Good Day, guys and gals! This piece will present you with some ideas for cost-effective preps to help round out your stockpiles and give you an extra edge. We’re all feeling the “bite” caused by the price increases everywhere: at the grocery stores, the gas stations, the drugstores, and the hardware stores. It’s only going to get worse before (and if) it gets better.
There are plenty of long-term food supplies and companies you can use for foods with shelf-lives of twenty-five years or more, I understand. I also understand that many of us can’t afford them. First, let’s put out one precept I hope you’ll adopt as your own:
There’s no shame in not having enough money for something: you do the best you can with what you have and keep a positive outlook on it.
There! Now, let’s get into it!
Regarding food supplies, there are different camps and different schools of thought. I’m a big believer in cans. Yes, I can my own stuff (always in wide-mouth Mason jars to better resist a freeze here in Montana), but this doesn’t stop me from stocking up on canned goods packed in good-old-fashioned cans made out of steel. I recommend canned goods for long-term storage on a budget.
Dried stuff (such as beans, rice, etc.) will keep for a long time, but they don’t really give you a lot in return, not to mention the fact that you have to prepare them.
Here are some basics about macronutrients for you to keep in mind:
Protein: The basic building block of life and absolutely essential for tissue repair and recovery. Protein has a high thermogenic factor. It takes more energy to digest, but you get more return on your investment.
Fats: Also very important as sources of energy and also as macronutrients that the brain (and other organs) rely heavily upon.
Carbohydrates: Believe it or not, you should stay away from these as much as possible, but they do have uses when not consumed to excess. One example is after you perform strenuous activity. It is good to replenish your body with protein, but also with some carbohydrates. This prevents catabolism, which occurs when your body is starving for sugar. Without carbohydrates or simple sugars, your body will “cannibalize” your muscle tissue.
The protein in your muscles is then converted into glycogen, which your body burns for energy. It can be devastating because replacement of protein lost in this manner is neither quick nor easy. This is a “deep” subject that I can go further into in another article, but I think you grasp the point.
A couple of references to help you on these topics: Grain Brain by David Perlmutter, and Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas. The first book will take you into topics such as glycation: how excessive sugars and carbohydrates in the diet disfigure proteins and cause them to form blockages in vessels. The latter work details the differences in the way our ancestors ate and how our “system” of food production is causative, not curative, of problems.
Cans can take a beating, handle a freeze, and most contain foods that are cooked. Go with organic stuff as much as possible, and if that can’t be done, “sift” the ingredients. Buy (in this order) generic brands and then name brands. Compare them. The store brands are sometimes much better in quality and at half the price.
- Prepared “dinners” in a can: Most of this stuff is not optimal for your body, but this is about survival, plain and simple. My objective here isn’t to recommend any brand but just to give you a “feel” for what you’ll need. Look closely at the ingredients. You’re searching for the least amount of preservatives, artificial ingredients, or “substances” that are unfamiliar. You’re searching for high protein, moderate to low carbohydrates, and moderate fats. Canned chili is good, as are some of the soups and stews. Think beef stew with high protein content. Think lentil soups, bean soups, and pea soups. These all have protein, and you can augment them with the next category.
- Canned meats: Canned chicken is your best bet. It’s already cooked, and you can either add something to it or add it to something (such as the soups mentioned in “item 1”. Once again, make sure it’s really meat, without a whole bunch of “fillers,” such as potato-starch, or some other grains. Tuna fish, sardines, fish steaks. All of these you can find even in the dollar stores.
- Canned fruits: Avoid the ones in the high-fructose corn syrup. Go for things with high vitamin C content and some fiber. Canned grapefruit, pineapples, and mandarin oranges are among your best bets. Incidentally, bromelain is a chemical constituent found only in pineapples. It stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid in your stomach and enables you to digest meats more easily.
(Want to learn how to can what you grow? Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to home canning.)
Now let’s cover some foods you can’t readily find in a can
You can obtain these for reasonably-low prices and store for fairly long periods of time.
- Summer sausage, beef jerky, and fish: They can be good for years if protected from light, changes in temperature, moisture, and pests. Once again, go for quality, but an eight-ounce stick of summer sausage can be split between a family of four and lend protein for a quick meal when the lights go out and the music stops playing. There are also Mylar pouches of tuna fish and salmon, good for single servings. Make sure these pouches are made entirely out of Mylar; some pouches have a transparent plastic “bottom,” and that won’t cut it in the end.
- Dried fruit: Raisins, apricots, banana chips, pineapple. The ones in mylar pouches will give you some longevity for storage. Dried fruits will help alleviate cravings for sugar. Make sure you drink plenty of water when you eat them, or else they can “rob” your body of its fluids and dehydrate you in the course of digesting them.
- Nuts and seeds: Peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds. The “buttered” forms will keep longer, and remember, they all tend to become rancid after prolonged storage, but they’ll help. You can store peanut butter for a fairly long time. They’re high in protein. Once again, drink plenty of water when you eat them.
The reasoning behind everything I’ve mentioned thus far is simple:
You can eat all of this stuff “as-is” without resorting to a stove.
In a grid-down survival situation, you don’t want the whole, hungry neighborhood to smell that tasty stew you’re cooking on the Sterno stove. You want to crack open those cans and pouches, eat that meal, and seal up anything left over. Don’t leave any signs or signatures that let others know that you’ve stored food, or your “popularity” will suddenly rise, and “company” will drop by…uninvited, of course.
Food storage: If possible, try to buy some of those large, three or 5-gallon food-grade buckets from the bakery department of your local food store. They only run about $5 a piece or less. Get the ones with rubber gasket rings on the inside of the lids. These “clamp” down into place. If you can’t get the gasketed ones, don’t despair. Use the ones you can find. Seal your cans and packages into these, and then make sure you store/stack them raised up off the floor. Mark the outside of your buckets so that you know their contents at any given glance.
With an absence/shortage of buckets, you can use bins, but I recommend Rubbermaid “Roughneck” bins, the 10-gallon size. They usually run about $10 to $12 or so. They’re worth it. The reasons: they’re durable, stackable, and each bin won’t weigh so much that it makes it impossible to move if the need arises. They’re also dark-colored and will block off light and sight (if you should have to move things, and being spotted by neighbors is possible).
This is a biggie. There are many ways to purify your water. Storing it is another matter. You need to make sure that they’ll take a freeze. Personally, I like those 7-gallon blue containers with a handy pour-spout you can find at happy Wal-Mart or another smiling big-box store. They can take a pretty good beating.
Remember: each member of your family needs at least 1 gallon of water a day to drink. Do the math. Your initial investment there is your water containers, but you can use your imagination and substitute. There are “codes” stamped on the bottom of plastic bottles. These tell if the container is safe and that the plastics will not leach into your water. You should have at least two weeks’ worth of water stored in your home.
Purification needs to be done quickly and effectively without being detected
Yes, boiling your water will do the trick, but this means the use of some type of fuel and a flame…possibly smoke. Trust me, smoke will bring other people to your location very quickly.
Sawyer makes a water filter that can clean up to a hundred thousand gallons for $20. That would last a family of four more than a decade. From a chemical perspective, bleach is often used to disinfect water of microbes, but bleach denatures rapidly. HTH, or calcium hypochlorite (also known as “pool shock”), can be found in your local hardware store for about $3 per pound. It stores more easily and can be reconstituted at any time.
It’s concentrated, powdered bleach, used primarily to keep microbes and algae under control in swimming pools. Try and get 70% concentration or higher. Keep it in a sealed container, as its fumes create “off-gassing” that can be toxic in a closed space. A pound can purify 11,000 gallons; one level teaspoon will take care of five gallons. It’s inexpensive, effective, and easy to store without degrading.
Iodine tablets are an old yet effective way to clean up the water. They still sell them in camping stores and outdoor sections of big-box stores. Sometimes you can find them in military surplus stores. One tablet in a one-quart bottle with a loosened lid and half an hour will do the trick.
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First aid, medical supplies, and supplements
This is really important. Your first priority is to identify any and all members of the family with underlying or chronic (long-term) medical conditions or needs. If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to garner all of the medications they utilize. Set those aside in a container allocated for each person. This will save you time and effort should an emergency arise. Your job regarding storage as a “prepper” is to take the guesswork out of your supplies: good, legible labeling and organization of storage containers are the keys to success in this area.
- OTC meds: These are over-the-counter medicines, such as your cold and flu medications, as well as first-aid and supportive care items. Your dollar stores are going to have a great deal of what you need. Benadryl, aspirin, and Tylenol. Band-aids, bandages, antiseptics (rubbing alcohol, Neosporin), and Ace wraps. Soaps and toothpastes. Antifungal cremes, hydrocortisone cremes, and topical pain relievers. All of these and more you can still obtain. Most people haven’t figured it out yet, so now is the time to secure these items for yourself.
- Vitamins: A good multivitamin is really important. You’d be surprised at the depletion your body suffers in such traumatic circumstances just from stress. Injuries and poor nutrition compound it. Load up on Vitamin C and E. The latter is really helpful with wound and tissue repair. They’re synergistic, meaning that they work together, and when taken together, each potentiates, or enhances the effectiveness of the other.
Basic list of necessities
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s meant to help “get the ball rolling” if you haven’t done so already. Most of these items can be found in the dollar and big-box stores.
- Disposable lighters
- Sewing supplies
- Small hand tools
- Ziploc freezer bags
To obtain the supplies you need, you’ll have to “think outside of the box” and approach things in an “unconventional” manner. Other sources include thrift stores, flea markets, church bazaars, yard sales, and local newspaper sales. Go to your grocery stores and department stores, and seek out the markdown sections.
You have to be shrewd, and at the same time, don’t draw undue attention to yourself. If you have a rapport with any of the managers, ask if you can take some of the “borderline” items away at a discount. Treat it as a challenge. Fortune favors the bold, right?
Don’t be afraid to ask. We have a government that just “allocated” about $30 billion to Ukraine…out of our taxes. Businesses write off everything they acquire. Don’t be afraid to inquire if there are extra blankets, sleeping bags, or markdown clothing at that Army surplus store.
Ask! If the lifetime of indoctrination and conditioning we’ve all been through makes you feel “guilty,” then offer to clean their store or their parking lot in return for what they give you if they don’t charge you for it.
To survive the times to come, you have to think outside of the box, and at times, color outside of the lines
This is what it means to adapt. You can do it! Set your mind to it, and you will succeed. A positive attitude and a desire to do good will carry the day. Bank on it!
When a disaster occurs, be it natural or man-made, the most important tool you have is your mind, supported by a good heart and a steadfast resolve. Fill your mind with information you can utilize. If you search out those thrift stores, you’ll find used books on virtually every subject imaginable. Learn as much as you can about first aid, wilderness skills, preserving food, and creating/building your own equipment. The more you know and understand, the more you can do when the time comes to help yourself, your family, and others you care about.
In addition, you’ll want to save for the future. They deserve their own bins with a checklist of their titles and subjects. In the times to come, your children and grandchildren will need them. It’s both a short-term and a long-term investment. You’ll always need reference materials, and if you don’t, then others will.
I welcome any questions or comments, and I’m open to suggestions for topics you’d like to see covered. I’d like to expand on this piece for readers who live in densely-populated urban or suburban areas, if you’re interested. Take it day-by-day, budget shrewdly, and use time wisely to acquire your supplies. Stay in that good fight, and take care of one another. JJ out!
What are your favorite inexpensive preps?
Do you have some suggestions for folks on a tight budget? What inexpensive preps are you getting while you still can? Share your thoughts in the comments.
About Jeremiah Johnson
Jeremiah Johnson is the nom de plume of a retired Green Beret of the U.S. Army Special Forces. Mr. Johnson is also a Gunsmith and a Master Herbalist. He graduated from the Special Forces course at SERE (survival, evasion, resistance, and escape) School, and is an expert in small unit tactics, survival, and disaster-preparedness. He lives in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains of Western Montana.