First, I had to decide where to spend my time bargain hunting and then plan my trip to maximize opportunities. The places where I decided to shop for the remaining necessary “get home” items were:
- Thrift shops
- Estate auctions
- Pawn shops
- Tag sales
- Craigslist.com online listings
- Dollar stores
- Grocery stores
These are stores that serve as outlets for the donation of goods to support the charity’s mission. Goodwill, DAV, and Salvation Army are the mainstays in this area. These are generally good to browse at, but they can be hard places in which to find bargains, as they get smarter about what things are worth and also as they leverage the Internet to sell higher-end items.
I have found there are also two other generic types of thrift stores. One is run by an individual who is trying to make a profit to support themselves, maybe with a “charity” that they publicize a relationship with. I usually avoid these, as the goods generally seem to come from garage sales that the owner goes to, buys stuff from, and then marks up to near new prices. The other type is a cause related charity that is normally opened by folks in the area who truly want to make a difference. These are usually staffed by volunteers and supported by donations from some of the more well-off people in the area. They have the advantage of higher quality goods and a staff that is not overly knowledgeable about what used items are worth. You can find these supporting cancer, AIDS outreach and prevention, adoption support, and other causes. Many times these are the only sort of thrift store where you can offer less than the amount being asked and the staff will lower the price.
I did some research on the Internet and found two Goodwill stores and one Salvation Army relatively close to each other. I also found two cause-related stores in the area. I allocated an hour and a half to see what I could find at these stores.
From the thrift stores, I was able to procure the following items:
- Army surplus rip stop woodland camo pants$1
- A half dozen cowbells with a local school logo on them for $3 (to use as a warning device once it’s strung on tangle foot-type trip wires made from paracord at nights.)
- Two quart Stanley thermos (the big green one) for $2.50
- Half dozen taper candles (unscented) $1; these are useful both for light and as fire starters
- Knife, fork, spoon at only $.10 each
- Kelty Red Wing 3500 cu inch backpack $2 (These are close to $100 new, and I was able to find one that fit my torso.)
The cost so far has been a mere $9.80.I have more than $90 remaining.
Next I stopped at a dollar store. I don’t normally shop at one, as I have found that most of them don’t seem to sell much of what I want. I had been reading some blogs lately where folks had gotten some good value at them, and I thought I’d give it a try. Now, I am sure that some stores are better than others, but the one I stopped at really didn’t have much that I could use. I did find the following:
- Blue 6×8 polypropylene tarp $4, and
- Wasp spray with a 20-foot range for $2, to use for less than lethal self defense.
The total spent so far is $15.80.
At Walmart, I was able to purchase the following:
- Four pack of Bic lighters for $3.50 (I prefer the name brand; it seems to have a better spark than generic lighters.)
- Teafor $3
- Three one-pound Danish canned hams $10
- Can of Fix-a-Flat tire inflator for $5 (Yes, the Jeep has a spare, but I believe that saying that “two is one, and one is none”)
- Case of Ramen noodle cups, 24 meals for $6
- I looked for .22 ammo but as is usual, lately, they were out
- a 10-pound bag of rice for $4
- Cajun spices and chicken bouillon for $6
- Stay awake caffeine pills for $3
- Insect repellant for $3
My running total of what I’d spent so far was now $56.30. (I still had more than $43 remaining.)
I usually try to avoid the wealthier neighborhoods, as the people who live there tend to believe that what they are selling should still be worth close to what they paid for it. Instead, I like middle class and blue collar neighborhoods, especially those that don’t have a lot of young families selling baby clothes and toys that their kids just outgrew. I used Craig’s list and the local newspaper online classified to search for neighborhood garage sales where there would be quite a few sales within walking distance of each other, and then I checked with some of my co-workers who were locals to find out what kind of neighborhood they were.
From the garage sales, I was able to obtain the following:
- Garden trowel for $.50 (It’s perfect for cat holes or tending camp fires)
- Camping tent with poles and stakes $5 (In this situation some might consider a tent to be a luxury, but on the other hand, a good night’s sleep away from mosquitos and out of the rain is invaluable.)
- Self-inflating sleeping pad for $1
- Ski poles for $1 (I can use these for trekking poles while back packing. I used a set for a 90-mile hike at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, and they work great. )
- Four one-liter water bottles, which I got for free (A lot of folks set out a “free” box at their garage sale.)
- An older Boy Scout camp kitchen pot and pan set for $5 (This set included a two-gallon pot and fry pan with handle, a two quart pot with lid, a smaller fry pan, four aluminum plates, a coffee pot, and four stacking cups. Also included was a cooking fork and spoon, spatula, kitchen knife, and cutting board. The kit is too heavy for backpacking, but I would take the small pot and leave the rest with the Jeep, if I had to start hiking.)
- A 40 channel CB radio with antenna for $5 (I did hook this up in the Jeep to ensure it worked before buying it.)
My running total at this point is just $73.80. (This leaves me more than $26.)
I also checked Craig’s list (craigslist.com) for tag sales. These have become my favorite sort of sale of late. If you don’t have them in your area, basically they are an estate or moving sale where the owners have hired someone to sell the contents of their home. Everything is for sale, and the person running the sale has no emotional attachment to the goods, so the prices are reasonable and they take offers. The best way to find out about these is by searching Craigslist or by looking for signs posted on corners. Most of the folks running the sale with keep email lists, so ask to be added so you will have advanced notice. I found two tag sales listed and used the GPS to navigate to them.
From the tag sales, I purchased:
- D handle shovel for $1
- bow saw for $1
- small portable charcoal grill with football team logo for $2 (I figured on using wood found along the way, instead of charcoal.)
- Two bath towels for $1
- An assortment of dish soap, scrubbing sponges, dish towels, bath soap, and shampoo, all for only $1
- 600 watt DC to AC inverter for $5 (I don’t usually see these.)
- a large, old Samsonite suitcase for $5 (I didn’t need it for the bugging out trip, but I figured I would want to bring home most of what I bought with me as checked luggage.)
- Five-gallon collapsible water jug for $2
- Half a package (six rolls) of toilet paper and two rolls of paper towels for $1
- A box with about 30 cans of food – Tuna, beans, vegetables for $5
- Fishing rod and tackle box for $5 (I’m not sure if I would have time to fish on this trip or not, but some of the lures were antiques and there was also a Swedish fillet knife, needle nose pliers, and a couple of good hemostats.)
- Machete for $1 (I am not a big fan of machetes, unless I am in a jungle; however, I did find one useful a few years ago when Uncle Sam asked me to go help invade Panama, but this one was only a dollar and it was an older brand made in Columbia, so I figured why not.)
- Foxfire and Foxfire2 books for $1
- Sleeping bag for $5 (I took it to the laundromat and read the Foxfire books while waiting for it to finish washing and drying.)
The grand total was $104.80! Honestly, I thought it would be less than this, but overall I think I did pretty good. At the end of my stay, I packed up the stuff I wanted to keep in the used Samsonite I bought and then I donated the food to a food pantry and the larger stuff (shovel, water jug, and so forth) to the local Salvation Army (for a tax write-off).
I did attend a farm/estate sale on Sunday in a nearby town. At that sale, I could have picked up a couple of five gallon plastic fuel cans for $2 each, as well as a 12ga Stevens pump shotgun with shells for $45. I passed on this because I really didn’t need the fuel cans since the trip was imaginary and it would have been a violation of federal law for me to buy a shotgun from a private party when in a state I was not a resident. In an emergency situation, I would not have worried about it.
Overall, I think I would have been able to make it home as planned. More food, especially dried camping food, would probably be a good idea, but that would have blown the budget. Maybe some day when I am retired I can try this for real. In the meantime, I might take a weekend and simulate the foot travel portion of this hypothetical journey, using the stuff I gathered for it to see how it works. Please feel free to let me know what you think I missed out on, including what I wasted money or time on, and what else I could have done better