How to Prep if You Don’t Have Any Money

There are some obstacles to prepping that are not commonly discussed. If they aren’t being ducked entirely, they are at least being sidestepped. The most common among these, and certainly the most pertinent for quite a few folks, is how expensive prepping can be.

An awful lot of prepping articles, including those written by yours truly, revolve around lists of things you “have” to buy, and often by in great quantity.

Even one-off items and singular purchases are often expensive gear or personal electronics that can really put a dent in your budget. Some people just do not have the discretionary funds to invest in a lot of surplus goods or additional equipment.

Does that make them less than serious about prepping? Is it just a case of tough nuts, they don’t get to prepare for hard times?

No. In this article, I’ll be discussing ways to prep effectively even if you have very little or even no money.

The Cost of Prepping

There are no two ways about: prepping can be expensive, and even if it’s not “prepping done right” it will cost a certain amount of extra money. An investment in your safety and continued well-being is still an investment and investments require capital.

It is an easy thing to say in an article or to tell someone inquiring they should just buy a little bit extra here or buy a little bit extra there, when they can, with what they can and that it is good enough. But is it really?

For preppers that are on a seriously constrained budget, what preps they are able to afford may feel inconsequential at best. Some people, frankly, cannot afford anything beyond the absolute bare necessities to make it to the next payday.

If someone is only able to save pennies to put against the mountain of needed purchases to get ready for a major disaster or crisis, does it really do any good to keep telling them to save and save against a seemingly never ending list of “required” purchases?

Besides material acquisitions, skill-building exercises and specialized training are big-ticket items for most people.

Even a 1-day class on something like land navigation or austere environment survival will run several hundred dollars and intensive week-long courses will easily cost over a thousand.

Making use of and learning from expertise is always expensive.

And none of this takes into account the really high-dollar purchases. You’ll rarely read through a prepping-centric article without seeing a mention of a bug-out vehicle or a bug-out location.

A bug-out vehicle is typically a purpose-bought or specially modified personal vehicle optimized to help you escape and travel through a world turned upside down.

News flash: there is nothing inexpensive about buying or modifying an automobile. A bug-out location is the place you’re typically planning to flee to in the face of or the aftermath of a disaster.

Generally, you want unfettered access to your bug-out location, and that means you should probably own it. So now we’re talking about the purchase of plots of land and the attendant (read “exorbitant”) costs…

All in all, prepping the way you are “supposed to” is an expensive proposition on paper.

Are You Out of Luck If You Don’t Have Money?

If you lack the considerable resources required to purchase and store mountains of provisions and racks of specialized gear should you just take whatever hand Fate deals out to you in the event of a crisis? Absolutely not.

It might sound cliché but the notion that “where there is a will, there is a way” is foundational to prepping. What is needed if you lack the stacks of cash necessary to go crazy at your local outdoor superstore is a change in mindset and a change in priorities.

We already established it does no good to keep flogging you over the head with the same tired advice.

You’re going to need to get a little creative, perhaps think a little bit out of the box, but just like there are multiple solutions to any given practical problem that a prepper might face in a disaster, there are multiple solutions to the problem of having an empty piggy bank in the face of a looming threat.

In the sections below, I’ll provide you with several strategies for prepping even on the thinnest of budgets. You might have to put in a little more time and effort than someone with a bulging wallet, but it is entirely achievable to increase your personal capability while spending very, very little cash.

Skill Up on the Cheap

Prepping is not about having mountains of gear. Prepping is about problem-solving, specifically by being prepared for potential problems. It’s all in the name, right?

One thing I notice a lot of well-informed prepping experts and survival gurus say that, to me, seems sort of inconsistent in intent.

In the same sentence, you’ll be admonished to be prepared materially (specifically by buying this, that or the other thing) and also reminded that skills pay the bills, not equipment.

While having the right equipment definitely helps, it is skill and experience that separates the prepping superstars from the also-rans. Don’t get me wrong, the equipment definitely helps, but the point I’m trying to drive home is if you have the skills you can get everything else.

The legend of the old mountain man that can head off into deep woods with nothing more than a bush knife and survive, even thrive, is, at its core, true.

Theoretically, you can become this person with enough grit, determination and practice.

When you know how to do everything that you need to do as efficiently as possible, and just as importantly when you know everything that you shouldn’t do in a given situation, you’ll need less effort and expend less energy than someone else in the same circumstances.

All the classic survival skills like building a fire, constructing shelter and locating food to signaling for help, finding your way and purifying water can all be practiced, for real, in your local environment for essentially zero cost.

At no other time in human history has becoming an expert all on your own volition been more feasible or possible. You have access to vast stores of information and expertise thanks to the internet.

Experts in dozens of fields of survival freely give their information away on YouTube, on blogs and various websites. You’ll find plenty of it on this website right here. What you must do is take this information, study it, learn it and then go apply it.

You can practice the skills you learn using nothing more than things found in your backyard, or along a hiking trail in a public park. If you run into trouble, answers are just a few clicks of a mouse away.

But let’s say you don’t even have the internet. What do you do then? Well, in most places you can get a library card for just a couple of bucks or even for free.

I can assure you that any local library has a huge repository of all kinds of survival lore on dozens of subjects.

You’ll be able to find everything from Boy Scout guides to military field manuals and how-to books on everything from shelter construction to identifying edible and poisonous plants in your region.

Make use of these books; mine them to the marrow for all the information they contain and then go out into the world and actually apply and practice it.

If you can resist the siren song of buying bright and shiny new gear and if you will instead apply your efforts and energies to learning the real skills of survival you may actually be better off than the person who has more money than sense when it comes to survival.

Barter and Trade

No matter how skilled you get, there are definitely a few essential items and provisions you’ll want to have in order to be truly prepared.

There’s not much of a substitute for having several weeks of stored food and water, for instance, and no prepper worth their salt would dream of taking to a survival situation without one solid knife on their belt.

But if even these rudimentary items are beyond your reach financially, you need to get creative in order to obtain them.

One skill you can practice now that will help you get what you want and also help you in the aftermath of a society altering event is that of barter and trade.

No matter what you want, I can assure you there is someone out there, somewhere, who has it and furthermore who wants something that you have, even if it is labor or a special set of skills that you possess. The trick, as you might imagine, is finding this person and then making a deal.

To get started on this endeavor, you first need to take stock of what you have that you can trade. Some of this will be material items, even if you think it’s junk.

That old hobby trailer that has weeds growing all around it in your backyard may be just the thing someone’s looking for, and they’ll be willing to trade for it. Perhaps a set of hand tools that you would like to have..?

Remember that your skills are valuable. If you do woodworking as a hobby, that might be very valuable to someone who wants a new set of steps built off their back porch, or a piece of furniture repaired. Be creative in your deal-making!

To find people to barter with, you can start by looking in the classified ads in print and online for your area. Make sure you beat the bushes of your existing social network as well.

Tell friends, tell family members, tell co-workers what you are looking for, and ask them if they have the item in question and are willing to part with it or if they know anyone who does.

You can also search for local swap meets where people bring their unwanted items and are willing to trade for them. You never know what might pop up at these meets.

It might feel strange or uncomfortable proposing a trade instead of cash on the barrelhead to get what you want, but overcome this social inertia and you’ll find that most people are more than amicable to it.

Coupons, Rebates and Closeouts

For those with a sharp eye and who take the time, coupons, rebates and closeouts can help you get the things you need for literal pennies-on-the-dollar, a huge boon if you’re on extremely tight budget.

Perhaps the most impressive example of this strategy is employed by the so-called extreme couponers.

Chances are you have seen these folks on various reality TV shows where they get cart upon cart full of groceries and other household goods for just a few dollars.

Pulling off the strategy can require a lot of homework and reading of fine print, but it is entirely achievable and people do it every day. Try to think of it like a puzzle, one where you have to make all the pieces fit together just so.

Even if it takes you a couple of weeks, or even a month, to find the right combination of coupons and retailer to pull off your big score, the savings will more than make up for the investment of energy and time.

Manufacturers’ rebates are another avenue for massive cost savings, especially for bigger ticket purchases. A manufacturer’s rebate can be had on everything from tools to firearms and even vehicles, and you can save half or even more off the sticker price of any given item.

All that is required to take advantage of them is to keep an eye out for them; you won’t see these advertised as readily or as often as weekly coupons.

It is often most beneficial to reach out to a manufacturer directly and see if they have any special promotions or rebates in effect for their products.

Lastly, you can keep an eye out online and in-store for closeouts on items that just didn’t sell as well as a retailer had hoped. Call it clearance shopping or Bargain Bin diving, it makes no difference.

All that matters is you can get wickedly good deals and immense savings on all kinds of things if you’re quick enough to take advantage of them before another shopper snaps them up.

If you have access to the internet, this can be easier than ever with price-watching plugins and extensions for your favorite browser that will alert you when a price drops below a certain threshold.

Using all three of these strategies together will save you a literal fortune on a pile of needed prepping gear and provisions.

Get Fit

Physical fitness is essential to survival, as it will afford you the strength, speed, stamina and flexibility to endure the trials and intense situations you’ll face.

Strong people are more helpful in a wide variety of circumstances and all around harder to kill.

You might have all the high-end survival gear in the world, but if you cannot sprint flat-out for a quarter mile or hustle down a flight of stairs carrying an injured person your chances of surviving mayhem start shrinking.

And you needn’t concern yourself with the cost of purchasing  exercise equipment or joining a gym, either.

Using nothing more than your own body weight and calisthenics routines you can get shockingly fit so long as you are dedicated, and can do so with nothing more than a level place with enough room to do some exercises.

There are dozens upon dozens of bodyweight-only workout routines available for free on the internet and in print if you care to peruse your local news stand.

What is most important is that you pick one with a goal in mind and then stick to it. As with any fitness routine discipline is the key absolute. You won’t see any improvement if you aren’t regimented and dedicated.

Gather Free Materials and Supplies

There are all kinds of useful and free materials available for those who know where to look.

Cardboard boxes, for instance, are useful not only for packing and organizing on moving day, but they make great cheap insulation and will readily burn if you need to build a fire.

You can go to almost any business in town and they will gladly give away cardboard boxes in all shapes and sizes if you’ll haul them off.

If you’re really in a jam for some essential clothing, something like a jacket, boots or gloves, you can check in with local churches as they will often have a supply room for people who are in need and cannot afford such things.

Make DIY Tasks Opportunities

If you’re on a super tight budget you can use DIY tasks and chores as opportunities to expand your horizons and learn new skills.

A great example of this is working on your own vehicle. Instead of shelling out the cash to take it to a mechanic when there is a problem, make use of some of the sources I recommended above, like the internet or your local library, and try to at least tackle the problem yourself.

A great many repairs are surprisingly easy with just a little bit of guidance.

Then you can go get the parts, borrow the tools if you have to, and then enact the repairs. Aside from the satisfaction and savings of doing a job well yourself, you’ll be getting more intimately acquainted with a vital piece of equipment, one that is central to many preppers bug-out plans.

In the future if something happens while you’re on the road trying to escape a disaster or crisis, you won’t be completely overwhelmed and in over your head.

The complexity and mystery of the engine compartment won’t be quite so scary or threatening anymore.

Of course, there are some things that are too complex for the layman or the shade tree mechanic to handle on their own, and knowing when to throw in the towel and call for help is important.

But, generally, there’s nothing you’ll do to your car on your own that will break it beyond repair so long as you use a little bit of common sense.


Prepping when you have a tiny or even no budget for it seems like a fool’s errand, but it isn’t. It is entirely possible to become well prepared without spending a significant fraction of your yearly income on survival goodies.

You’ll need to change the way you think and reprioritize your efforts, but you don’t need to be shelling out big money just to be prepared for the next natural or man-made disaster.

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