This is a beefed up copy of the handout I used in my Survival on a Budget presentation at the 2011 Survival & Preparedness Conference (May 29, 2011) in Dallas, Texas.
Survival on a Budget
By Jim Cobb
Money is tight for most of us. We’re living paycheck to paycheck, trying to make ends meet. We have very little in the way of extra funds we can put toward preps. Sure, we’d all love to be able to drop a few thousand dollars on #10 cans of dehydrated food every other month but that just isn’t going to happen for most of us.
So, let’s talk about ways we can stretch your dollar and get the most bang for your buck.
First, we’ll start with some general pointers.
–Know what you already have. Do a complete inventory of your pantry, your workshop, every closet, nook, and cranny. If you’re anything like me, you probably have forgotten at least some of the items you’ve already bought.
–Related to that, keep track of what you buy, when you buy it, and how long it should last before going bad. Come up with some sort of system to rotate your food and such on a regular basis.
–Remember, when it comes to purchasing anything, you need to do your homework ahead of time. Learn average prices in your area so you can recognize deals when you come across them. I think all of us have probably been duped at least a few times into buying something we thought was a great deal, only to find it cheaper somewhere else within a day or two.
Don’t be afraid to check out clearance carts and other in-store displays. You can often find canned goods that are approaching expiration. They will likely last for some time yet and you can always move them up in your rotation if need be.
If you’re buying a case or two of an item, it doesn’t hurt to ask a manager if you can get a discount. The worst that could happen is they say no but more often than not, they’ll toss you 10% or more off. Also, talk to the produce manager about buying fruits and veggies that are blemished or slightly out of date. I know one person who has a regular exchange with her local grocery store where she buys the slightly dinged produce for literally pennies on the dollar. What she doesn’t eat or can up for later she feeds to her animals on the homestead.
With many commodities, buying in bulk (Sam’s Club, Costco, etc.) will usually get us the best overall price per unit. However, many of us don’t have the means to buy a pallet of toilet paper at a time. We need to allocate our pennies and dollars across a wider range of purchases every week. Thus, while I encourage you to take advantage of bulk buying if at all possible, we’ll limit our discussion here on smaller quantity purchases.
Naturally, having a stocked pantry is not only a great idea, it can be such a comfort. With a well-stocked larder, we know that we’re set to withstand almost anything, right? The hard part is getting to that point. Food can be expensive and it generally doesn’t last forever. But, we can eat tomorrow at today’s prices so let’s look at ways to get more food for less money.
Store what you eat, eat what you store
The best way to ensure you are regularly rotating your stock, using it before it goes bad, is to actually USE your food pantry as more than just a stockpile for the distant future. Don’t store food you or your family don’t like. If you don’t like brussel sprouts, don’t buy them.
Start small if you need to
Buying just a couple extra cans a week will add up quickly.
Shop the sales
Every week, make sure you get a copy of all the sales ads for your local stores. Make your shopping list based on these sales.
Be diligent about cutting and sorting coupons. Use them religiously. Watch your grocery sale ads for opportunities to stack coupons. Stacking refers to using a manufacturer’s coupon on top of an in-store special. If you have a local store that will double or even triple coupons on certain days, do whatever it takes to get there and take advantage of it.
Sign up for store loyalty cards
Many, if not most, grocery stores now have some sort of customer loyalty card. Get one for each store you patronize regularly. These cards will get you better prices on your purchases and are free to obtain.
Learn to preserve food at home
Invest in canning supplies and a good dehydrator. Being able to preserve food at home will be a tremendous help if you come across a great deal on meat or fresh produce. There is little sense in buying a bunch of food that will go bad before you can consume it. Plus, home canned food is much healthier than store bought canned goods.
Foraging and hunting
Take some time now to learn the edible plants in your area. Get out there and actually forage some of these tasty treats. If you have the means to go hunting, I’d encourage you to do so.
Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, should have at least some type of garden. If you’re in an apartment, do container gardening. If the your soil isn’t great, try putting in raised beds. Every vegetable you grown and harvest is one less you’ll have to buy in the store.
Cheap but filling foods for long-term storage
Gear and other goodies
Oh my, isn’t there just a ton of STUFF you need to stockpile? And all that stuff adds up quickly in terms of cost. There are a few ways you can cut that cost down though.
A few words of caution. As stated earlier, make sure you can recognize a good deal when you see it. Just because an item is priced very cheaply doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good deal. If a given widget goes for $5.00 brand new, buying it used for $4.50 might not be the greatest deal. Also, especially for any kind of equipment, be sure to inspect the item thoroughly before buying it used. That camp stove you find at a rummage sale for $3 isn’t a good deal if it leaks and turns into a propane bomb the first time you use it.
Surf over to www.Freecycle.org and search around for groups near you. The way these groups work is you sign up to join their Yahoo Group. What happens then is you’ll receive emails from people who have stuff they want to give away. If you’re interested in the item posted, you respond back to them by email telling them so. It is up to the poster as to who gets the item so you won’t always be the lucky recipient. But, you can get some great stuff absolutely free using Freecycle. You are also able to post your own used items to get rid of them and make room for your preps. Most groups will also allow you to make a limited number of “Wanted” posts, where you can ask the group members if anyone has a particular item you want or need. Absolutely free to join and use.
Use this with caution. There are so many scams out there, it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. However, people are on there every day selling and/or giving away some good stuff.
Rummage sales, garage sales, tag sales
Get out there early in the morning for the best selection, but late in the day for the best prices. This is where you can usually find the best deals on tools, camping equipment, and other odds and ends. Don’t be afraid to haggle a bit but don’t lowball them either. Also, if you don’t see something for which you are searching, sometimes it pays to ask. For example, you’re really in need of some camp cooking gear and you see they have a tent and sleeping bag they are selling, ask if they have other camp related stuff they might want to get rid of. Fairly often, they’ll come up with related items that just didn’t make it out to the rummage sale.
Personally, I don’t do well at these but your mileage may vary. In my experience, most of them have turned into just a collection of home based businesses like Avon and Tupperware.
Some great deals to be had, but pay close attention to prices. Many times, I’ve seen used items for sale priced higher than I could pay for brand new. However, for spare clothing, books, and movies, the prices usually can’t be beat.
Library sales and used bookstores
I’m a voracious reader and maintain an extensive home library. Well over half of my approximately three thousand books were purchased used, often paying far less than half the cover price. Most libraries hold used book sales at least once a year. You can find some incredible deals at these sales as the books are often priced for less than a dollar each. Toward the end of the day, they’ll even do bag sales, where you fill a grocery bag and pay around $3. Used bookstores are another great source, with the prices often being half the cover price or less.
Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.
Improvise, be creative.
Trim the Budget Elsewhere
Eat at home, pack lunches — healthier and cheaper
Bundle services when possible
Little purchases add up quick
Mind your energy consumption
Every dollar you save can be used for preps!