I think you’ll agree with me when I say:
Prepping is really expensive and requires tons of expensive gear.
But what’s the real story?
It turns out that you can prep on a much smaller budget than you might have thought. Stick with me on this article and I will teach you how to prep on a budget!
The Budget Prepping Rules
Below are some rules I’ve made for you to keep in mind. If you can remember these rules, then you will save money when prepping. The rules are:
- Skills trump gear almost always.
- Buy multi-use gear.
- Shop for used items first.
- Shop at budget-friendly stores.
Budget Prepping Rule #1: Skills Trump Gear Almost Always
If you walk away from this article with anything, please let it be the knowledge that skills are far more valuable than survival gear. There are people in this world that can do more with paracord (discussed later), than I could accomplish with hundreds of dollars worth of camping gear.
Don’t believe me?
Pinterest has thousands of projects that use paracord. Thousands! Examples are provided in the paracord section a little later on. With that out of the way, I will now teach you how to prep on a budget and possibly save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
Budget Prepping Rule #2: Buy Multi-Use Survival Gear
Quite possibly, one of the worst things to ever happen to kitchens is the “one trick pony.” You know, all of those gadgets that serve only two purposes:
- To serve one purpose.
- And, to occupy space.
- The Banana Cutter
- A Tomato Slicer
- A Mushroom Cutter
- The Corn Kerneler
- The Strawberry Stem Remover
All of which can be replaced with… wait for it… a single knife. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always struggled with getting a sharp, stainless steel knife through the soft buttery flesh of bananas, tomatoes, mushrooms and strawberries, but I’m not about to buy kitchen gadgets to do it.
Budget Prepping Rule #3: Look at Used and Surplus Gear First
Much of the gear used in prepping is durable and sturdy. Because of this fact, buying used is generally advisable. I know it is nice opening a brand new item, but the feeling is even better when you get an item for a fraction of the cost.
Budget Prepping Rule #4: Shop at Budget Friendly Stores
There are stores that will save you money, and there are stores that will take as much of your money as possible while giving you as little as possible. Shop at stores that will let your budget go even further.
Prepping on a Budget: Resources to Learn Prepping Skills Cheaply
Skills are better than gear. If you want to know why I say this, then check out my article: Skills Vs. Gear. Without going into it too deeply, skills are valuable and can save you tons of money. Below is information to help you see which skills might prove valuable as well as ways you can learn the skills as cheaply as possible.
Valuable Skills that Save Money
If you wonder what kind of skills I’m talking about that are so valuable, then here are a few that are vital in prepping situations.
- Water purification methods
- Food preservation (Sun dehydration, smoking over fire, salt curing)
- Shelter building
- Fire starting
- First aid
- and, bushcraft medicine
Books Are A Prepper’s Best Friend and Very Budget Friendly
Books are quite possibly the best prepping tool you can own. Not only will they teach you prepping skills for a fraction of the cost of formal training, but they are a written record of those skills. It’s like having an expert always on retainer for super cheap.
The internet is a wonderful tool, but in most situations that inspire people to prep, the internet may not be a viable resource. Books are relatively portable (assuming you don’t have too many) and they don’t need electricity to work. It might be good to start with a more general book that covers a number of sections, then you can pick up more specialized books as you figure out what you want or need to do. Some books that I own are:
- The Encyclopedia of Country Living- The Original Manual of Living off the Land
- And, Country Wisdom and Know-how
They are both fantastic books with a little bit of knowledge about everything homesteading.
Tips to save even more money on books:
- Don’t buy from brick-and-mortar bookstores. Online is almost always cheaper.
- Buy used wherever it makes sense. I buy many used books from Amazon. You have the added benefit of not really caring about the condition of the book. Half.com is also a great resource for used books.
- You can use a website like PaperbackSwap.com to trade in books you don’t want and try to get books you do want.
- If the budget is really tight, then you can get books from the library, but I like owning them so I can reference as needed.
Military Field Manuals and Guides
The military obviously needs written manuals so they can train soldiers in a consistent manner. Because these manuals are works by the government, they are often made freely available to citizens. For the grand price of nothing, you can have access to the survival manual that the US Army uses! I’m not sure you can get much more expert or authoritative than that.
You can print and bind these manuals yourself to build a very inexpensive library full of fantastic resources. Here are just a few of the notable field manuals that are freely available!
- The US Marine Corps Survival Guide – FM 21-76
- The US Army Manual of Map Reading and Land Navigation – FM 3-25.26
- US Army Ranger Soldier Handbook – SH 21-76
- The US Navy Seal Sniper Training Program
- The US Army Manual of Improvised Munitions Handbook – TM 31-210
- Archive.org hosts tons of military field manuals for download!
- And, of course, you can buy already printed copies from Amazon.
Forums Give You Access to Experts and Community for Free
If you can’t or don’t want to buy books to learn, then forums are great and often free resources you can use to learn the skills you need. First, I want to introduce you to the term “bushcraft” if you haven’t heard of it just yet. It’s a term that essentially means knowing how to live in “the bush” or outdoors.
In addition to awesome community, you can get your questions answered and even participate in meetups and training programs. Bushcraft USA has their own training program that is done through YouTube videos and sharing images of your progress to be graded by a volunteer instructor. The program is called BushClass USA and is completely free. You just need to signup with their forum to participate.
That’s not the only prepper forum, there are plenty of more, here are just a few:
Join a Local Prepper Group
There are groups formed by preppers that you can join. These exist specifically because the power of many is greater than the power of one. Not only will this help you build your skills, but they can also help you figure out what gear you might need. You’ll also have people that you can buy from and trade with for any used gear at a discount.
Another great aspect to prepper groups is that they have the power to buy in bulk by combining resources. This could be a group purchase of freeze dried food, or hours at a shooting range so members can get a nice cheap rate at the firing range. You can find prepper groups using some of the forums above. It’s much cheaper to team up with people to buy things in bulk rather than you buying things on your own.
Prepping Channels on YouTube
I’ve saved my favorite for last. YouTube is one of the absolute best resources for prepper education. Anyone can type up a post in a forum. With enough research, just about anyone can graduate from Google university, but on YouTube, people are really putting their video where their mouth is. When someone is filming out in the bush, you know that they’ve at least made some commitment to prepping.
In addition to general prepping knowledge, you can learn about these awesome skills from these awesome channels:
- Canning (BexarPrepper is one of my favorites)
- Raising Chickens (Shout out to Justin Rhodes’ channel)
- General Homesteading (Becky’s Homestead is great and An American Homestead is precious)
- Food Production (Living Web Farms)
- I also really love TexasPrepper2‘s channel. He’s just a good, friendly guy.
When it comes to learning skills, your options truly abound. We’ve never had so much access to so much free information.
Prepping on a Budget: Saving Money on Multi-Use Survival Gear
Knives: The Go-To Survival Tool for Preppers
What you need out of a knife will vary, especially with state and local laws. Start first by researching the types of knives and blades that are available and their uses. Perhaps a high quality multi-tool is what you need, rather than a full-tang, fixed-blade with a serrated edge.
This is one of the few prepping tools where I’ll advise you to spend more than you think is necessary. Yes, you can pick up a knife at WalMart for $5.00, but the steel will be garbage. Before you know it, it’ll be rusting or broken. This is one of those tools you want to rely on. You should also learn how to sharpen it properly. A good knife makes so many prepping things possible.
Tips to save money on a knife:
If you are on a shoestring budget and seriously can’t afford to spend $50-$100 or more on a knife, then there is a company that makes pretty well-regarded knives called “Moras.” You really can’t buy a better knife in the price range. They have starting costs just over $10. You can find them for sale on Amazon and other online stores.
My Benchmade Barrage Tanto Blade Knife Unboxing
This is my new EDC knife and I love it. Like everything else I’ve reviewed up to this point, I’ve paid full-price so my review is unbiased. If the knife were junk, I would’ve returned it. It’s a little pricey for most people at about $140, but it’s a fantastic knife. Check it out on Amazon if you’re interested in this particular knife.
550 Paracord is high strength cordage (it can hold 550 pounds of weight) that you can use for about a million different things, so long as you have the knowledge on how to use it. You can get paracord almost anywhere including Walmart in the camping and hardware sections. Learning how to tie knots is essential to you knowing how to properly use paracord. I’m sure I haven’t convinced you yet on how to use paracord, so allow me to provide just a few of the things you can make or do with paracord:
- Pulley system
- Rifle sling
- A rock sling – David and Goliath style!
- Bow drill cordage
- Building a shelter
- Snares and traps
More paracord usage ideas
Practicing with Paracord
There are numerous other things you can do with paracord unrelated to prepping. There are tons of projects on Pinterest. The cool thing about making random things like koozies and wallets is that you’re practicing while working on a fun project at the same time. Here’s a cool video with some things you can practice:
Wool blankets are great because they insulate you, they’re durable and they are flame retardant. Additionally, you can create a cowboy bedroll which, among other things, can carry items such as clothing and other survival kit items. In addition to bed rolls, these are some other things you can do with a good wool blanket:
- Use it as a sleeping bag.
- The wool blanket can be used as a mat to organize things and not lose them in the grass and leaves.
- Use it as a shelter from direct sunlight.
- You can actually fold it in such a way and latch it together so it can be used as a backpack.
- Use the wool blanket as a poncho.
- Use it as a seat (while rolled up) or tie it off to use it as a chair/hammock.
Please keep in mind that a blanket is just a blanket. If your intention is to use it for sleeping on the ground, then you need to put together a sleeping system. I suggest adding a sleeping pad and tarp to the mix for a mild to slightly cold climate. If you sleep in the snow, then consider other sleeping system options or add more blankets to the mix.
Ways to save money on wool blankets:
- Buy from thrift stores.
- Watch lots of eBay auctions, you can sometimes snag a great deal.
- If you’re on a shoe string budget, Harbor Freight has some wool blankets for about $10. Keep in mind that these are very low quality, so don’t expect the world out of them.
In addition to waterproofing your sleep system, they can also be used to make temporary shelter as well as a rain catch for water. You can also use tarps to protect you from the wind and you can even make a hammock if you tie it off with some cordage. Here are some other uses as well:
- Make a backpack using cordage.
- Layer it between blankets for added warmth.
- Use it to wrap a stick structure to form a smokehouse.
- Put your smoked food in it and hang it high up to protect your food from bears.
- Cover your wood pile to keep it dry.
- Use it to drag heavier items you can’t carry like logs
- Wrap clothing and other water sensitive items to protect it while traveling.
- Place it under your tent to protect from moisture, or put it over your tent to protect from rain.
- Roll it up and use it as a pillow.
- Use it to signal for help.
Prepping on a Budget: Save Money by Buying Used Gear
Whenever possible, buy used gear. Prepping gear is often sturdy and durable, so what you find used will often be perfectly usable. Examples include:
- Knives: Make sure the mechanical parts are functional. Knives may need to be sharpened.
- Backpacks: Clean them as needed, smoke them over a fire to remove unpleasant scents.
- Books: Condition doesn’t matter as long as all of the pages are present and legible.
- Blankets: Give them a good wash. If necessary, allow smoke from a fire to help wash out any unpleasant scents.
- Pots and Pans: very plentiful. Make sure there are no compromises in it that could affect use in the field.
- Tools: make sure they are fully functional before purchasing.
Lots of people don’t consider what you can find at thrift stores and garage sales, but here are a few videos of peoples’ finds:
$60 Leatherman Kick Bought at Garage Sale for $3
$5 on High Quality Backback
Prepper Garage Sale Haul
Hopefully this helps convince you that buying used is a great idea. What’s the difference between a new backpack and a used backpack? About $50 – $100. Think of what you could purchase with the $50-$100 savings on buying a used bag instead of a new one.
Prepping on a Budget: Saving Money at Budget-Friendly Stores
They aren’t just filled with junk, there are a lot of useful items that can be used for prepping. On some survival forums you can actually find threads where people either make up “dollar store survival kits” or they’ve actually gone to the dollar store and made a survival kit! You can also find numerous videos on YouTube like the one below where people assemble survival kits.
Dollar stores have tons of canned food options, but you can often get certain items cheaper at other stores. It’s easy to be taken in by the dollar stores, but just keep in mind that not everything is a great deal. Make note of some prices at your typical store then go to the dollar store and see what is cheaper and what is more expensive.
Thrift Stores, Flea Markets and Garage Sales Are Prepper Wonderlands
With a bit of ingenuity, you can find tons of things at the thrift store, flea market or garage sales that will help you prep on a budget. You’ll most certainly find pots and pans for cooking food, boiling water and storing stuff while not in use. Here are some other things you’ll find at the thrift store with prepping applications:
- Clothing: Cheap too! Warmth is precious.
- Canning: Canning supplies can be expensive if purchased new. I’ve seen full canning setups for a tenth the cost of buying new.
- Small Appliances: Thrift stores are great for small appliances like clothing irons. What can you use a cheap hair iron for? Here are just a few ideas: patching clothing, sealing mylar bags of food and laminate important documents with a lamination sheet.
- Backpacks: Sometimes really nice ones.
- Wool blankets: These are harder to find, but you can usually get them for a steal if you do find one.
- Knives: You probably won’t find any top of the line ones, but mid quality is still great at a cheap price.
- Candles: Semi-used ones are the best bargains. Remember, you’re not buying for decoration, you’re buying for use. A candle that is burnt for 1 hour and only costs 50 cents is a lot better than that same candle new at the store for $5 or $10 dollars!
- Tools: Tools often hold value nicely, but people still donate them. You’ll find some amazing deals on tools if you look through enough stores.
- Flashlights: Try to buy LED ones. You get far more out of your batteries with LED flashlights and they’ve been around long enough that thrift stores should have some stock.
- Books: You’ll probably have more luck buying used books from Amazon, but you can certainly browse the thrift store to see if any books would be good for your library. You’ll absolutely pay less at a thrift store than on Amazon, so it doesn’t hurt to look.
Army-Navy Military Surplus Stores
These stores stock items that were either used, or purchased but not used by the US military and government. Because of this, civilians can purchase these items at a nice discount compared to what they would pay for similar items from a retailer. Best of all: the items are built to military specifications! What items can you find at military surplus?
- Bags of every imaginable shape and size.
- Camo clothing
- Socks, shoes and gloves.
- Blankets, towels and shemaghs
- Canteens and eating utensils
- Military manuals
As you can see, a trip to a military surplus store can more than meet most of your equipment needs. Just remember: just because it is at a military surplus store, that doesn’t mean it is a good deal. Know what the average prices are before you go in so you know that you’re getting a deal.
Prepping on a Budget: Be Creative with Existing Resources
Throwing things away is the last thing you want to do as a prepper on a budget. Even junk mail is useful for prepping. Before you throw something away, consider if you can use it in some way. Here are examples that might help you:
Cheap Moisture Absorbers
Do you have some silica gel laying around? The answer to that question might depend on whether you have a cat or not. Check out this video for an idea on how to make cheap moisture absorbers for your food storage.
Using Junk Mail for Prepping
Think of junk mail as free fire fuel that is delivered to your home daily, you just need to process it.
Ragged and Torn Clothing for Preppers
What do you do with all of the clothes you can’t wear? How about:
- Stuff fabric with the clothes to make a pillow.
- Sew them up into fabric bags to carry things.
- Cut out useful sections to create bandannas, hair ties or bandages.
- Cut out the good parts and stitch them together to make a quilt/blanket.
- Braid them into rope or an animal toy.
- Weave them together to make a sleeping mat.
- Use them as part of a DIY water filtration system.
- Cut the good parts into strips that you can use as ties for latching things together.
- Use them as rags for cleaning.
- Or, at the very least, turn them into charred cloth (as long as the fabric is 100% cotton)!
Dryer Lint Uses for Preppers
Keep a bucket next to your dryer and collect lint in it. You can use the lint as fire starter and you can also put it through the same process as the clothing above to make charred lint! Another thing to do is mix the lint with water, process it in a blender, then pour it in a thin layer across a screen and let it dry.
Now you have fibrous “lint paper” which you cut up into usable squares or rectangles. Feel free to make charred lint with it, or save it as it is. It’s a nice way to compact dryer lint for use later. You can also use dryer lint as stuffing for a pillow or as an insulator in a blanket.
Survival Prepping with Cardboard Boxes
Besides the obvious “use it to organize stuff” idea, how about putting a couple of them together to make a smoker? Yes, you can actually smoke food inside cardboard boxes, just make sure it doesn’t catch fire! You can use a hot plate to heat the wood chips to make it a bit safer than using coal. What else can you do with cardboard boxes you ask? How about these fine ideas:
- A solar food dehydrator
- A solar cooker
- A survival candle
Other Prepping Factors to Consider
Buy Quality Where it Matters
When it comes to prepping on a budget, I get it: “cheaper is better.” But not always. There are a few areas where I think quality should trump price. In those cases, I save money in certain areas, just so I could spend the savings on the really important items.
You may choose to prioritize in a different way, but I focus on the things that sustain the life of my family and I. As an example, things like:
- Food Provision
How much are you willing to pay for safe, clean water if none is available? Considering we can’t make it more than 3 days without water, you’d probably be willing to pay an awful lot. So, that’s an area that you may want to spend more money on as well as invest a lot of time learning how to do it in the field.
Ways to obtain clean water should be at the top of everyone’s list if they believe that clean water may not be as available as it is today. The same with food and security. If you want to provide food and security, then you’ll probably need a reliable firearm, or you’ll need to think of other good ways to provide these.
Knives are another area where I specifically spend more on quality. Knives are used in lots of applications and I can’t afford to have it falling apart or having to sharpen it each day.
So, Where Can a Prepper Be Cheap?
At the moment, I know it sounds like nothing can be cheap but it can. It really just depends on what you find important and what skills you possess. If you are lousy at fire starting, then perhaps equipment is necessary for you. If you are great at shelter building with wild materials, then you probably don’t need to buy a tent.
Cheap food for prepping
Having or being able to obtain food is important, but the quality of that food doesn’t really have to be high to survive. I’m not advocating for eating garbage, but I am saying that lowering your standards even just a little bit can save you tons of money. If you’re willing to eat a can of peaches instead of freeze dried peaches, you can save more than 50% on the cost.
Useless prepping gear
Depending on what scenario you envision, electric or gas powered tools are essentially worthless. In a long-term scenario, they will only become more and more expensive to use due to fuel scarcity. The other thing to be worried about with those types of tools is maintenance and weight. In those cases, cheaper, manual tools are the better purchase.
Getting cheap with books
I discuss this a bit further down, but you can totally be cheap with books. Sure, everyone wants a crisp, new book, but why? The information is the same. Assuming no pages are missing, buy the cheapest copy of the book you can find. Crease in the cover? No problem.
Knowing What You Want VS. What You Need
Knowing what you want and knowing what you need are very important ideas. For example, I love the GoSun solar ovens. In fact, I love them so much that I’ve purchased 4 of them at full price. They are expensive for most people, including myself.
I love the GoSun products so much that I even signed up as an ambassador so I can let others know about the product and even offer a GoSun coupon code discount for $25.00 off the purchase. But it is not a budget item by any stretch of the imagination.
Is it a prepping item? Absolutely, and if you wanted to save money in other areas so you can afford it, then I think that is a smart way of getting one, but it isn’t required as a prepping tool. You know what else cooks food? Wood that you found on the ground and set on fire. Yes, the GoSun stoves will allow you to cook food without creating smoke or needing fuel beyond sunlight, but there are much cheaper ways to cook food.
Location & Plans Help Determine Your Needs
Now, if you live in the desert and you get lots of sunlight but have limited fuel, then I suggest the GoSun or some other solar oven as a necessary tool. If your plan is to escape on a boat, then I suggest a solar cooker as a necessary tool.
If you live in a low-sun area or an area with ample amounts of biomass (sticks, leaves, etc), then I suggest a rocket stove like the SilverFire Survivor, or a lower cost wood gas stove like this one from Amazon.