I once worked with a woman who only gave her dogs bottled water to drink. When asked if she could drive a vehicle with a manual transmission, she replied, “Oh no! I’d rather walk!” Seriously? There was no pioneer spirit there! In post SHTF, people like this may find it difficult surviving, much less finding bottled water for their dog. Preparing for emergencies or post SHTF can be overwhelming and expensive, but there are many ways to prep on a budget.
Two years ago when a derecho (Editors note: a widespread, long-lived, straight-line wind storm) came through our area, the power went out for several days. With temperatures hovering in the mid to upper 90’s, we pulled out the generator and headed for the basement, where it was cool. We were lucky to be able to get gasoline, as only one gas station among many in our community had electricity, and neighboring towns had none. Grocery stores were closed. Even though people said that the power company would have it up and running in no time, a slight edge of fear and panic hovered in the back of their minds. You could see it in their eyes. So many people lost the contents of their freezers and refrigerators. We had no functioning microwaves to cook the thawed foods! No internet! No TV! Cell phone use was limited to conserve battery life! Think about it. An all-electric, temperature-controlled environment can kill you! I vowed to my husband, then and there, that I would learn to manage our home without electricity. The power was only out for a couple of days, but I imagined it going out for an extended period of time.
So after the electricity was restored, I began my research. I started canning vegetables, chicken and beef broth, venison, chicken, apples, and jams and jellies to keep from relying on the freezer. There are great recipes on the Internet for canning. If the power should go out, what little there is in the freezer can be cooked on a gas cook stove in the kitchen, a gas grill outside, a fire pit, or a rocket stove made with cinder blocks. The Internet has great recipes and project instructions.
We have a well and septic, so when the power goes out the water stops. We can run the generator long enough to fill gallon jugs for drinking and fill the tub full of water. From there, we dip out the water for the toilet and hygiene. We have gathered five 55-gallon barrels and hope to collect rainwater in them soon. It will be good for laundry, hygiene, and watering our small garden, but the rainwater will need to be strained/filtered and boiled for drinking. Rainwater from a shingle roof should never be consumed. A large 20-gallon tub for wash water and an inexpensive toilet plunger work well for doing laundry. Use only the amount of water needed for your load of laundry. Cut three or four holes in the plunger the size of a quarter and use it as an agitator. Have a second tub for rinse water. Purchase a wringer mop bucket to press out the water from your clothes, and hang them on the clothesline to dry in the summer and a clothes rack indoors in the winter. (Editor’s Note: If you purchase one of these mop buckets, the commercial mops work very well in home use, but you will generally find it easier if you cut off about a foot from the mop handle. It’s amazing how many low hanging light fixtures are in the way of of a full length mop handle.) It’s all very affordable! Use the wash and rinse water to clean your floors and/or your porch, or use it to flush the toilet. Make sure your laundry detergent has no phosphates, which could potentially pollute your ground and ground water. A solar shower pack is great for taking showers. The water gets so hot sometimes you may need to let it cool before you can use it. That’s all well and good for summer use, but what about winter? By accident, I discovered a neat little trick for that.
A couple years ago, I let my Weimaraner dog out to do her business. She came back smelling awful! She had rolled in a fresh cow pie from the neighbor’s farm, and it was too cold to shoot her with a water hose outside for a bath. I took a two-gallon watering can and filled it with warm water then gave her a shower. This worked great! I then expanded that idea to weekend trail rides, where 250+ horses and riders came together for trail rides, but there was little or no running water for showers. This was the ideal shower. The downside is that it takes two people to use this method, as two gallons of water are difficult to hold over your head to give yourself a shower. If we are frugal in our efforts, at least two adults can shower with one watering can. I use this method on my grandkids every time they stay at my house. It conserves water, and they think it is great fun to have a “camp shower”. What better way to prepare for post SHTF then to implement small things into everyday life.
The research continued. There are some amazing ideas out there! My research showed that you can bring in your solar landscape lights to light up your room at night. When that derecho hit, I tested that idea and brought one inside, which my husband thought was ridiculous. However, when I placed the light in our bedroom, he woke up in the middle of the night and declared that the light was too bright to sleep by, so we moved it into the dining room. To this day we keep one in the dining room and one in the bathroom every night for as long as the sun charges them up. Place them in a CLEAR flower vase, which is designed to support top-heavy things. Since solar landscape lights shine their light downward, a green vase is too dark and will prevent good lighting. Place the clear flower vase on a square mirror tile to reflect the light. These mirrors are found in the housewares section in many box stores and are used for table decorations. In the winter months when there is little sunlight, the oil lamps get their exercise, but the idea is to conserve the fossil fuels needed to operate them. I tell everyone about this small solar lighting, even people I meet at the store. They realize it is a good idea. The more people who know the better!
Constantly ask yourself, “If the power goes out, how will I manage my household?” I purchased several books on self-sustaining topics and off-grid survival to have on hand. I learned to make soap. If you’re using quality oils, it isn’t as inexpensive as many people think, but I started doing this to eliminate the many chemicals in store-bought products. However, if the power is out, many needed items are not available at the store. To my surprise, I realized that I now have a new skill to share with others in times of need. I have found, and tested, recipes for deodorant, toothpaste, moisturizing face cream, lip balm, body lotion bars, hairspray, laundry detergent, all-purpose cleaner, and drain cleaner. Some recipes failed…miserably. So, I would find another one and then tweak it. Other recipes worked and are very effective in their tasks, and I still use them today. Many of these are cheap, cheap, cheap!
One of my favorite recipes is an all-purpose cleaner. I have tweaked this recipe to eliminate unnecessary fluff to get down to the real cleaning power of the spray. Start with 1½ cups of water that has been heated, which helps the ingredients blend better. Add 2 tablespoons white vinegar, 1 teaspoon Borax, and ¼ cup liquid Castile soap with tea tree oil. (Lavender works great, too.) Stir gently and pour into a recycled spray bottle with a funnel. Cap once it has cooled. This is a very effective cleaner on most surfaces, but because of the Borax it does not do windows. Dr. Bronner’s liquid Castile soap costs around $12 for a 32 ounce bottle, which equates to 38 cents per ounce. Using four ounces at a time, plus the remaining ingredients, this cleaner cost around $1.60 per batch. To clean windows, you need 2 cups of water with ¼ cup vinegar. Add ½ teaspoon liquid Castile soap for really dirty windows. Pour this mixture into a spray bottle and clean away!
Stock up on the affordable ingredients to make these products, and they will be available to you when stores have lost their power and/or their shelves are empty. In addition to the savings, you get a healthier product. The chemicals in the store-bought versions of many products can make people sick, if not now, then maybe later as they are stored up in your system.
What happens if I get the flu or sprain my ankle? In a post-SHTF world, is there a doctor available? It’s time for more research! I am no EMT or student of medicine, but I found excellent information on homeopathic remedies. So, I planted an herbal healing garden. A careful study of herbs should be done before drinking teas. Some herbs are very difficult to find. But with the help of friends and local greenhouse nurseries, I was able to locate a couple of herbs that tried their best to elude me. I purchased books to show me how to recognize many local medicinal herbs that simply look like weeds. Every year we try killing dandelions with chemicals for a more appealing lawn. Who would have thought that dandelion roots and leaves are so nutritious? A bit more research even turned up a recipe for dandelion wine, which is a very good bartering item!
I am not one to shop on the Internet. I don’t like putting my credit card number out there to purchase these things. I did, however, purchase mylar bags on the Internet, because I could not find them locally. Storing dried beans, rice, powdered milk, sugar, and salt can be lifesavers in times of need, and properly stored these will last many years. There is a lot of information on the Internet. You will discover how long dried foods can be stored and where they should be stored. For example; raw, natural honey has an unlimited shelf life. It just doesn’t go bad. If it crystalizes, place the jar of honey into a pot of warm/hot water and the honey will return to its original state. Honey is nutritious and can also be used medicinally.
Both my husband and I work regular jobs, and both are about an hour’s drive from home in different directions. We both have bug out bags, so in case we are stranded their contents will at least get us home. They are nothing fancy, but a little preparedness will go a long way. I got a list of things for our bags in my research. Consider what you may need if you had to walk 50 miles home. Do you really need that big $100 wilderness knife or will a more affordable one do?
Many people you read about obviously have lots of money for underground bunkers and buckets upon buckets of survival food, but what about those who don’t have that kind of money or have nowhere else to “bug out” to? They shouldn’t be left out of the loop! There are so many things you can do on a limited budget that will help you prepare. Eat out less and at home more. Learn to cook meals that do not require a microwave. Buy an extra bag of both dried beans and rice plus a couple extra cans of food each week, and set them aside. Grow what food you can. Even a small garden produces good food with care. Check out those hygiene and cleaning recipes on the Internet and start making your own. Save money and be healthier to boot. However, we cannot learn it all. We will need to rely on others who can do what we cannot. It is a good idea to talk to your friends and neighbors on the subject. We have a couple of neighbors who are onboard with neighborhood security and prepping for emergencies. One neighbor keeps bees. I buy honey from him, and he gives me the honeycomb. He also grows beautiful tomatoes that I buy inexpensively and can in mason jars. Another neighbor keeps chickens, and I get organic eggs from her. Consider bartering with the skills that you have. I render beeswax to make candles and to add to some of the skin care recipes. When I make soap, I give samples to the neighbors each time I get a new recipe.
Test the waters. Spend a weekend with the power shut off to your house. I mean spend an entire weekend without electricity, not just an overnight on Friday and then off to the Pancake House on Saturday morning. For now, maybe run your generator to keep the refrigerator and freezer running but nothing else. You will get a full picture of what it will take in a post-SHTF world. What will you learn about your own preparedness? What do you need? You will discover countless things that you overlooked. Start making a list of your shortcomings and your strong points. Get together with your neighbors. What skills do you have that they need and vice versa?
Today so many people are focused on what Brittney Spears is wearing and the latest cell phone technology. We need to change that focus. Bring your pioneer spirit forward. Start with research on the Internet. The greatest thing about the Internet is its educational advantages. Get it while you can. When the power goes out, it is too late to look up instructions and recipes on the Internet for a self-sustaining lifestyle. Buy and/or borrow some books. Talk to friends and neighbors. It doesn’t take a huge budget to implement simple changes. Make those simple changes your new habits. The time to act and prepare is now.