Prepping takes a certain level of investment, in effort, time and resources. Those resources usually take the form of cash. Even minimalist prepping with an emphasis on skills is plenty expensive enough, and full-tilt end-of-the-world readiness can easily equate to an additional mortgage payment every month. But there are no two ways around it: for some things, if you want to play you have to pay.
For some, the idea of paying too much is simply anathema. For others they need to make their dollars go farther so they can get all the things they need. A few unlucky preppers will have spouses that, ah, do not see the value proposition of stockpiling guns, ammo, food and other supplies. Whoever you are, unless you are truly wealthy, funds will always be a factor for your prepping plans.
That’s where I come in. In this article, I am going to give you a few tried and true ways to get the gear you need and do it cheaply, stretching your dollar to meet your objectives. Think of it like a financial force multiplier. It does not matter what you need and where you are, there are always ways to wheel, deal, scrimp, barter and save on the stuff you need. Keep reading, and let’s make some deals!
Yonder, a Deal!
The things you need are all around you, and with some diligence and patience, available at deeply discounted prices, or even free! So how do we find these sweet, sweet bargain? That part is simpler than you think, it just takes a mindset adjustment and a little bit of extra effort.
For starters, stop assuming that the things you want are only to be had in some nice store with an equally nice price tag. Nothing wrong with buying retail, but it is a poor strategy for making your bucks do more work. Instead, we will depart from the big-box store promised land in search of our own, one where the goods come easy and the gear comes cheap. Avoiding retail establishments is one of the central tenets of our new buying strategy (with an exception, see below).
There other most essential facet to our new strategy is simply good old fashioned networking. Beating the bushes you might say. We want to go directly to the people that have what we want, and find out what they want for the thing we want. Right? Right. Value is never arbitrarily fixed: An expensive generator or hoard of survival meals may be worth thousands to you, but could be someone else’s pain in the ass. If you can get rid of it for them, you’ll be helping them. Remember this.
Also bear in mind that you may not need hand over any cash for goods. Someone may be willing to trade something you want for something of yours they need. Similarly your skills and talents may be able to solve a problem of theirs and see them part with the item you need in payment. This is the kind of outside the box thinking that will solve your own supply and acquisition problems.
Read on below for the scoop on several avenues that can net you needed equipment and supplies on the cheap.
Swap Meets, Garage Sales and Flea Markets
It will take some time pushing the pavement and perusing the aisles, but cruising a swap meet, garage sale or flea market is often an excellent way to find some items you need on the cheap. Anything from camping items to tools, electronics and more can be had, often for dirt cheap.
None of these venues are without their warts: You will need to be careful of what you are buying at flea markets as many vendors simply stock and mark up the cheapest of the cheap Chinese garbage, things that literally are not worth a look. Swap meets may wind up being a waste of time as quite a few more local ones are very clannish in their dealings and often not very big. Garage sales are simply hit and miss- you may snag a great piece of kit, or waste your time looking at Precious Moments figurines. At least you won’t burn too much time wandering at a garage sale.
Even so, I have scored plenty of quality, useful gear at all of these venues with nothing more than a little time out of my weekend, things like my nice chainsaw, a couple of high-end battery powered lanterns, and a large mortar shell can with excellent seals that made for a very nice cache container.
You never know what you’ll find, but whatever it is you can likely snag it for a sweet price. All of the above venues foster an “end of the line” mentality among many of the sellers at them, most of whom will move their wares for pennies on the dollar.
Army-Navy Surplus Stores
Talk about a slice of Americana. While the glory days of the stuffed-to-the-rafters surplus store are over, there is still plenty to recommend them to a prepper on the hunt for hard use gear and good prices. Surplus stores can be a boon when you need to buy in quantity or are looking for a specialty item.
True, surplus stores often don’t have a ton of bonafide military surplus anymore; back when I was a youngster in the 90’s, they seemed packed with all manner of awesome gear, and even then my elders were telling me how great they used to be. Part of this comes from the government not opting to auction these items off to commercial dealers quite so often anymore and the other part is simply the explosion of big-box outdoor stores, many of them more akin to toy stores for adults. For some shoppers, they’ll spend their coin at a shiny, clean superstore instead of a dank, musty cave-like storeroom.
That is a major shame, because surplus stores still have the goods when you need hard use clothing like boots, parkas, rain gear, tents and more, all on the cheap. You will need to pay attention to the wear of the individual items you are buying, and some items should not be bought surplus at all; the genuine military issue items for sale are surplus after all, meaning they are being sold off for being obsolescent or past their service life so the government can recoup some of our tax dollars.
You don’t want to buy something dry rotted and moth-eaten only to have it fail you in the middle of a long stay in the wild when bugging out. Similarly, you should never, ever trust an essential piece of safety or life-support gear bought used/surplus unless you know precisely what you are doing and looking at. Things like military issue gas masks are often attractively priced, and sold alongside sealed filtration canisters, but gas mask material degrades readily with time and use, and canisters have a finite shelf life, even when sealed. Don’t trust them; buy new, modern models instead.
Nonetheless, a good surplus store hookup is a boon, as there is nowhere else you could hope to walk in and walk out with a full set of specialty clothing and shelter equipment of modest quality for so cheap. Make it a point to hunt down a good surplus store in your area.
Trade or Barter
This boils down to one crucial thing: talk to people! Talk. To. People! Everyone has something you want, if only you can solve one of their problems or make it worth their while to part with it. If someone has an item or supplies you need, ask if there is anything they want in trade, or some service you can provide in exchange. This may seem a little awkward or weird working your requests into conversation, or feel like you are prying, but with a little practice it will be as natural as saying ‘hello.’
Start by shaking down friends and family. Then move on to other people in your social networks. Ask friends and associates if they know anyone that has “x” item and looking to sell or part with it. Most people will be more than happy to strike up a conversation about it in the interest of helping their relative or friend. If the answer is in the affirmative, setup a call or meeting.
Once you have exhausted your social network, move on to strangers. You can hit up different boards on places like Craigslist and other local or special interest forums for easy leads, as most sites like that have section dedicated to trade and exchange among members. You can even strike up small talk with strangers you bump into out in the world and after some chit-chat hit them with the “Hey, I know this sounds a little weird, but…” opener.
It sounds completely out of the blue, and it is, but so long as you preface the question accordingly most folks won’t miss a beat. You’d be surprised what you can come up with in these conversations. I once bought 12,000 of British L2A2 7.62 ammo off a gentleman I made conversation with while waiting in line for a table at a restaurant, and got it at a very good price per round.
Talk to everyone!
“Free” Sections of Forums, Online Classifieds and Newspapers
While you are tooling around on your forums looking for people to barter and trade with, spin into the dedicated “free” sections. There are tons of people who have stuff and want it gone, no questions asked. Now, much of the stuff listed in these sections will be junk that these people are praying someone will come along and remove, but others will have legitimately valuable things they simply need gone, things like firewood, old cars or parts, soil, rock, lumber, all kinds of things.
When scoping out some free loot, whatever it is, be wary of bait and switch tactics, or sketchy sellers. If it seems too good to be true it probably is. Most people aren’t giving away brand new Corvettes, big flat panel TV’s or loads and loads of ammo. Don’t get hustled into hauling off useless junk unless you know you are picking up useless junk.
If in doubt, get plenty of pictures from the seller showing you exactly what you are looking at. Don’t waste time or gas on anything you cannot reasonably verify ahead of time. It should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway: if you are ever in doubt, take a friend with you. Plenty of scumbags use Craigslist and social media to set up the unwary to get rolled.
Big-Box Retailer Clearance Sections and Sales
I told you we’d be talking about our favorite retailers just a little. While you will never be getting the best buys on anything paying full-ride retail at your preferred outdoor or preparedness megastore, you can still get good stuff for a song if you hit them when they are having a big sale, offering good coupons or have a juicy clearance section under roof. Same goes for your favorite online retailers. Many of them even have a scratch-and-dent or demo model section on a variety of goods.
Another option is to shop online using a browser extension or service that automatically scours the web for coupons to get you the best deal. Honey is one such extension and works wonderfully and quickly on all kinds of sites. If you are a regular online shopper and not using Honey or a similar app, you are wasting money.
If you are patient, and a little lucky, you might just get one of those big-ticket items you have had your eye on for drastically less than the sticker price. Or maybe you will not get the exact brand or model you want but can snag a similar or competitors model for cheap. Sometimes you can get supplies in quantity that makes them affordable and a good use of your funds.
So make it a point to keep an eye on your local big-box stores for sales, and shakedown employees for info on when your special purchase might be heading to clearance. And do use an excel sheet to keep track of the items and their prices. You could make it a habit to check all of them out every weekend to see if any of them are cheaper than usual. If you’re tracking over a couple of dozen items, the effort is well worth it.
Prepping can be a spendy endeavor, no two ways about it, and there are plenty of material goods you simply must have. Thankfully you can spend a few extra brain cells and come up with a multitude of ways to save some bucks on the things you need for your survival stash, or even get them for free! All it takes is persistence and networking.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.