Thursday, October 9, 2014

Getting Prepared on the Cheap

With confirmed cases of Ebola in the US and all of the news about ISIS,  more and more people are looking at achieving at least a basic level of self reliance. The cool thing about self reliance is it is achievable with just time, patience, and a little money. You don't have to know how to grow anything to have basic self reliance.
I remember my wife and I trying to watch a couple of episodes of Doomsday Preppers. It was difficult. First it was different because the show made everyone out to be lunatics. I have been told that honest, well balanced people have been on the show and it was edited to make them look crazy.

The second reason I am not a fan of Doomsday Preppers is because of the sheer amount of money the people they choose to air have spent on gear. My wife and I made it through one episode. My wife looked at me and said, "They make it look like only rich people can be prepared". You know what? She was right. That show makes it look like you have to spend a ton of money to be prepared. This is not true. We are going to talk about how to achieve a basic level of preparedness on a low budget or no budget income.


If you are just getting started you will need to take an inventory of everything you have on hand that would be a preparedness asset. You can either make one list with subheadings like food and supplies or you can make them separate lists, it is completely up yo you.The food list would include all canned and dry goods. Soups, beans, flour, sugar, spices, anything like that. I want you to list everything, everything in your fridge, pantry and cabinets. Put a star next to anything that does not require refrigeration. This is your food starting point. You already have this on hand. Once you have this inventory complete figure out how many meals with what you have on hand will make. Replacing what you have on hand will cost you no extra, you are just maintaining your stores.

I also want you to inventory your emergency supplies. Batteries, flashlights, candles, camping supplies, anything like that can and should go on this list.

Just compiling these two lists will give you a good idea of your starting point and how prepared you are now. No matter what these first two lists look like do not get frustrated, get motivated.

Focus on the primary Three

If you are trying to become prepared and you are on a tight budget, do not get sucked in by the gadgets. Gadgets are great, but you cannot eat them. You don't need them until you are well established with the basics.

The primary three are food, water, and shelter. You are living somewhere even if it is not where you want. For the time being you have shelter covered. So next you will focus on food and water. So far we have spent zero dollars. All we have invested so far is time.

Setting Goals

You need to set your own goals. Everyone can make suggestions, but I do not think I or anyone else should tell another adult what to do. You and your family will have to decide the minimums. If you are trying to prepare on a budget I wouldn't worry about maximums for a while. suggests 3 days of food and water. The CDC suggests up to 14 days of food and 3 days of water. I would like to point out that this suggestion has increased from 10 days. As best I can tell this increase was published in February 2014. My thoughts are have a long-term, mid-term, and short-term goal. Each one is just a part or continuation of another goal.

I always recommended having goals in stages. This is critically important if you are having to take baby steps. If a person cannot achieve a goal quickly many will become discouraged and quit. So set small easily achieved goals that are moving you toward a larger ultimate goal.


Water storage can be accomplished in a multitude of ways. Some can be very expensive and some are free or nearly free. If you are just getting started and you don't have a lot of money I suggest the basically free way.  Use washed out soda bottles. I talk about this in detail in my post Getting Prepared for Beginners Water. So far we have still spent zero extra dollars. You can have up to a couple of months worth of water and never have to spend an additional dime.


Here is where we are going to start spending a little money. We are going to look at food from a thrifty consumer view. If you can raise any of your own food do so. It will be better for you and taste better.

Making Your Money Go as Far as Possible

We are going to go through a lot on food. We will discuss ways to make your money go as far as possible and once we get those bases covered we will work on how to start building a deep pantry. So hang on, here we go.

Unit price.

Any real discussion of food preparedness must start here. Lots of stores play games with labeling. Some products are labeled price per pound, some per ounce, and some per serving. You will have to decipher the true cost. 

Meat and bulk dry goods are pretty much always priced per pound.  Things like flour, beans, and sugar tend to be less expensive per pound if you buy more. The problem is you have to spend all that money at one time. If your budget is really tight, it may not even be feasible without saving up. Once a bulk purchase has been made, if you can pay yourself every time you use say 5 lbs. you will be able to continue the practice. This is not easy to do, it takes discipline.

Meat is also normally less expensive the larger the package you buy at once. Also the less it has been processed the less per pound you should have to pay. A good example would be boneless chicken breasts normally cost more than split fryer breasts, which costs more than a whole chicken. If you are willing to use all the parts whole chickens are normally more cost effective.

Caution: You still have to pay attention to unit price. I have seen 1 lb. packages that were actually a better buy than a 5 lb. package. This does not occur often, but it does happen, especially if a store is running a special on the smaller package.

Everything else it is best to break the price down to cost per ounce.

I pulled 3 different companies and sizes of peanut butter just to be able to give a good example of price per ounce.

Okay in order to calculate unit price take the total price divided by the amount of ounces gives the unit price, in this example we will use the Jif. $5.67 is the cost for a 40 oz jar. $5.67 divided by 40 equals 14.175 cents per ounce or $0.14175 if you prefer. 

Jif                                               $5.67 / 40 oz= $0.14175
Planters                                      $3.68 / 26.5 oz= $0.13886
Peanut Butter Crunch Time         $7.98 / 32 oz=$0.249375 (2 16 oz jars)

If you have a cell phone, odds are high that it has a calculator on it.If you have a smart phone there are unit price calculators, some will even compare unit price for different items. Unit price is the foundation on which all price comparisons should be made unless you are looking at different qualities of products. In that case you will have to determine the quality difference value.

Generics and Store Brands

We have been programmed for years that store brands are cheaper than national name brands. The programming has been so masterfully completed that many people will not even look at the national brands. This is a mistake. I have found several occasions lately where the name brands have been on sale and been cheaper than the store brands. Always look.

Sales Papers

Check the sales paper weekly. Make a list. We have found that the fewer trips we take to the grocery store the less likely we are to buy things that we don't need. We save money by spending more at once than if we spread it out a little each day. This is something we still struggle with. It is easy to stop by the store on the way home, but bad on the pocketbook. 

People can take using sales papers to the extreme. I suggest only using places that you either frequent anyway or drive by during your normal routine. If you have to drive very far out of your way to get a great deal on something, you just might spend more on gasoline than you save.


Coupons can be a great way to save money on groceries, but they can also be a drawback if you do not think about how you use them. Many coupons are for desert type items or for things that are not normally on our shopping list. Be careful not to buy things just because you have a coupon. I think this is one of the reasons certain companies always have coupons available. 

There are apps for smart phones that will help you find and use coupons. There are entire sites that are dedicated to coupons. You no longer have to wait on the Sunday newspaper. You can still get coupons from the paper, but there are lots of other ways to get them.

Combining the Strategies

The best way to get the most for your money is to, when possible combine local sales with coupons. In a lot of areas there are stores that will double or even triple coupons. We do not have any around here that will do this, but if you have that option it is worth investigating. Some grocery stores have rewards cards that can be used to magnify you savings.
Rewards cards help companies keep track of the type of products each customer purchases. You do give up some of your privacy to the corporation in exchange for great deals. Some people have no problem with this practice and others will never allow that level of trace-ability.

 Developing Your Food Storage

After you have worked on saving as much money on your grocery bill as possible, you can start building your food storage. Remember, I had you make an inventory of all of the food you have on hand. We are going to start working on increasing your food stores.

While working through getting the most food for your money you will have noticed that there are certain food items that you buy more often than others. These are your family's staples. At first you should focus on staples. Every time you can save enough money on your normal groceries add one thing that will go into your pantry. You can actually grow your food storage rather quickly just using the savings by using the methods above. 

Whenever possible take advantage of buy one get one deals. Buy multiples whenever possible. After you get 5 of an item move on to something else for a little while. For example I have seen whole kernel corn for sale for $.50 a can.  I got 5 right then for $2.50. Great deal. Won't buy any more til I use some of it or my stores of everything else has caught up. 

You will be surprised how quickly you can store food spending only $5.00 on storage a week. If you don't spend all of the $5.00 you have set aside for a week, put what is left in an envelope. Slowly that money will build and you will be able to purchase larger items.

I know you can do this. I would love to hear how things are going with your preparedness. I also enjoy your questions. You can contact me at

I wish you Rural Dreams and Homestead Wishes

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