No Money? 9 Ways to Prep for FREE (or Almost Free)

(Psst: The FTC wants me to remind you that this website contains affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase from a link you click on, I might receive a small commission. This does not increase the price you'll pay for that item nor does it decrease the awesomeness of the item. ~ Daisy)

by Fabian Ommar

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, interest in preparedness has spiked considerably. People everywhere are foreseeing challenging times ahead and becoming more conscious about the importance of resiliency and self-sufficiency. 

The pandemic crisis has brought a lot of economic and financial hardship to many of the population. Lots of folks made preparedness-related New Year’s resolutions. As the number of preppers surges, so does the urgency to prepare without spending a fortune to do so. I figured this is the perfect time to talk about options to prep for free or very little.

Before survivalism was commercialized, prepping was more about improvisation

For many old-school preppers and real-life survivalists, it remains more about creativity and spontaneity than consumption. Some would argue prepping that is practiced nowadays is a lifestyle from decades past. In my experience with the homeless, it still is for those who live with very little or at society’s borders.

There is nothing wrong with buying and consuming. But there is a lot that we can do for free, or almost free. And in reality, that’s how things run when SHTF. During difficult times the availability of resources, material supplies, and economic hardships dictate how a person will prep and survive. Daisy has an entire book on this, and Selco often touches the subject in his articles and publications. More people than ever are trying to prep on a shoestring budget.

So, let’s dive right in. How can we prep for FREE (or almost free)?

Fitness and Health

Fitness and health are first on the list because I rank getting and staying in shape at the top of the prepping and survivalism list. Good fitness and robust health are assets. What good are endless supplies if we aren’t healthy or strong enough to survive? 

Note: it is possible to survive a disaster or SHTF having disabilities. Many of us have limitations, be that age, finance, something cognitive or physical. I often say that no one has to be a SEAL or a marathon runner to overcome a pandemic or an economic downturn. Above all, none of that should discourage us from improving in any way we can. You may need to make some modifications if you are disabled or have a chronic illness, but you can survive.

It is also undeniable that some disasters and situations demand physical capacity, some at higher levels. If you are a more dedicated prepper and have others depending on you or if you are by yourself, it is crucial to have the capabilities to perform physically. 

SHTF situations can be extremely physically demanding

For instance, take the pandemic: sure, some healthy people fall ill and even die from COVID-19 and its complications. But I believe everyone would agree that it’s still better to have strong immunity and be in good shape whatever happens. As the conditions around us decay, so does our health. Being healthy and fit can work as a buffer. 

Getting and staying in shape does not have to be complicated. A routine of simple exercises done at home is sufficient to improve strength, endurance, cardiovascular, flexibility, coordination, and balance. With regular exercise, you increase bone density, muscle tone, hormone production, and much more. 

With a little research and guidance, you can create your own routine

Make sure to get guidance to perform the exercises correctly. Aim for a routine that includes a variety of exercises for the upper and lower body and core. Mixing it up will keep up the motivation. Consistency is key: a little every day is better than a lot at once a week. It also avoids burnout and injuries.

Walking offers tremendous benefits. Combined with bodyweight exercises (using one’s own weight as resistance), walking is an excellent way to get and stay fit. 

Examples of Body-Weight Exercises

  • Pull-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Sit-ups
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Planks 
  • Burpees 
  • Mountain Climbers

The list goes on and on. If you want added resistance, you can purchase free weights or resistance bands for fairly reasonable prices.

Diet and Nutrition

Making improvements to your diet and overall nutrition is free. All it requires is discipline and dedication. I’m not talking about eating only organic products or healthy meals, nor that you should cultivate your food. If those things are financially possible, great. But, even better if these changes don’t burn a hole in your pocket. Having a list of healthy emergency foods to have on hand is a great place to start. 

Creating a prepper mindset, which is to be as knowledgeable and as resourceful as possible, is incredibly helpful. That does not mean taking shortcuts or trying fads or magic recipes. Those are traps and can hurt your health instead of improving it. Researching physiology and metabolism helps and can be done for free. 

Healthy eating is not rocket science

Balancing calorie intake and consumption in a smart, sensible manner is requires knowledge, but it’s not hard. A simple way to begin is by cutting your sugar consumption, processed foods, and drinks. Opt instead for food choices as natural as possible.

Avoid radical changes and compromises that take too much effort, investment, or discipline as those tend to have a rebound effect. Think long-term and slow to go the distance. Keep a positive attitude. As it happens with exercise and other activities, once you get the ball rolling, it’s a lot easier to keep momentum. 

Recycling, reusing, and repurposing

Depending on how and why you do it, recycling can be an activity or a lifestyle. Either way, it’s very much at the heart of both prepping and survivalism.

Back in the ’70s and ’80s, we’d stay with our grandparents during the summer holidays. I was a kid and fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with the old folks, playing, going places, and listening to their stories. Unintentionally they taught me about recycling. Not in the more modern sense of the word: separating and taking the trash to the recycling center. It was more about people reusing and repurposing almost everything: toys, clothes, furniture, appliances, and even small everyday items.

A little story may be more fitting here to illustrate this idea

I remember my grandpa’s backyard room and its large cabinet full of tools, bits, and parts. I was fascinated. Most of it was used stuff waiting to be used again, and again, and again. Before the ’90s, plastic wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous as it is today. Most items back then were sold in tin cans, glass jars, and bottles. Or wrapped in brown paper or cloth and packed in wooden boxes. Everyone except the wealthy would reuse it all. Over and over again. 

Grandpa would roll the cotton wrapping strings into balls and press the wrappers and bags neatly into piles. He’d wash metal cans, glass jars, and bottles and remove the labels. Newspaper was saved and reused in many ways too. Even nails and screws would be removed and kept in glass jars for use elsewhere. Grandma cut and sewed bed liners and curtains into tablecloths, handkerchiefs, baby diapers, and other clothing. Apparel would pass on between two or three generations.

I credit my prepping mentality to my grandparents

My grandparents lived through the hardships brought by WW2 and other worldwide and local SHTFs of the time. Prepping wasn’t a “thing” back then. People just lived like that. Not because the environment needed saving or because it was cool, but because everything was hard to make or buy, and no one would waste anything. This lifestyle is something that could come back in a prolonged downturn. 

D.I.Y, repairing and refurbishing

D.I.Y. was popular back in the day. Kids would learn to fix (and fabricate) their toys. Teens learned to work on their bikes and motorcycles. Adults cared for and repaired their shoes and clothes at home. Old folks had tools and spare parts on hand to fix just about everything. Only the most difficult repairs demanded a trip to the shop or an expert. It was like that for various reasons, but throwing things out was the last option for most.

Sure, stuff is more complex today and not as easily repaired or reused. Many repairs may require tools, parts, or other items that cost money. But there are still important and useful things that can be repaired and have their life extended. Think clothes, shoes, bags, bicycles, and some simple housing fixtures.

The ability to repair things is useful and can come in handy in many situations, be that an SHTF, economic depression, even during normal times. Being able to repair items will help you save and even earn money. It can be a way to contribute to the community if you find yourself in a situation that calls for that.

Today anyone can learn how to fix things for free on the internet

Millions of DIYers and curious types teach how to fix everything, even things that aren’t supposedly fixable. Some free courses taught by institutions even grant a valid license. I know some preppers that became part-time professionals after completing these courses.

Knowing more about how things work and what to do in each case is a fundamental step. Be creative and curious. Don’t be limited by tools: they can be borrowed, shared, rented, even donated. Building your tool and bits collection can be considered an investment. 

Selling, negotiating, and bartering

Many of us have stuff sitting around unused for years. The list can include garments, sporting goods, gadgets, spares, vintage items, collectibles, artwork, jewels, books, and lots more. 

Selling stuff is a way to lighten up and open up space for stockpiles, preps, and other things. It’s not only free but can also provide extra cash to save, invest, pay up debts, or purchase prepping supplies and gear. Make an inventory and detach from those items. You can sell online, have a garage sale, or sell at a swap meet. 

Books: paper or digital

Books are an essential resource. It’s impossible to know everything about all-things-survival. There’s just too much knowledge, information, and skills that even long-time, “professional” preppers can’t learn or practice, regardless of dedication and free time available. There are many free or inexpensive resources to find the books need. Some excellent titles by various respected authors can be purchased and downloaded online for less than an espresso and a donut.

Reading shouldn’t be only about prepping and survival

Never underestimate the importance of distraction and abstraction for the good of the mind and spirit during SHTF. Having other books in different genres on hand can be a good thing for morale.

While some preppers prefer paper format, a tablet or other e-reader like Kindle can hold many books, PDFs, articles, and instructions on almost everything. You can save images, videos, guides, instruction manuals of devices, receipts, prescriptions, documents, contact lists, everything. A smartphone can work for that too.

Each format has pros and cons. Paper books can’t be deleted nor depend on batteries. But they take space and weight, thus not practical to have with you on a bug-out even if you have a vehicle to carry your stuff. Electronic devices can break or go dead. But they can be charged using a battery bank or a compact solar panel and last a long time if you’re careful.

I have both: a ton of books on my tablet (and music – how bad can any SHTF be with good music?). I also have a few paperbacks I keep in a bag. I call it my bug-out-library-bag. And I have a backup drive of all that in digital form, just in case. 

Develop prepping skills, or strengthen what you already know

Many people can develop prepping skills for free. YouTube videos, podcasts, free e-books and Audibles, public libraries, and e-courses are excellent ways to do this. And now we have apps too, to learn anything from cooking to gardening, from Morse Code to another language. It’s an infinite knowledge available to anyone with some discipline and will to learn. I learned ham radio and C.P.R. and took my licenses online and for free.

So get to work: make a list of things you consider important to your prepping and also things you would like to learn. It can be cooking, food preparation, gardening, communications, nursing, orienting, sewing, finance, economy, investing, and programming. Even painting, writing, or any other artistic endeavor. It can be something you could perhaps turn into a side job at some point to help with the finances. 

Mixed strategies exercise

I’ll finish by proposing an exercise in my book that works for me and others in prepping and survival. It is free, requiring only some discipline and focus, and maybe a little programming for those who live with others.

(NOTE: this exercise has been used by some preppers here as a game or fun challenge to get their kids and significant other into prepping).  

I call it “mixed strategies” because it’s a mix of street activities and home exercises. I’ll focus on the latter as it can be done regardless of other preparations or side activities. 

Simulate a grid-down experience at home

Try to perform your activities when resources and conveniences are limited. As always, start easy, use common sense, and adapt accordingly. 

  • Shut off electricity, water, and heating. Start with one day, then try to increase as you get better. Do stuff in the dark, or using just a flashlight (even better, a headlamp). Wear your cold climate outfits inside if needed (or warm, depending on where you live and the season). Be careful not to cause accidents or hurt yourself, moving around and doing things in the dark.
  • Cook meals using camping gear. Use a spirit or propane stove, being careful not to cause a fire! Take the opportunity to try different survival food: granola and energy bars, M.R.E., freeze-dried, and others. If you have stockpiles, this exercise is an excellent opportunity to rotate supplies.
  • Forgo your bed and sleep on the floor. Use a sleeping or bivvy bag. If you don’t have one, improvise with a mattress and a stuffed bag (your B.O.B.) for a pillow. Observe the various ways heat can leave your body, and learn to test and improvise to prevent and counter that by using different techniques. 
  • Take cold showers or go without showering. Yes I do this often when I’m doing my street survival training. I get smelly, itchy, and uncomfortable. But then I get used to it or focus on something else. Learn to improve your hygiene in these situations using camping and other outdoor techniques, like tissues or compressed towels.

In the military, they call this “embracing the suck” and it can help you survive difficult times.

The real benefit is we become tougher, more confident, and more resilient

I know it sounds crazy, but living in discomfort with limited resources, allows for testing of skills and gear in closer-to-real-life SHTF situations. With time it becomes routine. After doing this exercise, taking a hot shower, eating a nice meal, and sleeping in a bed feels like heaven. We get a renewed and even more profound appreciation for the comforts and conveniences of our lifestyle.

Do you have any no money or low money prepping tips?

What are some ways that you prep that don’t cost money? Do you have any suggestions for those who are new to prepping? Let’s discuss it in the comments.

No Money? 9 Ways to Prep for FREE (or Almost Free)
Fabian Ommar

Fabian Ommar

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10 Responses

  1. re: books

    In the US (including its territories) the free-to-use inter-library system has been around since before 1900. It’s a great way to get a free (or sometimes a very low cost rental fee) loan of most (excepting reference, very rare, or extremely high value books) books for a few weeks that your local library likely doesn’t stock. It’s worth knowing that the current rules are that once a book becomes older than six months past the publisher’s release date, it’s fair game for an interlibrary loan request.

    If such a book is worth referring to again and again over the years you might consider learning how to scan it to make a digital copy. You’re only making a copy for your own use and not to sell so you should not have an ethical or legal problem. Go to DuckDuckGo.com (DDG) and run this search: HOW TO MAKE A BOOK SCANNER. Between the various articles, YouTube videos, and websites devoted to this how-to info you’ll have plenty of ideas to choose from. That how-to knowledge can also help you digitize your own personal book collection so you have a choice of preserving it on a flash drive, DVD, and/or on online somewhere in the cloud for later retrieval.

    re: exercise

    Run a search on Amazon in their books section for CONVICT CONDITIONING. That should pull up both books on that topic by Paul Wade as well as several related books. They are all about how to do muscle and endurance conditioning in limited space and without having to buy equipment.

    re: cooking during power blackouts

    Run a search on DDG for HOW TO MAKE A COPENHAGEN SOLAR PANEL COOKER. That will pull up website articles and YouTube videos on how to make a dirt cheap reflective cooker that is easy to take apart for travel or even backpacking. It’s easy to do for under $10 in materials. Hints: the center square of cardboard could be replaced by a weather-proof piece cut from a discarded coroplast political campaign sign or an unappreciated “We Buy Houses” sign, eg. The four pieces of shoestring are best replaced by four slivers cut from one strip of velcro. One sheet of mylar could provide all four reflective panels if spray-glued to flexible plastic sheets (for weather proofing). The California designer has taken hers around the world for cooking on the go.

    re: washing clothes during a blackout

    Learn what laundry detergents (both DIY or via retail) work well in cold water. That way you can wash clothes or other fabrics by hand when there’s no power, and most clothes last longer anyway when washed in cold water.

    re: bucket bathing

    Learn how to take a sponge bath from a bucket. You’ll be surprised after a little practice how little water it takes (especially compared to showering) — and how little energy it takes to heat up the couple of gallons of water (or less) to make it a more comfortable process. One pot on top of a propane burner takes very little time to heat up to about 125F degrees — typically about 8 minutes.

    re: lighting

    If you convert your flashlights and headlamps from alkaline batteries to Nimh rechargeable batteries (and acquire an appropriate charger) you’ll have a choice as to whether to recharge those batteries via 110ac power when available or solar if you’ve acquired a solar capable charger ahead of time. Also the Luci lights that a lot of RVers like have the built-in option of both 110vac or solar — both Amazon and Walmart carry them.

    re: communication

    In a long term power outage where your ability to access the internet goes down and maybe even local radio, a pocket size rechargeable battery powered AM/FM/weather/shortwave radio can still keep you informed. (Recharging options discussed above.) I learned to increase my incoming signal strength a lot by using a child’s slinky toy for an antenna plus a DIY ground wire connection from the radio to the grounded center screw of a 100vac wall power socket (even when power was down).

    –Lewis

    1. Lewis and thank you for taking the time & energy to provide great links ! I will have a look when I get sleeping children.

    2. Very good points and tips Lewis, thanks for adding so much useful ideas. Re.: lighting, I use a LuminAid solar/inflatable LED lantern and battery bank for camping, its similar to the Luci. It’s very functional and rough and it gets charged in less than a day in ideal conditions.

  2. DAISY,
    I NEED SOME HELP,. IT IS TIME FOR PEOPLE TO GET THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT IS GOING ON NOT JUST IN THIS COUNTRY BUT AROUND THE WORLD. PEOPLE HAVE TO KNOW WHAT “THE GREAT RESET” IS I AM ASKING YOU TO DO A PIECE ON WHAT THEY ARE WORKING TOWARD. I HAVE ALREADY PUT IT ON TWITTER. THEY SEEM TO HAVE A HARD TIME CENSORING ME.
    I ALREADY KNOW IT SOUNDS LIKE PURE CONSPIRACY THEORY AND I KNOW THAT THE CREDIBILITY FACTOR IS A PROBLEM. BUT, PEOPLE HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW. WHEN SHUMER SLIPPED WITH HIS “TOMORROW THE WORLD REMARK” WE ALL SHOULD HAVE BEEN ALERTED. THEY THINK THEY ARE CLOSE AND SO DO I. LOOK AT WHAT IS BEING ALLOWED ON THE INTERNET. THE WHACK JOBS HAVE CRAWLED OUT OF THE WOODWORK AND ARE BEING GIVEN A PLATFORM FREE OF ANY TYPE OF SANITY. LOOK AT THE LANGUAGE, THE CONTENT AND THE PEOPLE ON THE ATTACK.
    THERE MAY NOT BE TIME LATTER ON TO GET IT OUT.
    I THINK I KNOW WHERE YOUR HEART IS AND AGAIN I ASK YOU TO PULL NO PUNCHES. LET THE PEOPLE KNOW WHAT THERE OVERALL PLAN IS. AT LEAST THEY MIGHT HAVE TIME TO PREPARE. THE CLOCK IS TIKING.

    GOD BLESS PROTECT AND GUIDE OUR COUNTRY AND ITS PEOPLE.

    GARY J. CICCERO

    1. I keep seeing this phrase “the great reset” (I first saw it from a raging comment like yours above. Thanks for calling attention to it.) I’ve been trying to figure out what it is for a couple of months, but have had very little time to dig into it. When I first searched I found WEF has little useful information on its website it just shows me basically a commercial for it. The News agency Reuters has had articles in its’ “Breaking Views” category of news with the byline of “Reset” as a category of news. That seems fairly blatant acknowledgment of it. Then in googlenews there was an aggregate article about it: https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2021/jan/9/great-reset-corporate-communism-and-its-coming-ame/
      It at least starts talking about it. The author clearly hates the idea- but it is at least explaining it to an unaware reader.
      I know I have no means to stop whatever world leaders or elites are doing but if I could understand it I might have a chance to brace for it.
      Look how quickly the superpower companies were able to not only block trump but disable a competitive social media platform (parler) from use on everyone’s phones. They didn’t censor trump they blocked a whole company from everyone. That is a lot of power of censorship for a couple companies top dog buddies to just execute without any hesitation, repercussion, appeal process etc.

      Sorry for the off topic comment, but there is always some guy screaming about the great reset on these comment feeds and I’m sort of curious what the heck is going on too.

      Great article about free prepping; also it was always a lifestyle of my ‘born into the depression’ family too. Being raised dirt-floor-poor has a lot of life lessons built in. Like in slum dog millionaire – people ask “how do you know these things” and I think .. ‘because I’ve been broke forever’

      Love the phrase “embrace the suck” hahaha
      I’m totally good at being poor. Just embrace it. 😀

      1. @Swan if you want to know more about the Great Reset and the WEF I’ll suggest you go to YT and look for for George Gammon’s channel. He’s very very good at explaining these and other related things that are happening and putting into the context and perspective, all in ways that we can understand. He talks about macro, finance, economy, markets and government, technology, attacks on freedom and privacy, connecting the dots between all these. There are other good ones too let me know if you want more tips.

  3. Here’s something I recently posted on a blog called “The Prepared” but I think it’s worth repeating:

    Let’s say you’re at home and the lights go out. Sure, you have a flashlight. But the batteries are dim and getting dimmer. You scrounge through the kids toys, the toothbrush, and the carving knife and find a few batteries. But they don’t fit your light. Or you need two and can only find one.

    May I suggest a collection of cheap flashlights — $20 total for the whole bunch — that will run on any battery you can find. And let’s make that any battery SINGULAR. One D. One AAA. Etc. Here’s a link to a YouTube article I wrote that specifies, by brand and part number, flashlights requiring just one battery. The listing starts at 2:18. It’s worth a look-see. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kv7Bx6usT-g&t=1s

  4. Also another thing to try is doing a couple of loads of laundry while the power is out. Have you planned how to wash those towels or sheets, jeans, t-shirts or sweatpants, etc? Where to line dry them? How to dry them in the winter when it’s too cold to dry them outside? When I was in Turkey a few years ago, we had access to a washing machine, but all drying was done on a portable clothes rack that could be moved to get the most of the sun and wind and it still took certain articles of clothing two days or more to get dry. I’ve planned how to set up two of those clothes drying racks in my house and I use them now from time to time to aid in drying quilts and blankets. I will also string up a couple of clothes lines in my garage if we must try to stay concealed from others. I have a bag full of clothes pins like we used to use when I was a girl. The clothes lines were made of wire and you had to run a damp cloth along them before using to get that grey residue off and not onto your clothes. I also have a 5 gallon bucket of soap powders made and ready to use.
    It seems that no one ever preps for this scenario, but if you need it, it’s a crisis to not not have it. A few years ago our power was out for a week because of a tornado and I had loads of damp smelly towels with no way to wash them. I now try to keep them washed up. Just something to think about.

  5. FREE FOOD PREPS —- use your local food banks. Typically you don’t have to be homeless or poor to use food banks. In a couple of months. Going twice a week I have collected about five months of food. They always have rice and beans, canned foods, canned fruits, and so on
    Just something I can suggest that works

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