Prepping on a Budget

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Prepping on a Budget

Commonly referred to as prepping, being equipped to deal with an unexpected event or disaster is important, and can provide peace of mind in uncertain times. Whether your ‘event’ is economic collapse, job loss or a destructive hurricane, gathering items to ensure your family’s safety and comfort should be a priority. However, it can be difficult to even consider prepping when your current budget is already stretched too thin.

It is surprisingly easy to begin prepping on a budget, even if your budget is just $10 a month. This can be achieved by briefly cutting back on meat, switching to the store brands for a few items, or even selling unwanted books, DVDs or CDs on Ebay or Craigslist. Take a close look at your purchases each month and really consider their necessity. Could you push back buying a new frying pan and instead buy a couple pounds of dried beans? Instead of spending money on a tub of ice cream, take that money and buy an LED lantern. Keep an eye on local sale flyers and stock up when items are cheapest.

I found it helpful to begin with a list of what my family would need for one week without electricity, running water, heat, or the ability to go shopping. This is what my basic list looks like for my family of two adults and one breastfed baby:

3 lbs dried beans
a couple bags of quinoa
28 cans of vegetables (2 cans each for 7 days)
28 cans of fruit
Can opener

First-aid kit
antibiotic ointment

Rubbing alcohol
Hydrogen peroxide
Hand crank radio
Extra blankets
LED lanterns
Filled gas can
Matches and/or a fire starter
Ax or machete
Extra cell phone with car charger
Trash bags
Toilet paper
Feminine hygiene products
Canned cat food (for our cats, not us!)

You will have to consider your unique circumstances when compiling your list. For example, I did not include water as we have an artesian well that can be manually pumped. I also did not add diapers as we use cloth and are willing to deal with hand-washing them if necessary. We have a charcoal grill and lots of wood on our land, so I did not include a cook-stove. When our baby begins eating solid food, I will have to include additional items for her.

Never count on your regular supplies being stocked. Something could happen right when your tube of antibiotic ointment runs out, or the day before your big grocery shop. Everything you prep should be separate and secured in a waterproof container if possible, such as this giant tote from Home Depot. Also, make sure to note the expiration dates on food and medications and swap them out accordingly.

Once your basic list is complete, you have a choice. You can either continue by padding your current supplies, or move up to the next stage and begin prepping for the long term. This can be a bit scary, because you need to start imagining worst case scenarios. People in the direct path of the recent hurricane Sandy were without power for many weeks. Job loss can affect a family for months. If economic collapse is something you think about, that requires a whole new level of prepping and would be an entire article unto itself.

Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed; prepping on a budget can be easy if you start small, with what you can manage. Jot down basic items as you think of them, then begin whittling the list down to the essentials. It can take many months to finish prepping on a budget, so don’t be discouraged! A good prepper’s work is never done!

Want to learn more about Prepping? There is a huge list of prepping tips on the Homestead Living section, or check out these articles:

Do you prepare for the unexpected? What are some items that you have on your essential list?


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  1. I think this is a great start – and great that it can be done on a budget!

    However, I would caution you against not having bottled water on hand. In cases of flooding, your well water could become contaminated, leaving you not only without water, but without a way to cook one of your primary food staples. If your well water was contaminated, you wouldn’t want to wash clothing in it either, so I would also recommend a few disposable diapers – if only for the convenience during a stressful situation.

    I would also recommend having a landline. When the power goes out, sometimes cell towers get knocked out, too. When that happens, you have no means of communicating. Get an old school corded phone to use in emergencies.

    1. I agree with bottled water. We were very lucky to have some on hand a year ago when a fire destroyed our water source for days. The water coming out of the well was black and yellow, very gross!

    2. Or water purification system, filters, tablets, etc. Lots of ways to make your water clean again if you have access to the well water (won’t work without electricity so you need a manual pump for the well). Boiling water is an option but the list doesn’t have a propane or gas stove on it, so that makes me wonder if it was missed on the list (dried beans are hard to eat without being cooked).

      I have a solar oven that is AWESOME. And I have a camp stove (propane, but can be used with natural gas as well), that I use for canning in the summer and fall. My solar oven gets used about once or twice a month, more in the summer months when I don’t want to turn on the oven.

      For water storage, a great option is to re-fill 2-liter soda bottles after cleaning them. We don’t drink soda, but when we host parties or go to parties that have the 2-liter bottles, we collect the empties. If you have room in your freezer, it is wise to freeze these soda bottles filled with water for two reasons:

      1. Your fridge/freezer acts as an ice chest even if the power is off. You can use these blocks of “ice” to give yourself a few more days to eat your perishables before they go bad. It will keep your fridge and freezer cool.

      2. When it melts, you have drinking water!

      We also have water purification systems that take out the bad stuff in dirty water… and as a last resort we have water purification tablets, and bleach, and also colloidal silver that acts as water purification. Oh, and iodine drops work, too, but make the water taste yucky.

      We also have a couple smaller solar panels that allow us to re-charge batteries and also have a USB plug so that we can re-charge our small electronic devices. This will give us something to do (play games on our cell phones or read books or use apps on our tablet) if we get bored.

      Another tip that is pretty inexpensive but works well… you know those cheapo solar lights you can get for outdoors? Many times you can find them at WalMart for only $1. Buy a dozen or so… if the power goes out, during the day keep them outside to soak up the sun, and then when the sun sets, bring them inside — they won’t give off a lot of light, but they can be placed in the hallways, in the bedrooms, bathrooms, etc so that you can see to get around your house. Great for kids nightlights, too!

      Just some simple tips I hope you guys can use 🙂

  2. I really like this list. Although I tend to avoid the word prepper to categorize myself, I do try to keep a stocked pantry and essentials in case of whatever might happen. Last year, we lost power in Northern Virginia for about two days. Seems like nothing, but it was the height of summer, and we melted like crazy. I was nearly knocked down by an old dude walking into a store to buy a small generator. Because some machine systems were down, I’d also recommend stashing a bit of cash, when/if able. Just in case!

  3. We stockpile as well to help prepare for an unexpected event. In addition to the fruit and veggies, we stockpile those handy tuna and salmon pouches from the grocery store which is an easy protein source that lasts for years (obviously one should always keep an eye on expiration dates, and use up/replace as needed). Also, we buy a huge 30 lb bag of rice and store it in washed juice bottles and washed peanut butter tubs. I can store 7 cups of rice in a plastic peanut butter tub and it’s air tight! Also, a flint, and of course fishing gear/ammo are always a great idea as well!

  4. Be sure the food you store is food that your family normally eats. You don’t want to introduce something new that your kids may not like or something that can upset tummies. You will be under enough stress without adding hungry bodies and runny bottoms to deal with.
    Plan one extra meal a week on our grocery list. Make it one that can be made without very much “fresh” items. Then store it back. At the end of the month you will have 4-5 meals ready for an emergency and you’ve only spent a little each week.

  5. Your list was very helpful and has given me a few more things to pick up. I’ve found a place to purchase a handcraned radio that has an outlet to charge your cell phone, so my college daughters (now that they are actually leaving!!) will each get one for Christmas in case they have power outages in college over in Montana!

  6. This is an awesome post. Prepping so often turns into a monotonous, money pit of a process that people are turned off to the idea of being prepared for unexpected events.

    Budgeting and planning, in a realistic sense, are the keys. I hadn’t seen anyone else take a look at what might actually be needed for a set period of time. Often, it’s tons of water, an excessive emphasis on weapons, and more dry goods than a person or even a small family could ever hope to eat.

  7. I happened to start “prepping” almost 2 years ago, when I started couponing. By doubling my coupons, I’ve been able to get most of my “extras” for free or close to free. I also sign up for samples, especially shampoo, body wash, laundry soap, etc. I have a family of 8 (2 adults and 6 kids) on an extremely tight budget. I buy things like sucanat (we don’t use white sugar), whole wheat flour, honey, oatmeal, and sea salt in bulk. We also have a “family garden”, from which I canned 45qts of dill pickles, 14qts of sliced pears, and 10 pts of pear sauce. This week I will be freezing pureed pumpkin. I try and keep at least a 1 year supply of food and household items at all times.

  8. I have lived in places where we have had earthquakes, floods, wind drafts (tornadoes) and snow. We assessed what we needed to survive the disasters that were possible and then we slowly gathered what we would need for disaster. As you said those supplies should be in a separate tub and they need to be rotated into the regular food/ supply stock so that it remains fresh. We got a air compressor, generator and the gas for them. we have the crank radio/ charger for the cell phones. water in bottles and canteens for the well water. I made a menu and then got the food for the 2 weeks. We have a camping box as well and can use it for emergency prep as well.
    Now we are working on cold weather prepping for this house.

  9. This is a great list. Don’t forget to have a “grab and Go” bag of important personal papers and documents. Bank account numbers, credit card numbers, phone lists (in case your forced to use another phone), birth certificates, copies of DL and passport, etc. insurance companies, automobile info. Go through your filing cabinet and copy everything you would need if forced from your home quickly and keep it in something close to an exit.

  10. Radios with a three mile radius are very helpful for keeping in contact with one another in the event cell towers and phone lines are down. A family sized tent is helpful in the event you have to evacuate. Being able to get a safe distance away from danger and having a shelter is important. You could potentially stay at a state park or even a friend’s back yard.
    A thermal blanket is light, small, and great to have in the event of serious injury. Also, femine hygiene products are very useful in emergencies in which someone is wounded.
    I found a crank radio that has chargers not just for USB devices, but other electrical devices. I have not tried it yet, but intend to see how it works for our rechargeable battery station.

    Other benefits to stocking up include being able to help others nearby in an emergency or being able to stock up plenty of food to send with your adult son who has been out of work awhile, but got a new job several hours away but who won’t get his first check for two weeks. (Ask me how I know. )

    We also had a problem with mice getting into some of our pantry items. We now keep beans, pastas, and such in a foot locker in the pantry. In the event of a wildfire or other emergency in which we might need to bug out, but had a warning, we can load our food supplies in it to carry easily. Each family member has a bug out bag (BOB) with a change of clothes, pajamas, water bottles or camel back, rain panchos, and other emergency gear. We practice using the materials to keep items fresh and clothes updated for our little weeds.

    1. Yes, a grab and go bag(s) are important. After going through hurricane Sandy we not only had to put together grab and go bags but we also had to decide what documents and personal items we felt were important to take with us.

  11. great list -after our recent ice storm without any power for 3 days (we were lucky some people we without for over a week), I know a list for families like this is very helpful! Stayed dark and dreary for over a week. Still is!
    We had battery lanterns (I’m looking into solar ones) and not enough C or D batteries to last us. Batteries were flying off the shelves so I know we were not the only ones!
    Would have been helpful to if we had all this in one place. We were out in the garage in the cold and dark looking for this stuff. But I thank God we made it through with lessons learned!

  12. Lighting..oil lamp, flashlight, batteries, solar light
    Food, peanut butter jelly, crackers, energy bars, canned fruit, veggies
    Misc…toilet paper, can opener, soap..etc

    I always store water in my empty soda bottles or milk jugs for washing hands and flushing toilet.

  13. I know that this post is a few years back but with the pandemic going on right now, I know a LOT of people who started panic buying when Washington State first got locked down with “Stay Home” orders. Over the past 4 years I have tried my darndest to get people to prepare for the unexpected and they did not listen to my advice so they are now part of the panic!

    I live in a senior apartment complex and many people are on severely limited budgets – well all of us are on fixed incomes but… So, I advised people to purchase a couple or 3 extra cans, boxes, whatever every time they went shopping. I advised them on rotation but again they didn’t take my advice. I am fortunate in that I have been in prepping mode for 10+ years and did not need to panic. In fact, the things that I was most concerned about was the comfort foods – chips, chocolate, etc. I had all the healthy foods covered but the junk food? not so much!!

    Thank you for your blog.