Low-Cost and No-Cost Preparedness

Many SurvivalBlog readers have contacted me, lamenting that they don’t have enough money to prepare.  My response? Re-prioritize how you spend your time and money. The following suggestions are primarily based on my own experience. Avalanche Lily and I do our best to live a frugal life. Please prayerfully consider and implement some or most of these suggestions, as new year’s resolutions.

Here are some suggestions for spending less money:

  • Pray. Prayer costs nothing, and it helps focus your mind on your priorities. Chief among these should be your family, friends, fellow church congregants, neighbors, and co-workers.
  • Study. Used books are inexpensive and there are now many free online courses available from Khan Academy, PraegerU, and others. Also, join a Bible study group, if you can find a good one. If not, then start one of your own!
  • Expand your home library by buying your books used online, at used book stores, thrift stores, and at library book sales. Such sources will save you 50% to 98% on the cost of books.
  • Exercise. Most exercise like jogging and at-home calisthenics costs little or nothing. For the sake of your back and your ankles, be sure to find a good quality exercise mat.
  • Practice traditional, pioneer, and primitive skills. These don’t cost much, but they’ll add tremendously to your preparedness — even for a long-term grid-down societal collapse.
  • Watch for inexpensive (or free!) canning jars, shelving, and tools on Craigslist, Freecycle, Facebook Marketplace, or other online sites/sources.
  • Watch for garage sales, yard sales, and tag sales. Learn the art of bartering, and dickering prices. It takes time to learn how to barter.
  • Buy yourself and your neighbors very inexpensive handy-talkies (“H/Ts”) such as Baofeng UV-5Rs. Set up a weekly “roll call” and chat hour. You’ll thereby develop a new hobby, hone, important radio skills/confidence, AND you’ll increase the security of your neighborhood.
  • If you work on the road or in an office or factory, then don’t buy delicatessen or restaurant food for lunch. Instead, get in the habit of always packing a nutritious lunch.  By doing so, you will be eating less expensive and more healthy food.
  • Cut out needless cable television or video streaming subscriptions. This will both save money and give you more time to read.
  • Cook from scratch, rather than buying packaged foods, or eating out.
  • Grow a vegetable garden.  By doing so, you will eat more healthy and nutritious foods, with less expense. And if you don’t have enough land for a garden, then grow sprouts. You can do that with just a kitchen cupboard and a few very inexpensive jars with screen lids.
  • Stop buying expensive coffee from coffee shops. If you must have coffee, then pack a Thermos each morning. Better yet, stop drinking coffee. I have several friends who have successfully transitioned from coffee to herbal (no caffeine) tea. It is much less expensive than coffee if bought in bulk, and it is not habit-forming.
  • Take less expensive vacations. Travel shorter distances and camp out rather than staying in motels or hotels. By camping, you’ll also learn practical skills.
  • Raise a flock of laying hens. The price of eggs and chicken meat in grocery stores has become absurd.  If you raise your own chickens, then you can save a lot of money — particularly if you include kitchen scraps as part of their feed.
  • Give up golfing and switch to less expensive and more aerobic exercise.
  • Shop for foods in bulk at Amish stores and at discount food stores like Grocery Outlet and Winco.
Shop at Thrift Stores!

Perhaps what should be right near the top of my list is thrift store shopping. This is a great way to both save money and to stockpile inexpensive gear, books, containers, and clothes. Develop the habit of shopping for used merchandise at thrift stores at least one day per month. Discounts can be as deep as 95%, versus shopping for new merchandise, elsewhere.

In a 2013 SurvivalBlog article, reader Chris M. had this great advice on thrift store shopping:

With careful shopping, you can pick up extreme bargains at your local second-hand stores.  Finding bargains is an exciting prospect.  I’ve seen plenty of old, sturdy ball jars, canning equipment, flashlights, hand tools (including high-quality American-made brands), power tools, survival/preparedness books, and even oddball items like gas regulator valves.  The items can be quite unexpected – from mosquito netting to binoculars or a (previously) expensive backpack.  Favorite finds have been a serviceable Benchmade Knife for $2.85 ($125 new), cold weather famous brand pants for $15 ($150 new), cast iron cookware, and some very expensive clothing for my children at absurdly low prices.  I also buy my work clothing at GoodWill stores – unused current-style dress shirts for $12 ($70 in department stores) or a pair of expensive khakis for $3 on half price day is nothing to laugh at.  One trip to the dry cleaners and they are added to my wardrobe.

My favorite items to shop for at Goodwill include clothing, especially items that can be stored away for future use or charity.  In most cases, I am buying these items for 70-90% off the original cost.  It’s not difficult to source lightly used boots (including military surplus), name-brand quality cold weather gear, top-quality gloves, and brand-new garments with tags.

Shopping at second-hand stores can be hit or miss.  As with auctions, if you have a plan, you can make the most of your time and money.  Here’s a quick list of my “rules”:

    • Know the locations of all the stores you’d like to visit.  Stores located in prosperous neighborhoods in larger cities or suburbs are great targets.
    • Call stores in advance to ask about discounts.  Some charity-based stores will give you a hefty discount if you make even a single item donation when you arrive.  One of our local chains offers a 20% discount on that day’s purchases when you donate unwanted items.  Hmmm… 20% off items that I’m already getting a 75% discount on?  Score!  Other stores discount color-coded price tags — reduced by up to 50% but they only do so on certain days of the week.
    • Travel to each store in the most efficient manner possible to save fuel and time.
    • Move through quickly.  Look at each shelf and rack carefully, but do so with a keen eye for top-quality supplies.
    • Bring your list of needs and wants.  If the item isn’t on your list, or if it isn’t a good addition to your prepping inventory, pass the item by.  These items can still add to a large tab when you check out.  By the way, this is where it pays to have an extensive list of supplies you want to add to your prepping inventory.
    • Don’t break your budget!  If you can’t afford it now, it will show up again later in another store.
    • Finally, before making a purchase, do the look-sniff-try it test.  Look all over the items for defects.  Sniff clothing for odors.  Try all items for functionality – zip zippers, button snaps, even use a local outlet to plug in tools to see if they work as designed.

If you want to live more frugally, one important book to find is the updated edition of Possum Living, by Dolly Fried. In her book, Fried has some great advice on cutting expenses and doing things for oneself.  Another key and oft-mentioned book to study is: The Encyclopedia of Country Living, by Carla Emery.

You can indeed afford to prepare! It is a simple matter of changing the way that you spend your time and money.

For more ideas on budget prepping, see the SurvivalBlog Archives category: Frugal Living.

I encourage readers to send me more suggestions on low-cost and no-cost preparedness via e-mail, and I will post them in the Snippets column. Thanks! – JWR