Prepping on $10 a Week, by S.W. Michigan Fred

Have you seen the latest reality television show, “Doomsday Preppers”, from National Geographic?  I made a mistake a few years ago – after 20 years of successfully resisting the cries and moans of my children, I gave in and allowed cable television to be installed in my house. Should have known better, but as they say, that’s a whole ‘nother subject.  Now, every week, National Geographic brings us “Doomsday Preppers,” Animal Planet serves up “Meet The Preppers,” Discovery beams in another episode of “Doomsday Bunkers” and the new pay-to-view internet network GBTV fires off a round of “American Preppers.”  Can some kind of copycat show from TLC be far behind? I guess maybe the good thing about these shows is that I no longer am tempted to confide in my friends about my efforts to be prepared for fear they might profile me into the same category as the folks they’re watching on television.  Better to keep it under the radar anyway.

I don’t really watch the shows but I’ve seen little bits and pieces of them as I walk through the room when they’re on and seeing the barns and bunkers filled with years’ supplies of food and water can give a guy a real sense of inferiority.  Am I doing enough?  How can I ever be as prepared as the stars of those shows?  Is my family at risk because I’m not taking this all seriously enough?  My total larder isn’t up to the level of what those guys spend in a single episode!  My steel trash cans filled with vacuum packed bags of rice, beans and oatmeal seem like just a thimble-full compared to the warehouses of canned goods kept by the celebrity preppers.  Since I’m not being paid thousands of dollars an episode to parade my efforts in front of a voyeuristic audience, I just don’t have the disposable income to lay up that kind of stash overnight.  Am I going to be a failure at this?  Not a chance.

In spite of the fact that we’re experiencing 8% real inflation and even though I live in a state where the economy is in a deep ditch and I subsequently haven’t had a raise or a bonus in four years, I’ve still been able to squeeze $10 a week out of my budget to engage in the process of laying up the things I might need WTSHTF.  I would dare say most people waste more than $10 a week on things like soda, fast food and movie rentals.  Think about your own expenditures for a moment.  How much could you save just by brown-bagging your lunch?  Plenty – like $5 or more per day!  Or kiss Starbucks goodbye and take your own coffee from home – treat yourself to a really nice travel mug and some quality beans and you’ll still save.  My wife and I do the cash-in-envelopes budget thing so on pay day I go to the bank and take with me our cash for the week.  In that cash is my $10 for prepping.  Lately I’ve been swinging by the nearby discount grocery store and grabbing ten bucks worth of rice, beans, peanut butter or cooking oil, and when I get home after work, into the larder they go.  Or some weeks I’ll stop at a big box department store and grab a couple 2-packs of propane cylinders or a gallon of Coleman fuel.  If I skip a week because the beans and rice are piling up on the kitchen counter waiting for me to vacuum pack them with the FoodSaver, I’ll grab a box of ammo or a couple replacement chimneys and spare wicks for my oil lamps.  While the 15-minutes-of-fame guys on TV might be spending $1,000 a month on supplies, I can’t do that.  But $10 a week is $500 a year and that’s a measurable step in the right direction that almost anyone can afford.  It would be nice to do this all overnight but you’ll be surprised at how your stockpile grows if you just are consistent and disciplined about working your smaller scale plan.

Sometimes, we’ll save up our $10 weekly allowance and splurge for something special or bigger.  We live about an hour from a large settlement of Amish folks and they have a great mercantile in their community filled with items designed for simple living.  My wife and I took a Saturday awhile back and drove there for the day.  We came home with an awesome stoneware crock for making sauerkraut and a pile of re-usable canning lids.  I was drooling over the hand powered grain grinders but we’ll have to save a little longer before I can come home with one of those!  They also sell basic foods in bulk in that community.  We came home with a 25 lb. sack of oatmeal for $11.25 and a big brick of Strike Anywhere matches.  If you’re fortunate enough to live near a store like this you can find almost anything you need for off-the-grid living at very reasonable prices.  If you don’t, just click on one of this blog’s banner ads and send a little business to one of them.
     I’ve also learned that the local big box membership warehouse isn’t necessarily the best place to find things on the cheap.  I assumed that if I bought a big bag or rice there that would be the cheapest way to go.  Wrong.  My wife the Coupon Queen showed me that it’s actually cheaper to buy in three-pound bags at the discount grocery – 30 lbs. for $16.90 versus about $25 at the “club”  store. Shop around and save.

     You might be asking, “Okay, but from a practical standpoint, what can I really lay up for $10 a week?”  Well, here’s what I’ve been doing:

Unit Cost
+/- $10 Purchases
Rice     3 lb. bag @ $1.69  6 bags = $10.14
Dried Beans 1-1/2 lb. bag @ $1.99 5 bags = $9.95
Vegetable Oil  48 oz. bottle @ $2.49 4 bottles = $9.96
Olive Oil    17 oz. bottle @ $3.49   3 bottles = $10.47
Flour 5 lb. bag @ $1.65  6 bags = $9.90
Sugar 4 lb. bag @ $2.39 4 bags = $9.56
Peanut Butter    18 oz. jar @ $2.29 4 jars = $9.16
Wood Matches 3 ea. 250 ct boxes @$2.89  9 boxes = $9.18
Coleman Fuel  1 gal. can @ $9.68 1 gal. = $9.68
1 lb. Propane Tanks    2 pk. @ $5.37 4 tanks = $10.74
Ivory Bar Soap  10 pk. @ $4.27 20 bars = $8.54
Winking Owl Cabernet $2.69/bottle (really!)  3 bottles = $8.07
Coleman lantern mantles 2 pk. @ $2.37 8 mantles = $9.48
Oil lamp wicks 5 pk. @ $2.07 25 wicks = $10.35
Chlorine bleach 96 oz. bottle @ $1.19 8 bottles = $9.52
Toothpaste  $1.79/tube   6 tubes = $10.74

The key is to be consistent and disciplined and make that $10 purchase every week.  A few months into it you will be amazed at what you’re accomplishing.  A year down the road, you’ll be experiencing a lot less dread about facing an uncertain future.  Two years . . . well, you get the picture.  Obviously there is much more to be done before I can call myself “prepared” for a grid down situation or the collapse of civilization as we know it, but I’m not convinced that we never really “arrive” anyway.  I’m finding it’s more of a journey.  I’ll do it this way while the lights are still on and look for new ways if and when they go out. 

Not to digress too far from my main topic of $10 prepping, but we’re also doing additional things on the home front that will help us be further prepared.  We left the city six years ago for four acres of paradise in the country.  Even though I hadn’t yet begun prepping at that time, I thought now that I was a country gentleman I should do something country-gentlemanish so I put up a little chicken pen and bought some chicks at the local tractor store’s “Chick Days.”  We’ve been raising birds and selling pastured eggs at our roadside stand ever since – a child could do this and succeed at it.  And since my favorite food group is bacon, a couple years later my oldest son and I trenched in some “hog panels” and built a shelter out of an old pickup truck camper shell and put in a few feeder pigs.  I now raise premium Berkshire pork for our freezer and for a few friends and family.  Food, water, shade and six months – that’s about all it takes to raise a hog.  Now we’re constructing a cow pen and I’ll be picking up a recently-weaned Angus steer next month.  It’s comforting to know that I can actually raise livestock and the meat is just so much better than the factory farm stuff you get at the store.  By the way, the livestock operation doesn’t fit into the $10-a-week scheme but rather comes out of our grocery budget.  I’ve also started gardening at almost zero expense.  Last year I grew 64 tomato plants and my wife canned over 160 quarts of various tomatoes, juice and sauces.  We also canned copious amounts of sweet corn and green beans.  There’s a real learning curve to gardening, though, so start now. You’ve heard it before – if you wait until the grid goes down you’ll starve to death before you master growing your own food.  Start with a few tomato plants, some beans, a few zucchini and a potato barrel.  Just take it one step at a time and eventually you’ll get somewhere.  Once again, it’s about being consistent and disciplined.

Like the Good Book says, “A Prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.”  (Proverbs 22:3) Prudent or “simple” – what’s it going to be for you?  While $10-a-week prepping won’t get you on TV, if it’s all you can afford (like it is for me) I believe it will earn you the title of Prudent.  While you won’t be a celebrity like the television preppers, you will be at least somewhat supplied in the event of TEOTWAWKI.  And if that day doesn’t come for awhile yet and you’re consistent and disciplined between now and then you’ll be a lot more than just somewhat prepped.  You’ll be ready to face an uncertain future with one less thing to worry about.