I suspect most of us who are interested in self-reliance are preparing on a budget. While it would be great to order a year’s worth of food at a time, and rotate them by donating them to the local food bank, that is just not practical for most of us. Likewise with equipment, tools and other survival needs. It would be easy to just go to Amazon and order whatever we want, but I for one will need to wait until I win the lottery first.
The Internet is full of places you can buy supplies, tools, food and anything else you think you need. Many of them designed by professionals who are experts at getting you to spend your money. Some of them are also designed by scammers who can be even better at separating you from your hard earned cash.
Despite the pitfalls of the Internet, there are also a lot of places that you can get legitimate deals to help you with your preparations, whether you are getting prepared for a few days down because of storms or for TEOTWAWKI. I wanted to share a few sites that I have used that are legitimate and are places where you can find bargains to help you prepare.
I thought it would be helpful to not just list the sites, but also to tell you a bit about what bargains you can find and any tips or tricks you can use at the site. With one exception, these are all auction sites. Most of them sell government surplus from various federal, state and local agencies.
I’m sure there are other useful sites, and hope you will share if there are any you have used successfully. The sites I have found most useful, especially from a Prepper’s perspective are:
I think of Shopgoodwill.com kind of like eBay, only less well known. It is the web site that local Goodwill stores from all across the country use to sell items that they feel they can get more money for from an auction than by selling it in their local store. Because it is not as popular as eBay, I believe you can find more bargains, since there are fewer knowledgeable people bidding against you. The search engine is not the most powerful among auction sites. They tried to upgrade it a few years ago, but had a bad failure when doing so. The web site was down for more than a week before they restored it back to what it was before.
I have found some of the best bargains on things like coats and jackets,military surplus, holsters, binoculars and knives. You can sometimes also get good deals on camping equipment like stoves, pots and lanterns or on high end backpacks. A key thing to remember is that the person writing the description for what they are posting for the store is most likely not an expert on the item. This can work for you or against you. Careful searching can find bargains out there that are mis-described or that have a description misspelled. You also need to carefully read the description and look at the pictures. That antique WWII-vintage wind up wristwatch may actually be a modern quartz watch from Wal-Mart. I will say that I don’t think any of the stores deliberately try to mis-describe an item, but sometimes it just happens.
The search engine supports partial word searches, so you can use that to your advantage. For example, instead of searching for “holster” you may want to search for “holst” which will bring up items with the word holster,holsters or the misspelled holstar. Unfortunately it also brings up “upholstery”, but usually there are only a few hits for that, so you can visually filter out what you are not interested in. Before bidding, do your research and decide what you want to pay for the item. Also be sure to checkout the estimated shipping costs to ensure you don’t pay more than what the item is worth in shipping charges. You also need to be careful because some stores will not ship large, heavy or bulky items, so you will need to either pick it up in person or arrange for a local pack and ship service like a local UPS or FedEx store to pick it up and ship it to you. If you are going to have it picked up and shipped, be sure you look into the costs before you bid.
Shopgoodwill.com allows you to search by location, and every location I have checked will allow you to pick up an item locally, instead of having it shipped. I use this not only for the stores near where I live, but also for Goodwill stores where I am traveling to either for work or vacation.
Govliquidation.com is a site run by a government contractor. They took over for the old DRMO auctions that some of you may remember. They sell military surplus as well as surplus for some federal agencies. Govliquidation.com also used to sell military vehicles, however they lost the vehicle business to Govplanet.com (discussed below.) They still have a few vehicles they are selling that were in the system, but that is the exception. I bought an M35A2 Deuce-and-a-Half (2.5-ton truck) from them, and an M818 5-ton tractor. The sales went smoothly, however instead of getting the government SF-97 title document, they sent me Florida titles. The titles worked just as well went I went to register them, so it was no big deal. Govliquidation is a place where you can buy in bulk, pallet loads of cold weather equipment, spent brass by the ton, etc. For the most part, you are on your own for arranging pick up or shipping of items you purchase. Govliquidation also has tried to expand beyond government surplus, and occasionally you will see non-surplus stuff listed.Govliquidation also runs the web site Unclesamsretailoutlet.com.
Unclesamsretailoutlet.com sells military surplus, field gear, bayonets, NCO swords, clothing, MREs, ammo cans, tools and MWRO (Military Welfare and Recreation Organization) surplus in small, consumer lots at fixed prices. They have low shipping costs for small items, and have pretty good sales at least once a month, with 20% to 50% off of various categories or occasionally the entire site. They will also put stuff on clearance if it doesn’t sell after awhile. It is a store, not an auction, but it has a lot of items that preppers can use at usually pretty good prices.
GSAAuctions.gov is another auction site, however this is actually run by the government, not by a contractor (as near as I can tell). It primarily sells surplus from federal agencies other than the DOD, and also from some local agencies, mostly those that have received federal surplus that they no longer need. You can pick up some good deals on furniture, vehicles, and fire trucks and about anything else you can think of from surplus real estate such as post offices, control towers and light houses to a 300 foot Coast Guard cutter. They also have aircraft from time to time, like Chinooks, Blackhawks, and even LearJets. This site also sells items confiscated by US Marshals office or by the Internal Revenue Service. I have seen Rolexes, Mercedes SUVs, Ferraris and other high end items, although I don’t think I would buy anything that expensive from this site myself. For some of the confiscated items, real estate and ships, they require that you post a bid deposit before bidding. I have purchased a couple of 3 KW Army generators and an Air Force surplus Jeep J-20ambulance from this site. A lot of the military surplus on here was surplused out to rural fire departments, and you can still find M880 Dodge pickups indecent (usually non-running) condition if you are looking for a good pre-electronic ignition bug out vehicle.
Govdeals.com seems to be mostly used by state, county and local agencies as well as state universities and community colleges to get rid of their surplus.You can search by location on this site, just like the other sites. I have used this site for furniture (workbenches) and for surplus Crown Victorias (that I use as “daily drivers”). You can also buy police confiscated or recovered items.Sometimes you can find surplus or confiscated guns and ammunition, but often you need to have an Federal Firearms License (FFL) to bid on them. There are also some items, such as fully equipped patrol cars or fire engines, which are restricted for purchase only by other government agencies although if they don’t sell, they may come back up for sale to the public.
A favorite search that I use on the Govdeals.com site is to search for items listed in the past 24 hours, and to sort the results by auction end date. This will highlight for you stuff that was just posted that will not be up for long.I found a municipal _ ton Chevy 4WD pickup with snow blade and Tommy lift that was posted to end the same day it was listed. It was up for less than 4 hours.I ended up being the only bidder and bought it for the opening bid, which was about $400. Deals like that don’t happen often, although I have noticed Washington DC for one does post its abandoned and confiscated vehicles for just24 hour sale periods. Govdeals also sells some Canadian government surplus which is sold for Canadian dollars. I have noticed that Diesel vehicles seem to sell for much less in Canada than they do in the US. A friend’s son has purchased a couple of vehicles from Canada, and says as long as you follow the rules, it is pretty easy to bring stuff to the US.
Another site I want to highlight is Purplewave.com. I’d say this is similar to Govdeals.com, in that some state and local agencies tend to use it instead of Govdeals.com. The main difference is that Purplewave also sells surplus from private companies. You can find lots of construction and farm equipment for sale. My son has purchased a couple of vehicles from them, and it seems to work pretty slick. From what I have seen, a lot of the vehicles sell for less on Purplewave than they do locally, so if you buy at the right price, you may be able to make a profit. With Purplewave, you bid and pay on the site, and they send you the receipt (and title if there is one). You then arrange with the seller to pick up whatever you purchased, instead of with Purplewave staff.
Finally, there us GovPlanet. This is a fairly new site. They won the Federal government contract to sell military and DOD surplus vehicles. They have been in the news lately because they have begun selling HMMWVs. The good news,especially if you want your own Hummer, is that they finally circumvented the restriction that military surplus HMMWVs could only be used off road, and they are now issuing SF-97s when you buy one, which you can take to your local DMV to get a title and regular registration. Govplanet sells military construction equipment, trailers, cargo trucks, semi tractors, and many other vehicles.Their bidding process is a bit different. The actual live auction runs for less than a day, however you can “pre-bid” on any of the items for a couple of weeks prior to the day of the auction. When you pre-bid, it will tell you if you are the current highest “pre-bidder”, and you can bid again if you want. The day of the auction, you can also live bid on the item, however the live portion of the auction only lasts for a couple of hours. Govplanet is probably the easiest site to search closed auctions, so you can see what similar items to what you want have sold for before. The one thing I don’t like about Govplanet is that their starting bids are much higher than the other sites. For example, they will start the bidding for an M923 cargo truck at$2,000, where Govliquidation would start them at $100. In the long run, it does not make much difference as they almost always sell for above the starting bid anyway, but it does eliminate the (slight) possibility that you might get areal bargain. Although I have bid both by pre-bid and live bid on this site, I have not yet won anything, so I can’t speak to how easy the transaction goes from my own experience. From what I have read on a couple of military vehicle enthusiast sites, they seem to be okay to deal with.
Tips to use with all these sites are to search for alternate spellings or misspellings. Also you need to ensure that you know what the shipping and (if any) handling or other fees and expenses will be before you buy. Research what something is worth before you bid. If you have a question, email the seller. I have rarely had a seller refuse to answer me when I ask a legitimate question.Ensure you know where the item is located. You can get a great deal on cargo trucks in Guam, but the shipping will kill you. Personally, I bid what I want to pay for the item, and let the site autobid for me up to my limit. Some sites do ask if you want to use autobid or if you want to bid the full amount, so be sure of what you have selected. If someone comes in at the last minute and buys the item for $1 more than my bid, so be it. I know a lot of people who like to monitor the auction up to the last minute, hoping to “snipe” the item and get it for $1 more than their competition. While I do this on occasion, usually if someone wants to outbid me, more power to them.
If your search yields too many results to look through and you can’t figure out how to refine it, sort by price or by number of bids. This will bring to the top items that at least one other person thinks is worth buying.
Finally, if you are buying military surplus items, be sure you check to see if you are required to de-mil (or chop up) the item before you can take possession. It would not be fun to buy something like a helicopter and then find out you had to cut it up into pieces less than three feet square.
While the days of the brand new Jeep still in a crate for $45 (like they used to advertise in Popular Mechanics in the 1960s) are gone, by using these sites you can still get some useful bargains and save money on preparedness.
JWR: Adds: I agree that how you you phrase your searches is crucial to locating online auction listings and successful bidding. If there is an item that is quite sought-after and often bid up to high prices, the trick of making your search for a seller’s unintended mis-spellings (as B.F. mentioned) does indeed work! For example, last year I was the only bidder on a “no reserve” auction for Hensoldt rifle scope on an HK claw mount because the seller had mis-spelled it “Hensolt”. I got that scope right at the opening bid, which was only about one half of its normal retail price. So doing my automated searches for Hensolt, Hensodlt, Hensolth, and Hensold really paid off!