Editor’s Note: Coincidentally, I received two very similar articles about dollar store shopping from writers in two states in the same week. But because they have different perspectives, I’ve decided to post both of them. The other one will be posted tomorrow.
I’m here visiting our oldest son in New York City, always an eye opening experience. After church, several of his friends have asked how to get started on building an everyday carry (EDC) bag after seeing our day bags. However, after seeing their respective apartments, we decided to start more basic (understanding we are teaching a few concepts that may be equally applicable to items within a starter level EDC bag or shelter-in-place plan). Think “just moved-into-their-first-apartment-out-of-college-basic” in terms of the problem we are trying to solve. They can build their full kit EDC bag after they prepare for the basics of shelter-in-place in the big city so to speak. To have some fun, we decided to host a grand tour of the dollar store to simply walk around with my oldest son and a few of his friends to point out items that would cost $1.00 at the Dollar Tree.
I was hoping to spark an interest in prepping with these city folks (ages 23-28) and get them thinking about how to prepare while understanding that you don’t have to spend a tremendous amount of money to make progress. Not able to have a full game plan but the first few steps on that metaphorical long journey. On the actual physical walk over, my husband shared a 3×3 grid of probability and impact – probability marked as Low, Medium and High and then impact to you from the event happening as Low, Medium, High. We had one free afternoon – a few twenties in our wallet – and a desire to get organized for a power outage as a proxy for one of the “high probability/medium impact” events for our end users. No need to price check items at the Dollar Tree, everything is a dollar (just some humor).
These young folks just graduated from college and had literally just moved into the Big City. My husband commented that maybe instead of eight pairs of basketball sneakers, they could have bought a few cases of bottled water and I tried to sssshhhh him a bit. We later dropped off four cases of water at their apartment and told them to stash those in the closet and put one case in their car trunk (car being kept at a local garage at some astronomical monthly fee). My son had already anticipated the “always keep your car with a full tank of gas” and we all shared a smile on that front. We checked out their gas grill on their balcony along with propane tank and then took a good look in their freezer to gauge what type of food they cooked. Meat, check. No soy milk, double check.
I reminded my son to keep his mini Sawyer water filter handy from camping and we took a look at their backpacking gear to ensure things were stowed in one spot. I gently reminded him that the camping gear needs to get shoveled into the car if he needed to leave and he smiled wryly that he remembers me saying that a few times before. We checked to make sure he had multiple choices for water storage (bottles, canteen, soft plastic and metal version that can be heated) and his Sawyer mini. They had a few leftover Mountain House breakfast packages from camping. I shared that the Mountain House meals (for example, breakfast skillet or egg varieties) work great in a tortilla wrap – and that the tortilla wraps hold up longer versus a loaf of bread in terms of shelf life). A bottle of hot sauce, tortilla wraps and Mountain House breakfast skillet inside and life is good, power outage or not. We order our Mountain House foods from Ready Made Resources online. That works fine, and they have good prices.
Starting With Healthcare
Anyhow, our Dollar Store journey starts in the “healthcare section”. As we walk up the aisle we toss a small bottle of Excedrin in our basket (basically a generic version which is Tylenol with NSAID and some caffeine). Added a small box of immodium (as capsules) for stomach issues and a bottle of pepto bismol. A box of cold/flu medicine, check. We avoid “soft gel” caps since those can soften over time with even a little moisture, just pick the hard pill variety when possible understanding that certain brands made in China should be avoided. A box of band aids, a 3-pack of small Neosporin squeeze tubes (brand name), pack of 3 small hand sanitizers and a plain bottle of Tylenol rounded our ultra basic health kit.
While walking over to the “Tool and Auto Section” (understanding that term “tool” is used rather loosely at the dollar Store) whilst passing the candy session we tossed in 2-3 bags of our favorite hard candy (coffee nips, lemonheads sours and Jolly Ranchers). When our post college “tour guests” asked the purpose of the hard candy, my husband said they were to suck on while you waited for a deer to pass by your cross hairs or for a long drive home after hunting – but they could use them as poker chips if the outage lasts for more than one night (more weak humor). On a more serious note, it’s fun to have a few hard candies while you walk a long haul.
Tools & Auto
In the tools and auto aisle, amidst fifteen colors of Chinese made cell phone charger plugs and scent hangers (that ranged in shapes from Christmas trees to images of things we never knew existed) which won’t be needed since the power out is our “test concept”, we added a two pack of electrical tape, a small hank of paracord (for a clothesline if needed since their washer-dryer won’t work) which was 20’ in length, a package of old fashioned clothes pins and a patch of Diamond brand wooden matches. I added some travel size foil packets of Woolite for washing clothes in the sink without extra suds having learned that trick camping. Added a pair of faux leather gloves understanding they would likely last not particularly long but would help avoid cuts or scrapes around trash removal or sanitary items which might crop up during longer power outages. Added a 16 oz bottle of Chlorox brand bleach, a two pack of oven mitts which the initial apartment survey did not have (not sure how they cooked in college), a few foil loaf pans (to cook things from the freezer and not need to wash up), a package of 10 tan washcloths (and an extra for my own bug out bag), a cutting board and paring knife for food prep from the freezer.
We added a headlamp from the “Tool Section” that sort of merged with a faux camping section. Here we tossed in a few BBQ skewers (for grilling) and another aluminum oven baking dish. I suggest you take a look at the sizes and select the aluminum trays that give you the most # of trays since you won’t be using this again. It’s just to procure the ability to grill a few meals without undue clean up – or a tray to defrost something from the freezer out on the counter (since the fridge won’t be working).
The Dollar Tree sells small amounts of Loctite and Superglue in easy to use and tiny sized sample amounts along with epoxy – we took a few of those since they are brand name repairs for general purpose and not necessarily for our immediate need. We prefer Cabelas for our shopping along with Walmart in general terms; however, the Dollar store (various varieties but basically, the one where the prices are actually a dollar) is interesting for the following reasons. 1. Name brands are often featured but the sizes of the products are smaller sample sizes which can be a good thing for a stockpile of products that might only get used in a pinch. 2. Non-name brand names (such as a two pack of salt/pepper for a picnic table) cost $1.00 which is one third or less than their cost at other stores.
Moving over the “Household” aisle. This was our bonanza right here. Stocked up on emergency candles (per box of 6, $1.00) and then 2 packs of Bic Lighters (we prefer lighter colors with a white shell or yellow shell rather than black so you can see how much lighter fluid is left). Another package of 12 Diamond brand matches. A flashlight was added. Found a $1.00 headlamp which probably won’t last but would let my son and his wife brush their teeth and not bump around in the dark. A $1.00 bottle of vegetable oil for cooking was added to our cart. Two boxes of 13 gallon kitchen bags (for laundry or sanitary disposal) and one box of generic brand ziplock bags were added. Later, we tested the ziplock bags and called these “zipleak” (those was no go for next time, a good lesson to learn that the brand name in this case was really required).
Foods and Beverages
In the “Food/Beverage” aisle – we added two liter bottles of Powerade (like a Gatorade), a picnic pack of salt/pepper, a few cans of soup, two large jars of brand name peanut butter, a smaller jar of jelly, and two choices of hard crackers. Wheat Thins last a long time and don’t taste as stale after one year in the box, just saying from experience. Later at the regular grocery store, we bought a box of Frosted shredded wheat which works as a cold snack or cereal in the morning. A plastic canister of Folgers coffee and a plastic drip lid with 5 paper filters that sits on a coffee mug (to make solo cups of drip coffee and noted since they have an electric stove which won’t work without power, they can use the grill and a pot of water instead). We added a few boxes of Pop Tarts and several tins of canned fruits and one can of tuna fish. The general approach is going to eat mostly cold foods and save the grill for items that are present in the fridge and freezer – this is not an extended wilderness plan.
Here’s our summary. We have now have water and lighting via candles (burned on top of a foil tin in case the wick burns down for safety) + flashlights + headlight to give the kids a few choices; the ability to hand wash a few clothes and string a clothes line up to dry clothes in a pinch; drinks and food for 3-4 days covering breakfast and a main meal with a few snacks (this is stretched by using up the freezer/fridge items by cooking on the grill); the ability to deal with minor cuts/scratches or a mild flu – and options for staying hydrated and with a degree of personal hygiene. That’s it.
At the check out counter, we found my favorite – that little plastic tube of eyeglass repair with two tiny screwdrivers (one flat head and one Philips head), extra screws, a nose bridge cushion and an alcohol wipe). I keep that in my EDC pack so I bought one each as a starter set for their eventual kits. That’s it, that’s our big day in the City. We had fun, some laughs and for less than $40.
We got back to their “city apartment” and sat down with an old fashioned paper map. We pointed that walking roughly 28 miles they could get to family and friends well outside the city and which routes might actually work. My son had participated in a few walk-a-thons for fund raising (besides camping and hiking with us on trips and Boy Scouts) and so we felt that if the circumstances dictated, weather permitting, this might work if the New York city trains weren’t running.
Bottom line, planning isn’t perfect and I’m sure most of our readers will chuckle at the number of scenarios where this basic scenario will be overtaken (or quite frankly overrun) by events. Yes, we know that. However, we judge the quality of our advocacy by the quality the follow up questions and since we did get a few, the time and effort was well worth it. We did a small follow up to share which friends would be likely good milestone locations if the kids could not get entirely out of the city. We had a nice conversation around how storage is limited in their apartment and noted that their car trunk might be a good spot for certain items that don’t wilt in the heat, perhaps a sleeping bag and some of their camping gear would be better kept in the car to save time and also in case their car gets stuck on the turnpike in an ice storm, for example). Anyhow, we hope we stimulated further dialogue and got plenty of hugs as we headed out. It was fun for a few hours, “no pressure”, light conversation.