MREs are often talked about as a great emergency food option for any prepper’s stockpile because they come complete with everything you need for a single meal. However, while MREs are popular amongst preppers, they are quite expensive, especially when compared to other long-term food options.
At an average price of $5-$15 each, MREs are definitely not cheap. But WHY?
MREs are expensive because they’re packaged in their own durable container, which costs money. Plus, the US government doesn’t allow them to be sold directly from manufacturers to civilians, so any surplus MREs you buy are sold at a high premium.
Up next, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about MREs and why they are so expensive to buy. I’ll even discuss some ways to get affordable MREs and other similar shelf-stable foods for your stockpile.
How Much Do MREs Cost?
MREs are almost always sold in cases of 12 or more, which generally cost between $60 and $180. As you can tell, that’s quite a wide range of prices. Ultimately, how much you pay comes down to whether you’re buying military surplus MREs or commercially-produced civilian MREs.
You can often get military surplus MREs for $60-$80 for a pack of twelve. Meanwhile, a similar 12 pack from companies like Ozark Outdoorz, XMRE Blue Line, and Meal Kit Supply will cost a lot more, for more or less the same food in a more colorful package.
Are MREs Really That Expensive?
Even if $5 for a meal doesn’t sound too bad, especially when compared to the price of eating at a restaurant, it’s important to consider the bigger picture. If you’re building up a stockpile of food, you’re going to need to buy more than a few meals to sustain you when SHTF.
If you do the math, a month’s worth of $5 meals for a single person could cost $450 for a single person. Alternatively, if you can’t find military surplus MREs on the cheap, you could end up paying as much as $1,350 for a month’s worth of food for a single person.
For a family of 5, you’re looking at between $2,250-$6,750 for one month of food if you want to sustain yourself solely off of MREs (not recommended, anyway).
According to research done using recent Bureau of Labor Statistics information, the average American spends $372 per month on groceries and another $288 per month on restaurants for a grand total of $660 per month on food for a single person or $3,300 for a family of five.
Based on these statistics, if you can get cheap MREs, you might actually save some money on your food expenses each month. But, that does mean that you’re only eating MREs for every meal of every day, which might not be the most enticing prospect.
On the other hand, if you can only manage to get more expensive MREs, you’ll end up paying more than twice as much for a one month’s supply of rations as most Americans pay for an entire month of food.
So, yes, MREs really are that expensive – unless you happen to get them for a screaming good deal.
Why Do MREs Cost So Much?
MREs cost so much because they are built using packaging that’s designed to withstand the rigors of combat and warfare. Packaging like cardboard, plastic wrap, and other heavy-duty materials is not cheap, and all that added expense gets passed on to you when you buy MREs for your stockpile.
MREs are usually loaded with food items and commonly used accessories. Most MREs you’ll come across have some sort of theme or synergy within them where all of the components work together to produce a complete meal, a good example being crackers and peanut butter.
These are some of the food and convenience items that you’ll commonly find inside an accessory pack:
- A napkin
- A spoon
- Various sauces
- Toilet paper
MREs strive to resemble something akin to a meal prepared with ingredients from the grocery store. Usually it’s a nice balance of meats, vegetables, beverages, and desserts.
Both civilian and military surplus MRE’s will contain a lot of calories. Some popular dishes that are readily available are:
- Beef Stew
- Chili Macaroni
- Chicken Alfredo pasta
- Beef ravioli
- Cheese Tortellini
- Baked Beans
- Mashed Potatoes
Plus, MREs come with a whole host of different accessories, like a full cutlery set, salt and pepper, and matches that also cost money. Some things, like the flameless heater that comes with every MRE, are really expensive to buy, so they also increase the price of an MRE.
You also have to keep in mind that every MRE needs to be packaged and shipped from factories to warehouses, and then finally to your door before it gets added to your stockpile.
Shipping costs are getting more and more expensive each year, and all these fees get added to the sale price of MREs to help suppliers turn a bigger profit.
Oh, and there’s one more tiny reason why MREs cost so much: Technically, the US government doesn’t allow MREs to be sold to by manufacturers directly to civilians.
So, while federal agents are probably not going to come knocking on your door to talk to you about how you got your MRE stockpile, it’s important to note that any MREs you do buy are sold at a premium.
While manufacturers can’t sell directly to civilians, they can sell to Army surplus stores and other retailers, who then upcharge them before they’re sold to you.
Where Can I Get Cheap MREs?
MREs are expensive, but, like anything, there are ways to get them on the cheap. If you’re looking to supplement your stockpile with some MREs, just in case, there are some good places to check out for discounted supplies. Here are some of your options:
- Amazon. These days, Amazon is more or less a one-stop-shop for anything you might need, and MREs are no exception. You can get cases of 12 or 24 MREs for a somewhat reasonable price on occasion, especially if you’re not picky about flavors.
- eBay. While eBay might not be the first place you think of when you’re looking to buy food for a stockpile, they have a surprisingly good selection of MREs listed for sale. The downside to eBay is that you don’t necessarily know who you’re buying from, so be sure to take all the usual online shopping precautions before you give a random person your money.
- Army Surplus Stores. Army Surplus Stores are perhaps the most common source that people go to when they want to buy MREs. Pretty much any military surplus store will have MREs in stock, but you will likely pay more at these stores than elsewhere for the same product.
- Gun Shows. Gun shows are another surprisingly good place to get MREs for a pretty good price. Plus, at gun shows, many vendors will sell you just the individual components of an MRE, such as the snack and the entree, so you can make your own rations with only the flavors you like.
What Are The Best Alternatives To MREs?
If the cost of buying MREs makes your wallet want to run away and hide, then you’ll be happy to know that there are alternatives to MREs that are a bit softer on the bank account.
Perhaps the best alternative to an MRE is the freeze-dried meal. While freeze-dried meals aren’t “ready to eat” like an MRE is, they are generally much more affordable, especially if you’re looking to stockpile for a large family.
Although individual packets of freeze-dried meals from brands like Mountain House are just slightly more affordable than MREs, many companies now sell freeze-dried food in bulk containers at a discounted price.
Augason Farms is perhaps the best-known freeze-dried food company that sells food in bulk, and you can pay a decent price for a pre-packaged month’s supply of food, a fraction of what you’d pay for the same quantity of MREs. Alternatively, you can also buy individual freeze-dried ingredients to build up a nice pantry for when SHTF.
Plus, freeze-dried food can last up to 25 or 30 years in storage, while MREs technically have a shelf life of just 3 years. That means that you will need to replace your expensive MREs every few years, which will further eat away at your prepping budget, while freeze-dried food can last for decades.
So, while MREs are a nice addition to a stockpile, they’re best used as a supplement, rather than your main source of nutrition when SHTF.
Is It Worth It As An Emergency Food Supply?
Having a good mix of different emergency food options is a good choice for any prepper, but the high cost of MREs makes them impractical for most people when it comes to using them to build the bulk of a stockpile.
Gabrielle is a professional outdoor educator, mountain guide, and survival expert with a passion for helping others be prepared for whatever might come their way. She is a polar guide in the Arctic region and is an experienced wilderness medicine instructor/EMT.