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…