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.
- Mountain Climbers
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.
- The Organic Prepper Book Store
- Amazon Kindle: free or inexpensive digital books
- Google eBookstore
- Project Gutenberg: 45,000 free titles
- ManyBooks.net: 29,000 free titles
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.