Prepping on a Budget

One question I see pop up from time to time in preparedness forums and comment threads is, “What can I do to prepare if I have a limited income?”

The problem with a lot of budget-conscious advice is that it always tends to assume that there is some luxury you can easily give up to help meet your goals.

But what if you’ve already given up all the luxuries and you are already surviving on a diet of Top Ramen? Do you just plan on stockpiling as much ramen as possible and hope for the best?

Believe it or not, there are things you can do. If Top Ramen is literally the only food you can afford, then yes, try to stock up on extra every week. But look into more nutritious alternatives that are almost as inexpensive, like rice and beans, and inexpensive protein like canned tuna. You should do this anyway—ramen is just not that good for you, and you need protein.

But whatever you are eating, the key is to pick one non-perishable thing each week to buy extra. You don’t have to buy in bulk; even one canned item a week will add up faster than you know. And don’t forget water! Gallon jugs of drinking water are typically less than a dollar. If you drink soda, buy the two-liters and then rinse and refill those with water and add them to your stash. Whenever you get a bottle of water, refill it and save it. You get the idea.

Growing your own food, if possible, is an even better way to prepare. Seeds aren’t that expensive, and it does not take a lot of room to sprout them (and in a pinch, the sprouts of many seeds can be eaten in order to add greens to your diet). If you live in an apartment, you can start a container or windowsill garden. Few things in life are more satisfying than eating vegetables that you grew yourself.

And don’t forget the abundance of free food in this country. I am not even talking about Dumpster-diving. The fact is that almost every region of the US has a selection of edible plants that grow in the wild. Right now, if I had nothing else to eat, I could go in my backyard and gather enough dandelions to feed me for a few days. Other food that grows in my yard without my even trying includes wild strawberries, violets, a Redbud tree (the blossoms are edible) and a mulberry tree. Get online and go to the library to familiarize yourself with the edible plants and wildflowers that grow in your region. This knowledge could someday be the difference between life and death.

If you live in a region that’s prone to cold weather, have a plan to keep warm and to prepare food if your utilities get turned off.

Having plenty of food and water on hand (and knowing where to get more of it is simply going to the store is not an option) is necessary if you are going to ?bug in? and stay put in your home during a crisis. But in a lot of situations, it might be safer to bug out and leave your home. In this event, you should try your best to invest in some basic gear, none of which is expensive if taken individually: a hunting knife, a hatchet, one or two tarps and a good length of paracord, something to carry water in, something to boil water in, a pocket survival kit that includes fishing gear and a compass, and a reliable way to start fire.

Of course, all of these things are useless if you don’t know how to use them, so it’s important to invest some time learning about survival in the wild. Watching shows like Man Vs. Wild, Survivorman, Dual Survival and Man Woman Wild will go a long way toward equipping you to take care of yourself if you find yourself needing to go camping indefinitely during a crisis. All of these shows are available on Netflix streaming, but if you don’t have or can’t afford a Netflix account, you can find pertinent clips (and sometimes even full episodes) on YouTube. You should also look up Ray Mears on YouTube. And if you are unable to watch online videos, then at the very least get thee to the library and look up books and/or DVDs on wilderness survival.

And don’t just watch and passively absorb this knowledge. If possible, try to get out every so often and practice what you learn. Chances are that you live within driving distance of someplace that offers free camping. This includes most lakes, beaches, national forests and many state forests and parks. I am not advising you to deliberately put yourself in a true survival situation, but simply going someplace where you can SAFELY practice building fires and fishing and foraging without incurring legal penalties will go a long way towards increasing your confidence in your ability to survive.

Whether you stay or go, another important consideration is self-defense and the ability to hunt for protein (personally, I hope and pray that the day never comes when I am forced to kill my own meat, but if that day does come I plan to be ready). Owning firearms is a personal decision based on a lot of factors, but if you do decide to purchase a firearm, be sure you can also afford an occasional trip to the local gun range (and the necessary practice ammo) to practice and learn how to use it properly. Gun ranges usually offer training classes for reasonable fees.

Another option is more low-tech weaponry such as the crossbow, bow and arrow, or a plain old sling-shot, all of which can do some damage (and take down small game) and don?t require the constant purchasing of ammunition.

A good self-defense class, if you can afford one, is also a good idea. Often community centers and churches will offer free classes in basic self-defense, especially for women. Ditto a first-aid class.

Finally, the biggest piece of advice I can offer someone struggling financially who wishes to prepare for an uncertain future is: learn a new skill. Preferably a skill that will be in high demand after the SHTF, but one that can be put to good use in the meantime starting a side business to earn the extra income you need to help you prepare. Learning how to make and repair clothing (knitting, crochet, sewing), how to preserve food (canning, drying), how to repair weapons, cars or machines, how to make things like soap or candles that will be hot commodities after a disaster—these are all things that you can learn quickly (well, with the exception of mechanical repairs), that you can start making extra money from right away (if nothing else, open an Etsy shop—it’s easy and the fees are nominal), and that will be a welcome addition to a community of survivors, or at the very least, can be used for bartering.

Even if you can’t pick up a new skill, chances are there is something you can do to make money on the side while people are still willing and able to spend money on luxury items and services. If you are good with computers, it’s easy to set up a virtual assistant business. Like dogs? Get paid to walk them. Like kids? Get paid to babysit. Do you play a musical instrument? If you live in a city, find out if there’s a spot where you can busk for tips. You can also offer music lessons. Do you already knit or crochet, or know another type of craft? You can not only sell your creations on Etsy, you can also get paid to give lessons. If you have a reliable car or truck, you can start a courier or delivery service. There are all kinds of ways to increase your income if you put your mind to it. And if you ever lose your meager-income job or your social security check, your side-business might just be the thing that keeps you afloat.

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About John

Wilderness medicine instructor and survival expert.

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