A Prepper’s Guide to Prepping for Less

Most veteran preppers know that there is always something to buy or invest in as part of your prepping plan. Supplies, consumables, gear, clothing, training even whole vehicles!

food stockpile canned food ramen noodles bottled water
A small food stockpile: canned food, canned Ragu, ramen noodles, bottled water, packs of salt, and more.

This is all well and good when you are swimming in cash, but when your funds are decidedly limited or discretionary money is completely non-existent, prepping in any meaningful way might seem like an impossibility.

I’m happy to report that that is just not true. It is entirely possible to prep on a limited budget, and meaningful preparations can be made even if you don’t have any money at all to spare for the task.

If this sounds impossible, it is only because the ceaseless marketing of preppercentric goods and services has muddled your thinking about it somewhat.

Being prepared is about a lot more than just shelling out for a four-figure bill at your local outdoor superstore. And whether or not you are rolling in cash, it is definitely in your best interest to prep as frugally as possible.

We are here to help with this guide that will teach you how to prep for less.

Financial Resources are a Part of the Prepping Puzzle…

No matter how frugal or thrifty you might be, there is no avoiding the fact that raw financial Resources are definitely part of the puzzle when it comes to prepping.

Like so many other things in life, money will get things done, facilitating acquisitions and logistics for all the innumerable tasks and contingencies that preppers care about.

Then there is the fact that money itself is a prep. Our ancestors knew this since time immemorial, and anyone with any sense will always advocate saving money for a rainy day.

Having money on hand can solve problems when they need solving, expediting a solution when alternative solutions could be untenable, or greatly lacking.

It can be discouraging if you lack a strong financial basis when you see people who are rolling in dough becoming fully equipped virtually overnight and buying remote properties with cabins or bunkers on them in the bargain.

How is any working stiff who has bills to pay and a small bank account supposed to compete? Are you just going to be one of those nameless victims in the background of this particular story when disaster breaks loose?

…But Not the Only Part

Not likely, and not even close if you follow the tips we will provide for you later in this guide. Money, as they say, can buy you a lot of things but it cannot buy you love and believe it or not it can’t even buy you readiness.

They can buy you all the trappings of readiness, perhaps, but just because someone is dripping in gear with every tool, weapon and provision at their disposal does not mean they have everything they need to survive a genuine crisis.

That money will not provide the will to go on, the fortitude to persevere for the experience to know which way is up when everything around them is uncertain and falling apart.

Again, money might facilitate all of those things or the acquisition thereof, but it can’t do them for you or anyone else.

In fact, this is a trap that I regularly see well-heeled preppers fall into and it is a quintessentially modern and in particular an American foible.

The notion that buying gear, stuff and gadgetry can in essence buy you skill, or buy the solution outright to a problem is a virus of the mind, one that infects millions.

This virus can rob people of perspective and institute a false sense of security when that is the thing that you can least afford…

Short of Funds? Don’t Despair

Even worse when it comes to prepping than having all the gear without any clue is having no money, and giving up.

I understand it’s painful and stressful to be unable to afford at first the things that you have perceived as desperately needed, or just badly wanted, but if you are serious about prepping you need not despair for the sake of cash!

And this is no platitude, so please believe me when I say that lacking the ability to buy a mountain of plastic and metal crap might actually set you up for success as a prepper by forcing you to go back to the bedrock skills of survival basics.

By focusing your efforts and energies on developing those crucial prepping skills that no amount of money can buy, you’ll be investing in yourself and your development as a prepper, and that is the most important prep of all, no joke!

That being said, having the right gear and tools does make a big difference when the chips are down, but I am here with even more good news on that front.

If you buy smart according to the tips we are going to share with you in the next section, you’ll spend a whole, whole lot less money overall than the average prepper who has quite literally more money than sense.

By focusing your purchasing on only the most essential or versatile preps you’ll save a small fortune in the grand scheme of things, money that you can use for literally anything else or invest in other areas of your life to further improve your finances. No matter how you want to square it this is a win-win-win.

Tips to Get Prepped for Less

No matter your financial situation, the following tips and procedures will help you become an ace prepper without spending a fortune.

No matter where you are, where you live or what your situation is if you are alive there are tips on this list that you’ll be able to implement today for your own benefit.

Many of the most important preps are inexpensive

First things first, the most essential supplies and gear that you are likely to need in the course of your life, stuff that invariably comes in handy or is downright critical for surviving a disaster or some other crisis, just so happens to be inexpensive for the most part.

In some cases, you can get these items for pennies on the dollar and even do so on your next trip to the grocery store.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about shelf stable food that will be there and ready to eat should you lose power or gas. Bottled water that is ready to drink when public utilities go down or become compromised.

I’m talking about basic first aid supplies like antiseptic, gauze, and other materials. Inexpensive flashlights and batteries. Things like that.

To be sure, what constitutes basics or essentials might be up for debate, and we have written about the topic many, many times here on this very website, but in short these are basic life support items that will keep you from assuming room temperature if you know what I mean.

Now, maybe you are thinking you still can’t afford to go out to the grocery store, and fill a basket up even a little bit of the way for the purposes of buying your survival stash all at once.

That’s okay! You actively prepping by purchasing these items might look like simply buying an extra case of water the next time you go to the grocery, or a couple of extra cans of tuna.

We are talking a couple of extra dollars or a few extra cents. Over the course of a month or a year you’ll have a fully developed stash of food and other supplies and you wouldn’t even have felt it.

Don’t be Swayed by “Survival” Branding

Now, when you go out to look for more survival-centric items, be IT clothing, luggage or even tools and weapons it is easy to get mesmerized by the survival-centric items on display in the showcases and hanging on racks in the aisles.

Much of this stuff is made by prominent, well-known companies with even more prominent expert endorsements or brandings on it.

This stuff is advertised for use by the military, by explorers, guides, professional hunters and other rough and tumble, hardcore types who always get the job done no matter what.

And guess what? 99.98% of the time this is just branding, and the common version of the item will do just as good a job or even better for a lot less money!

You don’t need a Bear Grylls-branded knife or hatchet made from cheap Chineseium steel that will break the first time you use it when you could, for a fraction of the money.

Instead, head down to your local flea market, swap meet, or even ask your neighbors if you can rummage through any unneeded tools in their shed, and find an heirloom hatchet that maybe needs a little TLC but is made from top quality forged steel by people who used to give a damn about making things.

“But Tom,” I hear you say, “that old and battered hatchet is in bad shape and needs to be tuned up to be useful, and the handle is even broken! One that I buy off the shelf is sharp and new and ready to use.”

That might well be the case, reader, but there is a method even to that madness as you will learn in the next section. You will indeed need to spend time and effort learning how to restore and maintain that tool but that will serve you just as well as the tool itself…

Focus on Skills, Practice and Experience, not Stuff

This is a big one for me, and an essential part of being a legitimate prepper.

A prepper that is worth the name knows what to do and how to do it. More than this, it isn’t just theoretical to them as they have the experience, they know how to put the knowledge into action and have done it before.

Skills must be learned through diligent study and then refined through practice and finally verified and further honed through experience.

This is what the fat cat preppers you just buy a bunch of gear that will collect dust in their garage miss out on because they aren’t out here using it in any meaningful way.

Using the example of that hatchet in the previous tip you’d have to acquire the hatchet, learn how to knock the rust off of it, learn how to sharpen, it and then learn how to fit it to a new handle before you use it.

It sounds like a tedious chore- and it is!

But the end result is not only a fun and enriching project that will produce an heirloom quality tool you can be proud of but it is step by step what must be done to keep the tools you depend on in good working order, and fix them when they break down! That is Prepping 101!

And not for nothing, skills and experience don’t weigh anything and so they don’t slow you down and they can never be taken from you, going wherever you go. That is priceless capability!

Beyond this, so many of the critical skills that pay the bills are freely available to learn through either guided self-study or from professional instruction that is still amazingly affordable.

Take for instance one of the most crucial skills for preppers, basic first aid and trauma care.

The Red Cross along with your local fire department likely put on classes monthly if not every couple of weeks on a variety of subjects, and these can be attended for free or for very little money.

Even in the case of more esoteric skills like the use of a firearm for self-defense, your local range likely has a variety of courses that can be attended for not much money

Or, you could do this the old fashioned way by networking through friends and family to find someone who has the experience and is willing to tutor you for free or for the grand price of buying them lunch.

When you start thinking skills and methodology and stop thinking off the shelf equipment solutions your capability as a prepper will begin to skyrocket, and quickly!

Plan and Prepare Only for What is Plausible

Another thing, and this tip will help focus your energies and therefore cut away any superfluous expenditure of resources.

You should only prepare, legitimately prepare, for those disasters or crises that are plausible, meaning things that could actually happen to you and could actually affect your life and the lives of your loved ones.

What might that be? It could be something like a car accident. It might be a home invasion robbery. It could be a natural disaster that is endemic to your area, be that a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, avalanche or whatever.

You know what it probably isn’t? A zombie uprising, alien invasion, gamma ray burst, or some such nonsense. I’m not saying that those things aren’t possible, I’m just saying that they are so fantastically, unbelievably unlikely to happen that they are statistically not worth worrying about.

And to further clarify, just because something is plausible and indeed common elsewhere does not mean that it is common in your area.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for it, only that you should order your preparations according to what is most likely to be for you. if you live in the middle of the plains in an area that is as flat as a frying pan, there’s probably not much call for learning how to survive an avalanche, for instance.

But if you are moving to a mountainous area or even taking an extended ski vacation to the mountains then you might want to fast-track that training!

Once you know what you’re preparing for, and you know what those preparations entail, you should have a ready-made guide that can direct your efforts and what purchases are necessary.

Use Bartering to Amass Resources for Less

One of the best ways to prep and get the things that you need is to rely on an older system of commerce that remains viable to this very day, and is likely to be the only system of commerce in the event of societal collapse. I’m referring to, of course, bartering.

Bartering is a system of exchange where one set of goods will be exchanged for another, or perhaps services for goods or even services for services.

Although this is inherently uncomfortable to our modern sensibilities, at least most people’s, because it involves a personal connection however tenuous and often haggling it is nonetheless an important skill in a prepper’s repertoire and a vital way to minimize the expenditure of money when it comes to prepping.

You do this by offering to trade something you have for something else that you need, whoever has it.

This could be as simple as trading some of your tomatoes for a neighbor’s eggs, for instance, or as complicated as offering ongoing skills or services that you possess in exchange for material gain or education or services that someone else can provide to you.

How do you go about bartering? Whenever you are dealing with an individual, you can ask if an arrangement like that would work for them, and as always ask them what they need or they are looking for so that you can perhaps get an opportunity to provide it if you don’t have it already.

For more formalized bartering opportunities you can check out flea markets, swap meets and other such gatherings which might prove to be more comfortable if you are unfamiliar with the concepts as everyone is going into it with the notion that bartering is on the table.

By learning how to problem solve in this way you’ll not only be sharpening your interpersonal skills but also saving money while acquiring the goods and other services that you need as a prepper.

You Probably Don’t Need the “Best” of Anything

One that is bound to rustle the jimmies of those who like fine things and strive towards possessing the best brands in any given category is this next tip. There is an old saying that asserts that perfect is the enemy of good enough.

I generally agree with it, and though it is true that in any given situation you can torture that statement enough to either prove it indelibly true or irredeemably false it is a good guidepost for preppers, especially those who are short on resources.

The bottom line is that there is a humongous quality gradient on most things, specifically tools, weapons, clothing and other gear category items.

That quality gradient ranges from useless crap not worth the material that it is made from to sublime examples of peerless workmanship utilizing the best in advanced materials and manufacturing processes.

Naturally, we all want what is in the latter category and nobody wants to get stuck with the former, but the lesson here is that there is a huge, huge gulf in the middle that goes completely unaddressed most of the time.

For almost anyone, having a tool that is rated good or even acceptable is likely going to take care of any conceivable task that they will put it through, even one that is occurring in the middle of an extreme situation.

For instance, if one needs a sturdy knife to serve as a bushcrafting tool during a bug out, you could invest several hundred dollars in a bespoke, handcrafted knife painstakingly turned out by a former survival instructor to his exact specifications, or you could buy an off-the-shelf, high quality example from a manufacturer with a good reputation for anywhere from $75 to $100 that will still do everything you need.

You could make this analogy for almost anything. The lesson is to test and know what your gear is capable of, and if it is found wanting to either improve it or replace it with something that can perform up to your requirements.

This is not to admonish anything that is truly worthy of the term excellent, and for people who are heading into the gravest extremes in any endeavor, and one with the gravest stakes, sometimes only the very, very best will prove capable of performing when needed.

But these situations are mercifully quite rare, even in the context of prepping. It is far better to spend your money frugally for journeyman level tools but in the bargain get more of them than to shell out everything you’ve got and all your savings for one shining exemplar of the category.

In short, don’t be too swayed by brands.

Definitely, learn to assess the tools of the trade with a practiced eye, and always look to the internet and other sources for user reviews and testing to help better inform your purchases but at the end of the day all that matters about any piece of gear is if it can do what you ask of it and do it reliably.


It seems like there is no shortage of things to buy or invest in as a prepper, and that you’re shopping and to-do lists only ever get longer.

Though this is highly demoralizing if you are short on cash or facing a huge uptick in expenses, it does not have to get in the way of your prepping endeavors.

Smart preppers can save money or continue to prep in spite of a lack of funds by following the tips we have outlined above.

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8 thoughts on “A Prepper’s Guide to Prepping for Less”

  1. Terry –

    I stay mostly good with this through until the end, but the closing paragraphs and lines… “even if those toys aren’t paid for” send chills up and down my spine.

    Buying toys on debt is irresponsible. It’s one thing to buy a modest house, and a modest car on debt, but to buy toys on credit cards, to put off paying until tomorrow while you play with things today, is why we wind up where so many people are living from paycheck to paycheck.

    Worse yet, you noted all of the talk of impending financial collapse, which if read together with the following sentences, seems to be a suggestion to run up all of the bills because they will magically disappear.

    Sit down, and consider before running up any debt… because a collapse is not a sure thing. People have been talking about a collapse of the fiat economy at least since Carter was in office. I saw items on my BBS in the late 80’s and early 90’s, references in the run-up to Y2K, immediately after 9|11, and many times since.

    With that in mind, stop to reflect as you (every person) are responsible, legally and morally, to make good on your purchases. Yes, we have bankruptcy for those who get into trouble through no fault of their own, but if you purchase something with the knowledge that you cannot make good on the purchases, then you are a liar and a thief.

  2. I’m worried about my husband’s insulin supply. How is he going to stay alive if he can’t get it anymore? My fear is that within a couple of months, he would be dead, and I would maybe even have to bury him. I would then be left completely on my own.

  3. Karen – Have you talked to your doctor about it? Some docs will write longer prescriptions and most insurance companies will allow it if you private pay. Have you read the book “one second after?” – if not you should – there is a little girl in the book who needs insulin and her dad doesnt have enough stocked. Scares the crap outta me. (Sorry Rorke if I’m not allowed to say crap – please feel free to delete if I’m not.)

  4. “Whoever dies with the most toys wins… even if those toys aren’t paid

    For shame! Wow, guess I’m just an old fashioned fuddy duddy. Purchasing an item on credit with the intent of not paying for it is theft compounded by lying inasmuch as the credit agreement includes your promise to pay. I’ve lived in a part of the world where the per capita income was less than $250 annually. Most of the so called poor here are wealthy wealthy wealthy by the world’s standard. As for me, my word is my bond.

    And I was enjoying the article up until the very last.


    • Agreed Panhandle Rancher – society today is filled with the irresponsible and the untrustworthy. I am sure he means well regardless of how I…we….will disagree with him on that final point.

  5. I seem to be in agreement with the others; that I’m in agreement till the last part. It bothers the heck out of me if I have any debt that is other than my mortgage. This mentality I know comes from how my parents lived and paid their bills.

  6. I really appreciate this article. Good common sense stuff. For some people getting things on debt is the only way. Yes, debt is bad, but having nothing is worse. The bankers have stuck it to us for years. Sorry, I don’t have the sympathy some of U do. But work hard to get out of debt and then U will have money to spend.

  7. I interpreted what he said at the end a little differently than the rest of you. He started out talking about living paycheck to paycheck – what I thought he meant was that it might be better to run up a little credit card debt in order to be prepared, than to not have the necessities if/when the time came to need them. Then at least you would be prepared, and at that point you would no longer have to worry about the debt you incurred to get prepared. Still not ideal, but maybe that makes a little sense…


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