There’s an old saying my dad told me that goes:
If there’s nowhere to get shade from the sun the best time to plant a tree was 5 years ago.
We can take this saying and apply it to prepping. If a disaster comes, the best time to start prepping was a few years ago. However, many would-be preppers are dissuaded by the costs associated with stockpiling and prepping.
While it may seem like a daunting task to start to prep there are some strategies and ways to make it cheaper.
One thing to keep out of your mind is a “perfect” prepping kit. Maybe you searched the internet or YouTube and have seen videos of expensive, intricate and complex prepping systems.
The fact is, the people who make these have invested a lot of money and spent a lot of time building to where they are. Start to think of prepping as small, baby steps. Build slowly and keep in mind that it can be a long process.
That being said, this article will look at building a prepping budget and then prepping with limited money.
How Much Money Should There Be In Your Nest Egg?
The wiseguy answer is as much money as you can afford to save. The answer that is more tangible and actionable for most is an absolute bare minimum of three months worth of all expenses at your current standard of living.
That sounds like a lot of money for some of you. It isn’t, unless you’re living in the freaking Taj Mahal or Buckingham Palace already.
That money will disappear in the blink of an eye, and as we are already learning, it takes hardly anything for the plug to get pulled on your primary source of income.
If all you have is three months’ worth of all expenses saved up and you tighten your belt immediately and drastically, cutting all non-essentials and saving money everywhere you can, you can eke out another month or two.
What you should be striving to do is saving up an entire 6 months to one year of all living expenses at your current standard of living. I mean every nickel’s worth of every expense, everything you need, in your piggy bank.
Talk about a relief! If you lost every cent of income- everything!- you and yours would be A-okay at your current standard of living for 12 months, and significantly longer than that if you instituted emergency rationing and reduction of all expenses.
Saving up that much money takes a significant amount of work, discipline and willpower. You will have to save, scrimp and sacrifice over and over and over again until you get that saved up.
But I will tell you one thing, reader, it is 100% worth it, and is among one of the most practical and actionable preps that any prepper can I obtain in our modern era.
Plan your retreat
When starting to think about a prepping budget, it’s important to prioritize the survival necessities: food, clean water and shelter. These are the most important things to prepare because they can mean the difference between life and death.
Prepping a shelter depends on what you plan to do in case of a disaster. This can mean modifying a basement or underground shelter for survivability, buying a tent for mobility or making modifications to a car to get out of dodge. Shelter can have different costs based on your plans.
Once you have your budget planned out, you can assign priorities to your sheltering components. As an example, let’s say you plan to use your basement as a prepping location.
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A budget might include:
- Water purification equipment.
- Stockpiled food and cooking gear.
- A generator.
- Heating stove and a makeshift chimney system.
- Survival books and supplies.
Upgrading your home or retreat is an important step but it can also be the costliest. As we will see later on, a generator, shelving and stove system could cost around $1000. It’s important to prioritize immediate and long-term goals when looking at sheltering.
Water is the single most important thing to consider when prepping. In a bugging-in situation, you’ll need to stockpile water in case you cannot leave your shelter. As for costs, we can do some simple math to calculate how much to budget.
At my local supermarket, a gallon of water costs around $1.00. I prefer to use gallons of water because the jugs can be reused in more ways as compared to a pile of 10oz bottles. However, if you prefer bottled water, you can do a similar calculation.
Considering that 1 gallon is likely a minimum per day per person, stockpiling a weeks’ worth of water would be $7. If you raise that to $9 for some extra volume, it’s still a relatively cheap price.
Obviously, this number is for one person, so if you have a family of 4, as an example, this number would be multiplied per person.
$9 x 4 people = $36.
So, for $36 you can stockpile a weeks’ worth of water for a family of 4.
Other water solutions
Another alternative to consider in addition to stockpiling water is to invest in a water purification system. If the disaster lasts long enough, you’ll need more than what you can fit on a few shelves in your basement and this is where purification can come in.
There are a ton of different ways to purify water from elaborate and expensive home rigs to handheld filtering systems or boiling.
One of my favorite filtering systems is the Sawyer PointOne Squeeze. I like how easy to use and light it is and how it can be used from a backpack for a quick drink or as a way to fill larger bottles, like the gallons jugs you will have from stockpiling.
Another added extra to consider is something like Nuun hydration tablets. Adding a Nuun tablet into a gallon of water will give some light taste but more importantly it will add electrolytes and salt to fight off dehydration.
Buy food in bulk
It sounds like common sense, but buying in bulk is a good way to get a lot of food for cheaper prices. Buying bulk ingredients like vegetables and beans can be a long term solution, as well as looking for canned and premade meals. If you buy bulk and canned foods, you can stockpile a weeks’ worth for around $75-$100.
I generally recommend staying away from expensive, commercially produced prepping food kits. While they seem like a good investment, they are often crazy expensive for what you get and may only be partially usable.
What I mean by that is that if the bulk container has food that you don’t like or that will make you sick it isn’t worth having.
From my experience this is especially true with military surplus M.R.E. meals. M.R.E.s are generally expensive and poor in quality.
They are meant to keep soldiers fed until they can get back to the base, but not necessarily meant to feed them long term. M.R.E.s tend to have a lot of filler ingredients or gross-tasting meals in them too all at a huge cost.
Apart from the main necessities there are other things to budget for survival.
Other necessities include:
- A knife or cutting tool, $15-$50.
- Clothing, $50-$100.
- Shelter, $100-$1500.
- Fire starting supplies, $10-$30.
- Rope or cording $10-$50.
- Containers, tarp, duct tape and other extras, $50-$100.
Using knives as an example of this, it’s not always necessary to spend all your money at once or drop it all on a single item. A favorite cheaper knife for me is a Mora carbon steel knife.
It’s rugged, dependable and keeps its sharpness, and it can be purchased for around $15, which is very inexpensive compared to other knives on the market. Other cutting tools like hatchets or machetes can be purchased at lower prices but will still hold up to repeated use.
Where to start the budget
So now that we have an idea of what’s important to prep, you can start to make your own budget.
When making a prepping budget it’s important to start by looking at what you already have. Get out a notebook and follow along with a simple 3-step list to see where you stand.
- Take an inventory of what you already have and how much you can spend per month. What prepping and survival materials do you already have ready to go?
- Make a list of what you need. Do you have a knife but no shelter? Cooking gear but no food? Write out what you need. Prioritize based on necessity and survivability. Sure, a solar-powered oven or complex radio setup is nice to have, but prioritize the survival necessities first. Make priorities of immediate needs and long-term needs.
- Build a budget and set goals that allow you to buy what you need. Ask yourself what can be bought quickly or what needs to be saved for. Or, ask what ways can you save money by buying second hand or waiting for a sale.
So now that we have some ideas for what is necessary for our prepping budget, we can look at a sample scenario. I’ll make two broad categories of immediate and long-term priorities with a monthly budget of $200.
Monthly budget for prepping: $200
- 2 weeks of stockpiled water for 2 – $26
- A water filtering system – $40
- Stockpiled food – $75
- An axe to chop wood for a fire-burning stove – $50
- Various extras like tarp, duct tape, fire starter, containers and cordage – $50
- A few hardbound survival books – $25
- A dependable backpack – $120
- A generator – $500-$600
- Shelving for my basement shelter – $100
My immediate priorities are things I’ll tackle first, and the total amount I’d need to spend is $431. If I use $150 of my $200 budget per month, I can purchase all that I need in around 3 months.
The long term-priorities will obviously take a little bit longer and are often high-cost items that should be saved for. In this example my long-term priorities equal $720-820 dollars.
Of my $200 monthly budget I can decide to save $50 per month for my long-term priorities and then add the remaining $150 once my immediate needs are met.
This means I will have a base savings for long-term priorities or to use for other short term needs if they come up without planning.
And then once I purchase the long-term priorities, I can then save the $200 per month for other prepping needs.
Savings Accounts: In-Home or Institutional
If you are using an at home piggy bank you will always have control of your money, and it will always be available no matter what happens or how quickly. If you need to pull that cash out right this second it is in your sweaty hands and then in your wallet in no time flat.
Obviously, any large quantity of cash money is vulnerable to discovery, loss, destruction or theft.
Also, money that is sitting in any kind of box is not earning interest, and if your money is not earning enough interest to keep pace with inflation the money you have saved is actually shrinking. Something to think about.
An institutional savings account makes your money almost completely safe from theft (at least up to the amount your banking institution is insured by the federal government)…
It will also earn you a return in the form of interest, even if the interest in virtually every savings account is so small it will barely keep pace with inflation and fees if it does that.
The biggest disadvantage to having your money in a savings account is it is no longer in your possession and it is no longer cash money.
You’ll have to go to the bank to access it and they will have to convert it from electronic ones and zeros on a computer into greenbacks.
If you have a sizable savings account there is a very high likelihood that you will not be able to draw it all at once without giving the bank notice.
That’s a major bummer if some disaster, say a viral pandemic, causes a major run on the banks.
Both of these methods have merit and you don’t have to choose one or the other. You can choose to keep a sizable chunk of cash in your home for dire, in-your-face emergencies and the rest of it in a savings account safe and sound in the bank.
This reduces the chances that if you lose one you will lose everything, and also allows you a certain amount of flexibility.
A savvy prepper will be reading the wires daily keeping an eye on the national and world situation reports, so that if they get nervous they can head to the bank before anyone else starts panicking to pull their cash out. Better safe than sorry.
Ways to cut costs
Now that you have an idea of what you need and what a sample budget can look like, here are some tips and tricks to save money.
Go to shows and military surplus stores
Gun shows and surplus stores are excellent places to find prepping gear on a budget. Not every piece of gear needs to be brand new and perfectly suited, sometimes you can get by with buying old or used.
I have found that gun shows and military surplus stores are best for buying sleeping bags, packs, rain gear and clothing. You can even sometimes find military medical kits, gas masks, and electronics cheaper than other sources.
Another reason to consider gun shows and military surplus stores is that they are good places to legally buy firearms and other self-defense tools. I frequently visit gun shows to check prices and find that guns can generally go for $50-$100 cheaper than at a gun store.
There is always usually bulk ammo and reloading supplies in abundance at shows. Look around for other self-defense gear too, gun shows will often have booths that sell Tasers, survival bows and close-combat bladed weapons.
Apart from this, these locations are great places to have conversations with people and learn about prepping. The folks who run military stores or booths usually have a broad knowledge of survival and gear, and can point you in the right direction if you ask.
It’s a belief of many preppers that knowledge is as important as gear. And the good news is that knowledge is free. Gear can let you down or get misplaced or broken, but survival knowledge is something that can stay with you long after you learn the skills.
Skills to learn that are as good as gear include:
- How to grow or scavenge for food.
- How to clean and disinfect water and how to store water.
- How to build shelter.
- Using duct tape, tarp and cording for shelter or repairs.
- How to navigate in the wilderness or in an urban environment.
- Self-defense and how to build weapons.
- How to repair and take care of your gear.
Having a knowledge of survival and prepping is as valuable as anything else, it’s why people can survive in the backcountry for weeks with little gear or food.
As part of your prepping education, frequent sites like this one and looks for books on the subject of prepping and survival.
Find ways to use what you already have
Sometimes it’s possible to use what’s already laying around as a prepping tool. This is true for shelter, as things like cardboard, tarp or dumpsters can be used in a pinch.
Trashcans or construction buckets can be repurposed for water collection, growing vegetables or storage. Old clothing can be used to make blackout curtains, rugs or blankets.
Don’t buy during a crisis
We started off by saying don’t feel like you have to rush out and buy everything all at once. While this is true, it’s also important to prepare so that you aren’t buying during a panic.
A very real-world example of this is prepping for a hurricane. The worst time to buy hardware to board up windows, sandbags to keep out water, a generator for electricity and food to survive the storm is when the rain starts falling.
Take stock of what sorts of disasters can happen to your area and stock up on supplies that will let you survive it.
After creating a budget and shopping smart, it’s possible to prep with limited resources. Prioritize the survival necessities, visit surplus stores and gun shows and invest in knowledge and survival training to cut down on costs.
And remember to take it slow and enjoy the process. If you stay on a budget everything you buy will be that much more valuable.
Jonathan is a prepper from Youngstown OH, US who’s simply in love with camping and hiking.