The Broke Survivalist, A Learning Experience, by Vaerity

I’m hoping that by sharing my experience, I can provide information that can help others in similar situations. When uninformed people think of a “survivalist”, I am most definitely not what comes to mind. I’m a twenty-four year old female, who wears makeup, has several pairs of comfortable (thrift store) designer jeans and a Creative Writing education from Johns Hopkins University. I have four cats, and live in a tiny inexpensive apartment in North Carolina. However, little do they know, my education hasn’t simply been gained from traditional schooling.

About two years ago, I found that it was getting much more difficult to pay the bills. The financial situation was steadily declining, and my tip-based income was definitely suffering. I moved to North Carolina in hopes of grasping the last threads of an economy that was doomed for difficulty. I began working as a freelance writer, writing on topics from everything from “How to Build a Windmill” to medical articles on diabetes.

However, this still didn’t seem to cover all of the bills. I hired on as a waitress, but found a lack of customers in a struggling economy. I had several credit cards from my financially irresponsible youth, which were all deferred to huge payments. I took out a loan to stop the bill collectors from calling, then defaulted on the payments in favor of paying rent. I sold my jewelry, DVDs, electronics and other items just to stay afloat. I reluctantly cashed in my stash of silver and vintage coins, which I had been dutifully saving since I was a little girl.

However, my story isn’t simply full of hardship and sacrifice. My experience being consistently broke has taught me innumerable lessons that I may not have learned otherwise. When I couldn’t afford to buy dish soap, I made my own with baking soda and borax. I mended my own clothes with needle and thread, my clumsy stitches gradually becoming less lumpy. I made chicken soup from boiling discarded chicken bones. I grew bread starter out of flour and warm water to make sourdough bread. I sprouted alfalfa and broccoli seeds in my kitchen, in a small sprouting kit I received as a Christmas present. I made my first-ever batch of applesauce from scratch, and started a small “peasant garden” in recycled plastic containers by my windows. I traded yard work for fresh chicken eggs from a neighbor, also gaining friendly smiles and a surprising amount of respect.

There are a few important items that have survived with me in my southern ‘adventure’. I have a Ruger .22 rifle with a zoom scope, and a banana magazine that holds 17 cartridges. I know it may not be enough if I needed to protect myself, but my optimism tells me “It’s something, at least!” I also have a small “Get out of Dodge” duffel bag stashed in my linen closet. It has a small camp stove, Datrex emergency food bars, a water filter, a small medical kit and a 2-person tent. I’m hoping to save up enough to renew my “Wilderness First Aid” certification from the Red Cross in a few weeks. At some point, I want to get some real training with a rifle, and begin saving up enough to increase my very small stash of ammo. I also hope to purchase a long-term supply of storage food, as well as additional supplies for my “Bug-out-Bag”.

I’ve been a long-term reader of SurvivalBlog, reading articles about elaborate water filtration systems, independent power storage, purchasing gold/silver, constructing nuclear bunkers, etc. However, there’s also information for people like me, which I truly do appreciate. I am determined to survive, even if my income remains sub-poverty level. I will continue to learn from my experiences, without relying on government handouts or welfare payments. I will become educated in resilience, continuing to slowly build my set of skills and supplies until I am confident that I could survive a TEOTWAWKI situation.
I know that for this writing contest, I am supposed to focus on practical skills that can be of use to others. I also know that many SurvivalBlog readers are wonderful people with incredibly useful talents, and knowledge that far surpasses my own. However, for people in situations similar to mine, who are scraping by each month, I’d like to offer some information that I hope will be helpful.

Making Bread Starter

This is actually incredibly easy, though it takes about a week for your bread starter to “mature”. Find a container (preferably glass), I find that a wide-mouth canning jar seems to work pretty well. You can also use glass jars from mayonnaise, honey, jam or other grocery items – Just be sure you wash them thoroughly! The cost of the finished bread loaf recipe is around $1 – $1.50, depending on the flour, salt, sugar (or honey) and oil you use.

Now, the starter recipe – 1 cup of warm water, 1 cup (preferably wheat) flour. That’s it! Blend the mixture thoroughly, cover loosely (air needs to be able to get in/out) and place in a warm area – around 70-80 degrees (temperatures of 100+ degrees will kill your starter). I put my starter on top of the fridge, since that’s where the warm-air vent is. Don’t forget to feed your starter. Feeding your starter simply involves pouring out half of your starter mixture, and adding ½ cup of flour, and ½ cup of warm water. You need to do this every 24 hours.

Your starter is done when it has a bubbly froth on top. It also should have a beer-ish aroma. This usually happens after about 4-7 days, depending on how warm you kept your mixture. After your starter is done, you’re ready to turn it into bread. Here’s the recipe I follow. I like to add dried rosemary and a bit of honey to this recipe, I think it goes nicely with the sourdough-ish taste.

Cheap Dish/Laundry Soap

I’ve found that Borax is an extremely versatile an inexpensive washing aid. You can use this recipe to make regular dish soap, automatic dishwasher soap, or even laundry detergent. The cost of this recipe is less than $1.

  • 1 Cup Borax (available at most grocery stores)
  • 1 Cup Baking Soda
  • 1 Tablespoon Salt
  • 1 Gallon Water (for Laundry Soap)
  • 2 Cups Water (for Reg. Dish Soap)
  • You can also mix in some bar-soap shavings, if you want to give your recipe a small boost. I find that just the soda+borax+salt mixture works in automatic dishwashers, with vinegar added to help reduce spotting. I’d recommend storing this mixture in a glass jar, only adding water when you use it for dishes/laundry/etc.

Chicken-Bone Soup

You’d be surprised at how many people throw out their chicken bones, without realizing how useful they can be in making delicious soup stock. The cost of chicken-bone soup is virtually $0.00 (since you are using waste-bits), except for the cost of any beans/vegetables/seasonings that you want to add.

After a chicken dinner, instead of throwing the bones in the trash, put them in a sizable metal pot that has a lid. Fill the pot completely with water, since much of the water will evaporate during the boiling process. You can add a small amount of salt and other seasonings if you like. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. You should cook until the remaining meat falls off the bones (usually about 5-6 hours). Be sure to keep an eye on the water level, as it can evaporate quickly if you don’t have a lid.

Strain the broth with a pasta strainer or through cheesecloth. There may be a significant amount of chicken fat on the top of the broth, you can either skim it off or leave it on – it’s a matter of preference. I don’t like oily soup, so I usually skim it off.

Add salt, herbs, spices, onions, carrots, potatoes and beans if you’d like. I usually use green lentils, since they are cheap ($15 for 10 lbs), and have around 18g of protein, 13g of fiber per cup. They also don’t have a “soak time”, so will soften up quickly when boiled.


Though starting a garden is a great way to get fresh vegetables, waiting in between harvest times can leave you without any fresh vegetables. To avoid purchasing any from the store, I like to start a few batches of alfalfa sprouts, several days apart. Alfalfa sprouts are quick-growing, and fairly nutritious. Also, sprouting is so easy! The cost of alfalfa seeds is usually around $6-7 for a 1lb bag. A whole pound of seeds lasts me for quite a while! Here’s a simple guide to starting sprouts. You will need:

  • Alfalfa Seeds
  • 1 Glass Mason Jar
  • Cheesecloth
  • A Rubber Band (or Twine)

Place around 2-3 Tablespoons of alfalfa seeds into the mason jar. Then, fill the jar with lukewarm (not hot!) water, and let the seeds soak. I find it’s best if they soak for around 4-6 hours. Cover the top of the jar with the cheesecloth and rubber band. Strain the soak water out, then shake the seeds so that they stick to the sides of the jar. Place the jar in a sunny area, and watch your sprouts grow! They should be ready to eat in about three days. It’s best to water them (fill the jar with water and strain it out) around twice per day.

I’d just like to mention that the “soak water” from alfalfa seeds is also full of nutrients. I sometimes make iced tea out of it, which is a great energizer on a hot day. You don’t necessarily have to use your soak water, but since I suppose I have a “poverty mentality”, I like to use every bit of everything!