This isn’t as much of a “how to” as it is a “how I have done it” in the spirit of sharing my “experience, strength, and hope” instead of giving advice or instruction.
I am a little over two years into my own serious preparations as well as recovery from my own personal TEOTWAWKI. Prior to August 12, 2012, I had been sort of a hobbyist or dabbler but mostly a self-absorbed guy. I was working 55 miles from home in my chosen career, which I will acknowledge will never be worth more than about 45K a year. My wife was earning about the same as I was at the time. We had two car payments, a small mortgage on an old frame “fixer upper”, and a small handful of high interest credit cards. Officially, we were living paycheck to paycheck, but we were not struggling as long as nothing went wrong. I had gotten deeply into home improvement, by necessity but also interest. I was also gardening and raising rabbits and chickens. The garden and animals I had gotten involved with to help feed us but also because it was “fun” and different. In my forties I had gained a little weight and decided to get back into shape. Being compulsive and having a previous history of competitive cycling, it wasn’t enough to just start running a few times a week; I dove head long into triathlon, marathons, long distance swimming, and 100+ mile bicycle rides. Nearly every hobby I have embraced turns into a cash pit, and this was no exception. I was so absorbed into this, with the tacit support of my wife, that the bills suffered, the home suffered, and my marriage suffered. One Saturday afternoon, I returned from an early morning bike ride to discover she was gone. There was no warning; she was just gone. Without boring anyone with all the details, the bottom line is she was gone, her income was gone, and though I was able to establish contact with her, there was no clear explanation what was happening or going to happen. She had established a life of her own and seemed determined to live it.
Within a matter of weeks I had eaten every morsel of food in my house, was walking to the convenience store to use the bathroom, then later stealing toilet paper from work because I was out. My truck was briefly repossessed, and I was on the verge of permanent self destruction. I had resources available, but I was pridefully refusing to tell anyone I needed help. I thought she would return any day and things would get better. Eventually, I had to reach out to my family. I filed for chapter 13, cleaned up and rented out the master bedroom and bath as an apartment, and began to climb out of my financial and spiritual hole. Through this process came a resolve to never be in this situation again. Coincidence or providence had surrounded me with people who gave me some clarity– political, spiritual, and professional clarity. My personal fragility opened my eyes to the fragile nature of the entire system we live under. The concept of being a “survivalist” gave me a renewed focus and something to pursue that had more than one aspect. I had grown up two generations removed from the Depression, and that background had influenced some of my core values. I tended to be “right of center” politically, with a strong libertarian streak, but I had simply not paid much attention to any of that. I called myself “spiritual but not religious”, which is still largely true. However, that label was mostly used as an excuse to not have to commit to anything. Stripping away my own religious bias and prejudice opened my eyes to some very good people I had dismissed because I did agree 100% with everything they “seemed” to stand for. My willingness to ask for and receive help unconditionally made greater things possible and saved me from my own tendency to make radical moves in the face of minor inconveniences.
As far as becoming a “prepper”– a moniker I really still dislike but understand its use over “survivalist”– the process was not hard or complicated, but it does require some thought and discipline. I couldn’t just “buy in” and be done. I applied one of my talents– the ability to find and absorb every tid bit of information on a topic that has my interest and completely submerge myself into it, breaking the process into stages and small goals. I began with a goal of obtaining a one-month supply of food and three months cushion on my bills. I don’t “save’ well, so having a credit on my bills instead of having three months in the bank worked for me. The bankruptcy, as humiliating as that was, gave me the breathing room to make it work. Very few people in my city of 35,000 drink the tap water. It is “safe” but not appealing, so accumulating water was natural and easy. There is an industry of kiosk-style vending machines for drinking water at roughly $0.25/gallon, and I set a goal of keeping 100 gallons of drinking water on hand in 7-gallon containers. We rotate these so it never gets very old. I also have several 2-liter bottles of tap water and a rain barrel. As tempting as the bulk purchases of food were from Wise foods and others, I kept it simple and simply purchased more than I needed in each trip. With an eye toward meal planning in the future, I accumulated things I knew I would eat, that could be prepared in different ways– stove or microwave, if electricity is available, or on a camping stove or over an open fire. I accumulated non-food items as well with the number “twelve” in my head or multiples of twelve. (I think twelve months or twelve weeks.) I sharpened my canning skills, dug out my old dehydrator, and filled my freezer with something more than just a few pizzas and bags of ice. I have some relatives staying on a farm 300 miles away with two wells, a flowing creek, two ponds, a garden, and solid neighbors all within a few miles, so I have a place to “bug out” to also.
As I reached a degree of food security and was reasonably sure I would not be homeless soon, I branched out, starting with some shotgun shells for my old shotgun. My mother had gotten back into shooting sports and that spurred me into getting my concealed carry permit. I have put together a small collection of weapons, which include nothing expensive or exotic but serviceable. My SKS with the 20 rd detachable magazine is solid; my Glock 26 is reliable and easy to carry; my little LCP is convenient in certain situations; and the two inexpensive handguns I have stashed around the house are reassuring. Add to that three shotguns and I feel okay. (The obsessive guy I am always wants more though.) At my family’s farm, there are many more firearms that will likely be passed down to me. I have a small stash of ammo and have participated in some small shooting competitions to develop a skill set. I also got involved in krav maga training and some weight lifting to compensate for the runners physique I had developed. I have added some additional camping supplies, fuel for my camp stove, and two back packs; one I keep stocked in my truck. Also in my workshop and truck are extras of almost everything. When I bought a set of tires, I kept the old set in my shed out back “just in case”, and this has come in handy. I have extra bottles of oil, tire repair tools, plenty of screws and nails, and some plywood. I have also gathered first aid supplies, OTC meds, some veterinary supplies (with human applications) and a small library of survival literature– both fiction and instructional. With the exception of big ticket items, which for me is anything over $50, I strive to acquire at least two of anything I identify as a “need” in the spirit of “two is one and one is none” and the theory that if I need one now, I will need one later. Working on my own bad habits and no longer having credit as an option, I am better at making what I have last and have actually managed to accumulate a little cash reserve and started buying small amounts of silver as a backup.
My home is starting to come back together after a period of neglect. I am in the process of putting a metal roof on myself, hardening the defenses and clearing old trees and shrubs, bringing my garden back on line, and getting my chicken house back in order. I live in a poor area with transients and renters, but I have developed relationships with the two neighbors nearest me who own their homes, and we can be trusted to look out for one another.
My job recently changed, so I can commute only 15 miles now (a huge gas savings). Though I laugh at the irony of it, I work for the County but as a State Employee. I have learned that not all government employees are mindless bureaucrats, and there are Patriots amongst us. Because many of my co-workers are also “gun people”, with military and law enforcement backgrounds, I have learned a great deal more and have even more resources available. I also have networked within the law enforcement and local government circles, which might prove helpful. This summer I earned my Technician License and acquired a pair of inexpensive radios and have begun adding to my skill and knowledge set. This is another potential money pit hobby, so I struggle to stay grounded. Occasionally, I catch myself being the paranoid conspiracy guy, instead of the smart, prepared, and rational guy. I don’t want to forget to live in the moment while preparing for the unexpected.
My wife is back in town but not home. We see each other often but are cautious. She was humbled also by her experience, but both of us are trying to be more mindful and certain of our choices now. This is a small sampling of what I have been able to achieve on a small income. Some writers seemed to be preparing for very specific SHTF scenarios. My personal life experiences and what I have observed in my professional life, working with others, is just how unpredictable any SHTF can be. With that in mind I try to be a well-rounded prepper and a well-rounded person, a good employee, neighbor, et cetera. I consider myself a Christian and recognize Jesus Christ as my savior, but I still eschew organized religion for the most part. I have added The Bible and other text to my readings, and although I had prayed most of my life I am working to be more “prayer-full” in my approach to life. That being said, I am still impulsive, prideful, a little hedonistic, and lustful. However, I feel more grounded than ever before. I still have a long way to go and many strategic and tactical decisions to make with plenty of personal and existential uncertainties, but the events of the previous few years, as sad, painful, and humbling as they were, may have saved me.