquire items that are easy to fix or have easy-to find spare parts. Where I live, for example, there are not a lot of BMW dealers, so it doesn’t make much sense for our only car to be a BMW, even if we can afford it. It takes to long to receive or locate parts, and some part sizes are made for tools I don’t own. The same goes for old fashioned “tube radios” or other items made from parts no longer manufactured/manufactured only by specialty shops. Fabric items (tents, packs, tarps) should be resistant to mildew but also easy to repair with sewing items on hand. Items that are less likely to rust are obviously preferred, but I also try to stay away from weak plastics that might break or chip (because plastic is more difficult to repair than wood/,metal for the average person). I try to learn the “ins and outs’ of every new item we get, so it can be repaired if need be.
Is it TRADEABLE? Will the item be of value for trade in an emergency situation? Some things like ammunition, gasoline, food and other supplies are good bartering tools. Other items, like vehicles, firearms and entertainment items can be “traded in” or sold at a depreciated rate (or, if you’re lucky, at an appreciated rate) when you hit hard times, need to leave town, or simply no longer need the item. We do our best not to fool ourselves into thinking anything – including firearms – are an “investment”, because it is safer to be prepared for a bad day and pleased by a good one than it is to be unprepared.
ENERGY. What kind of batteries does it need? Can it be powered from a 12 VDC car adapter? Solar power? What kind of fuel does the vehicle use? Will it run on something else? What is the likelihood of that fuel/battery/power source being available in an emergency? How long will the battery/fuel last before it goes bad? What are the best ways to store them? Perhaps the most useful question: is there a hand-powered version available instead? If the item is battery powered (a flashlight, for example), I try to find one that is most efficient in its power usage.
REDUNDANCY. When possible, I like to acquire two or more of certain items, especially if I like them or they tend to wear out after awhile (clothing, boots). Having duplicate equipment also allows you to use one for parts if parts are unavailable elsewhere. Some items are also good for barter. Others are good to leave at home while you take the other on the road. Some of my firearms purchases have been driven by the type of ammunition for this purpose – I’d rather be able to use what I have in multiple weapons than to have to keep multiple types of ammunition stocked.
I don’t include “Price” in the checklist because I’ve learned (contrary to what my parents tried to teach me) that most of the time, paying more for a high quality item saves more money in the long run than buying a cheap item, which have to be repaired or replaced it frequently. As long as we aren’t charging it to a credit card (or creating other debt) and are living within our means, I try not to think much about price. We also do most of our non-immediate shopping on the internet, because it is easier to find exactly what we need than making do with what we find at the local hardware or department store, and the prices (including shipping) are much better.
By running our potential purchases through the Dumpster list, we’ve actually modified some other areas of our life, and it has helped us to generate less trash, have less blinking-light/electronic noise toys for our children, and I haven’t had to buy any new clothes in over a year now. Though I thought there would be more potential for “hard work” as a result, we’ve found that by being more picky about our purchases, as well as giving them proper maintenance, we’ve actually had a lot less break-downs to deal with and our “free” time has actually increased.