The Thrifty Prepper – Expert Tips For Prepping on a Budget

by Lynn

Unfortunately, I am a lot newer to prepping than I would like to admit. That feeling in your gut that something just isn’t right has been there for a while before I finally listened. Now my family struggles to make up for lost time. I have become like a machine in the last years attempting to streamline and speed our progress to feeling like we at least are somewhat “set”. My husband asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day and I told him an AK-47 was what I wanted the most.

He delivered after selling, scrimping and saving. I was surprised and thrilled. I have gone from being someone who was nervous even having a loaded gun in the house, to someone who is very capable with my weapon. A bad experience with firearms in my late teens made me a little gun-shy (pun intended) even though I grew up in a family that would target practice once a week. Thank god for muscle memory.

I realize that I am far behind most of you as wisdom goes but can offer some information. I have rapidly been reading, watching and gathering as much knowledge as fast as possible. One thing that I have a gift for that may be of some use to readers are my skills with shopping. By utilizing coupons and watching sales, I have been able to rapidly build up a stockpile.

Why I realize many of us may be skittish when it comes to social media, I also know what an excellent tool it can be when it comes to saving money. On Facebook, I have liked sites such as The Frugal Family, Motherhood on a Dime and Thrifty Wifey and when the deals are posted, they scroll across my newsfeed. For instance, today I was able to score 6 -24 packs of Crayola Crayons for .29 each.

Less money on school supplies, stocking stuffers, birthday presents equals more money in the pocket for preps. Kroger’s this week has buy 10 save 5 this week. I will purchase 10 gallons of water for 4.90!

Take advantage of the programs that many drug stores offer. I used to just assume drug stores were to expense to shop at. CVS and Walgreens (the two main drug stores in my area) are like gold mines. They both offer reward programs with Extrabucks being at CVS and Register Rewards available at Walgreens. The websites I mention above are excellent sources that basically spell out which coupon is needed to get the deal you are after.

Sometimes a coupon is not even needed. For example, CVS and Walgreens both will offer contact solution for 8.99 with 8.99 EB or RR back. That equals free! You pay for the product and then upon check out are issued the 8.99 back to be used in the store. I haven’t bought contact solution in two years but have 5 boxes sitting in our pantry/store in the basement. Start looking around to find your favorite sites that fit your situation the best.

I have used coupons/store deals to build up three impressive first aid kits for virtually nothing. I even got the actual first aid kits for free by purchasing two Johnson and Johnson products (at a great discount + coupons). Study sales cycles and get a feel for when things will go on sale next. Walgreens frequently has baking soda and salt on sale for .59 each approximately one a month. Buy the limit and build your pantry up.

You can easily search “Sale Cycles” on the net and find when the most optimal time to buy any given item is. I am on a first name basis with the manager at several stores in my hometown. They help me out so much by pointing me to deals I may have missed and making sure I get a rain check for any items they may not have in stock. I am always polite and thankful and they appreciate it and in return they look out for me.

So get that Sunday Paper and pull those ads/coupons and sit down and make the deals work for you! There are also excellent coupon sites on the web where you can print out coupons as well. and are two of the best. Also, even Sam’s club has jumped in with the preppersJ. They now sell Auguson Farms products at great prices and allow us to build up our stores quickly. Less money on beans and more money on ammo is working out pretty well for us.

Amazon is another great asset. While of us may not have a “Kindle”, you can download the Kindle for PC free and those sites I mentioned above are always alerting me to free books. I have gotten books on how to make soap, can, garden, survival medicine, you name it! While I realize these tools would not be available in a grid down situation, I print or write out the most important information and put it together in a grab and go form.

I have a young daughter and she outgrows shoes and clothes as fast as we guy them. Yard sales, Thrift stores, and Goodwill are a godsend in these times. When I find something at a yard sale that is three sizes too big but in great shape for the right price, I snatch it up and put it a labeled bin with the size on the side. We have picked up a brand new camping cookware set at a yard sale for only 5.00! Our major scores have also been hand crank grinders, old-fashioned washboards, iron skillets and camping gear.

We have been able to accelerate the rate of our prepping by utilizing these sales to gather things that we could never afford to pay full price for. Keep a list of things you are looking for and carry it with you. I almost believe it wills the item to you. Several times I have set out thinking, I hope I can find some shoes for our girl only to happen upon a yard sale with shoes in her size or one size bigger to get us through the school year that are in fantastic shape! I have happened upon a nice dehydrator in this same fashion as well as affordable second-hand tools.

In part of my education, I follow my grandma and grandpa around as they can and garden and they patiently explain to me exactly what they are doing and why. I have also taken to watching documentaries that have changed and challenged me in ways I can’t even explain. If you have not already viewed the documentaries below, they are what shook me awake and I am in complete awe of what our great country is coming to.

Highly recommended and if you are a Netflix customer, free to watch.

We are working on a plan to acquire land and unfortunately, that is a slow process. My biggest fear is looking into my daughter’s eyes and not being able to help her. I know that is not something that needs to be explained to most parents. I learn daily from you all here on this blog and am so thankful for the valuable information that you all share. Thank you for reading.

M.D. Adds : you might also find this post helpful “Prepping on the cheap with coupons!”


  1. Every Wednesday morning I got to our 2 major grocery stores and pick up the weekly ad. We go through that looking to items for our extended pantry and longer term storage. I then put it up in the appropriate container.

    The 1st Thursday of the month is “Senior Day” where people 55 and older get 10% off their order, including sale items. This month the savings was exceptional (70-85% off regular retail). This is also a great time for me to pick up other items what usually don’t go on sale for 10% off.

    One of the chains is also affiliatged with ACE hardware. I’m hoping “senior day” will extend to that side of the house too!

  2. Chuck Findlay says:

    Get out of debt, that is maybe the most important prep a person can do.

    As far as thrifty, learn to do (and actually do it and not think about doing it, action is the way you solve problems) things yourself. Labor is a big part of why things cost so much and if you can cut it out by doing it yourself you save a lot. Some things you can’t do yourself as they may take skills that take years to learn or tools that are too expensive for limited one-time use. Look into tool rental.

    Buy used tools, clothes, household items from garage sales, estate sales and thrift stores.

    Buy quality items as in the long run they are a much better value. An example is tools, a quality tool will outlast you where a China-made one only last a few jobs. Used quality (garage sale) tools give value far beyond the China tools and cost less.

    Research how to do things on-line, U=Tube is your friend and almost everything you want to know is there. Learn how to save the videos to your computer so you have them if the net or the video ever goes away. Never stop learning, never think there is not something else you can learn.

    Learn to live on less then most people but at the same time still make sure you still enjoy life.

    Learn to live on less then your income, meaning every week / month you have money left over from your paycheck.

    If you are driving autos that have a payment book, sell them NOW and buy an older but good auto. I drive a 2002 van that I bought for $1,100.00 that is in good shape, no rust, has air conditioning. It took 2-months to find, but it’s nice to have no payment.

    I don’t know your shill level, but develop hobbies that support self reliance and also try to do them in a way that you could sell the service of doing them for money. Buy the tools and supplies to support the hobbies / business today. Build up a stock of what you will need.

    Start a few small service based business to pull in extra money. No single business will make much, but 20 of them will do you well.

    I do handyman work and plumbing alone won’t support me. But plumbing, electrical work, welding, auto repair, carpentry, installing doors, windows, siding and 25 other things do support me well. If you become the go-to-person to solve people’s problems you likely can make a living in any economy be it today or post-SHTF. But (experience talking here) do not work for free and make sure you make that clear to family and friends.

    Get into gardening and herb growing.

    Get into canning food as it preserves your garden harvest and allows you to take advantage of sales. I can a lot of meat (even bacon) that I find on sale. Buy a pressure canner as it can water bath can and a water bath canner (that is nothing but a big pot) can not bu used for pressure canning. Look for canning jars at garage sales, I usually find 1 box (one-doz) for $3.00. Oddly enough it’s easy to pay more for used jars at The Good Will Store then buying them new if you buy them one at a time, and they don’t have lids. They sell them for $1.00 each, add lids and rings and you are pushing $14.00, you can buy new jars with lids and rings for $9.00 at Menard’s or Meijer stores in my area.

    Learn all you can about herbal meds, but at the same time also learn about modern meds. Both have their place. Buy books on making your own herbal meds, it’s easy to do.

    I have to go to work, but this was what I came up with ( and I live it) off the top of my head. I’m sure others will have great ideas to add.

  3. Chuck Findlay says:

    Me Bad

    I don’t know your shill level

    Skill not shill level

  4. Every Wednesday, the free shoppers guide comes to my mailbox with ads for three grocery stores and several drugstores printed in it. It also is stuffed in the fold with four other grocery store ads. I go through these ads, printed and stuffed (included), and make a list. Then, I go and price-match it at Walmart. Most often, the items I buy are produce. However, with price-matching, I found were 2-lb bags of carrots for $0.49 cents. I can eat them or dehydrate or can them. Even if I just eat them, they do help with prepping items. What I save feeding myself can go for other things.

    In this weekly free ad paper, there are also ads with sales from national and local hardware stores. A person can also use this Wednesday ad paper to peruse about 30 pages of ads for items and yard sales. Often, there are so many yard sales that it would impossible to go to them all.

    After I go through the ads delivered to my door, there are three stores where I can go online and add those food items on sale to my shopping list.

    Every time I spend less on food or Hefty cups, I can use that money to bolster my ability to spend on other items, many of which are also on sale.

    Fortunately, I don’t have to drive to get any ads. Some of the stores are 35 miles away that are price-matched at WM.

    On Sunday, the ads in the Sunday paper are for drugstores and fast food. There are always coupons in these ads. I have a friend who practically steals from Rite Aid! She buys hundreds of dollars worth of items that are cosmetics, meds, cards, foods, snacks and more. She uses a Plenti card. Check it out. Her use of Plenti and sales and coupons will buy the majority of Christmas gifts.

    I probably average a 60% off savings on food price-matched at WM. I hate WM but I need an electric cart to shop, so I take advantage of their policies. Our WM is pristine, not nasty like some I hear about.

    Also, I go to the local farmer’s market where I get deals from vendors that I frequent. It helps to develop a rapport. While I did not become friendly to get deals, I do talk to many of them and know their name.

    When all your toothpaste and toothbrushes are practically free, life is easier. Plus, I keep my three children, one dil, and four grandchildren in toothbrushes and toothpaste. Some of their actual gifts are FREE!

    This was an excellent article, an area that I think is overlooked in most prepper discourse.

  5. mom of three says:

    Check out store’s that have bulk food’s I shop at Winco. I buy my salt for .26 a pound cheaper than Mortan, or even many store brands. Spices are cheaper I get 10 bay leaves for a nickle, and fill my jar up. 1 pound is $7.99 you would never have to buy bay leaves ever again (LOL) . Dollar tree, has been giving 10 percent off you need to print it off your email I’ve gotten two notices I’ve used it once so far. Big Lots has their 20 percent off every few month’s. Stacking coupons are a great way to save money too. I’ve noticed that my bill went up by $20.00 the last time I shopped Walmart, good coupons but the prices are inching up little by little. I also go to Goodwill, and Salvation Army, to find clothing, candles, some cookware. If you have a discount grocery store, that can be a great source for dryed foods, noodles on the cheap too.

  6. patientmomma says:

    This is a great reminder on comparison shopping. Bulk buying and quantity purchases of sale items keeps me from having to buy some items until they go on sale the following year. We are now going into the holiday season and all baking items will be going on sale every where. Stock up folks cause there are problems in the near future.

  7. I also like the cards where you get $10 off a $10 purchase I get in the mail, or the one’s that come from dept stores or office supply stores. You can always find some prepper friendly supplies and pay nothing if you work it right.

    I have my family save them for me so I can get more stuff:)

  8. Crazy Joe in South Jersey says:

    … LYNN …… YOU WROTE …….

    ” Go get that Sunday Paper and pull those ads/coupons ”

    This is very wise .

  9. Long ago, when I was about 35, I was in a class for sewing at a community college and talked about coupons. About two years ago, a woman in WM reminded me that I had taught her about coupons. She had taught her daughter who has gone far above what she knew.

    Then, this woman would bring me to inserts from papers, sometimes a 6-inch stack. Then, she quit. But, now I often go in WM and come out to find three inches of inserts in a plastic bag on the top of my car over the driver’s door.

    Teaching someone long ago has a benefit to me now. Her lessons have helped her for 35 years. Now, she gives me coupons. It is a great circle of teaching and helping. When I get through with the inserts, I give stacks to a friend who is in charge of a food bank at a church.

    You may not have to buy a Sunday paper if you have a source!

    • We get our newspaper as needed at wally world. Call it op sec as I don’t want the delivery person knowing when we are on vacation.
      Our little town doesn’t have a daily paper so the ads and coupons come out in the Saturday paper. One thing I’ve learned is to get a paper from the middle of the stack as sometimes the top one has had the section with the coupons removed by some one else.

  10. all good information! May I add: Search around and find cheaper rates on insurance and services. I don’t work for or have any interest in any companies, but I’ve found that a certain group that represents seniors has every insurance much cheaper and a good deal on a credit card too. so if you are a senior, you may want to check it out. Seniors can often get a senior discount in stores if they ask. Find out if you qualify for any break on property taxes. If you have central heat, try using a small space heater instead. Really look at all the usual suggestions for saving money and really do them all. Get a copy of The Tightwad Gazette and underline and bookmark it . I could go on and on. Also don’t loan money that you can’t afford to lose

  11. This is an area where my wife really shines for us.
    She’s armed with her coupon binder and knows how to work the stores.
    She sticks to what she’s after and keeps a sharp eye out for things on clearance.
    Our pantry shelves, medical supplies, freezers are full of her hard work.
    I actually didn’t take offence the day she told me, ” Look, this will go a lot smoother if you just let me do this without you. ”
    Hey, I’m a man of the millennium………..she’s good.

    I’m floored from the article about wanting an AK-47.
    Last Christmas I got my wife a pair of diamond earrings and her own 3-inch barrel Ruger SP-101 revolver.
    She loves her handgun more than the earrings.

    • ” Look, this will go a lot smoother if you just let me do this without you. ” — totally agree with your wife:) All good humor intended, Richard.

      I applaud you for recognizing and appreciating your wife for her hard work in managing the household funds. Most men I’ve met think couponing, sale shopping and bargin hunting are a waste of time and doesn’t produce that much of a financial advantage.

      Kudos to you for recognizing the value of what she is contributing.

      • All good humor taken, JenMar.
        For a few years now, it’s a common thing to set with a stack of coupons each & cut the ones she picks out.
        Some are for us and some are for trading/giving to other ladies she knows.
        It’s kind of funny to go in the bank and come out with two bags.
        One is cash for the business and the other is sales papers/coupons for my wife.
        Even the armed-guard smiles over it.
        ( I just LOVE our bank. I’m armed /they know it and are very comfortable with it )
        Thank you, JenMar.

  12. BlueJeanedLady says:

    Once again, good article and good pack comments here on this site. Thanks everyone. I’d like to add a few thoughts / warnings about the usage of coupons, sales flyers & routine advertising / marketing pushes for additional consideration.

    I may well be preaching to the choir here (this site) and I love a good bargain as much as the next person, but be aware of slick marketed sales pitches wrapped in pretty, graphic fonts plus glossy photos.

    Not saying – at all – that some promotions are supplying false advertising . . . just saying that not all promotions are intended to be the best bang for the consumer’s buck and that some entities work hard to attract the consumer from the first impression rather than with critical information for personal examination.

    Granted & of course, the examples that follow are not necessary true across the board, but always remember to look / examine some chain grocery store / big box discount store flyers and other retail / service entity coupons / promotions with a consistently, critically discerning eye to reap the best financial benefits! 🙂

    Many times I see a big & bold font simply screaming, 10%, 15%, 20%, etc., off in a flyer or on a coupon. Off of what? Off of the regular store price? (Is this store generally higher or lower priced than similar ones to begin with?) Off of the general average of local, state, federal pricing? Off of the general MSRP (Manufactures’ Suggested Retail Price)? While 20% off sounds great, it really doesn’t mean much if you are not informed / aware of the most reasonable price available in your particular situation / location. How do you really know if it’s a good deal or not if you don’t know what the original / most reasonable price is / was?

    A note about in house / in store (businesses) store dollars (I’m sure the advertising industry has a more specific name for such) are usually given for future (pay attention to the coupon’s expiration date – you snooze you lose -) discounts on future purchases with the same business . . .

    Let’s say you buy $50.00 worth of items to be eligible for a $5.00 store dollars (which is basically a 10% discount for your purchase). And yes, the stores somehow manage to price things so that you are only a few dollars short of a $50.00 purchase so must toss in something extra to reach the $50.00 tipping point – I don’t know how they do that but it seems to happen to me most of the time. Ha! All-in-all, it still sounds reasonable, right? Well, not always.

    What if it’s a store that you don’t normally visit? What if (personal confession of a badly, pre-evaluated, spending event of mine coming), what if the nationally known chain store is in a large metro area where you’re visiting your sister for an extended stay and you don’t have the same store in your rural, hometown / local / nearby / area? Well – – – you end up giving the store dollars (coupons) you’ve earned from your private purchases to your sister before heading home which means you ended up paying full store price, anyway! Bummer! 🙂

    However, this particular life money lesson was certainly okay with me: I had chipped in for food, entertainment and gas while I was visiting but she did give me a room to sleep in free of charge, so all was well! 🙂

    Long before smart phones with calculators, I was known to carry a handheld calculator and pull it out of my purse with my shopping list & coupons immediately upon entering a store. Often, as still is true today, a coupon for a few cents off of something – like 3 small bottles of Windex for $x.xx, as an example – seems quite the bargain until I calculate, per ounce, that cost versus a single, bigger bottle of such.

    What I’ve surprisingly noticed in more recent times is that sometimes the 3 smaller bottles, with the coupon, are actually less expensive than a single bulk purchase of an equal amount. Go figure! Just remember to not automatically assume the coupon offers the best deal. 🙂

    As far as the Senior Groups that offer discounts on insurance I’d like to advise all to do individual research on most of these type organizations. Some of the more nationally known Senior Groups are quite partisan in their politics and if you’re not careful in selecting such, the profits they receive from your purchases may be randomly donated to one particular, political party &/or partisan cause. Yes, it’s all perfectly legal for public entities to put their money where their mouths are but please be aware of what you are contributing upon paying for membership / policy fees with some of said entities. As always, Buyer Beware.

    Personally, for insurance purposes I would find an insurance company you like (with a history of good and appropriate customer service – we’ve been with ours for decades) and then ask your choice of an insurance provider if they offer an in house / in company, Senior discount &/or how they can help you trim down your costs. Yes, it’s more work to research the Senior Groups / Individual Insurance Companies and spend a couple of hours every year re-evaluating your policies than to simply sign up for the cheapest route, but if you care how your hard earned dollars are spent by the organizations / companies you support by paying for their wares / services I’d sure be cautious and learn where your money goes before paying.

    This is just my humble opinion, of course, and if it doesn’t matter for you at all – – – go for the plan whose cost is most appealing to you. It’s not my place to make your individual financial choices and I respect that the choice is yours alone, so be it! Just thought I’d act the friendly packmate and offer a heads-up for anyone interested! 🙂

    I also liked the gist of a reminder from another comment (Chuck Findley) that often it pays to pay more for quality! My only added note to that is to remember to pay for quality if quality is actually & exactly what’s needed! 🙂 Stay smart, all, and keep taking care!

    P.S. As my dad use to drill into my head much more than I really understood or even liked as a kid, yet today it’s happily front and foremost in mind considering the spending of money, “Watch the pennies! The well spent remainder will mostly take care of itself!”

    • BJL — I too have noticed that the bulk or larger boxes, bags, etc are NOT always the least expensive. Getting into the habit of calculating price per unit/pound/gallon etc is where I pay the most attention. And, YES, I have seen cheaper per unit prices on the smaller containers.

      My G’ma use to say, when you save your pennies the dollars will follow. As a youngster I thought that was funny and old fashioned. I stopped thinking that way a long time ago.

  13. When we were stationed in Hawaii my DW had a “coupom wallet”. Once we had finished our shopping, I pulled out my paperback, she opened her wallet. We just pulled over, out of the way. Saved money everytime, even at the COmmissary.

    I do most of the “bargain shopping” here. Not much with coupons but we still save 50-80% on our staples.

  14. azrealityprepper says:

    Growing your own fruits and vegetables is a great way to save money too, and learning to can and preserve that produce lets you use the extra you did not eat during harvest season. Dollar Tree is one of our favorite places for some items (for example their greeting cards are 1/$1 or 2/$1, a lot cheaper than buying elsewhere).

  15. Ooooh, greeting cards! I pay pennies for them. Thrift stores and yard sales are the place I get mine. One time, I bought lots of lovely cards only to get home and find they were all used cards! The fronts are still useful for crafts. And, I am more careful now.

    You don’t want envelopes stuck together from humidity? Forget that and buy them. I put a bit, a little bit of water in a cereal bowl and place it in the microwave, put the stuck envelope on top, flap down and microwave for 10 seconds. If it is not unstuck, do it for 5 more seconds. Now, open and lay it down with the flap open so it does not re-glue itself. Use tape, glue, or the goo left in an egg shell to fasten the flap shut.

    Often, I find cards with no message at thrift stores or yard sales. I can write my own message inside. Often I find only envelopes or only cards. Even if the card is too small for the envelope, I use it anyway. When I was dumpster diving, I found about two or three dozen colored envelopes in the trash.

    If you really must have new cards, buy the packs of 12 for $1.88 at WM or other store. I have only bought a full-priced card once in the last 20 years. It cost me $1.

    Reconsider card purchases and save your money. Help keep the cards out of the landfill.

  16. Well written, great tips

  17. Bob Boskey says:

    The biggest problem with buying land is the neighbors you also “buy”.

    The best thing you can do for your daughter is getting her a good education where she determines her future, not some frog she kissed.

  18. OhioPrepper says:

    I still need to look at some of your “documentary” picks; but, Loose Change is the ignorant rambling of a high school student who doesn’t seem to have studied a single minute of basic physics.
    Conspiracy theorist extraordinaire Alex Jones is also involved, and that should be a red flag to anyone.
    Your other thoughts on bulk purchasing, BOGO, coupons, etc. are great ideas that I suspect many of us are already doing; but, it never hurts to remind all of us, whether experienced or newbie’s

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