Priorities for prepping on a tight budget
A while back, I wrote an article for folks that are brand new to prepping. If you missed it, click here to read it. Anyway, I got some positive feedback on that article, but I also received a few emails asking me to be a bit more specific. They wanted to know where and what they should start with first.
In particular, one email from a lady told me she was on a fixed, very tight income. She had very limited resources, and was asking me what should be the priorities for her, even more so than in the above listed article. I could tell from her email she was feeling a bit overwhelmed. She wanted to be more prepared, but could not spend very much each month.
That’s understandable. Beginning preparedness can feel like a daunting task. You can also look at everything you might potentially need, and feel concerned because your funds are limited. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I have decided to break down that beginning prepping article a bit more, and go into detail as to what I believe should be your top priorities if you are on a budget. Keep in mind that these are the top priorities in almost every disaster scenario, NOT just a huge SHTF event. As always, I stress that you need to start with the most probable scenarios, and work your way outward.
For this article, I’m assuming that you already have developed emergency plans. That to me is your obvious #1 priority. Failing to plan is planning to fail, and hope is not a plan. Instead, this article will focus on what resources you should be collecting first. (For more info on preparedness planning, click here.)
These categories are listed in order of importance (in my opinion). For each category I list the basics for that category that you should work on first. Once you have the basics in that category covered, move on to the next. Or if you can, try to cover more than one category at a time! For example, I list water storage over food storage. (3 days without water/3 weeks without food.) But if you can cover both categories at the same time, you are that much further ahead.
At the end of each category I will list “additional” items. These are items that while I feel are important, they are areas/items that you can come back to once you have all of your basics covered.
To me, the first thing you need to concentrate on is the ability to know what is going on around you. This includes being able to communicate with others in an emergency. If you have no knowledge of what is taking place in your area, how can you know what is coming? How will you know which emergency plans to activate? Your preps won’t do you much good if you are caught completely off-guard.
There could be a time where you simply cannot get any actionable “intel” about an unfolding disaster. But that does not mean you should not have a way to communicate with others, and have some potential source of news and information.
In another article, (click the link to read it) I listed a cell phone as one of the most important pieces of survival equipment you can have.
A charged cell phone can help in about 95% of all emergency situations. Simply being able to alert others to your emergency condition and your location can save your life faster than just about anything else out there.
If you already have a cell phone, great. If not, I’d encourage you to go one.
I know that cell phones and their cell plans can be expensive, but there are other options available. Drop phones and pay as you go phones can be had for not a lot of money. That way you pay for only the minutes you use. (Minus the cost of the phone.)
Here is a Samsung touch screen cell phone for $30. (At the time this article was published…charger included.) It does NOT require any activation fees, contracts, monthly bills or credit checks. You can buy air cards for more minutes as you need them. So for about $40 or less, you can have an emergency cell phone.
Once you have a cell phone, be aware of what all the cell phone can and cannot do in emergency and disaster situations. Click this link to find out more.
After you have a cell phone, I would look at getting an AM/FM emergency radio. I would get one that can at least run on batteries. This particular model (to the right) is VERY handy. It has a hand crank, is solar powered, and uses AAA batteries. So there are multiple means of powering it. In addition to picking up FM/AM radio, it also picks up NOAA weather alerts. It is less than $35 dollars.
This radio is also nice because it has a built-in flashlight and can also charge your cell phone. Hence this little radio has several different functions in an emergency setting. And multi-functioning gear is great to have!
Having a radio like this will allow you to continue to gather information about what is going on around you, even if you no longer have electricity. My wife used hers after a tornado. In the underground community shelter she was in, that radio was the only source of news and information they had. Cell towers were down or overloaded, so everyone’s cell phones and internet did not work. Several people told her that they would be going out and buying one!
Ham radios are also nice to have, and can be EXTREMELY useful. But they can represent a big potential investment. They also require some time to learn, and even licenses you will need to obtain if you plan to broadcast on them. (Other than in an emergency situation.)
For more information on HAM radios, here is a great starter article on it.
As I have mentioned before, FEMA recommends having AT LEAST a 3 day supply of water for emergencies. That means a gallon of water a day per person, including pets. But this is actually not hard to do. Short term water preps might be one of the cheapest and easiest preps there is.
You can purchase a gallon of water at a grocery store for a $1 or less a gallon. I buy the Ozarka gallons pictured here because they easily stack on top of one another. They are $1 each at my local Wal-Mart.
So for less than $15, you can have 12 to 14 gallons of water set back. And if they are stackable like those in the picture, storing them should not be too difficult. Just be sure to store them out of direct sunlight. I also write the month and year on the bottle, and I rotate them regularly.
You can also use soda bottles as well, if you clean them out well first. Do NOT reuse milk or juice containers though. There are proteins in them that can leach into the plastic, and will not come out regardless of how well you clean them. This can contaminate your water! So just toss those containers once they are empty.
In a real disaster situation, you can also get drinking water from places like your hot water tank. That could be 25 or more gallons of drinkable water, depending upon the size of your tank. Here is a great article showing you how it is done.
I also have a few other water storage and purification methods available to me. I have several of these Sawyer Minis. For about $20 they remove 99% of all bacteria, and will work for up to about 100,000 gallons.
Keep in mind that these will NOT remove pollutants such as salt, metal contaminants, etc.
A water Bob fits into your bathtub, and will hold up to 100 gallons of water. This will keep the water stored in it drinkable for up to 12 weeks, depending upon conditions. So if you have a little advanced warning of an approaching disaster, this could be $25 well spent!
Once you have a 3 day water supply and a few ways to purify water, you can start looking for more long-term water plans. Here is a great article on long term water storage. This includes more purification methods as well.
Maintaining your core body temperature at 98.6 degrees is VITAL to life. You can live for weeks without food, but outside elements can kill you within hours (or less) if you are not prepared.
That being said, I know that this category will be different for many people based upon quite a few factors. These factors, such as location and time of year, can change the importance of this category somewhat. If, for example, you live in a moderate temperature zone like southern California, or if it is currently spring where you reading this, then you might move this category down a bit. But make no mistake, this does not mean that surprise storms or other sudden weather conditions cannot change your situation in a heartbeat.
There have been cases of people dying of hypothermia in 60 or even 70 degree weather (emergency settings) because they were wet and it was windy outside.
If you live in an area where the cold, high heat, storms, and/or other outdoor elements can play havoc then you need to start looking at ways to keep yourself warm (or cool). This is especially true should you lose power or be forced out into the elements.
This starts with clothing. I have written an article on clothing that you need to be prepared, and if you have not read it I would urge you to do so. So getting some extra warm clothing and wool blankets should be a priority here as well.
Like water, FEMA recommends having AT LEAST a 3 day supply of food. (This includes pet food!) Building up your supply of food is not difficult at all. Every time you go to the grocery store, buy a few extra items of food that you already eat. Then just rotate it with your regular stock.
For example, instead of buying two cans of green beans, buy four cans. Maybe an extra can of tuna and small bag of rice. Continue to do this until you have several days worth of food stored up. But there are a few things to keep in mind.
First, store food that you and your family actually eat. That makes it easier to rotate your stock, and ensures that food does not go to waste. If your family hates Spam, having ten cans of it is a waste. No one will eat it so you can’t rotate it. Eventually it will reach its expiration date and go bad. That’s wasted time, effort, money, and space.
Second, concentrate on the 3 “Macros” of food preps. Proteins, carbs, and fats. Having a few sweets and treats could be good for morale in a bad situation. But make sure that your food stores aren’t just junk food.
Third, concentrate on foods that are non-perishable and that you don’t necessarily have to cook. If the grid goes down, frozen pizzas and microwave burritos won’t do you much good if you lack the ability to cook it or keep it fresh. (Click the link for more info on the shelf life of refrigerated foods.)
Once you hit an extra 3 day supply of food, begin looking at 5 or even 7 days worth of food storage.
This food comes boxed, so it is easily stackable. Their Mylar packaging seals the food, keeping it edible for up to 25 years. Their food is GMO free and they have gluten-free options as well.
You can also find things like Mountain House “Just in Case” foods ,which is very similar to the Valley Food storage. I prefer the Valley Storage, but that is just my opinion.
#5 Emergency Supplies/Gear
Some emergency gear, such as the emergency radio, blankets, etc I have mentioned above. But there are certainly a lot more items I keep back in case of an emergency.
- Extra medication/medicines. Many physicians will prescribe you extra medications that you take regularly if you ask. (Non-narcotic anyway). Always having at least 3-5 days’ worth of your medications on hand is a very wise move.
- A first aid kit – here is one for about $25 and weighs just a pound. Easy to carry and transport
- Extra sanitation items. Staying clean is a morale booster. Hand sanitizer and wipes helps keep you clean. Your stored water should be drinking, not showering. Ladies, two days into a crisis is a terrible time to realize you are out of feminine hygiene items. Also keep in mind…if you have no running water you most likely have no toilet. (How much toilet paper do you have right now?) If you have an infant…extra diapers and wipes. You get the picture.
- Garbage bags…..see above
- Board games, cards, and books. No electricity means no TV, Xbox, internet, or way to recharge your cell phones. What are you going to do when boredom sets in? Some entertainment items to help pass the time would be very beneficial. Here is a link to a site with the rules (how to play) dozens and dozens various card games
- Tools. A wrench might come in handy if you needed to turn off your gas or water for example
- Important documentation. (Click the link for more info) Things such as personal identification, insurance policies, bank account info, etc. Keep these in a waterproof, portable container
- Fire extinguisher – self-explanatory
- Some extra cash. No electricity renders your bank card/credit card useless. Cash is always king
- Local maps. Main Street might be torn up right now. Having and knowing alternate routes is a wise move.
- Paper plates and plastic utensils. Again….save the water for drinking and cooking.
- Quality knife – This is one I carry, though there are cheaper knives out there
I talk about 10 items you might want to store long-term in this article here. Click the link for more details.
At this point, you might start looking at putting a Go bag/bug out bag together. If you need more details about this, read my article How I built a Go bag for a “Non-prepper”. I break down what all I put in her bag, why I put in what I did, and the plans/reasoning behind all of it. (It cost me less than $75, and includes many items I have already listed above.)
#6 Self Defense
Having the means and ability to protect yourself is something that is very important. However, from a financial standpoint, this can easily become one of your more expensive preps.
I have written several articles on firearms for preppers, which I would urge you to check out:
I know that is a lot to read, so to give you the condensed version, I would encourage you to have, AT MINIMUM, one pistol and one long gun. (Rifle or shotgun.) When on a tight budget, I would look at getting a pistol first, and then the long gun. I would also urge you to try various firearms BEFORE you buy one. I know price could be a huge factor in your decision. But buying a firearm solely because of the cost is not something I would urge you to do. Find a budget friendly firearm that you like and can shoot BEFORE you buy it.
Here is a good (recent) video on Budget Firearms
There are other non-firearm options available, as my friend Graywolf talks about in his article 5 discreet weapons you can carry almost anywhere.
The above categories are listed in order of importance to me based upon my location, situation, plans, etc. These could change a little for you if your situation, etc is different. Below is a 21 week check list for a family of four that I found on the internet. This check list tells you what you should purchase each week (over the course of 21 weeks) to help build your emergency preparedness kit.
While there are some things, like the emergency radio, that I would put higher on the list, (no mention of self-defense items either) I do like how it breaks items down into manageable “blocks”. For preppers on a tight budget, this list seems very manageable.
Stay safe out there!
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