When you first start prepping, you might have the overwhelming desire to purchase everything you can. I know I felt that way.
I was sure that because I waited so long to get prepared that our family faced a dangerous future. I wanted to purchase everything at one time. There was only one issue; we were broke.
Our family lives on one full-time income along with my part time income. We are far from rich. Our bills equal close to our take-home pay. This reality is one that many preppers face on a regular basis. How in the world are we supposed to prepare for an SHTF scenario or even a small disaster, such as a job loss, when we have no income to spare?
Before we delve into the list, I want to encourage you. Prepping can be done on an extreme budget. It may require extra work on your part, and you will need creativity and ingenuity. Now, let’s take a look at the ways to prep on an extreme budget.
Determining Your Financial Survival Time
Anytime the writing is on the wall that we are heading for a major economic downturn or your primary source of income is in jeopardy, don’t wait for the detonation to happen before you start tightening your belt.
Think of this as a scuba diving exercise where however much money you have in the bank including how many assets you can turn into liquid cash equals how much air you have in your scuba tank.
When you are scuba diving if the air runs out, you drown. During an economic crisis if your money runs out you drown just the same, only figuratively instead of literally.
When scuba diving if you breathe slowly, steadily and evenly you will use less oxygen than if you’re gulping air in a panic. You want to treat your financial air tank the same way. Get your pencil out along with your calculator, then get to work.
You should ruthlessly cut everything, and I do mean everything, that you can that is non-essential. Gym memberships, car payments on additional vehicles, luxury goods, luxury foods, entertainment, subscriptions and even the internet if you do not use the internet for money-making purposes.
Of course all of this does not make much difference if you don’t know exactly how much you need to spend on the things you have to have every month, things like paying for your mortgage or for rent, utilities like water, electricity, gas and sewer.
Paying for groceries, hygiene items, and so on and so forth. That is the real bottom line. That is what it takes to pay for your “life support” as it were.
Next you need to get clear using the same process on things that you pay for that are not strictly essential, but do increase your work efficiency or help you make money easier, things like vehicles.
Once you have cut out all the fat and pork and tallied your expenses, your essential expenses, down to the cent then you can figure out how long you can last with your current financial reserves. From there, you’ll have your budget.
That is how long you can last for the current crisis until your income resumes normal levels. Once you have your budget, stick to it no matter what!
Increase Your Financial Fitness
When discussing the prospect of preparing for a legitimate survival scenario on a sharply limited budget, the focus is always on “prepping like a pauper.”
Nothing wrong with that, and indeed money might, quite literally, be no object at some point in the SHTF future!
But that does not cover the fact that a lack of financial resources is a survival emergency itself. When you have little money, you are vulnerable to all sorts of calamities: failing to make ends meet, homelessness, destitution, worse…
That is why the very first tip in preparing for a survival scenario on a budget is to get your finances in order. If you have not already done so, now is the time to start getting frugal and increase your financial fitness.
That means creating or updating your CV, leaning new and marketable skills, cutting expenses, adding revenue streams (active and passive) where you can, and finding ways to bring in extra income consistently through a small side hustle.
Having a chunk of cold, hard cash set aside is an important prep by itself, as it is capable of getting you goods or gear you desperately need in a pinch. It can also buy you favors from people in positions of influence or power that you cannot get in any other way. If either could spell the difference between life and death for you and yours, don’t think twice.
Some people might think that this is all too obvious, or that it has nothing to do with survival.
But the fact is, if you are not financially fit, you will not be able to afford the things you need to survive, and you will be at a greater risk of financial emergencies that can quickly become actual survival situations.
Financial skills are still skills, and can be learned. And learn them you must if you want to be a well-rounded prepper!
Realize It Takes Time
Before we dig in, I want you to know that prepping with very little money takes time. You can’t run out to the store and stock your bug out bag in one shopping trip.
It takes time. You will be tempted to feel frustrated and annoyed, but don’t let that happen! Your efforts will come together eventually.
Take A Current Inventory
What do you have that you can use for prepping? You might be surprised what you have laying around your house. Chances are you have quite a few items in your pantry that go unused. It doesn’t stop there!
Set a Budget
Your next step should be to set a budget for prepping. You may have no disposable income for prepping; that happens to everyone at times. You may have $10 or $20 per paycheck you can spare. Figure out what you can afford.
There is no specific amount that works for everyone. Any budget you set is better than nothing. Perhaps, you have $5 per week to spend. What could you do with $5?
- Purchase a few bags of dried beans and seal them in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers
- Buy some seeds and store them in envelopes or mason jars in proper conditions
- Buy a few gallons of water.
- Add a few items to your first aid kit.
You might have $50 per month to work with. While $50 per month doesn’t seem like a lot, you could actually do quite a few things with it!
- Purchase a box or two of ammunition, depending on type.
- Stock up on fishing lures and line.
- Buy a few whole chickens and veggies to can homemade chicken soup.
- Get five dozen boxes of canning jars.
- Buy one or two sleeping bags.
Alter Your Mindset
It is time to change your mindset. If you want to be ready for anything, you have to be ready to not depend on a store. It is a different way to think. Homesteaders have this mind frame, and it is important for you to adopt it. What do I mean?
- I have eggs, but I need some berries for the kids. Can I find someone to barter?
- We need to build a trellis for the bean plants. What do I have around my house that I can use?
- Don’t toss out a shirt because it has a hole. It can be fixed or used for rags.
Focus on Skill Building
When you are low on money, one thing you can and should do is learn new skills. Learning skills doesn’t always have to cost you money. There are plenty of people who would love to help a mentor, especially if you plan actually to help! Here are some examples.
- Do you know someone who is an expert at canning food? Ask if you can help during canning days. Learning how to preserve your food is an essential skill for all preppers! Put this at the top of your list, especially if you are a gardener.
- Does your neighbor have a vegetable garden? Ask if you can come weed and learn how to garden (I would love if someone offered to help weed my garden in exchange for information).
- Do you know anyone who hunts? You can trail along and watch a hunt. There is no better way to learn how to hunt than to go out with someone.
- Does your grandmother know how to sew? Sewing is a great skill. You can use it to fix clothes. Plus, it is a craft that can earn you money on the side. You may need to know how to sew to fix a tent. Don’t disregard this skill!
- Can you start a fire from tinder, kindling and one match? Do you know how to start a fire with flint and steel? Learning how to build a fire is an essential skill. You can do this in your backyard in your spare time.
Save Money Everywhere
Even when we lived on a tighter budget, I realized we were wasting money in places we shouldn’t. How did I realize that? Our family had a no spend month.
I wanted to see what we had leftover after we paid the bills and purchased groceries and gas. I was astounded. I would love to tell you that I realized we were sitting on a goldmine; we aren’t. However, I realized there were areas we were bleeding money.
Twos areas you can trim are utilities and groceries. Try things such as limiting your shower time, turning your thermometer up or down a few degrees, hanging laundry instead of using the drier, and unplugging appliances when not in use.
Use Coupons and Watch for Sales
You don’t have to be an extreme coupon user, but there are ways to you can use coupons to prep. You don’t need 50 tubes of deodorant typically, but it might not be a bad idea in a permanent SHTF scenario.
Check out the local sales. Once, my local store had boxes of rice on sale for $.75 each, a decent price by themselves. I just happened to have 15 $.50 coupons for that particular box of rice. I spent $3.75 on 15 boxes of rice. Then, I went home and put them in Mylar bags for long term storage.
I love manager specials and markdowns. My local stores seem to have more markdowns right in the morning or late at night. If you stumble upon a whole chicken marked down, you can take it home and boil it. Then, strain the broth into jars. Add pieces of the chicken, celery, and carrots for your homemade chicken soup. Make sure you process it through a pressure canner or freeze it!
Only Stock Up on Food You Eat
In a real SHTF scenario, chances are you won’t be picky about what you eat. However, if you are preparing for a short term problem or job loss, it is senseless to stock up on the food you won’t eat. For example, our family hates beets. Even if canned beets were on the lowest sale ever, all the cans would expire.
Start a Garden
Gardening can be expensive, so I don’t suggest you start off planning to produce enough food to last a year. Instead, pick one or two veggies to try each year, slowly growing your garden. Here are my top picks:
- Green beans are easy to grow. You can select between bush and pole beans. Pole beans are great for those who are short on land. Green beans can be frozen or canned for long-term storage.
- Lettuce can be planted throughout the entire growing season, giving you months of free lettuce for the cost of a seed packet and soil.
- Cucumbers grow up the trellis and provide you with a large surplus throughout the summer. You also will have dozens of jars of pickles and relish canned for your pantry.
In a true SHTF scenario, pretty much anything that isn’t nailed down can and will be pressed into service for one purpose or another.
Re-purposing is key to making your limited resources go further. You might say you are dealing with the same restriction now while your cashflow is sharply limited!
Here are some tips on how to get the most out of what you have without breaking the bank:
- Try to think outside the box when it comes to everyday items. For example, an empty plastic container can be turned into a handy carryall for small items or as a toolbox that can hold fasteners and a repair kit in a pinch.
- Utilize every inch of space in your home by using storage containers and hanging racks to store clothes, canned goods, or anything else you can think of.
- Get creative with cooking. There are many recipes that can be made using simple ingredients and minimal equipment. If you can boiling water in a pot on the stove, bake bread in an oven (or even in a Dutch oven over an open fire), and make stew in a slow cooker you have a world of possibilities!
- Learn to improvise solutions to your problems instead of thinking of the correct “buy”. Consider everyday items and supplies as components in the solution you can implement.
When it comes to living in a SHTF scenario, remember that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. You never know what you might be able to devise from something you consider to be of no use.
Learn to Forage
Unfortunately, foraging is a lost art. People forget that nature once provided all the food we need. There still are hundreds of edibles in the world that grow freely. You might find some in your backyard. While you could purchase a guide for foraging, a library should have plenty of information about wild edibles.
Take a few hours each week to discover what you have locally. Don’t just find the edibles. Take them home and incorporate them into your dinner or lunch. Knowing how and where to find wild food is a great skill for any prepper. You will have food no matter where you go.
If you are wondering what type of wild plants are edible, here are a few common finds.
- Cattail: You can eat almost the entire plant, usable in everything from soups to salads.
- Dandelions: Along with medicinal purposes, dandelion leaves are perfect for salads.
- Lamb’s Quarters: You could add the leaves to your soups or stews. For medicinal purposes, you can use lamb’s quarters for diarrhea, sunburns, internal inflammation and upset stomach.
- Purslane: The leaves and stems are great for soups and stews, and it can help to reduce fevers!
Purchase Lower Quality if You Must
I typically encourage people to purchase middle of the road priced items. If you have three choices, go for the one in the middle. It may not be the best quality, but it is better than the lowest, without spending extra.
You are going to need to buy some things, such as a knife. Having a pocket knife comes in handy. At first, it is fine to invest in a lower quality; you have the knife now. Later, when your money situation is better, you can invest in something even nicer.
Purify Water on the Cheap
You can only live for three days without water. It is crucial for life. One of the first things you want to purchase is a way to purify water or learn how to make a purification system.
There are purification tablets that you can purchase for a few bucks in the stores. You could also spend more money for a straw that purifies any water. Building your purification system will take time, but it is a great asset. You need water, especially in an SHTF scenario.
Shop Second Hand
Shopping second hand is my favorite way to get quality gear for pennies on the dollar. Check out your local Goodwill, Salvation Army, or other thrift stores.
You can often find clothing, tools, appliances, and other useful items in good condition at a fraction of the retail price.
Especially for durable goods like tools, guns, and other hard-use gear, unless the item in question has been truly abused you won’t have to worry too much about its serviceability or longevity.
Prepper swap-meets are another ideal way to pickup worthy second hand gear.
At most of the large ones I’ve been to there’s always a healthy selection of gently used prepper gear being sold by folks looking to declutter or upgrade. You can often find some great deals if you keep your eyes peeled.
Some of my favorite things to get are tents, outdoor clothing, bows, luggage, boots, and backpacks.
You’d be surprised what kind of high-end stuff people will let go of cheap under the right circumstances! You can also find some great deals on second-hand websites like Craigslist, OfferUp, LetGo, or eBay.
Just be sure to use caution when meeting strangers to exchange goods, and always meet in public places with plenty of people around.
After a few trips of second-hand shopping, the savings you net on gently used goods will be substantial. You can put them to use for even more gear or to improve your preps in other ways.
Focus on the Basics
You might want to purchase everything, but your focus should be on the essentials. What are the essentials?
You need shelter, food, water, first aid, light and hygienic needs. The most important out of the bunch are food and water because you will die without them.
First aid kits are important as well. Without medical care and hospitals available, you will be expected to take care of ailments and injuries yourself. Start off slow.
There are basic first aid kits you can purchase in stores for less than $20. As time goes on, you can invest into the kits, adding a new item each pay day. The thing about first aid kits is that you can see the benefits immediately. I know I use mine on a regular basis with three kids and an accident-prone husband!
Join a Local Community
Prepping is a worldwide activity and lifestyle. You may be surprised at the number of people locally who consider themselves preppers. See if you can connect with them. Facebook is a great way to find them!
Many towns have prepper groups. You can also look up larger prepping Facebook groups. It is a great way to gain information and to find people who may live close.
- Family Preparedness – Helping Women Prepare
- Prepping for Beginners
- Doomsday Preppers
- Medical Survivalists
- Survivalist Base Camp
In an SHTF situation, you have a higher chance of survival when in a group. Can you find people who would want to band together in emergencies? Everyone is responsible for something, but not everything. Best of all, you can focus on the skills you are good at and things you can afford. What does this look like?
- Someone might have the land to host people in an emergency situation.
- Someone might be responsible for transporting chickens and taking care of them.
- You might be an excellent gardener. You bring to the table the ability to produce more food for the group.
- You or your spouse might be an avid hunter, capable of providing meat for the group.
- You might be able to preserve food in solar dehydrators.
- First aid could be a skill you excel in; you would be a huge asset to the group.
While it is important for everyone to be versatile, prepping with a group of people allows you to focus on fewer things.
Lean on Your Local Library to Skill Up
Libraries are often thought of as places to go to check out books. But in reality, most libraries offer so much more than that!
They are a wealth of resources and information, and best of all, they are free to use.
Here are some ways you can take advantage of your local library for prepping purposes:
- Take classes on everything from cooking to gardening to computer skills.
- Use the library’s computers and Wi-Fi to stay connected and do research on emergency procedures and likely threats in your area. (you might be surprised at how much you can learn by doing a simple Google search).
- Check out DVDs, CDs, and books on tape on any survival subject. A great way to stay entertained while you learn and save a bundle over buying books at the same time!
- Attend community events and meetings that are hosted by the library, such as book signings, author talks, and more if they are related to community preparation or disaster preparedness.
If you are diligent, you can use the library’s resources to help you with all your prepping needs, from finding information on how to build a solar oven to learning about first aid and CPR.
It is easy to become obsessed with prepping. At one time, that was my life, prepping consumed me. Now, I have learned we have to live our lives. I strive to do one thing each day for prepping. What are examples of small things?
- I might store some water for the day.
- I could make some fire starters with lint from the dryer.
- My friends and I may trade some eggs and veggies, further establishing our bartering community.
- Time spent in the garden counts as prepping.
- I might take inventory of the first aid kit.
- Tonight, I could read a few prepping articles.
One small thing each day adds up to a whole lot of knowledge and preps. Over time, all of your efforts will come together.
Despite common thought, prepping isn’t for those with a big bank account. Being prepared is a lifestyle for everyone, no matter your income.
Prepping for Pennies a Day
There are many ways to get the most out of your resources, even when you are on a tight budget. With a little creativity and resourcefulness, you can be well on your way to being prepared for anything.
Do you have any suggestions for prepping on an extreme budget? We would love to hear from you! Let us know in the comments.
Bethany Hayes is a mother of three kids who has a small, suburban homestead. When she isn’t homeschooling or gardening, she might be focusing on building up their homestead or preserving the harvest.