Thrift Store Preppers: Save Money with Second-Hand Survival Supplies

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Author of How to Prep When You’re Broke and Bloom Where You’re Planted online course

I have a lot of old school items that I consider preps. From manual kitchen items and tools to old-fashioned containers for organizing, many of my preps were acquired second-hand or inherited. Whenever I go to a thrift store or a yard sale or peruse online marketplaces, I always watch for things that could serve me well in an emergency.

I have loved thrift stores and second-hand shopping my entire life. I remember being a little kid and begging my mom to stop at yard sales. She was never really into it – during her upbringing, that just wasn’t something people did unless they had no other option.

When I moved out on my own, I immediately decorated my dorm room with yard sale goodies and thrift store treasures. Everyone loved coming into my cozy room to hang out. I was forever hooked on the unique “other people’s trash” as my treasure.

Later, when I became a prepper, I certainly didn’t have the budget to go out and spend a fortune on shiny new gear. But I was able to acquire tons of things by shopping at thrift stores, yard sales, and online marketplaces.

My rotary beaters came from my granny, as did some sturdy kitchen canisters.  I have a manual typewriter from my dad’s office, as well as his assortment of hand tools. I inherited his medical books from college, and even though they’re out of date, I have found them to be valuable resources.

I found an old Singer treadle sewing machine, like the one I learned to use to make doll clothes when I was a little girl, on a lucky outing to a church thrift store when I lived in Canada. Over the years, I’ve probably gotten hundreds of mason jars from yard sales. I have picked up Merrell hiking boots in my size with the tags still on. Once, I even scored buckets of unopened survival food from an estate sale that were still more than a decade away from the expiration date printed on the bottom.

If I’m about to make a bigger purchase, I always see if I can find it used first. And the sky is the limit. I didn’t have a place for it so I didn’t get it, but I have even seen a Harvest Right freeze dryer on Facebook Marketplace.

What can you buy second-hand?

Here is a list of a few things you can be on the lookout for when you hit this summer’s yard sales and visit thrift stores. It is by no means comprehensive but I hope it gets your wheels turning for things you can acquire.

  • Cast iron cookware (don’t worry if it’s rusted – it can always be cleaned up and made like new)
  • Mason jars
  • Manual kitchen tools
  • Manual hand tools
  • Solar items (make sure they have all their parts: cords, charger, and accessories)
  • Non-electric sewing machines
  • Non-electric typewriters
  • Camping gear
  • Games and puzzles (for entertainment)
  • Books
  • Containers to stash and organize preps
  • Winter gear like coats, gloves, and hats
  • Canning pots
  • Gardening tools
  • Old-fashioned washboard
  • Buckets
  • Food-safe water barrels (I bought one that had contained pickles)
  • Farm gear
  • Candles and candle holders

Basically, if the item seems to have all its bits and pieces and doesn’t require power, it could be a good addition to your off-grid preps.

Here’s a video about buying preps at a thrift store

I also found this video from our friend Fred over at Modern Refugee. It turns out that he too is a second-hand shopper.

What about you?

Have you ever made any secondhand prepping scores? What’s the best thing you’ve ever gotten from a yardsale, thrift store, or marketplace? What is your favorite source for used preps?

Let’s discuss it in the comments section.

About Daisy

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, adventure-seeking, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty; 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived; and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. Her work is widely republished across alternative media and she has appeared in many interviews.

Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books, 12 self-published books, and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses at SelfRelianceand You can find her on FacebookPinterestGabMeWeParlerInstagram, and Twitter.

Picture of Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • Some of my “finds” over the years

    $15 for an commercial-grade countertop water distiller with a broken fan blade (an easy fix) from the local thrift store. I’ve gotten a couple of decades of use from it so far.

    A couple of discarded rear projection TVs (set on the curb as freebies) from which I salvaged the giant Fresnel lenses to make solar cookers.

    Countless used books from the local thrift store for pennies on the dollar.

    A late 1940s cast iron10ER Shopsmith from an estate sale newspaper ad. In its day that model was the most widely sold multi-function woodworking machine in America for home craftsmen.

    A giant steel lockable storage cabinet from a nearby town mayor’s downsizing sale. He told me that Ross Perot had owned it to keep his machine gun collection secure.


  • That top picture is from the mid to late 80’s.
    Cassette players and stereo systems from the early 80’s..
    I have never seen a resale shop so well stocked as the top pic.

    I shop at my local resale shop enough.
    Best finds were over 30 pounds of good candles, new jeans, my dutch oven and occasionally electronics.
    badwill.. they get most things for FREE but feel the need to raise prices on donated stuff, that annoys me.
    And they now in WI actually charge you for a plastic bag that costs them less than 1/2 cent.

    StVinnies in town is much better.

    • Agreed! I can’t step one foot into Goodwill without having my head blow up due to them spraying the signature GW odorizer into their HVAC system. It’s putrid & activates my asthma/allergic reaction. Completely unnecessary.

      I’ve only gotten some great steals on emergency backup clothes/boots for the SHTF bins in each vehicle. And mason jars.

  • I found a cast iron, hand crank meat grinder at a thrift store for $20.00 as well as a couple of cast iron frying pans, both for $20.00. 🙂

  • Most of my clothes have been second-hand since I was a little girl, much of my kitchenware, and many other things. Partly I lack funds and this stretches my dollars considerably. I also sometimes uncover “finds” that you don’t see new.
    I did get a less desirable thing from thrift store shoes: athlete’s foot. I always buy my footgear new.

    • Another issue with footwear is that unless it’s brand new, it’s broken in on someone else’s feet and body geometry. Everyone’s geometry is different. Those shoes might LOOK great and feel great on your feet, but you may very well end up with sore knees and hips because of the uneven wear on the soles!

  • Gauze pads; brand new, unopened packs 4 for a dollar. And old Stanley thermos which is built like a tank. Brod and Taylor folding proofer & slow cooker-brand new.( $25.00, I recall)

  • An Aladdin lamp, complete, 15.00. Most items and clothes in my home are from thrift stores and rummage sales. When the kids were little most of their clothes and toys were second hand.

  • Almost everything in my house if from thrift stores. Habitat for Humanity is a great place for gently used furniture. Almost all the kids clothes was thrifted when they were little. I’m still getting canning jars for .50, and speaking of canning, my one major score was about 10 years ago. Walked into a Sally Anne and there on the floor was a 925 All American pressure canner in the box….for $19.99. I just about swooned. I think it’s from the 60’s and it’s still churning out jars on a weekly basis.

    • I once picked up a really nice pressure canner off the side of the road after a yard sale. Thing had been used maybe 2-3 times. I actually have to rehome some of my canners, because I have like 7 of them, and I don’t can that often LOL! My hope is to find a place with an industrial kitchen that has multiple stoves or a big industrial stove with LOTS of burners, and host a canning frolic with friends, like the Amish do. I have looked at a few churches and asked around, but no luck yet…

  • There are certain things I usually won’t buy second hand. Electronics rank REALLY HIGH on that list, as they’re usually being sold because they don’t work right. There are exceptions though, especially for the prepper. One HUGE exception is decent radios. These things are a dime a dozen at yard sales. “Kids these days” don’t use them but old folks have them lying around all over the place. I actually came into possession of a GRUNDIG “Satellit 6000 Transistor” (Yeah, that’s how “satellite” is spelled in German) for $40.00! Vintage Grundig radios are the GOLD STANDARD for shortwave/AM/FM radios. Do a search on this model and check out what collectors are paying for these… if they can find one… These radios cost between $500-600.00 new in the mid 60’s. That was A LOT of money back then. I’m not putting this out there as a brag. I’m doing it for two reasons. For one, you can get a truly astounding radio, as well as MANY OTHER quality items, for peanuts second hand. For another, even if you don’t need something like this, you can RESELL it to get money to buy something you DO need!

    Just about everything at my “homestead” has been purchased second hand, from Coleman lanterns to garden tools, to canning jars, to a John Deere subcompact diesel tractor! If you know what you’re looking for and know its value, you can EASILY DOUBLE you buying power, and probably end up with better-than-new quality to boot!

  • One thing I don’t hear talked about is wind up clocks. These are invaluable when the power is out and all the rechargeable stuff slowly goes dark after a few days.

    I have several 8 day mechanical wall clocks around my house. These tell me the time, all the time, without electricity. Saturday is winding day. One even has Westminster chimes to ring the quarter hours. You can pick them up at yard/estate sales and thrift stores for almost nothing. Usually a simple cleaning is all that’s required to get years of reliable service out of these clocks.

    • Matt, wind up clocks were the first item I thought of when I read this blog. My husband has a large collection of clocks. Just thinking: They could be a bartering item. If the grid is down, it can be helpful to know what time it is.

    • We actually do have a windup wall clock for just that reason. And for that same reason I have a Seiko “self-winding” mechanical watch. The only issue with these is that they’ll invariably lose or gain time during use. Finding an accurate “time tick” may be difficult. If you have a shortwave radio or are a ham… or know one… you can get a time tick from WWV, which broadcasts the time on the Atomic Clock in Fort Collins, CO. Because radio signals strengthen and attenuate due to time of day, solar storms, and the like, the WWV broadcasts on several frequencies:
      2.5 Mhz
      5 Mhz
      10 Mhz
      15 Mhz

      Try tuning into it now, just so you’ll know what it sounds like when you need it. If you can’t find it on one frequency, try another. Like I said, radio signals can be fickle.

      Fun fact: Your cell phone, GPS, and many other devices that derive their time from the internet slave to the Atomic Clock, either directly or through a time server that slaves to that clock. That “Atomic Clock” you have hanging on the wall has a radio receiver that grabs a data blip from WWV every once in a while to keep it accurate.

  • A leak in a roof at a goodwill store got me readers digest condensed books for .10 each and I took home 2 boxes of good reads under $5

  • A hand crank grain mill 10$ sleeping bag open them up check the zipper bad zipper .50 to a 1$ make good sleeping pads or blankets an old multi band radio works good 2$ a two man wood saw with good handles 8$

  • At the time of selling our cruising sailboat we had purchased land and was faced with the prospect of starting from scratch as we move back to the land. Driving past a pile of ‘junk’ on the foot path of a suburban house I asked the owner what was happening with the stuff. His mother was going into a retirement home and he encouraged me to take whatever I wanted. Shovels, hoes, mattocks, sickles, garden forks and various old tools from a bygone era were loaded into the car and I thanked the Lord for opening a new door as the old one was closing.

  • Estate Sales are a big part of our prepper finds, we once found someone stash of Prepper food, and no one knew what is was! We bought it all! Craigslist is a great place too. We love secondhand stores and yard sales as well.

  • I wanted a Corning Percolator. I watched the local GW for months. I actually ended up getting 3 within one week! (Gave one to my sis-in-law). But that was before GW decided to get greedy. I still buy clothes there. Other items, not so much.

    • The GW in our area is pretty good.Habitat for Humanity not so much, as they were selling a nightstand without a back and a 6 inch hole in the bottom for $25.00

    • Just a heads-up on the Corning percolators; there was a massive safety recall on these. The stainless steel collar that the handle was attached to was GLUED to the glass pot with a glue designed for fighter jets. Well, the glue tended to deteriorate with time and heat, leading to some of the pots detaching from the collar/handles at a really bad time… like when they were picked up off the stove filled with piping hot coffee!!!

      The final renditions of these before Corning stopped making them had this problem addressed, but the older ones could be a problem. For the record, I’ve owned a few of these and have never had an issue with them, but one never knows.

  • I picked up two antique cast iron Griswold pans from someone who was throwing them away after their grandmother died. I use them ALL THE TIME! I grabbed an apple cider press from someone who didn’t know what it was. This has the grinder and the press in one cast iron unit. It is only missing a base (2×4) and the pressing basket (can use a 5gal bucket with holes for that)

    I find those foil survival blankets all the time for a nickel, and I often find camping equipment.

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