Survival on a Minimal Budget: Drive, Awareness and Creativity

A guest post by Frank V

[This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win – First Prize a 10 Person Deluxe Family Survival Kit,  Second Prize an Herb Seed Bank or Third Prize a copy of Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat.  For complete rules and list of prizes see this post.]

While I have been interested since high school in survival and what we now call prepping, I have never been able to initiate and create an ideal situation or even close to it. For me, like most people, one of the major obstacles has and still continues to be lack of finances or a reserve of funds that I can use to purchase an adequate supply of food, firearms, ammunition, hygiene products, tools and any necessary gear and equipment.

Not to be forgotten of course is the building and fabrication of an adequately strong, secure, well sealed, well ventilated, climate controlled, comfortable, and reasonably roomy survival shelter, which to my thinking really means a bomb shelter since it was the fear of nuclear war that concerned me and nuclear war survival was my foray into survival in addition to some interests in wilderness survival.

Two of my first books were ‘Surviving Doomsday‘ By Dr Bruce Clayton and one of Bradford Angier’s books on outdoor survival followed by several more on camping, hiking, mountain climbing and so on until I got the bug again when I read “Nuclear War Survival Skills” by Cresson H. Kearny and I found a copy of “Passport to Survival” by Ester Dickey. The main point for mentioning these books being that I was being introduced to different approaches and that now for me, survival ran the gamut from surviving a night out in the woods, to bunkering down for foul weather or making preparations to get by on stored provisions.

While the nuclear war books can scare the crap out of you and the preparations they say are required can be very intimidating, they really make you think about being completely organized, stocked and prepared for total self-sufficiency. As I read more it was good to know that there are many ways to prepare, many options to choose from. More to learn yes, but also more options and the realization that you can and actually need to rely on the skills of others.

And many of the skills and knowledge required has been around for decades and still practiced today. And thank god for all these people who write books, so we can learn what we need to know, but also keep the books to refer back too if we forget anything or want to teach others what we learned. The task of getting geared up is in itself a daunting one. You read what you need and you think, “Wow that’s a lot of stuff to acquire. How am I going to afford all that”?

One of the key points and recommendations made by Duncan Long was to stock up on the small, inexpensive items that would be rather difficult and time-consuming to make, but could be easily be purchased before a disaster and at a low price since the most of the items are inexpensive. The main thing to remember is that these are inexpensive yet essential, if not at least considered useful and convenient items we currently take for granted and we would probably miss if they were not available.

Who wants to struggle and toil for hours to trying to make just a few matches, rounds of ammo or some rope. And expendable items are the worst part of preparedness. You need frequent resupply, which we know will be interrupted requiring you be adequately stocked before an event occurs.

I take every possible opportunity to collect if you will, any obvious survival gear or potentially useful item when I find something on sale or on clearance. I actually began to collect books from thrift stores which can be looked at as buying knowledge, which does have value that outweighs the costs of the media it’s printed or recorded on.

I would look for anything related to survival and self-sufficiency and I would basically buy, copy or save any book, list, guide, pamphlet and an occasional catalog that I would come across. I am a knowledge scavenger.

I can and do apply this same behavior or skill to everything I do. I try to collect, stock, learn, whatever I can afford or can get for free. I just migrated from books to shopping for gear. I have for example bought steel or aluminum water bottles and I also have some plastic ones as well. yet, I was at a local grocery store that was closing (the result of downsizing due to this recession) and I picked up 2 or 3 very nice water bottles.

And then I picked up 3 more, brand new in their boxes from our local Goodwill, in addition to some nicely painted bottles my mother had, brand new wrapped in bags, so by this time I had around 12. I had picked up 3 at a “dollar store” where they sell loads of cheap imported stuff. These were loose bottles, some printed with company logos, and only costs me about a $1.00 each. But then just two weeks ago I purchased another one from BigLots that had been marked for clearance down to $2.50.

It was red with a cross on it, and featured a screw on cup/compartment on the bottom and some first aid items. It was being marketed as a first aid item, but inspiring paint job aside it was a large metal bottle with an extra feature not found on other bottles. I felt it was a greedy, but perfectly desirable, practical purchase. Also let me suggest that while it’s very trendy to buy pre-bottled water, I think it’s better in the interests of both frugality and maintaining hygiene that each person has a cup for various beverages or even a small personal bottle for water which can be filled from larger containers. I bought from a dollar store, a pair of ice trays (It’s really a mold for ice) in the form of rods that fit in the bottle openings.

That’s part of my reason for buying water bottles with both small and wide necks and in various sizes. And with that I’d recommend bottle brushes to scrub out any residue left behind from sticky liquids that have been allowed to dry out.

I also have a lot of matches, bandanas, flashlights, candles, emergency rain ponchos, stainless steel dog bowls, etc., that I have purchased cheap. I bought a tiny pocket knife on clearance at Wal-Mart. And I have a nice Gerber folder a friend gave me. I have a brand new, rear tire mountable rack for a bicycle, which I never get to ride, but I know if I have to rely on my bike to get around, at least I have it and plenty of bungee cords to attach a milk crate or two as well.

Plus I can attach some of those extra flashlights and water bottles to the frame. And while I truly wish I had more of the bigger, more expensive items like firearms or a 4-wheel drive jeep, at least I am preparing well enough for storms and hurricanes and worse in small, but still important areas. And I have acquired a fair amount of machetes, knives, flashlights and multi-tools plus cordage, duct tape and waterproof match cases to at least put together more than one survival kit or bug out bag.

And yet I purchased some black, rubber coated LED flashlights (AA) from Wal-Mart because they were marked down from $3.99 to $1.99 and well… I had to have them and they’re really good little lights and extra ones would make good items for barter.

I sometimes feel I am buying too much or too many of one item, but then I like to have a backup and extra items for trade. One of the things that always concerns me or those people who break stuff. You may know someone like that. They ask to see your knife a second and the next thing you know they’re using it as a screwdriver and then after they damage it, they hand it back to you like nothing happened and when you point out what they did, they look at it, maybe wipe the item with their hand as if that will magically repair it and tell you “Oh it’s fine. It’ll still work”. For this reason, I may seem out of my mind, but it happens, so it’s a good idea to have expendable items that while they might last you a long time, they won’t break your heart or your wallet when some dumb and careless, inconsiderate shmuck ruins it.

You see, I also believe in the concept of “I was prepared and it’s my stuff”. In other words, unlike the movies where some self-appointed leader emerges or someone is chosen by the group and decides to outfit him or herself with whatever is available, your stuff is your stuff. I’m not against sharing, but again, that careless schmuck, that infernal monster, can appear and his friend, the self-entitlement monster.

Sometimes they travel in packs or because they’re buddies or work together they are a notch above you and the others. These are people who feel that what you have is now his, her or their property and if they ruin or loose it you have no say or right to complain. So for this reason, I say have extra items to avoid a confrontation, but don’t be foolish and let those unprepared and possibly less thoughtful, less skilled or less knowledgeable destroy your gear and ruin your chance for survival.

Anybody can carry a few basic, essential items in their pockets, a vest, a small pouch or fanny pack, although I never wore mine over my fanny. For those who are wondering what items, I mean a pocket knife, cell phone, lighter or matches, rain poncho, space blanket, cell phone, multi-tool, maybe a snack bar and some first aid items.

With the idea of making small gains and always trying to make progress I look at my actions as a whole and try to estimate if the end result is desirable. While I do have a few large water containers, but would like to have some large drums, I know that every water bottle, every canteen, every pitcher I have on hand can be filled with water. Just as I know that every match I have can provide another potentially life saving fire.

Every little bit adds up so I never downplay the value or cheap or free items. And as for those stainless steel dog bowls I mentioned… well I do have dogs, but think about it. They’re bowls you can eat out of, they hold water, they can take heat, they clean easily if they’re the brightly polished types and since they’re “just dog bowls” instead of fancy department store kitchen mixing bowls, you can buy them for pocket change.

And while the usefulness of the things I buy cannot be disputed being that they are things we put on our lists, they are small things, but at least they give me some peace of mind that I am making the effort to achieve preparedness and I am sort of self grooming myself to act and think like a survivalist minded individual.

I can also sort of reverse this thinking and use my various bird and animal cages and dog crates to raise and house livestock such as chickens, rabbits, and other small critters. A medium size dog crate can hold a turkey or a small pig. Then I began to think about supplying water and storing food, which is why I keep coffee cans on hand and other containers, so I can transfer pet food from their vulnerable paper and plastic bags into a sturdier metal or plastic container that is more mouse proof and more airtight.

Recycling or repurposing equipment is one way to save and to provide things you need, but do not have or can’t afford. Researching do it yourself projects online or watching videos on YouTube or similar sites will really open your eyes and your mind to creative ways to make equipment from scratch or to improve or improvise with what you may already have and only a few bits and pieces you can scrounge or buy from the hardware store or as they call them nowadays, home centers.

I’m not just an avid or obsessive shopper at least I try not to fall into that trap. I just try to think of what my needs are and how I can meet them. I keep my eyes and ears open for opportunities and always thinking how I can use or make an item useful. It’s been a struggle these last few years with my mother needing a lot of care at home and numerous hospital visits that exceeded around 50 trips to the ER and not to mention all the doctor appointments and time spent at this or that clinic over the last 10 years. I was concerned with her needs in addition to everyone elses plus medical considerations and with the current economy that it posed too great a challenge, but I still tried in small ways to make progress.

I would advise anyone trying to make preparations to look, with a list in their hands possibly, around their own house for obvious items such as camping gear, tools (shovels, machete, hand pruners, small saws), cooking gear, etc., and think how these items they already possess can be useful.

Then you look outside your home. Can you collect some seeds, free fruit, or whole plants by asking neighbors? Would local businesses let you have some wooden pallets to build a compost bin? Can you get some used empty food pails from a bakery? Usually if you ask they give them away… and yes, for free. What about local dumpsters? You should look at them or even when the morning trash is put out. In my neighborhood I have seen furniture, appliances, etc., put out and sometimes they have a sign saying “Take Away Free”.

It’s regular practise for bakeries and food businesses to give buckets for the asking. People who make their own biodiesel at home get used cooking oil for free because restaurants have to pay to have it picked up. And Starbucks will gladly give customers discarded coffee grounds for gardening. It’s actually a store policy. There are many businesses who will let people take stuff if they can avoid having to pay someone to clean it up or haul it away.

And of course you can always ask to buy some scrap pieces or make some kind of deal or offer, but often it’s cheaper or more convenient for a shop or store to just have a product or materials, or even their ‘trash’ taken away with the added bonus of creating goodwill between them and yourself.

I do occasionally check out yard sales, which is often a drag, but you have to look to find the goodies. The other options are thrift stores with regular hours and their indoor comfort. I don’t care for pawn shops at least I don’t think they offer bargains.

The other thing is to look for clearance items at every department store or chain store. The items they mark down are often real gems or at least the lower price makes them a more attractive deal. They’re often decent quality items and a good deal at the reduced price.

Sometimes it’s better to have a few good items than just one more expensive one. It’s always good to have replacements in case of loss or breakage due to wear and tear or carelessness. Again, you can always put aside multiple items to use for trade, to give to others in need, or to create a cache or for an alternate location. And possibly, in case of theft or robbery.

It would be great to have enough money to utilize your buying power to purchase supplies in bulk quantity alone or with others, but that isn’t the case for some of us. The flip side is that hopefully it causes one to shop more carefully and thus buy more for less.

I feel as coming across an item on sale or reduced for clearance, when you usually the get the lowest prices, is an opportunity to buy small or large quantities of gear for those of us with smaller budgets. It’s also an opportunity to try other brands or models and to have backups and choices if we don’t like an item or find a favorite. I picked up a load of batteries at Goodwill about 2-3 years ago that I am still using today.

There are some high-priced items that should be purchased before an event because they will sell out quickly such as firearms, generators, propane tanks or large items like tractors, vehicles, or large amounts of building materials. It may be impossible to get them if they cannot be transported due to road conditions or lack of transportation to ship as a result of weather, strikes or fuel shortages. Of course this is why we stock food and water and the most critical items.

I do not mean to imply these purchases and any particular equipment be ignored or written off our lists. It it is deemed necessary then make the effort to acquire the right item or an adequate supply of whatever it is you think you need to get through an event. On the other hand, you don’t have to have everything and for those of us on a budget we have to find ways to make do rather than simply do without and live with fear or guilt because we felt we didn’t prepare well enough.

While we can all try to be more aware of deals and bargains, it’s awareness and the drive to prepare that can spark creative thought and a survival minded outlook. I would guess that as people get more involved in preparedness that they consciously and even soon after begin to subconsciously spot useful items or they hear that little bell that alerts them to something they should buy, reuse, repurpose or learn to do to better prepare and to be prepared for what tomorrow may bring.

My advice would be to just start preparing and chip away at the rock rather than trying to smash it in one blow. Progress is progress, so think and practise survival and emergency preparedness regularly. And I think even if you feel you are lacking in some areas, at least you are ahead of most people by making an effort to be prepared and you have or are in the process of developing the mindset to make it through an event.

Please share your thoughts, comments and tips about survival on a minimal budget in the comments below…

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. Prepping is like the song of Johnny Cash’s, “One piece at a time”.
    That is what most of us have to do.
    Other than actual food, most tools and gizmo’s cost above what we have to spend and we have to save for them. Nothing wrong with that it shows restaint, reserve, and solid purpose in our persuits.
    Reperposing items is always a handy idea. Nothing should be thrown away that can be used again (remember the button and nut’s and bolt’s jars).
    Also even though we search for the bargain and this is a habit we should always use to our benefit, if you have the money for the best item it should be considered. You do not want to be stuck with something that when you pull it out of the box it falls apart.
    I admire your perseverence. It should be considered by all of us.

  2. Waxing poetic over SHTF or armegeddon is ignoring the obvious. If we have a nuclear war, and Iran seems to be committed to causing one, probably 10%-30% of the worlds population will die in the first six weeks and probably another 20%-40% would die in the following year. You and I and everyone we know will probably die in the first wave of deaths. Where is the poetry in that?

    • Nuttbush54 says:

      Seems that you missed his point. No one here is “waxing poetic” or looking forward to SHTF, not hardly. What we do is TRY to prepare as much as we can for whatever comes our way, i.e. snowstorms, tornadoes, job loss, hurricaines, financial meltdowns, etc. Armegeddon is not our poetry.

    • LurkerBob says:

      I think the nuclear war to worry about would be India / Pakistan. A billion vaporized Indians / Pakis and their infrastructure into the stratosphere is going to really screw up the weather. Forget Global warming, it’s Nuclear winter that will get us. Or I should say get you – We are preparing to ride it out.

      And now some SHTF poetry

      I once knew a girl named Alice
      She used a stick of dynamite for a phallus
      They found her vagina in North Carolina
      Her buttocks in Buckingham Palace.

      • LurkerBob,

        I fear your concern is misplaced. You see all is going to be well. The nuclear winter will offset global warming and everything will be just fine. 🙂

        • Gayle,
          Glad to see there is another optimist in this bunch. Always looking for the silver lining.

      • SurvivorDan says:

        Ah…..made me laff Lurker. you are sooo insensitive. lol thank you. S.D.

    • Lint Picker (Northern California) says:

      SweetPea, where is your drive to survive? As the title of Frank V’s guest post states, you have to have the drive, awareness, and creativity. If you don’t have the drive to survive, you won’t survive.

      Think of it this way, back through all the generations of your forebears, they had the drive to survive. They fought off famine, warring invaders, disease, natural disasters of all types, and political upheaval – but they survived because they WANTED TO…they had the drive to survive. Without it, you wouldn’t be here.

      So now it’s your turn to show that drive. Are you going to roll over and give up? Or are you going to continue on with that strong desire to survive, and ultimately to thrive, as your ancestors did? You have the genetic makeup to survive, or at least try to, so don’t let it go to waste. Find the strength and the drive to survive and you just might.

      I might not live another day, but I’m going to plan as if I will live another 50 years. Why? Because I have the drive to survive. So do you, you just need to knock off the “we’re all gonna die anyhow” baloney and think in more positive ways.

      Oh, BTW, Iran will be bombed by Israel – which will cause WWIII – but nobody will use nukes. Nope, we will be starving instead. Is starvation less troubling for you than nuclear war?

      Now for a bit of waxing poetic:
      Roses are red
      Violets are blue
      I’m going to survive
      How about you?

      • Do you guys really think Israel is going to take out Iran’s nuclear facility? I am thinking they are just saber rattling. Israel wants to ratchet up the discussion at the U.N. and get additional sanctions imposed on Iran.

        But let’s entertain the possibility that Israel launches a pre-emptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facility. Do you think China and/or Russia would step in if the U.S. stepped in against Iran? If Americans stopped purchasing goods from China, China’s economy would collapse. And it is far from clear that China can feed itself. (Note: China’s central weakness is lack of potable water.) I am not sure if Russia would step in with Iran.

        What do you all think? (I am certainly no expert on foreign affairs, but I find such discussions fascinating and entirely relevant to prepping.) My gut says that if Israel did a limited strike on Iran’s nuclear facility, the Iranian backlash would be terrorism–Iran cannot win against Israel or the U.S. using conventional methods.

        • Lint Picker (Northern California) says:

          This would be an interesting discussion, but why hijack Frank V’s post? Can we hold off until Saturday to discuss it?

          • Lint,

            I thought it was Frank V’s topic of prepping for nuclear war that got this discussion started.

        • LurkerBob says:

          In my opnion Iran is just a load mouth punk. All hat and no cattle as they say in Texas. They dont even have any nukes, and if they do manage to cobble together something it will just be a sissy (wanted to use the P word) fission device. Not to mention they have no delivery system.Israel has fusion weapons and lots of them mounted on MIRVed ICBMs. Israel has the 2nd best military on the planet, backed by the 1st.

          Israel will bitch slap the eyes right out the Ayatollah.

          Terrorism and propaganda is all that Iran is about. Bunch of wannabe losers, and when they get their comeuppance. Nobody gonna do nothin’ but whine. Russia is a has-been and china dont care about anything but the bottom line. Hell they are better capitalists than us. I would like to hire them to deal with the OWS scum.

        • If anyone drops the bomb then everyone will. Remember, the only way to win is not to play.

      • There once was dark lord from Kenya
        For destruction,he had a mania
        He said with a holler
        I’ll wipe out the dollar
        And to Nantucket ,Michelle
        I will send yuh

    • SaratogaPrepper says:

      Going in the first wave? I sure ain’t gonna be. I’ve beaten way too many things already to let a little ol’ Apocalypse take my miserable butt. Come on SweetPea, you need to think positive!
      We are the Wolf Pack! We shall survive!

    • If Iran does have a nuclear weapon, it is far from clear that they have the technology to guide a missile. One thing is clear. Iran would get one shot and then it would be all over. Both Israel and the U.S. would use conventional missiles to demolish Iran. End of story. If Iran made a pre-emptive strike, neither Russia nor China would opt in.

      Another point: Iran does not have the might to launch a series of nuclear attacks on U.S. soil.

      • Vienna (Soggy prepper) says:

        They don’t need to. They only have to launch from a ship off our coast to above the clouds. Emp. Oh wait, they already yachted around off our coast. hmmmm. nothing I’m sure.

        Israel has attacked already. Stutnex and the second one, forgot what they call that one, that attacked the computer to their little facilities. Cyber warfare.

        And they will be attacked. I read the book that says what’s going to happen and how it ends. It’s great!

        Roses are Red,
        Violets are Blue,
        America will live
        Israel will too.

        • Lint Picker (Northern California) says:

          I read that book, too, Vienna (Soggy Prepper). The good guys win in the end. The rest go to hell. Nice poem, BTW.

        • SurvivorDan says:

          You insensitive louts!
          What the hell…
          There once was a girl name of SweetPea Who didn’t believe in surviving
          When the shit hit the fan
          Cuz of nutz in Iran
          She saw all the preppers were thriving.

  3. Chipping away at the big rock is excellent advice. It does seem insurmountable when you look at the big rock and a merger paycheck but here we are (my wife and I) 3 years after starting to chip at the rock and we are actually marking things off the list that we have plenty of now. It can be done and this article has great advice on picking up the little things as you come across them and shopping with a preppers eye.

  4. A majority of us may die in the first six weeks after SHTF. However, I thought the idea of prepping was to decrease our likely hood of being part of the casualties. We all are going to die sometime, but most of us try to stall for more time. Taking little steps in preparing is the process most of us employ. Each has their own system adjusted to their circumstances. It doesn’t mean someone else’s system is wrong…just dirrerent.

  5. Exile1981 says:

    I tried posting this as a reply to this post but it ended up on the main as a retreat page.. odd. I’ve tried posting it hear again.

    I have a way i’ve been stocking up on supplies cheaply. I travel a lot for work and they put me up in hotels about 15-20 nights a month. When I stay in a hotel I take the spare little soaps they leave me, I have a ziplock and I take the unused remains of the ones when I check out. Then I use them at the next hotel and I’m not wasting partials of anything theat they would just throw away. In an average month I end up with about 12-15 bars of soap, about the same in bottles of shampoo, conditioner and most hotels give free sewing repair kits now too, so I end up with 15-20 sewing kits and shoe shine clothes a month too.
    The shoe shine clothes are a soft cotton and are usually about 4-5″ on a side square. The sewing kits have a safety pin, a button, a needle and 5-6 colors of thread each with 4-5 feet of thread.

    They also usually give you a bag of regular and decaf cofee each night which I take home. I’m not a cofee drinker but I see those pouches as a good trade item.

    Some hotels have these little “drink” kits that include a napkin, a couple of tea bags, 2-3 sugar packets and a stir stick in a little sealed pouch. There is one hotel I stay at that gives you a little bottle of hand sanitizer when you check in and another that gives a little plastic green first aid kit with each stay; it only contains 6 bandages a safety pin and 2 iodine wipes but it’s still a free first aid kit and it fits in a pocket and it has enough spare space to put in some other supplies. Lastly some hotels give you a “vanity” kit which is a small sealed conatiner with 2 q-tips, 2 cotton balls and a 4″ long emery board. the sealed bag is in a huge cardboard box; but the bag is much smaller and takes up little space in a bug out bag.

    Another way I “stock up” from hotels is that several chains give points for staying in them, you can then use the points for free nights or for gift cards at various chains. I use my points for Cabelas cards and home depot cards. In an average year I end up with $150-300 in gift cards. The cabelas ones I use for ammo and the home depot ones for my stock pile of nails and small hand tools.

    The drink kits I keep some in each vehicle and some in each bug out bag. The shoe shine clothes are good for cleaning gun parts or in a pinch can be used for blowing your nose or tons of other uses.
    The first aid kits are obviously useful. The soap/shampoo/conditioner I can use or I can trade since it’s in small enough containers. The sewing kits are a great emergency unit and can be kept or traded as needed.

    In the last 4 years I stocked up a 2 year supply of shampoo for my whole family, hundreds of cofee packs, sewing kits, vanity kits and othe free supplies for trading or use. I’ve also used the points to add about $100 per year in ammo.

    So that is how i’m stocking up on the cheap.

    • Tom the Tinker says:

      You all make me understand how lucky some of us are to be able to just….. go out and get it! I have this fortune cookie paper taped to this computer desk at eye level

      “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without.”

      My DW and I are those folks that pack everything in the hotel room but the TP and the towels. We can’t see it as ‘land fill’ and We can’t use it all and thats why the Cherry Street Mission gets a tub full of the stuff every fall.

      • Amen. Unless it something that the hotel can re-use or continue to use, like TP, or tissues, or towels, then it’s not stealing, as I’ve often heard people say. My attitude is that I paid for it, and if I opened it and didn’t use it all, then it’s by definition trash to the hotel, or a useable item to me.

        • Tom the Tinker says:

          OP…. I have been known to bribe a floor maid. I have even just laid down the cash with the desk clerk and pick up a sack load.

    • Wow , you nust work for a good company that will put you up in hotels that have the sewing kits. I usually get the super 8 or equivalant but I do get a lot of soap and shampoo. One other source I get stuff from is some of the free sample and freebie websites. I order everything I can pretty much get my hands on and the stuff I can not use I will use for other things or for barter. When I get it I just store it away in boxes sorted by type. Just last week I got some sport wipes, icy hot sample and a good sample from crest with toothpaste, floss and moutwash in little bottles. A lot of times they also send coupons for the product and they are usually $1 or more and not the cheapo 25-50 cent ones in the paper. It has become a daily ritual to check the sites and since I get my mail at a p.o. box I use that and home address and order two or three times.

      • Exile1981 says:

        Actually some of the little towns I travel too on a regular basis have ramadas or the new Super 8’s with the real breakfast. It’s those ones I get the sewing kits at. Some of the days inn’s give away the hand sanitizer bottles.

        Two summers ago our county cut down a wack of trees in town on a friday night and pre cut them into 8 foot long segments. I had to use a bobcat to load them onto the trailer but I ended up with 12 segments each 8-10 feet long and all 1-2 feet in diamter of elm.

  6. Small bits for bartering and as favours will certainly prove to be a good investment in the longer term.

  7. Exile1981 says:

    In canada where I live 2 years ago the rules changed for small stores selling ammo (like the community grocery store) it’s now usually only larger stores that can afford the licenses to sell it. At the time the fees went up I went to my local town store and made a deal to buy up all the ammo they had on the day there licensed expired. They either had to sell it or hand it over to the police since they couldn’t have it anymore. I got boxes of ammo in the usual calibers I needed for cost. I also ended up with a dozen boxes of stuff I can trade (or have since traded) for cheap.

    Another source (in Canada) of cheap supplies is through Crown Assets

    It’s the federal gov’t way of getting rid of gov’t surplus stuff. I’ve gotten a lot of good finds from there including a couple of thousand cinder blocks for like 10cents a block. You can get medical equipment that is a little out of date (but still good), Tools, vehicles, land etc.

    • Hi Exile1981,
      Very good idea. I hope your also part of the solution to keep guns & ammo legal in Canada. There are a few pro-gun organizations in your Country. Please consider joining one (or more) & getting others to do the same. And vote the anti’s out. is one example

  8. Frank,

    You mention “books . . . which can be looked at as buying knowledge”, and unfortunately this is a concept that many people (perhaps not you) actually believe. Books are simply containers of information. Learning that information gives you knowledge, and applying that knowledge in action creates skill. This is unfortunately something I see not only with books and videos, but also with equipment like firearms. Buying the best, highest rated, highest priced firearm doesn’t mean you have a clue on how to use it. Watching videos on how to use these tools may help, but until and unless you actually practice the related skills until they become second nature, then you are fooling yourself. This is not to say that just stocking information is all bad. I have numerous books on old time woodworking, medicinal plants, and other things that I have only briefly looked at. These could be very useful to me or others in the future, and are good to have as long as you treat them only as information and not knowledge.

    As an example, instead of matches, make sure you know how to make charcloth, and have a flint and steel striker or fire piston (or both) and perhaps some Ferro rods and learn how to build fire from natural materials, without matches.

    One of the best aspects of knowledge us that it is generally less expensive than ”stuff” and when you have enough of it, you lessen the actual “stuff” (equipment) that you must carry. Additionally, making sure each piece of equipment has multiple uses can further lessen your need for stuff.

    You mentioned your molds for ice rods that fit in the bottle openings. Another easy way to do this is to partially fill the bottle with water and freeze it. We keep a supply of water bottles in stainless, aluminum and plastic in the freezer. Pull them out, top them off with water, and place them in your insulated pack and you’re ready to go.

    Also keep in mind, that when planning to prep on the cheap, that many food grade containers and used vegetable oil have in many places gone from free to commodity, primarily because the prepping and green communities have discovered this resource. This has happened to many items over the years. A major user of these things goes from paying to have them hauled as trash, to giving them away freely (saving the trash fees), to eventually charging some nominal fee for them due to the high demand of the community. If you are still lucky enough to have any of these available free or at low cost, then by all means, acquire all that you can. Thos that you can’t use will be valuable for trading in the future.

    In general we all must prep at the rate we can afford, both financially and otherwise, and information and knowledge are generally the least expensive (financially) way to prep.

  9. Anonymous says:

    You missed auctions. A major source of goodies.

  10. I love the thrift store! Every once in a while I find candles for real cheap there. They’re also good this time of year for wool. You could make a crazy wool quilt blanket out of long wool skirts from the thrift store. Or sometimes they actually have blankets, but the wool blankets are rare and expensive and the skirts are plentiful and cheap. I’ve been buying army-green and brown clothes there – earth tone. It doesn’t have to be official military camo to be camo-like, and earth tone street clothes are less obvious than army clothes in a civilian setting. And it’s easy to match browns. Easier than reds, anyway. I’ve also been buying clod hoppers (work boots) at the thrift for $3 instead of $50 and up new. I even saw a pair of purple Timberlines but didn’t get them, then regretted it. I was consoled: the next week I got a black pair.

    I’ve been a seed saver since way back. One way I like to save tomato seeds is to squeeze them out onto a paper towel. Then in the spring I just tear bits of paper towel off and plant them. I also have scored flower bulbs by asking people who were thinning theirs, or just getting one or two plants, planting them and letting them spread. I also have plant-swap parties. Got a lot of free plants that way. It takes time to build a garden this way.

    If there’s a patch of deciduous woods near you, or people put their leaves on the curb, you can get free mulch/compost that way. It pays to keep a spade, shovel and some bags, even some trash bags in the car for plant opportunities. I don’t have a compost bin, I have a compost pile. I guess I should build a bin someday but the pile seems to work.

    You can usually get horse manure for free if you have a truck. My friend and I borrow her mom’s truck and go get manure. We’re going to do that this weekend. Put it on in the fall. You can put down cardboard or wet newspaper and put manure on top of it, if you don’t want a bunch of manure exposed to the air you can put leaves on top of that; by spring you’ll have worms and fertile soil and the cardboard will be gone. You won’t have to till!

    You can sometimes get matches in barrooms or restaurants. If you don’t have the habit of going out, then throw a roll of paper towels in the car; if you do go out from time to time, stock up on napkins and matches and keep the napkins in the car to blow your nose.

    I also have a lot of wire coat hangers. I have made hooks and stuff out of them, used them as impromptu tools while fixing things around the house, and dried laundry on them. I even tied a muffler back on once that fell off and was dragging in the street.

    I once used a pair of nail clippers as a screwdriver to screw my bumper back on when it fell off. (same crappy car! But it got 50 MPG.)

    Sewing scraps have become quilt squares, handkerchiefs, bandannas, cheese straining cloths, or maxi pads. For years I was so broke I just used folded up bandannas as maxi pads. They worked okay. The water from washing them can fertilize plants. It’s just inconvenient if you’re traveling or exercising vigorously.

    If you drain a can of beans or peaches or whatever, drink the juice. Or keep a container in the freezer for little bits like that, vegie ends, etc. and make broth when you get enough. (maybe not the peaches)

    I have a coworker who guzzles Diet Pepsi like it’s going out of style. She throws away 3 or 4 2-liter bottles a week and I scarf them from the trash and fill them with water at home. I now have enough water for 2 people for 2 weeks. You can also use them as funnels, planters, or drip irrigators.

    I go “trashing”. That is to say, on trash night I keep my eyes open. I don’t drive all around every time. Last time I found two window boxes that go for $8 normally, with dirt already in them. I am now growing wheat grass (for the cat), lettuce and sorrel in them in my window. You can also sometimes get wood furniture, fish tanks, etc. Dresser drawers or even cardboard boxes can also be repurposed into planter boxes with the addition of a trash bag and a little gravel or styrofoam peanuts (if you want lightweight, although that’s probably not organic) on the bottom inside. I’ve also saved disposable plastic hors-d’oevres trays from parties to use for plants.

    Your old phone books can be fire starters or compost. If you put a sheet or 2 of newspaper in a flower pot before you put dirt, the dirt won’t come out the bottom.

    I save egg cartons for my friend who I get manure with, because she has hens. They would make good seed starters too.

    Cat food cans: the aluminum ones you should save then take to the recycler once a year. You can also cut cans to make sheet metal for various things: braces, brackets, box corners, reinforcements. A steel soup can becomes a fire shield for soldering pipes so you don’t catch the wall on fire. Or make your own sterno cans from cat food cans or tuna cans with cardboard and wax inside. You can grow plants inside old cans.

    One last thing: I too have lent tools to Melvins. One Melvin cut the electric cord on my circular saw with the saw. I had to splice it back together. Another stole my metal square and substituted his plastic one with the corner broken off, and stole the fence from a table saw I’d borrowed. I never did get the fence back. The less people have access to your stuff, the better off you’ll be.

    • cottageggirl says:

      I enjoyed you info. I purchased my husband a pair of MADE IN USA like new red wing boots for $3 at Salvation Army . We live in an upercrust area and our thrift stores are the bomb. They have the best most expensive items barely used. The cost of living here is pretty high so we supplement where we can. Thanks for the tips keep them coming!

  11. Tom the Tinker says:

    Just out for a monday drive to pick up my DW’s PK380 from a local GS and low and behold there sits this olde SMLE carbine….. in 308 nato. I says what ya doing with that olde club… he says it ain’t no club that there is a genuine factory made 3O8 made in 19 by gawd 73… but it is an ugly thang. Sure is says I an whats the ugly price tag say…. he says 3 bills an I says 2 an he says 275 an I repeats myself and he says hell it is an ugly thang….. shore take it. I says I don’t have no 08 ammo so he throws in a box o that Lake City stuff and says ifin I like the club to come back and buy some more of it ta feed it.. I do love to find these lil gems. It ain’t no M1A but its solid as a rock and throws the same sized scrap down range. It is… my budget piece.

  12. Vienna (Soggy prepper) says:

    Self-entitlement monster, LoL!
    We know a couple (we’re more friends with him then her) that have stated if shtf they’ll be over. We laughed and said if you make it past the barrage of bullets, come on in. lol But point is she is one of those take over, self-entitlement, self-appointed leader types. Problem is if I were to encounter someone like that in my home trying to parcel out MY stuff that I have prepped for over the last 3 years it would be a small Armageddon in my Home!!! I know what I have, how to use it, how long it will last and to Whom I’m going to spend my time, money, resources and patience upon.
    Sounds weird but that’s a scenario that has cost me more thought then just random “zombies”. Family and friends that would try to assume control of what I have prepped. That would be bad. for them.
    On another note…
    I need bungie cords and small useful trade items. I have NO trade items. Gotta get some little alcohol bottles. Maybe some cigs and no one I know smokes. Maybe some little coffee packets for trade.
    What else makes good little trade/bribe/barter items?

    • LurkerBob says:

      What else makes good little trade/bribe/barter items?

      Spam,bullets,toilet paper,disposible lighters,more spam,bottlecaps(home brewers),socks,boot laces,porn media (cds,mags),tools (screwdrivers,pliers,etc) cheap folding knives,duct tape,toothbrushes,seed packages,fish hooks & line,work gloves,gun patches,spam

    • Lint Picker (Northern California) says:

      Probably some of the best barter items will be antibiotics and pain killers and other meds. Already some types of meds are hard to get in this country. After Obamacare kicks in totally, they will be even harder to get. Imagine how hard it will be to get them when TSHTF.

      I will not be supplying liquor to anybody. I don’t want to be around drunk yahoos with guns. They may seem friendly at first, but get them drunk or buzzed and they could be real mean real fast. Cigarettes are very expensive in this state, so I don’t think I’ll be buying any for barter. Maybe I’ll get some papers and some of those manual cigarette rollers (in the 1960s every hippie had one for rolling joints). Yeah, people can grow tobacco, but the papers and rollers will be hard to come by.

      • I feel the same way about not wanting to trade ammo that may be used later against me or the local community.

      • Exile1981 says:

        A couple yaers ago I got a box of 100 P38 can oppeners cheap (like 10 cents an opener) I put 20 in various packs and kits and the rest I put in the bins I have set up for trade goods. I also picked up a case of small knives, they are the folding little ones for use as trade goods. They are sharp and seam to hold up to normal use so far.

        is a picture of one from a different supplier than I used, but the same 4.25″ long knife.

      • The nice thing about drunk yahoos with guns is you can get them more drunk, then just take their guns 😀
        Alcohol in itself will be a great barter item- or those little bottles of alky-scrub modern yuppies are so needful of after wetting their pinkies. (Won’t tell you why I think they wet their pinkies…;) )
        I think that sugar and salt/pepper will be three of the most common barter items, and other spices.
        But when it comes to barter, my thinking is I will barter what I barter for rather than sever ties with anything I’ve purposely prepped- such as sugar, salt & pepper, TP and toothpaste, etc. No matter how much of that I have, it’ll get used eventually. Besides: if you have lots of desireable items to barter, people are going to get the idea you have other things they can use. There goes your OpSec.

      • SrvivlSally says:

        Fashion or purchase some corn cob pipes, or put together small pipes with small bowls out of metal and you will not need papers, filters or rollers. No smoker is going to care how they have to smoke tobacco, just as long as they can do it. Do not worry about the miniscule things because, when it all comes down to it, your product will be desired.

    • NotHank's says:

      Motor and two-stroke oil.

      Bulk tobacco and rolling papers. Or buy some seeds and grow your own cash crop. Top-shelf hooch. Coffee.

      Solar lights. Good nightlites and can double as AA battery chargers. Anything solar or with a crank.

      Around here anyway, anything that helps put wood on the woodpile.

      Cheap multimeters? Everyone (that isn’t prepared) is going to be trying to build alternate power solutions from scratch. $4-5 at the dollar store.

    • Have been buying up all the sharp knives at the thrift shops…paying anywhere between .50 cents and $2 for each. Some are already sheathed in their sharpeners. cheers.

  13. Frank, I feel that you left out one very critical factor with your topic. I believe that skills will be paramount for survival. Having a varied skill set, especially long-term survival, will greatly improve someone’s chances if we are faced with a very different world than what we have been used to.

    Most people tend to discuss purchases they’ve made as preparations, but few speak of skills acquired or skills being learned. When purchased goods become scarce, we’ll be forced to make-our-own more and more often. I understand you might not appreciate (or want to undertake) the time spent to make rope or reload, but those are 2 skills that might be critical at some point.

    We can weld and so we scrounge for steel and solder which can help us now (we built a wood splitter to use with our Bobcat’s hydraulics). Welding could also help in a short-term situation, provided we had the electricity. We can do other activities, too, such as large construction projects, riflesmithing, or mechanical designs. Those who don’t have these skill sets, or similar skill sets, should begin to acquire them. What if you need to convert an automated machine to a manual version? What if a trigger jammed? What if building a small shed is important?

    Other skills that come to mind include more primitive skills such as tanning hides, flint knapping, foraging, fire making, etc. Oftentimes, a bit of knowledge can be greatly improved with time and practice — things that can be pursued without money. FWIW.

    • Lynn,

      I think you are right here. At some point, most of our store-bought goods will run out and we will need to either make good ourselves or do without. I wonder if there is a comprehensive list of skills anywhere on the internet. Here’s a question for everyone, if we were rebuilding society after the great collapse, what kinds of skills would we want?

      Surely we would want folks who can farm and preserve food, folks who know medicine, carpenters, gunsmiths, blacksmiths, tailors, shoe makers, coopers, weavers, brick makers, candle makers. But what else?

      • Lint Picker (Northern California) says:

        I’ll be looking for a good cook.

      • LurkerBob says:

        We talking about circa 1895 lifestyle? (pre -electric / tech)

        Soldiers – professional militia trainers
        salvagers – metal,glass,tech,consumer,bling
        dog trainers – guard,herd,attack
        veterinarians – livestock
        police – sheriff, marshal,rangers,judge
        executioners – hangman,headsman

        And of course

        TAX COLLECTOR – you didn’t think a little thing like the end of the world was gonna get you out of paying sombody taxes did ya?

    • Lynn,

      I do love reading your posts, you are able to express many of my own thoughts only you write better!

      I know just what you mean, I daily work at using and improving skills that I think are important to have, along with working some skills only a few times a year but still feel its important to keep up on as they come available.

  14. SrvivlSally says:

    Saving seeds from fresh store bought vegetables before throwing them out, composting or steaming them, and drying them on paper napkins, towels or coffee filters before storing them in envelopes will provide seed for a garden. Salvaging underwear elastic will work in a pinch for shoe’s strings, tightening pants through the use of belt loops and making light-duty bungee straps. Cutting the entire zippers out of old jackets and jeans will provide a solution when good zippers go bad on items that are not headed for disposal. Old, still sand-covered rolled roofing is good for covering wood porch steps during wet and wintry conditions as the sand will help to provide traction if not iced over. Old sheets can be dyed and refashioned into shirts, night pants or slings. Wore out jacket stuffing can be used to refill another pillow, create padding in shoes, knee’s pads for gardening, seat cushions, pet beds, toy stuffing and, if it is dense enough, ear plugs. Short lengths of broken or unused fishing line can be used to create survival necklaces, fishing lures, reinforce gear or makeshift tooth brushes or cleaners for teeth if it is not too stiff that it will hurt gums. Many hairy guys belly buttons will collect fuzz which can be used for making firestarters or starting fires when there is nothing available while outdoors, just make sure to leave all skin and hairs that may be present in it as removing them may destroy and make it unusable. With a little natural-colored paint applied, small plastic bottles with their caps on may be useful as floats and bobbers while fishing. Thick paper egg cartons are good for building an indoor shelter when electric is out for days in Winter by taping them together with strong duct tape and hanging a fleece blanket, followed by an emergency blanket, over the doorway. Saving the big and small hoses after changing them on your vehicle or after a shop has done it for you and they may be used to create tubes or pipes for temporary use for routing sources of water or pieces of them cut for patches. Metal food cans can be cut into the shapes of knife blades with wire cutters and needle nose pliers to help where needed, layered, and taped or wired together to use as cutting instruments but would have to washed very well when involved with food items. The ends that are cut out when cans are opened are sharp and would be great for using as a double-bladed cutter in which one side can be folded over, a rod placed into the fold, holes marked for drilling or punching, the rod removed, the holes made, wire inserted into the holes followed by the rod being re-inserted into the fold and the wire tightened down to secure it which will be used for a handle. Cut off and braid long hair to make rope.

  15. I save newspaper, about fourth down on my list of ways to cook is an old Safari Grill. Cooks with just old newspaper and the grease off the meat. A quick search got some hits on used ones for sale, but they could be made from a metal 5 gal pail and two wire grill racks. I hit the free weekly news paper the day before the new one comes out. Old cans make good candle holders cut interesting shapes in them for shadows and a cheap light show with your candlelight.

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