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.
For more information on how to start prepping your stockpile, check out this article on building a 3 layer food supply or my book on the topic.
#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!
Very good advice!
I believe there are many new preppers. It is good to see articles out there to help and encourage people to get started.
Thank you Daisy!
Something that was not listed unless you read between the lines was Assessment. Depending on geography, preps are going to look different from region to region and from rural to suburban to urban areas.
I don’t prep for a flood because I live at 1200′. If a flood was to get me, we have bigger problems. If you live next to a water source that could flood, you need to know an evacuation route and practice it. You don’t want the first time you are driving down a dimly lit road at night in the rain to be when your adrenaline is pumping and you’re trying to remember if you got everything.
The water crisis affected me, as I am in WV. I prep for utility outages and civil unrest. Low lying or flood prone areas should add flood preps. People on the Pacific rim should add earthquake preps and should earthquake proof their current preps. Urban high rise dwellers need to really think about sewage. They can’t just go out in the yard and dig a big hole.
Assessment of your geographic location and the most important preps will differ from location to location and person to person. I think people put too much emphasis on ammo when there are possibly other things they are overlooking that are more important. I need corrective lenses to see. I could have 10k rounds of every caliber but if I can’t see, it does me no good.
Maintenance medication is another forgotten prep. If the power is out and there is rioting going on, do you think the pharmacy will be open? It would be best if you could get off the maintenance meds. Lots of them you can get off of if you made the dietary choices with long term preps in mind. High blood pressure, Heart Disease, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes all require maintenance that may not be available in the event of an emergency. If you have a disease that requires maintenance but can’t be controlled through diet, you need to prep for unavailability.
Hypothermia can happen on the equator so having a fire source is important and cheap. I have a ferro rod and vasoline soaked cotton balls. It’s a water proof fire starter that fits in your pocket and weighs a few ounces. Lighters are ok, but I chose the ferro rod because it won’t run out of butane nor will it break and be rendered useless. I paid a couple dollars for mine. The cotton balls and vasoline I had already. This is another skill you need to practice. Starting a fire is not always easy in the best conditions so practice before you have to do it.
Bleach is a super cheap prep. Ditch the chlorox and go to the dollar store. Get unscented bleach that doesn’t have the no-splash chemicals. Those make the bleach useless for purifying water. You can get a gallon of bleach for $1 and you can use it to disinfect, sanitize, and purify water.
When you see these shows that talk about prepping they make it seem like it is out of reach to the regular person. That’s a lie though, because prepping is how regular people used to survive.
I have been thinking of this since I posted a little bit ago and came up with some more things newbies can do. A lot about prepping is not just preparing but living a more frugal, sustainable life. You learn to take enjoyment from things that are free. Taking a hike, sitting on the porch watching the birds, reading a book, cooking a meal…
1. try to find savings in the every day purchases you make. it will take some effort but you might find better deals if you shop around for auto insurance. check on bundling home and auto. bundling saved me about $900 per year. check what deals your cable provider is offering. there might be some savings there. same with cell phone.
2. Shop with a calculator. The biggest is not always the best deal. I recently purchased cheese and 8oz package was $2 while the 16oz package was $5, right there is a $1. Also pay attention as your products are being rung up and make sure they scan for the same price they were marked and make sure cashiers don’t double ring items.
3. Learn to cook. sometimes the most delicious meals are the most simple. Cooking is not hard, but it does take practice. Start with easy to follow recipes and things you already enjoy. Soups and stews are a good place to start, plus they have the added benefit of being cost efficient meals.
4. If you’re a meal isn’t a meal without meat type of person, know you can enjoy meals with little to no meat. Trust me. At one time for me, it wasn’t a meal if their wasn’t meat. Cutting back on your meat consumption can really add to the bottom line. You don’t have to cut out meat entirely either. Just try a couple meals with meat as the accompaniment instead of the main course. An example of a meat lite meal I now enjoy is my vegetable soup with white beans in place of the stew meat. I still use beef broth to flavor the soup but no hunks of meat. It cuts around $4 from the cost of the meal.
5. Learn to forage for wild edibles. Some of the most delicious foods I’ve had grow in the woods near my house. Wild mushrooms, ramps, wild cherries, black berries, raspberries, dandelions, apples, plums… all free of cost as well as chemicals.
6. Learn the difference between want and need. You may need a reliable vehicle to get to work but identify where the need ends and your want begins. Same with shoes, clothes, housing, your computer, your phone… basically your whole life. If you prioritize your needs, then concentrate on what you really want, you’ll achieve that goal faster.
I’m sure I’ll think of more later. I need to go check on the stew. Don’t want my potatoes to get mushy.
All, I have to say, is you know my situation, and thank you, NEVER give in NEVER give up.
America is STILL great! Only a FEW, are causing the problem.
Our greatest recourse is ourselfs
I would add get out of your car and get to know where you live on foot. Any kind of natural disaster can leave you stranded in a vehicle with blocked roads (trees, powerlines, etc.) so have a get home bag in your vehicle, and know the route home on foot.
Get to know your neighborhood on foot, and once you do venture out farther. Take a look at the natural and man made landmarks. Mountains for reference, cell towers, powerlines, rivers, creeks, anything that you can establish in your mind as a location and distance from home in case you have to get out on foot. If roads are impassible and you know the trending direction of powerlines, rivers, creeks, and back roads you can get home via alternate routes. If you are familiar with the area outside of your car you have a much better chance of making it home than if you keep yourself locked in the steel and glass bubble wherever you go.
Great additions, Matt! Along those same lines, you can get to know water sources (which you’d have to purify, of course) and also natural resources in parks like berry bushes, walnut trees, etc.
Thank you for all of your awesome suggestions! I read your stories you posted on a previous article. You’ve led a very interesting life!
Maps! Especially topographical maps (USGS quadrangle maps at Archive.org)and county maps (may be found at your state highway department web site). Bookstores sell maps, even laminated maps.
I am a school bus driver-I have a get home bag. No one know what is in my backpack. Its all super easy and cheap items, nothing fancy. And I have things I will scavenge from the bus, like a broom handle for a walking stick, and extra first aide items.
Although I appreciate the article and the information provided is really good, job loss and poverty are NOT at all time highs. Unemployment is the lowest it has been in 15 years, poverty rates are half of what they were in the 1950’s.
You can find this information easily online, even from non-government sources.
THESE NUMBERS ARE INCORRECT, THEY ARE REPORTED BY MAINSTREAM MEDIA BECAUSE THATS WHAT THE GOVERNMENT TELLS THEM TO REPORT. START LOOKING INTO ALTERNATIVE MEDIA SOURCES SUCH AS WND.COM, OR INFO WARS. THERE IS ALSO AN ALTERNATIVE NEWS APP YOU CAN GET ON ANDROID, NOT SURE ABOUT I-PHONE. THEY REPORT THE TRUTH ABOUT WHATS HAPPENING IN OUR COUNTRY.
How can you say that unemployment is the lowest for 15 years when there are 100 million Americans, of working age, who are without jobs.
“How can you say that”
because unemployment is defined as number of people who are looking for jobs, not as number of people who are not working. also poverty is defined by people without food/shelter/etc, not by quantity of welfare payments made to dependent people.
Unemployment numbers have been bogus for decades. The formula used was based on FT, manufacturing heavy jobs. Which is no longer the case. I used to double the number now I triple it. We have far less FT employment than we do PT employment. And PT employment does not factor into the UE formula. Or as I like to say – the lying started in the ray-gun era and continues to this day.
Someday the inflation calculation will be reflect reality also.
LOL, nice trolling Brandi.
Well, this article is old. But I’d like to point out that one of the worst water crises is in Flint, MI. A place that had wonderful water until the 1%, under legal grounds from the worst governor in America, cut off their great water supply. This water was from a clean great lake. But an outside city manager was appointed who immediately terminated that and put in a new water supply from a local river, that was not only more contaminated, but had been a toxic dump for ages from local industry. What could go wrong? More than a year later, no new water supply, and pipes (which were corroded) has happened. How would you feel if you lived in Flint?
A wonderful postscript – The 2-3 thousand veterans that supported the natives at Standing Rock (since the army has said that they will not allow the pipeline thru army land) say that now they will shift their focus to Flint!
I would suggest you have an extra pair of whatever eyeglass you use every day. Imagine what would happen if you can’t see.
That is a great point about extra eyeglasses!
I think its worthwhile to buy a portable camping toilet and use it with a liner in case of real emergency. If the bag breakers with kitty litter in your m bathroom toilet, you’d be in trouble.
A backup home generator is a good investment for many reasons, especially given the number of severe storms that has hit the Northest lately. I know the propane would run out in a SHTF situation but I’d still appreciate the peace of mind in the meantime.
Thank you for all your helpful articles Daisy.
11. get a large garden pot and grow something in it. tomatoes, potatoes, squash, something.
Water & a way to purify it, shelter, self-defense, food, hygiene, redundancy, escape plan, bugout bag, bug-home bag, a place to bugout to, a way to make a fire for cooking and warmth…(flint & lint), a cooking pot/pan, monofilament line & fish hooks, a good sharp knife, a water canteen, needle and thread, compass, learn the stars & be able to find Polaris, (the mossy side of tree is north), magnifying glass, tweezers, forceps, combination tools (ie: Leatherman tool), bolt cutters, hacksaw, roofing hatchet, small combination shovel, warm weather gear, rain gear, plastic bags, can opener, medicine, alcohol, rags, gloves
Stay in top physical condition, be prepared to walk for miles with a heavy load, climb a tree or steep embankments.
You can’t go more than 3 days without water.
It’s really easy to stock up on canned goods by simply buying a few extra every time you go to the store. That way you don’t break the bank and even better, it’s not obvious to others that you’re prepping. OPSEC is huge, especially now! So just buy a few extra every time you shop and watch your stash grow. Say nothing to neighbors or even family outside of your household unless you’re sure they’ll be on board.
If you live in an area amenable, learn to grow your own. More importantly, and this applies to bought goods as well, learn to preserve your own. There are many ways in addition to canning, freezing, and dehydrating to keep your food in good eating order.
Medical supplies: same as above. Pick up a few things every time you shop, but keep it to things you know how to use. No sense having a trauma or obstetrics kit if you have no idea how to use it.
The most important prep really is skills development. No pile of stuff lasts forever! And skills are something you can take with you wherever you go. Even a basic first aid/CPR class can be very helpful, and they’re cheap.
I’ve been a prepper since 2010. One place I visit is the Dollar Tree. Yes, some of the stuff they have is junk and some stuff is not. Good Dollar Tree buys.
* Disposable Aluminum Pans – usually $1.00 for 2 (depending on size). At other places it’s $2 to $5 for 1.
* Religious Candles. These make great emergency candles. They last for hours and are normally unscented. $1.00 a piece.
* Bar Soap.
* Band-aids and other First Aid supplies.
* Cleaning supplies.
Daisy, check the link on the SAS manual. It links to a book that costs $181.12
oh – they must be out of stock. That’s what used book sellers do when an item is out of stock so they don’t lose their place in the listings. Let me try and find a reasonably priced version
It looks like they have a new edition and are no longer printing the tiny little one. Here’s the new one: https://amzn.to/3dz2zGp
Thought this might be a good addition to “Getting Started”
FOOD STORAGE FOR $5.00 A WEEK
Week 1: 6 lbs. salt
Week 2: 5 cans cream of chicken soup
Week 3: 20 lbs. of sugar
Week 4: 8 cans tomato soup
Week 5: 50 lbs. wheat
Week 6: 6 lbs. macaroni
Week 7: 20 lbs. sugar
Week 8: 8 cans tuna
Week 9: 6 lbs. yeast
Week 10: 50 lbs. wheat
Week 11: 8 cans tomato soup
Week 12: 20 lbs. sugar
Week 13: 10 lbs. powdered milk
Week 14: 7 boxes macaroni and cheese
Week 15: 50 lbs. wheat
Week 16: 5 cans cream of chicken soup
Week 17: 1 bottle 500 multi-vitamins
Week 18: 10 lbs. powdered milk
Week 19: 5 cans cream mushroom soup
Week 20: 50 lbs. wheat
Week 21: 8 cans tomato soup
Week 22: 20 lbs. sugar
Week 23: 8 cans tuna
Week 24: 6 lbs. shortening
Week 25: 50 lbs. wheat
Week 26: 5 lbs. honey
Week 27: 10 lbs. powdered milk
Week 28: 20 lbs. sugar
Week 29:5 lbs. peanut butter
Week 30: 50 lbs. wheat
Week 31: 7 boxes macaroni and cheese
Week 32: 10 lbs. powdered milk
Week 33: 1 bottle 500 aspirin
Week 34: 5 cans cream of chicken soup Week 35: 50 lbs. whet
Week 36: 7 boxes macaroni and cheese
Week 37: 6 lbs. salt
Week 38: 20 lbs. sugar
Week 39: 8 cans tomato soup
Week 40: 50 lbs. wheat
Week 41: 5 cans cream chicken soup
Week 42: 20 lbs. sugar
Week 43: 1 bottle 500 multi-vitamins
Week 44: 8 cans tuna
Week 45: 50 lbs. wheat
Week 46: 6 lbs. macaroni
Week 47: 20 lbs. sugar
Week 48: 5 cans cream of mushroom soup
Week 49: 5 lbs. honey
Week 50: 20 lbs. sugar
Week 51: 8 tomato soup
Week 52: 5 lbs. wheat
Some weeks you will have leftover change. Save the change each week in a kitty to be used for the weeks you may exceed $5.00 (like wheat or milk).
You will end up with:
500 pounds of wheat
180 pounds of sugar
40 pounds of powdered milk
12 pounds of salt
10 pounds of honey
5 pounds peanut butter
45 cans of tomato soup
15 cans of cream of mushroom soup
15 cans of cream of chicken soup
24 cans of tuna
21 boxes of macaroni and cheese
6 pounds of yeast
6 pounds of shortening
12 pounds of macaroni
This should be enough to sustain two people for one year. For every two people in your family add $5.00 more and double or triple the amount of the item you are buying that week.
You can also vary the types of canned goods bought for variety. Also, some foods not on the list here can be canned, dehydrated or preserved to add variety to your diet.
Great article! This is stuff we should all take seriously. Regarding Item #6, Prepping for a Power Outage, you might want to check out a page I constructed a couple of years ago. It lists, by brand and part number, flashlights requiring only one battery. One D-cell. One AA. Etc. In a pinch you can probably find a battery in the kid’s toys. But then you need a flashlight that can use what it is you found. That’s when it would be super duper to have a stash of cheap, one-battery lights. The listing starts at 2:18. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kv7Bx6usT-g