With today’s declining economy – many of us are on tight budgets. Even so – this does doesn’t change the goal that many of us have – to prepare for troubling times ahead for ourselves and our family.
Visiting some websites and reading certain books – you can get the feeling that you have to have a full year’s supply of freeze dried food, a full military arsenal, and a mountain retreat with a full solar energy system just to be considered somewhat prepared.
There are a lot of inexpensive things that can be done to improve your preparedness level. Many of these are very basic and common sense – some not so much.
Here we go:
Flashlights are available just about everywhere and the cost for performance is dropping all the time. Now you can get a very powerful 100+ lumen flashlight at Wally World for under $25.00. LED lights are highly recommended as the batteries last much last longer. Flashlights are one of the basic building blocks in your preparedness system.
You can make a great case for purchasing multiple flashlights to equip your home, vehicle and of course your various survival kits and EDC compliments.
Choosing a specific flashlight with certain capabilities for an equally specific task is fine, but you can save yourself a ton of headaches by purchasing lights that use a common battery. Also, carefully consider the type of battery the flashlight utilizes against its expected to performance.
Any flashlight that uses CR123A or other lithium batteries is going to get expensive to feed over time, for sure, whereas alkaline batteries in common patterns will be significantly less so.
The headlamp is something of a companion to the flashlight, and although everyone has their preference neither truly replaces the other in your survival arsenal.
Headlamps generally provide soft, near area lighting for navigation and general purpose tasking and do it all while freeing up your hands for work. This is a huge advantage in many survival situations, particularly wilderness ones, so don’t underestimate them.
Like flashlights headlamps can be had and all sorts of sizes with a wide variation in overall capability. Some emphasize runtime, others emphasize brightness or reach. Some use disposable batteries where others are rechargeable, and it is the latter type that is increasingly common today.
The good news is that many had lamps, even though that offer an ideal combination of performance characteristics and durability, are surprisingly affordable and can be had almost anywhere. If you don’t have a headlamp you are officially on notice that you need one!
Whether it be flashlights, a radio, or a portable DVD player for entertainment – batteries in a grid-down situation will be very valuable. AA alkaline and CR123A lithium batteries are what I try to standardize with – they are fairly economical if you check around. Stock up on lots.
Keep in mind that batteries go bad over time. Every battery, of every type has a specific rate of self-discharge, meaning those batteries that you pull off the shelf placed there 3 years ago will not have as much energy capacity as brand new ones that you pop into your device.
This is another factor to consider for long-term storage and running the calculus of cost-benefit is made more challenging according.
One thing that might well be a determining factor is how often you use the devices with a given type of battery. If you are constantly using flashlights, for instance, for work or play in addition to preparation alkalines will probably be just fine. If you use these devices intermittently, if at all, you’ll probably want to go with lithium since it has a much lower rate of self-discharge.
You definitely want to stock up on all your standard sizes, but you should also take a moment to inventory all of the lesser thought of but equally important things that utilize batteries that you depend on. It could be things like hearing aids, watch batteries, batteries for optics and other scopes and so forth.
Sold over the counter at department stores and groceries many of these oddball battery sizes are quite expensive on an individual basis, but if you purchase them in bulk from a specialty battery retailer or even the manufacturer you can net huge cost savings. Many such devices that use these smaller, oddly shaped cells have long run times as it is, so even a handful of them might well be a lifetime supply.
In a grid down event – candles would be a welcome item to have and they are incredibly cheap. Many can be bought for just a few dollars at your local Dollar Tree. Just be careful – a house fire can really ruin your day.
When it comes to candles for survival purposes, you don’t have to get anything really fancy. I like using tea lights because they are small, multi-purpose and portable and they allow me to carefully control how much light and run time I need in addition to being useful in tea light stoves and other appliances.
They are also fantastically cheap. Dedicated survival candles are another good option as they are known for extraordinary burn time.
Whichever kind you decide on, try to get ones that are made from clean burning wax and unscented so you don’t further aggravate already degraded air quality inside your home or shelter.
Zip ties are very versatile. They can be used to cinch just about anything together and are very strong. Zip ties are excellent for improvised repairs and constructions, and particularly useful for attaching gear to existing luggage or erecting shelter. This is one of those items that you’ll continually find a use for in a bug in and bug out scenarios.
Notably, it is the size of the zip tie that dictates what it is useful for, and you will want large, medium and small ones for your survival stash.
Throw a few bags with multiple sizes in your cabinet.
Camp Stoves and Fuel
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Cooking in a disaster is much easier when you have an inexpensive camp stove and some fuel. Whether it be propane or liquid fuel powered – store plenty. Camp stoves are available at local department stores, many of my sponsors, as well as Amazon.
If you are really on a budget and one of the ultimate in versatility you can consider picking up a fold-flat metal field or camp stove that uses twigs and branches as fuel.
Since they don’t need a burner or regulator apparatus, stoves of this type can be available for a fraction of what you would buy a traditional, liquid fuel camp stove for, even a cheap one.
Most folks have access to twigs, leaves and other natural fuels wherever they happen to live and you may not necessarily miss that liquid fueled stove at all.
Even better, the stove provides an efficiency boost over burning the same wood in an open fire, allowing you to use less fuel in the long run to accomplish the same tasks.
When you are done and the stove is cool, you can break it down and slide it into its thin carrier scarcely thicker than a folder before stashing it back in your pack.
Several times I have lost power and used inverters hooked to car batteries to power stuff – from refrigerators to box fans. Inverters can be expensive – but keep an eye out and you can find them on sale sometimes as well as warehouse clubs like Costco and SAM’s. I recently picked up a 750 watt model for under $20.00. Fantastic deal. Here are a few.
This is one of those items the most otherwise well equipped preppers tend to forget about, and once you need one, and have it, you will rarely want to be without it.
You can make a great case for equipping every vehicle in the family with one of these as it can allow a person stranded in a remote situation to run serious tools, recharge devices and perform other tasks that are inefficient or impossible using the vehicle’s DC socket.
USB Chargers (auto)
So many devices nowadays have charging cords that plug into standard USB ports. I have purchased several USB adapters that can be inserted into 12 volt power ports in a car. Cell phones, hand-held game systems, tablet PC’s, Kindles, etc. can all be charged this way. These USB car chargers are super cheap too. Check them out here.
This is one of those times where more is always better, because it is highly likely you’ll have a multitude of devices that need to be charged at once and a multi-tap may or may not be the best option.
Additionally, make sure you have multiple, redundant charging cables for each device and pay close attention to what type of connector it uses particularly in the case of newer generation cell phones as many look the same but are different in essential dimensions.
Also longer cables help make your life easy by allowing you to position your device conveniently and securely no matter the setting, so don’t skimp out by getting a super short cable as you might have cause to regret it.
If TSHTF and gas is unavailable – riding a bike will be much better than walking. Bikes are a highly underrated form of transportation – and can be picked up on Craigslist cheap.
Other good options for picking up a bike inexpensively include yard and garage sales, swap meets, social media marketplaces and clearance sales at department stores, sporting goods stores and outdoor stores.
Since we are on the topic, consider looking for a bike that is equipped with a small cargo rack or even a trailer hitch system for a little additional carrying capacity in an emergency.
Bikes really are great survival vehicles for most folks, and we have written about them before in that context. As long as it is easy to operate, sturdy and has at least a little bit of off-road capability you’ll be in good shape.
In the dead of winter with no electricity – heat will become a big issue. Kerosene heaters are not overly expensive and work very well. Kerosene is not cheap these days – but can be stored away.
Kerosene heaters used to be the de facto standard in the United States, and even though most homes no longer rely on kerosene it is still ubiquitous and widely employed around the world and still sees frequent use in some parts of the country.
Accordingly, you might have good luck trying to find a small or medium-sized kerosene heater at a garage sale, yard sale or swap meet, and I have had great luck in the past for curing them by popping up a simple want to buy ad in the classifieds, on Craigslist and in social media marketplace.
You can probably do the same thing, and some people will even let you have it for free to take the thing off their hands!
Large heavy weight trash bags can be used for a lot more than just storing away trash. Cut a hole for your head and two for your arms in the closed end and an expedient rain poncho can be made. Outside and you need to keep gear out of the rain – slide a trash bag over your stuff.
Trash bags are also just the ticket for storing a sizeable quantity of collected water, assuming they are strong enough, so make sure you spend what you can to obtain the heavy-duty versions.
Additionally, trash bags can also be taped together to form an improvised sleeping bag they can then be filled with leaves, crumpled newspaper or other warm, insulating material to help you beat the cold. This last tip is commonly used by homeless people in and around major cities in colder regions.
Again…..a very basic part of your supplies. Getting some news during a disaster is not just important to know what is going on but can help morale as well.
Luckily disaster specific emergency radios have NOAA notifications built in along with other useful features like flashlights, cell phone charging ports and even hand-cranked dynamos to provide limitless power so long as you have the muscle.
But even better for our purposes, these emergency radios are commonly available and inexpensive, and you can usually snag them in the sporting goods section of most major department stores or order them readily from nearly any online seller of survival supplies.
The tarp is a survival superstar, a real multi-tool that no prepper should be without. Your tarp can be a shelter, a ground cover, a water catching system, a sun shade, a screen or even a patch for a leaky roof. You’ll want a handful of good tarps on hand that are waterproof, durable and have heavy duty grommets that can resist rough handling and weather.
Happily, you can get all of those and more at your local hardware store or Home improvement superstore or potentially even at your nearest military surplus store. You don’t need to have the best and fanciest tarp there is, just one that is sturdy enough and weather resistant enough for your purposes in a size that will allow you to solve multiple problems.
In this age of GPS systems most people don’t pay any mind to the humble compass anymore, but Preppers know you oftentimes it won’t be able to rely on advanced technology for one reason or another, and the old ways can always get it done.
You can spend as much money as you care to on a compass, and advanced models can easily run several hundred dollars but this is not strictly necessary for our purposes.
A simple, inexpensive field compass from a reliable manufacturer or even a compact emergency or button compass is more than adequate for basic direction finding in a survival situation and you shouldn’t have to spend more than $20 on a good one.
The whistle is another commonly overlooked survival tool, but one that may get you rescued when all other tools fail. When you need to attract attention or communicate over long distances and all other options have let you down, the shrill blast of a survival whistle will carry and might just save the day.
You can get any manner of cheap, novelty whistle at most department stores but I would advise you to spend it just a little bit more on a proper survival whistle.
Fair warning; the report of many of the modern survival whistles is quite literally ear-shattering, so easy does it if you are testing it inside the house. But for around $10, you’re not going to go wrong!
The knife is usually the first tool that most preppers think of when it comes to a personally carried emergency implement. Equally useful for day-to-day chores as it is in survival scenarios, a good knife is truly worth its weight in gold, and it is no surprise that you can easily spend that much on a knife these days!
Lucky for us you don’t have to go that route unless you are an enthusiast. Any sporting goods store or outdoor store will have a selection of knives from reputable manufacturers that will do everything you needed to do and then some and rarely set you back more than $30 or so.
Many purists decry the flood of junk knives pouring into the country from overseas, but despite these prejudices there are quite a few of them made and marketed for hard use that are better than they have any right to be.
Survival Bracelet / Band
A survival bracelet or survival watch band is a great addition to anyone’s EDC setup that will allow you to keep the bare minimum of survival tools on you pretty much at all times.
Typically consisting of a braided band of paracord or leather stripping survival tools are often integrated in the form of a fire starter, whistle, razor blade and usually a compact compass also. Naturally the whole thing can be unwound and used as cordage when called on.
Although there is something of a cottage industry that exists nowadays for cranking out overpriced, boutique options in this category you don’t need to be an Instagram All-Star to afford or make use of a survival bracelet or survival watch band.
Any word from $10 to $20 will get you a good one most of the time, and you can always weave your own with a little bit of creativity!
In the hierarchy of snack foods, beef jerky might be considered expensive. This is probably true, but in the pantheon of survival foods beef jerky is a bargain indeed.
Long lasting, packed with protein and generally considered highly satisfying, jerky is a go-to choice for survival rations whether you are bugging in or bugging out.
As always, you can buy jerky pretty much anywhere, from your local grocery store to the corner gas station down the street but it is also shockingly easy to make yourself at substantial cost savings, so don’t be afraid to look up recipes online and you might even want to invest in a dehydrator for the purpose. The savings over time going that latter route will be substantial!
Among all the ranged weapons that a prepper might call on, the slingshot is always the most likely to be disregarded as a toy or novelty.
That would be a mistake, because a good slingshot is capable of pushing a suitable projectile to lethal velocity against small game, and is capable of inflicting substantial wounds against a human being or larger game. Combined with its highly compact form factor, ammunition included, it is a great inclusion into any survival kit.
Best of all, anything but a competition grade slingshot is highly affordable, or you can bust out a little DIY ingenuity and make your own just like generations and generations of kids have done.
A sturdy, forked branch, some elastic tubing and a strip of leather is all you’ll need to make your own pocket rocket slingshot.
A pace counter is used to keep track of how far you have traveled when moving on foot, and consists of nothing more than some simple beads of one kind or another on a loop of paracord or other cordage.
Long used in military service, they also find use with explorers, hunters and other folks who spend a lot of time out in nature in deep parts of the country.
You can buy a ready-made pace counter to suit your specifications, but honestly they are so simple to craft but even spending a few dollars on one feels wrong.
Your pocket change is likely to buy the beads you need if you can’t swipe them from your wife, daughter or grandma and after that any length of sturdy cordage with an appropriate knot will handle the rest.
Keeping it clean is much more than just a nicety, even in a survival situation. Failing to take care of hygiene requirements is a recipe for disaster, as it invites disease and all sorts of other maladies.
When you are already busy trying to survive you don’t want to be dealing with any of the above, trust me! But in a survival situation water is likely to be a precious resource, so that means a bath is out of the question much of the time.
The fix is easy, and one that has long been employed my folks living and working in austere conditions for extended periods of time.
Common baby wipes are gentle and reliable, and a handful of them can give you a passable facsimile of a sponge bath or at the very least tackle the most problematic areas on your body even with no water to spare.
The humble Ziploc gallon size freezer bag is another one of those survival multi tools that I just cannot go without. Ziploc bags are perfect for waterproofing sensitive equipment or documents, employing as a trash bag, water bladder or even as a chest seal for a penetrating injury to the thorax. They are far more durable than most people expect, and highly reliable.
You can get these things anywhere by the dozens cheaply enough, just make sure you grab the ones that use the traditional clicky zipper strips instead of those weird, bulky sliders as they are more difficult to secure and more likely to fail in use, particularly when used to hold water.
Let’s be honest, you knew duct tape was going to make an appearance on this list eventually, didn’t you?
Duct tape needs no introduction for most preppers, and though it is famous or infamous depending on who you ask, for its ability to repair anything, craft anything and be put to use for seemingly any task the reality is that it is nearly as useful as the memes make it out to be.
High quality duct tape can be used to repair your gear, fashion shelter, improvise tools and even start a fire in a pinch thanks to the rubberized coating. Truly, there is no situation you can walk into where you won’t be better prepared with some duct tape on hand. Spend $5 or $10 for a quality brand and forget about it
Water is very, very high up on the list of survival necessities, just behind air and shelter, and shelter only beats it out in very hostile conditions. You can go a couple of days, max, with no water and you’ll be toast, though you are likely to be incapacitated a long time before that as the effects of dehydration mount.
Even if you are lucky enough to be in an environment where natural water supplies are all around you, they might still wind up killing you in the end because they could be contaminated with all manner of nasty stuff you don’t want in your body.
You can completely avoid this ironic fate by keeping an emergency water filter in your survival kit. These ultra compact, super efficient filters remove the vast majority of dissolved solids and most microorganisms from collected water, rendering it far safer for you to drink.
In the most compact category, even some of the best ones on the market rarely cost more than $30, so you are officially without excuse when it comes to these things!
The ability to start a fire readily and quickly when required is an important survival skill. Many preppers place heavy emphasis on starting a fire using primitive methods, and while definitely a component in a well-rounded survival skill set, you are far better off much of the time simply keeping on you reliable fire starting tools.
Matches are one such tool that are ubiquitous, super cheap and adaptable to storage in a variety of circumstances.
From common strike anywhere matches kept in a waterproof container to storm or survival matches that are themselves completely waterproof no matter what. Drop a few dollars on a box and keep them where you’ll need them should you find yourself in a jam.
Taking your fire starting kit one step further, everything that a match can do a lighter can usually do even easier and just as quickly. Much ado is made about specialized, over-engineered survival lighters but in my experience you will rarely, if ever, get more reliable than the classic, disposable Bic lighter.
this is another ubiquitous tool that is available absolutely everywhere for pennies, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t toss a couple of them in every bit of survival luggage you have, and even keep one on you, even if you aren’t a smoker yourself.
The last component in a good fire starting kit is tinder, and I’m not talking about the trashy dating app!
Tinder is the initial fuel that you will use to light kindling that will then sustain the burning of your primary fuel and should go up easily and burn hot. as you might expect, there is a seemingly infinite variety of tenders you can have on the open market if you are willing to pay for it, but this is another instance where spending even a few pennies is strictly not necessary.
There are many tenders you can obtain yourself from your very own home and yard, and so long as you prepare and then store them correctly they will work just as well or even better.
Everything from sliced up strips of bicycle inner tube to dryer lint and even crushed up corn chips will burn fabulously. There are many more besides, but whatever you pick make sure you store it in a waterproof, sturdy container so it doesn’t get messed up in your pack.
Bug spray might not sound like a survival item at first glance, but considering that bugging out for many preppers entails heading into remote, deep wilderness and it might start to make more sense.
Even when you feel like you’re being eaten alive by mosquitoes and biting flies on your back deck during an otherwise joyous summer cookout, you really cannot comprehend the profusion and the multitude of such critters in the remote places of the world.
You’ll have enough to worry about when surviving without dealing with the added stress of being covered head to toe and itchy, irritating insect bites. Put the kibosh on that mess by investing in a cheap can of high quality bug spray and tossing it in your pack.
Sometimes it’s the simple things that make all the difference, and in this case one of the simplest but most critical survival items you can have is a high quality canteen or durable water bottle.
Finding water is one thing, but bringing it with you is another and you shouldn’t resort to improvise methods unless you absolutely have to. In this case, having the one, correct tool will allow you to transport a reasonable quantity of water with certainty, safety and considerably more comfort and convenience than you would otherwise.
Everyone has a favorite, and a detailed discussion of the pros and cons of all the many types on the market is beyond the purpose of this article. Suffice it to say that you don’t need to buy the latest, greatest and most popularly branded water bottle to get a container capable of resisting breakage and leaking. Buy smart.
Cordage is a crucial resource in many survival situations. You’ll use cordage to construct shelters, improvise tools, perform repairs on your gear, maybe even yourself, and many other tasks besides.
It is ultimately a simple technology but one that we take for granted only because it is so abundant in so many forms today. Making your own sturdy cordage from any sort of found, natural materials requires a lot of skill and plenty of time.
It is better to go in properly equipped with a little bit on hand. Paracord is the most obvious and popular choice in this category, once again being completely ubiquitous and very affordable and its tremendous strength can allow you to get away with things that would be impossible with other kinds of cordage.
But if you want something cheaper, smaller and easier to work with for more general purpose tasks accessory cord works fine.
The emergency blanket is a tool that some preppers overlook as a gimmick, but these oversized baked potato wrappers are anything but. Capable of reflecting nearly 100% of heat energy back towards your body, these super light, crinkly blankets can easily and quickly warm you up in virtually any scenario.
Even better, they are so small, light and cheap there isn’t a single survival kit that can’t make room for at least a couple of them.
Beyond this, you can even hang up your emergency blanket behind you, with you between it and your campfire, to warm yourself evenly all over and get a better return on your fuel investment. They are also excellent for lining the inside of a shelter.
The bow is a primitive projectile weapon but one that remains undeniably effective even today. There is no shortage of bows on the market, but the vast majority is pretty expensive, and the more advanced compound bows will easily set you back several hundred dollars.
You can craft your own bow, but you don’t even need to go that route if you don’t want to since there are many available at swap meets, garage sales and yard sales if you spend a little time looking.
Like most things, a bow purchase typically results from a visit by the good idea fairy, and most owners will grow tired of them or move on to a new hobby and fairly short order. With enthusiasm waning, you can usually pick up a bow for a song from such a person.
The ground pad is an essential part of a survival shelter compliment in your kit. Lying on the hard, uneven and unforgiving ground is a great way to lose out on otherwise meaningful sleep, and also a good way to get cold, cold, cold, since the earth will suck heat out of your body at a precipitous rate.
Using nothing more than a short length of high density, weatherproof foam padding you can rest more comfortably if not totally comfortable, and further insulate yourself from the ground. There are plenty to choose from, but many preppers make good use of salvaged or repurposed closed cell foam padding for the task.
A first aid kit is an essential inclusion in survival supplies, as there will be no shortage of injury, great and small, during any disaster or crisis worth the name. You can spend a metric ton of money on a well-equipped kit that is pre-packed, or save a bundle by obtaining a suitable container and then packing your own from loose components that are available far more cheaply.
Start with a container, pouch, something that is durable, easy to open but will stay closed when you don’t want it open. Think carefully about internal organization compartments, because less is usually more.
Then, assemble your first aid kit based around a core of universally useful supplies and add in more specialist stuff based on your requirements.
I’m not going too meta here, including an entry for a survival kit on a list of items that you should put in your survival kit while saving a bundle, but in this case I am talking about a classic, compact emergency survival kit.
A tiny container like an Altoids tin can be repurposed as an emergency, pocket sized survival kit by packing it with a button compass, razor blade, a few first aid essentials, a map, lighter, tinder a little bit of cordage and so forth.
Again, sure, you can spend as much as you want on a precious, bespoke pre-assembled pocket survival kit, or you can have a little more fun and save a boatload of cash by assembling it yourself from items that you already have.
Procuring food is also high up on the list of survival priorities, and though most preppers plan on hunting and gathering for bagging high quality calories, you might be better off fishing if you are in an area with abundant fisheries.
Compared to many other critters, fish are far easier to catch with far less effort invested, and compared to trapping you can set up multiple fishing sites that will work even without you being there to babysit them.
A fishing kit consisting of sinkers, hooks, bobbers, line and other essentials can always be used with a rod, but you can also employ them with found materials like sturdy branches to similar effect in a pinch.
By ditching the rod or going with a compact telescopic one you can decrease the size and burden of a typical fishing tackle setup to one suitable for most survival scenarios.
As preppers, it seems like our list of acquisitions never gets any smaller. That might be an exaggeration, but it is no exaggeration to say you can spend a little fortune on survival gear unless you know where to shop and how to buy smart to get the capability that you need without dropping a ton of cash. Follow our advice on the list of items above and you can assemble a ton of gear for pennies on the dollar.
last updated: Dec 6th 2021