Author of The Blackout Book and the online course Bloom Where You’re Planted
Before we talk about how to start prepping, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves of why we should be prepping.
Over the past decade, here in America…
Contaminated water caused a complete loss of municipal services in both Ohio and West Virginia, resulting in almost a million people vying for the stock in local stores.
A freak confluence of storms caused a “Superstorm” that took out power to much of the Eastern Seaboard, including New York City and the coastal parts of New Jersey. Nearly a year later, some families were still without electricity to their homes.
Four winters in a row, a “polar vortex” caused horrifyingly low temperatures and paired with winter storms to make the mid-western US resemble the Arctic Circle.
A deadly virus that everyone thought would be relegated to the distant regions of Africa was diagnosed here in the US, not just once, but multiple times.
A small town in Missouri was under siege twice in a few months due to a police shooting of a young black man, and the officer’s subsequent acquittal.
Wildfires have torn through numerous states, giving residents only minutes to flee and leaving utter devastation in their wake.
An island territory suffered a hurricane that left thousands dead and many have been without utilities for almost a year.
Hotspots all across the nation have turned into battle zones, with people fighting in the streets over politics, policing, and racial tensions.
A different virus spread across the globe. The resulting pandemic devasted the American economy, damaged the supply chain, and the resulting restrictions have completely changed our way of life.
It’s pretty clear, it can happen to you.
Now, read that and try to tell me that disasters don’t happen. Try to say that it’s impossible that they’d happen to you.
And these are only a few of the headlines. Nearly everyone has been personally touched by an emergency over the past decade for which they could have been better prepared.
If you’re ready to accept this fact, read on. I’ll tell you how to start prepping in a way that isn’t overwhelming. No bunkers, no wearing of tinfoil, no filtering and drinking of pee, and no building of Arks will be mentioned. That stuff is all in Prepping 201. (Kidding!)
How to start prepping without getting overwhelmed
When you begin reading websites about prepping, sometimes it can be overwhelming. You see people talking about their one-year food supplies, their bug-out lodges, their ammo collection, and their homestead that is so far out in the wilderness that they have to climb a big pine tree on top of the mountain to get an internet connection and boast online about their seclusion.
Most preppers are just regular folks with a self-reliant mindset.
I’m here to tell you, getting started does not require a $20,000 investment or your children feverishly packing beans and rice into Ziplock bags late into the night. Focus on the basics when you’re starting out, not the extreme, far-fetched possibilities.
Here’s how to start prepping with 10 simple steps. Lots of them are free and if you apply yourself, you can get started on all 10 steps in less than a week. All of the highlighted text is a link that will take you to related resources so you can learn more.
#1. Fill up a whole bunch of empty bottles with water.
If you haven’t taken out the recycling yet this week, don’t! You can use those empty two-liter soda pop bottles and gallon water bottles to stock up on a drinking water supply. Count on a gallon a day per human and pet. (Two 2-liter bottles are approximately a gallon). Who ever would have thought that how to start prepping could be this easy?
If you don’t have any containers you can fill, you can buy 5-gallon jugs of water at most grocery stores or Wal-mart. Five of those will keep a family of 4 in drinking water for just over a week, should it be required. Add to your supply each week, and soon you’ll have a month supply, quietly sitting there in your basement.
Here’s an infographic to get you started on safely storing water. If you want to be more serious about your water supply, I have a book about it that you can get on Amazon and this article is very thorough.
In the future, you’ll be doing some calculations that include more than water for drinking and cooking, but don’t try to do everything at once. This is a great starting point.
#2. Bookmark some websites.
The internet is a wonderful place, and best of all, this knowledge can be found for FREE! The more you know about crisis situations, the more ready you will be to face them.
Some sites are friendlier to beginners than others, so if you stumble upon a forum where people seem less than enthusiastic about helping people who are just starting out, don’t let it get you down. (Read this open letter for my thoughts on those smug, condescending preppers.) Move on and find a site that makes you feel comfortable while you’re learning how to start prepping.
Following are some of my favorite sites. In no particular order:
- The Organic Prepper (obviously – and subscribe here for the daily newsletter)
- Ready Nutrition
- Graywolf Survival
- Backwoods Resistance
- Survival Weekly
- A Year Without The Grocery Store
- Survivalist Prepper
#3. Take a look at your budget.
What? Budgets don’t sound very prepperly! But it’s a very important part of how to start prepping. After all, how do you expect to pay for all of those beans, bullets, and band-aids if you don’t make some adjustments to your spending and shopping habits?
Here are some suggestions on ways to put money aside for prepping, and here are some ideas on creating a budget, and most importantly, sticking to it.
#4. Inventory your food supply, then start building your stockpile.
You probably have more food on hand than you realize you do.
Before you go out and spend lots of money at the grocery store, it’s important to go through your cupboards, pull things out, and get organized. You don’t know what you need until you know what you have. Be sure to put things away in an organized fashion so you can find what you need, when you need it. Now that you know what you have, you can fill in the holes.
You can’t expect to have a 1-year food supply all at once. Start out with a couple of weeks’ supply of non-perishable foods and go from there. Resist the urge to stock up on nutritionally useless foods like Ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese. If there is a situation going on in which you must rely solely on your stockpile, you will want to be nourished, not just filled up. Here’s a healthy emergency food supply list.
#5. Have a drill.
The absolute best way to know what you need during an emergency is to simulate a crisis. Get your family on board and spend a weekend without power and running water. (Leave the breakers on for the refrigerator and freezer – you don’t want to potentially have your food spoil.)
Keep a list going for the entire weekend so that you can note what needs arose. Can you make coffee and food? Can you keep warm in the winter and cool in the summer? Can you keep the kids entertained without the internet or phone service?
This is your guideline for how to start prepping your family for the following…
#6. Here’s how to start prepping for a power outage.
With most disasters comes a power outage, just to up the challenge ante.
Sometimes the power outages are the disaster all by themselves. Remember in 2009 when a freak ice storm knocked out the power in parts of Arkansas and Missouri for over a month? You want to be ready for stuff like that.
- have food that doesn’t require cooking
- light sources (hint: think solar garden stakes)
- a way to stay warm or cool
- a way to salvage the food in your fridge and freezer
- a cooking method that doesn’t require electricity in the event that the outage lasts more than a few days
- games and non-power-dependent activities to keep the kids (and by default, the parents) sane.
Use your list from step #5 to fill in the other blanks.
#7. Figure out how to use the bathroom if the toilet doesn’t flush.
In an all-out disaster that shuts down municipal water supplies, you may find yourself in a situation where the toilet won’t flush. At times like this, you’ll want to shut off the main to your house, because you could end up with other people’s waste backing up through the lines.
Then you have to figure out where to go to the bathroom. A quick, inexpensive solution is to turn your toilet into a kitty litter toilet for humans. Drain the water from the bowl, then line it with a very heavy contractor’s garbage bag. Place some kitty litter in the bottom of it. When someone uses the bathroom, they should put a new scoop of litter on top of their waste. It’s vital to make sure the bag doesn’t get too heavy to carry without ripping. Seal the full bags well, then store them outside until service resumes. Go here for a more detailed explanation of the kitty litter toilet.
Other options are portapotties, luggable loos, and of course, the great outdoors. If you must use other disposal methods, the safest way to get rid of it is to bury it far from water sources or gardens. Check out the book Humanure for long-term scenarios.
#8. Prep for an evacuation.
Now you need to pack a bug-out bag. If budget is a concern, use bags you already have along with supplies that you already have. The important thing is to have this stuff organized and be ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Have a list of last-minute items so that you know what you need. It’s better to think this through when you’re calm, not when the clock is ticking towards disaster. You’ll want things like personal documents, extra medication, comfort items for children, and survival supplies that could get you through 3 days away from home. To take a look at the ultimate prepper’s bug out bag, look at this one from Graywolf Survival.
To learn more about prepping for an evacuation, check out this PDF guide.
#9. Be prepared to defend your home and family.
It is an unfortunate but unavoidable truth that disasters bring out the worst in a lot of people. This truth is what turns a lot of people off from prepping. They can understand the need for having a few cans of food and some extra toilet paper, but they’re so immersed in cognitive dissonance that they can’t wrap their brains around the possibility of civil unrest, even now, after two years of it.
You do NOT want to be one of those families who bury their heads in the sand. You can have a 10-year supply of food, water, and medicine, but if you can’t defend it, you don’t own it. The article The Anatomy of a Breakdown explains the predictable patterns of social unrest. The best way to win a fight is to avoid getting into that fight in the first place. Secure your home and lay low, but be prepared if trouble comes to visit.
Don’t rely on 911. During widespread civil unrest, the cops are going to be busy and it’s unlikely that help will arrive. Have a safe room for vulnerable family members. Be armed and know how to use your weapon of choice. If you don’t know how to use your weapon, learning should be one of your top priorities. Here’s some advice from someone who knows a lot more about weapons than I do
#10. Build your resource library.
This is where some money could come into play. Some of these books are for preparedness, while others are guides to building your self-reliance skills.
- Be Ready for Anything (Originally titled How to Survive a Dozen Disasters)
- The Prepper’s Blueprint: The Step-By-Step Guide To Help You Through Any Disaster
- Prepper’s Pantry
- SHTF Survival Bootcamp
- The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide
- Prepper’s Home Defense: Security Strategies to Protect Your Family by Any Means Necessary
- SAS Survival Guide: How to Survive in the Wild, on Land or Sea
- Prepper’s Natural Medicine
- Prepping for a Pandemic
- The Survival Medicine Handbook: A Guide for When Help is Not on the Way
Want more books? Here’s a whole article about building your prepper library.
Now that you know how to start prepping, what are you waiting for?
If you’re new to this, there’s no better time to start than right this minute.
Go through the list and do the free things first. Do all of the plotting and planning second, and then put your plans into action as your budget allows. Start with the basics and move on from there. Whatever you do, stop waiting around. Disasters won’t wait until it’s a convenient time for you.
If you a seasoned prepper, please share your inexpensive start-up ideas for newbie preppers in the comments below. If you have friends and loved ones you’d like to help get started, send them this article. It’s loaded with budget-friendly links to start them on their journey. Help encourage people to join our community of self-reliance!