30 Survival and Prepping Proverbs Teaching Us to Be Prepared

Proverbs have existed, in part, to teach us (and remind us) how to live our lives in a better way. Cultures have relied on such methods for as long as language has existed, and for good reason: they’re to the point, easy to remember, and provide valuable knowledge in an unassuming manner.

While there are many dozens (even hundreds) of proverbs that I could have included, these thirty that I have selected stood out to me as most appropriate for living a more prepared lifestyle. Enjoy…

signs with sayings and proverbs

Two is one, and one is none

A very popular proverb that is oft-repeated in preparedness circles. The meaning is simple: expect stuff to break, wear out, get lost, or otherwise be out of order… especially when you need it the most!

Typically applied to tools and equipment, this saying can (and should) be applied to every aspect of a preparedness lifestyle, including disaster plans, knowledge, bug out contingencies, personnel, and so on.

 Cleanliness is next to Godliness

This proverb has been around in one form or another for many centuries. In a post-SHTF scenario I firmly believe that disease and infections will be a HUGE problem. That’s why hyper-vigilant sanitation and personal hygiene will be critical to your survival.

Even though our ancestors might not have understood the real reasons for disease—that being bacteria and viruses—they did recognize that good cleanliness led to better health. Heed your ancestors’ advice and be ready to scrub, scrub, and scrub some more!

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink

Another proverb that has been in existence for at least several centuries, this saying implies that even though you can show another being the path that must be followed, you cannot force them to do what must be done.

With regards to prepping, I think this proverb most applies to getting others (family and friends) to also prepare. And, as frustrating it can be, the best you can do is to continually show them the way through your good example until they choose to either prepare themselves or, in this case, die from thirst.

Silence is golden.

This proverb points to (I believe) the fact that not saying anything at all is sometimes the best course of action when the need for secrecy outweighs the need for openness. With regards to prepping it has additional meaning.

In fact, I can’t think of a better application of this saying from a preparedness-mindset than that of one’s OPSEC needs both before and after SHTF. Unfortunately, the more people know about you and your preps the more vulnerable (and targeted) you may become.

Personally, I have a hard time with this. I firmly believe that others (at least good friends and family) should know what I’m doing in the hopes that they’ll follow suit. Thus far I’m not having much luck. I assume they’ll get onboard TEOTWAWKI+1. Regardless, I think Elmer Fudd said it best: “Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits”… lest the rabbits hunt you.

Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime

Another wonderful proverb, if only our government could truly heed this one. J I think we all understand the point of this saying.

The important point I want to get across is that these skills need to be shared NOW, before SHTF. Do you best to share what you know with family (especially children), friends, and even your neighbors.

It can be as innocent as “Hey I’m going fishing, want to come along?” to “I’m building a greenhouse, please help me today”. Either way, others are learning from you even if they don’t know it.

Waste not, want not.

It’s amazing how wasteful we truly are. Sure, we recycle boxes and cans and even make an occasional trip to recycle our glass jars, but by and large we’re a wasteful family and society. We’ve become accustom to abundance and our lifestyle choices reflect that. In any extended survival scenario we’re going to have to abandon this way of thinking.

We must recognize how to use and reuse nearly everything, from finding new uses for tin cans to recycling greywater, and even utilizing every part of an animal kill just as our ancestors once did.

It will be a new (or should I say “old”) way of life. Begin contemplating this now. What finite resources will you need to reuse and what will you do when they are truly gone?

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

I would suspect that anyone who has ever lost everything they own to a house fire or tornado would shout this proverb from the mountaintops. With regards to prepping, I would simply suggest that you shouldn’t have ALL of your food, supplies, and equipment under one roof.

In fact, this is easier to accomplish than you might think. Simply ask a very trustworthy family member or friend to let you store some of your supplies at their home; I’m sure they have a bit of room in their garage or basement to spare.

It’s easy to start. Buy a few large, stackable Rubbermaid bins from Walmart and fill them with basics such as a few changes of clothing for everyone, shoes, maybe rain gear, flashlights and so on.

I would also include some money, copies of ID’s and important paperwork, and prescription glasses (if needed) to get you started. You’ll figure out what to put there and you’ll be even better prepared for doing so.

Jack of all trades, master of none.

Only a few generations ago many Americans could be considered a “jack of all trades”. They seemed to have a mindset of “if it breaks, I can fix it” rather than “if it breaks, who do I call?” This is an important paradigm shift. Our society has become a collection of highly specialized masters who can do one trade very well while being nearly ignorant of everything else.

Take it upon yourself to learn a bit about everything. Look to family, friends, and neighbors who have interests you don’t have. Maybe the guy down the street is changing the brakes on his car so you offer to help, or perhaps your brother-in-law is going to the shooting range and you ask to tag along.

However you do it, begin exposing yourself to disciplines and hobbies you might not otherwise be interested in now so that you’re more versed later. Who knows, maybe you won’t learn enough to rebuild a vehicle’s transmission but you might learn enough to know when you’re getting suckered.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

It amazes me to see how willing people are to spend thousands of dollars on firearms and ammunition only to find out that they have virtually no food storage or even basic first aid supplies.

Another example might be the guy who purchases a huge (and expensive) generator to power their entire home during a disaster but who has little food in the refrigerator to spoil or, for that matter, doesn’t have the ability to defend themselves from looters.

Please understand that it makes no sense to have thousands of rounds of ammo and no food just as it makes no sense to have years of food stored and no ammo. Ensure that all aspects of your preparedness plans (water, food, first aid, defense, shelter, etc) are considered equally at all times so that there are no weak links in your preparedness chain.

Practice makes perfect.

We all understand that the more one practices a skill the better they will become at doing it. Target practice is an obvious example.

Other examples could include skills such as basic first aid, gardening, and cooking without electricity. Considering that there are many necessary skills one could need in a survival situation there are ample opportunities to practice.

Of course, this proverb also means practicing more than just specific skills. For example, take a leap of faith and flip your main breaker one weekend night (or if you’re brave the entire weekend—*yikes*) to test your preparedness plans. You’ll quickly realize what works and what doesn’t. And the best part is that you can still turn your main breaker back on whenever you like!

There’s no time like the present.

It’s amazing how easy it is to procrastinate; I know I can be a poster-child for this saying at times. But, like most things in life, you’re never going to get anywhere sitting idle while both time and opportunity pass you by.

If you’ve been sitting on the fence so-to-speak and have not put your prepping into high gear then now is the time to make that happen! After all, tomorrow could be too late.

And last but not least…

The best things in life are free.

Often I wonder what life will truly be like if (more like when) SHTF. I’m sure I won’t like most of what’s to come. I’ll quickly miss many things about modern life such as Sunday night football, dining out, and the movie theatres. Eventually I’ll miss more important aspects of society such as grocery stores and proper dental care.

Fortunately, for me (and for you) the best things in life truly are free. From time spent with your children, the love of your spouse, and even time for prayer… it’s all free… and it will ALWAYS be so.

Anxiety is caused by a lack of control, organization, preparation, and action.

David Kekich

This is a great proverb. So much of the time our fears brew through a combination of inaction and a total lack of preparedness. Silver that is handled will not tarnish, and tools that work rarely rust, and so too much the same can be said about our own mindset.

Whatever you’re facing, however big and scary it seems, when you are taking deliberate action towards preparing against it you’ll be slowly gaining a degree of control over it. When you have control, fear diminishes and as you gain increasing mastery over the nature of the threat the threat will seem to shrink in your mind.

Plans are useless, but planning is essential.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

This pithy quote from one of history’s greatest and most famous generals reminds us that ultimately no plan will survive first contact, or at the very least, we should assume that our plans will not survive first contact.

This would lead the cynical to conclude that planning is useless and we shouldn’t waste our time or our energy. Perish the thought!

Planning is a rehearsal, and a thorough, consistent planning process will allow us to consider new approaches, account for the unexpected and react intelligently to circumstances that quickly spiral out of our control.

Your prepping plan similarly should not be a rigid set of notes on sheet music, and interpreted in such a way that missing even a single note equals a failure state. Instead, treat it like improvisational jazz where you must react to the inputs of the other players and the situation you are in to reach success.

Preparation doesn’t assure victory, it assures confidence.

Amit Kalantri

The sad fact of the matter is that all of your preps, all of your planning and all of your training might amount to nothing in the end. It is possible to do everything right and put in the maximum amount of work and still lose. You and your loved ones might die. That is just the reality of things. But that is not a reason to despair.

The mere act of planning and preparing does not assure that you will reach a positive outcome, but no matter what is coming down the turnpike you will have the confidence to face it head on without panic, in and of itself a major advantage that is paramount when it comes to obtaining that positive outcome.

Thorough preparation makes its own luck.

Joe Poyer

How many times have you ever said that someone got lucky when you observe them making a breakthrough that seemingly came out of nowhere? Maybe they did something so difficult that it bordered on the impossible, and you attributed that victory to luck. Whatever the case, Lady Luck is indeed a woman, and like all women she loves competent, prepared men.

That luck was just the intersection of long, tedious and difficult preparation, unseen to you but keenly remembered by our lucky contestant above. People, at least the vast majority of people, have no special luck and they do not lead a charmed life.

The good news is that you can actually catch the eye of Lady Luck yourself by staying thoroughly prepared for events expected and unexpected it might come your way.

It is a doctrine of war not to assume the enemy will not come, but rather to rely on one’s readiness to meet him; not to presume that he will not attack, but rather to make one’s self invincible.

Sun Tzu

Hoping that someone will not attack you is not a plan. Wishing that disaster will not come is not a strategy. The one thing you can count on is that bad times will arrive, and particularly human-centric threats will always emerge when you’re antagonists have solidified their own positions.

The solution is not to fret about it, but instead to constantly increase your own state of readiness by improving your own position.

Making yourself invincible does not mean you somehow transmogrify or physiology into something that is incapable of being harmed or injured, but instead making yourself unassailable by means of intricate, thorough and total preparation.

Over-preparation is the foe of inspiration.

Napoleon Bonaparte

On the other hand, too much planning, too much preparation may dull the primordial and ancient instinct that we all have. Remorselessly running down checklists, approaching problem solving in compartmented, sterile and formulaic ways can lull us into a false sense of security. Every issue, every problem, every threat can fit into its own tidy, tiny box and be dealt with accordingly.

This can be a mistake sometimes. You aren’t a robot, and the problems you’ll be dealing with are ones that no robot can handle. Sometimes it is best to modestly prepare and then husband your mental resources so that you’re able to react quickly, instinctively and correctly when the pressure is on.

Prepare the umbrella before it rains.

Malay Proverb

One of the simplest Proverbs on this list and also one of my favorites. The time to have your tools in order and at hand is before you need them in the instant. Like closing the barn door after the horses have gotten out, opening your umbrella after you have already been soaked by passing shower is the summit of foolishness.

Chances are you already know what tools will solve the most likely problems in your life. Keep them close, keep them handy and you will not have to lament there being out of reach when a certain and unavoidable issue presents itself.

All things are ready if our mind be so.

William Shakespeare

Yet another great proverb reminding us that mindset is pretty much anything, no matter the situation. whatever situation you are facing, whatever your material disposition, level of preparation, standard of training or anything else, it is the state of your mind which is most likely to determine the outcome.

If you are composed, cool, confident and self-possessed you will probably succeed. If you are panicking, frantic and terrified you will probably succumb to the event or else we’ll have to wait and pray for rescue. First and foremost preparation begins with your thoughts. Don’t let yourself think any thoughts that will betray your desired outcome.

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

John Wooden

This is about as simple and as straightforward as it gets. If you procrastinate or omit preparation from your life then you must be prepared to face the consequences, and those consequences are failure. It is only through preparation in all things that we are able to negotiate with the future.

If you want to negotiate from a position of strength, you may only build that position today. You can’t do a thing about yesterday, and you can’t do a thing about tomorrow until it gets here, but you can always dictate how today will go. Spend it wisely!

I will prepare and someday my chance will come.

Abraham Lincoln

One of America’s greatest presidents reminds us to stand strong against dull repetition and complacency. It can be boring, even disheartening, to prepare and work and prepare some more for something that will seemingly never come, never happen.

That is just the nature of things, and although no one can maintain a truly high state of alert indefinitely it is possible to maintain a relaxed alert, an easy readiness, if you don’t become complacent.

Chances are at some point in your life you will have cause to put your skills, preps and experience to good use and likely do it for the sake of people you love and care about. Don’t let that sweet, siren song in your head lull you into a false sense of security, into giving up on your noble endeavor.

To be prepared is half the victory.

Miguel De Cervantes

And no matter what your endeavor is, however complex or difficult it might be, the mere act of preparing to succeed will get you there halfway to victory every time. To spectators, so much of the winning in anything seems to happen at the instant, executed and accomplished by superior men. Men who are just better.

In reality, those men are only men, however elite or skillful they might be. But they attained elite, high performance capability through long hours of preparation. In preparing themselves accordingly, they closed in on victory well before the contest began.

“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.” – Hugh Laurie

This proverb is a good reminder that life, the event itself, will generally choose the time and place. Maybe you’ll have some choice and precisely when you will join the fray or not, but the point is there is no use in wishing you had more time. More time to gather supplies, more time to refine your plan, more time to practice.

If you have been preparing at all you should have a measure of confidence that will steel yourself against this sentiment. But at any rate, when the time comes all you can do is do what you can. Don’t waste any time or energy fretting over what might have been if you only had more time.

Victory is the child of preparation and determination.

Sean Hampton

Another proverb reminding us that victory, that a good outcome, is indeed the child of preparation and determination. When we have the discipline to work hard and invest in the outcome we want to achieve and the mental fortitude to apply ourselves in the contest, victory is all but certain.

Determination alone may not always be enough, and all the preparation in the world will not suffice without grit. It takes both ingredients and equal measure to win, even if the contest is just staying alive.

“Confidence is preparation. Everything else is beyond your control.”- Richard Kline

Richard Kline reminds us that all we can do is what we can do with ourselves and for ourselves. The circumstances, other people, the environment, the timing, the weather, bystanders and literally everything else is 100% beyond us. You may bring those other factors under your sway or be able to influence them, but at least at the outset you’ll have to play the hand you are dealt.

Make sure that the card you can dictate is an ace by preparing. Knowing you are holding even a single ace will give you the confidence to succeed because a winning hand is always possible, always achievable no matter how badly it starts out.

Proper preparation prevents poor performance.

Stephen Keague

Anyone who has served in the military doubtlessly remembers the Maxim of Seven P’s, though the exact ordering and wording of the mnemonic varies somewhat depending on the branch and who is reciting it. Regardless, the original is one word shorter although the lack of vulgarity does nothing to diminish its timeless wisdom.

Proper preparation is thorough, ordered, efficient and directed. It isn’t haphazard or half ass, it isn’t frantic and it isn’t last minute. Proper preparation is rarely fun and often boring but it must be done if you want to prevent poor performance.

Greatness is in the preparation.

Jack Hyles

Jack Hyles reminds us yet again that greatness and preparation are synonymous. No high performance athlete, no elite personality in any sector ever achieved anything approximating true greatness without grueling, lengthy preparation for their endeavors.

Olympic athletes, major league sports players, climbers of Mount Everest, special forces, deep country hunting guides, concert musicians and more all bask in the adoration of the masses because they are willing to pay the price that others are not, and the coin of the realm when it comes to greatness is preparation. If you want to be the cool guy survivor that comes out the other side with all of your loved ones intact and a smile on your face, you better be putting in the work.

First, I prepare. Then I have faith.

Joe Namath

Not everything we do is strictly material or mental. There is an esoteric component to preparation. You must do what you have to do, what you can do, and once you have done everything that you can you simply must have faith.

This is more than just visualizing a positive outcome. This is a higher faith, a connection with the infinite, that your thread will wind on or if it does not that’s your end was simply ordered in the great tapestry of creation.

This acceptance, this connection, breeds a confidence and calmness that cannot be replicated in any other way, and it is not mere trickery or hocus pocus that will foment this fortitude in the minds of a non-believer. 

Through readiness and discipline, we are the masters of our fate.

Bill Paxton

On the other hand, though your end may be ordered, the precise second on a precise day, you still get a vote in the outcome and this quote from legendary actor Bill Paxton reminds us of that. You need not be bandied about by the eddies and currents of a tumultuous existence on a sometimes violent and dangerous planet.

By being ready and having the discipline to cultivate the right skills and mindset you may master the obstacles and hazards that fate places in front of you. If you cannot master them they will master you.

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updated 12/08/2021

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7 thoughts on “30 Survival and Prepping Proverbs Teaching Us to Be Prepared”

  1. Funny the sayings and little ditties you remember from your childhood. My parents would often speak ‘sayings’ and ‘proverbs’ to help me get over my life’s little challenges. Some I could not understand fully as a child but now……..there was wisdom in those words. A few of my favorites are ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ or the old ‘pick your friends, don’t let your friends pick you. And remember, Murphy was an optimist. No matter how bad things get, it can always get worse. Keep your caps dry and your powder hidden.

  2. You know – this week every blogsite I visit has put lists like this together and it’s been a eureka moment each time. THANKS I’ve been using these myself for years but never put them all down in one place…

  3. Hey -it just hit me, can offer three more I use regularly use but didn’t invent? How about

    “Use it up- Wear it out- Make it do or do without” (A real Vermonter’s motto)
    “Always try to want what you have, not everything you want”

    And my version of one of these is
    “The strength of the pack is the wolf- the strength wolf is the pack”

  4. Oddly enough, when the term first came into use, “Jack of all-trades, master of none” was something of an insult – often aimed at the British “Tinker/’Gypsy’/Traveler” groups. These folks could all do a pretty-decent job of fixing your wagon wheel, shoeing your horse, fixing your wall or telling you what herbs to feed your ailing cow, but they weren’t “real” wheelwrights, farriers, stonemasons or veterinarians, with houses and shops in town, and established clients.

    As Mr. Heinlein has said so well, “Specialization is for insects”. If TSHTF, I think I’d rather have “Jack” as part of my group.

  5. Prior planning prevents pi** poor performance – a favorite of one of my jungle warfare instructors back in the mid to late ’70’s.


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