Getting Ready for Survival On a (Broken) Shoestring Budget by J. Cole

Wednesday, Nov 8, 2006

Since the mid-1960s, after reading Pat Frank’s novel Alas Babylon, I have been interested in preparing myself for TEOTWAWKI. And, as a child of the 1950s growing up in central Florida, I was taught early to be ready in case of nuclear war, so Frank’s book was not that far-fetched to me.
My family was poor by any standard you could compare it to in those days. There was no chance of us ever affording a “bomb shelter” but preparations were made as best we could. We stocked up on canned food and water, we had a central hallway with a fuel oil heater and a bathroom immediately off of it, and we put together a first aid kit and some other emergency supplies in a feeble effort to be ready. Since we were not in a blast zone, we felt like we had a chance for survival.
As a teen I began to use Alas Babylon as a teaching tool just as I am using "Patriots" today. I studied each scenario in that book to glean whatever tidbit of knowledge about surviving that I could. By the time I was ready to move out on my own I had amassed quite a stock of not only what I needed to survive, but a large supply of barter goods as well. I had first aid supplies, water purification tabs, a nice collection of knives, guns, and ammunition, and a number of items that Frank’s novel pointed out would be in short supply post disaster. Things like coffee, salt, and batteries were all part of my emergency supplies.
When I turned 18 I joined the Army and volunteered for Special Forces just so I could be even better prepared. I survived Special Forces training, Jump School, Ranger School, Officer’s Candidate School, and Vietnam. I found out that the Army is very good at losing things and sometimes the soldiers would find them (and most were willing to trade for what they found). Needless to say, my survival supplies increased greatly while I was in the Army. Not only could I trade for many items, but my income was greater then than I had ever known and I could buy many things I had been doing without before when it came to my survival stockpile.
Even with my steady income there just wasn’t enough to sink a great deal of money into survival – after all, I only made $98.00 per month when I went into the army in the late 1960s. As soon as I got out of the military I got married, the babies soon followed, and there was always too much month at the end of the money. Things haven’t changed much except that the kid’s are grown, but they have given me some of the greatest grandkids any man could ever want (and some that give me a lot of gray hairs).
So here I sit, later in life, with the same desire to be prepared, but with a lot less energy than I used to have and a whole bunch of antiquated equipment. The K-rations and C-rations are all still edible (albeit a little “tinny” tasting) [JWR Adds: Ancient military rations may still be palatable, but their nutritive value is nil. Since they are now collectible (i'm not kidding!), you are far better off selling them on e-Bay to re-enactors, and then spending the proceeds on recent date of pack MREs or comparable civilian retort packaged foods] , the jungle rucksacks were never any good to start with (and they hurt even more now), the entrenching tools are still in great shape but haven’t gotten any lighter with age, and the ponchos are all cracked and dried but the poncho liners are still the best around.
Of course my income has slipped back into the poverty level once again so major investments are out of the question. And I’m married to a wonderful wife who understands nothing about survival (and doesn’t want to). She just keeps thinking all the equipment and supplies I collect are just stupid junk ((I bet she won’t be saying that later).
All that said to set up a situation pointing to the fact that I’m nowhere near prepared for the day TSHTF and don’t have the resources to get prepared quickly. So, what to do? Can you relate? Have you priced dehydrated food supplies? Guns and ammo? Even just first aid supplies can put a hurtin’ on your budget! Well, here’s what I’ve done and it’ll work for you, too.

Do Your Prior Planning

If you haven’t made a list of supplies – and this should be a total list of supplies, not just the ones you still need – get one made, copy one from the Internet or use one from FEMA or the Red Cross. Break it into manageable sections or categories. I use “kits” for my lists. There’s a “Water Kit” that lists all things pertaining to water; canteens, holders, cups, filters, spares, etc. There’s a Food Kit, Shelter Kit, Commo Kit, Light Kit, Knife Kit, Gun Kit, and the always needed Miscellaneous Kit. My Kits lists go on for over 20 pages, but when I have all of that equipment together and ready to go then I’ll know I’m almost prepared. Make you a list and make it complete.
Now do an inventory of all of the things you already have. You may be surprised at the number of things you can check off your list. If you are a hunter, no doubt you already have one or more hunting knives, you should have boots, and field clothing, you may have a small pack you use in the field and canteens or water bottles. You probably carry rope, maybe a compass, and you might carry a pack saw, hatchet, or machete to clear your fields of fire. And, you already have some items to add to your gun kit.
Are you a camper, backpacker, canoeist, boater, fisherman or outdoors type person? Then you’ve already got some preparedness equipment – mark it off the list. As you mark it off the list, put today’s date on it. That will at least give you a reference for how old something might be so you’ll know when you may need to replace it.
Obviously, you’re not going to put a date on every item. For instance, I wouldn’t put a date on my military compass w/tritium markings, but I would put a date on my inventory sheet just as a reference. Dating items becomes important when you have to rotate stock (canned foods) or replace outdated items (medications). These items not only need to have the date on the item, but each one should be dated on your inventory sheets, as well.

Looking for What You Need

Once you’ve done your inventory and compared it to your list, you can make your list of items still needed. Now’s when the fun starts – it’s time to start looking for the items you still need. I have spent countless hours on the Internet looking for distributors, comparing prices, doing Google searches, writing to chat groups looking for items or advice, and, yes, actually ordering many of the items I need. I know, JWR recommends we not order online using our credit cards because it puts us in somebody’s database, but by the time I got that advice it was way too late for me. I figure I’m already in so many databases they’ll be too confused to worry about me anyway. Besides, when you see the way I order (following) I’m not sure it’s going to trigger any red flags.
Please understand, the only times in my life I made any significant amounts of money were spent saving for the future times when I knew I wasn’t going to be making that much money. I’ve worked in the building trades most of my life and after working steady for several months came the inevitable lay-off at the end of the job. Then I’d spend several weeks, if not months, looking for another job (all the while using up the savings I put away while I was working). I gained a lot of valuable experience but never had the money to invest in survival preparedness.
Now, I’m steadily employed making just over minimum wage (I’m no longer physically able to work a 40 hour construction job), so I’m still not able to make the major purchases required to become fully prepared. Does that mean I won’t do anything about getting prepared? Not on your life!!! I make small purchases whenever I can (usually every couple of weeks) and if I need something more expensive, I save up for a month or so. I decided what was most important and started getting those things first and then moved on to others.

Set Priorities

With water as # 1 priority in a survival situation I decided to make it my # 1 priority in becoming prepared. I already had two military canteens from my previous prep but knew that there were none for my wife.
So I set out trying to find the best deal on military canteens (w/cups and covers) on the Internet. Turns out that I found the best deal on eBay and ordered 4 more (so I’d have a couple of extras). I’ve got less than $2.00 each, including shipping, in the sets (canteen, cup, & cover). Now that I can afford!!! Then I found a guy on eBay selling water in small pouches and offering FREE shipping. So I spent $10.00 and got 12 small pouches for my auto & office kits. A month later the same guy had a better deal for $20.00 (still with free shipping) so I ordered some more of the pouches. Now I have enough to put in all of my kits as needed.
A water filter is an expensive item to me. I researched the smaller filters and decided that since water is a necessity I wanted the best and would not buy some cheap imitation just to have a filter. I had to stop all of my smaller (survival) purchases for 2 months to buy a filter (and a spare cartridge) but now I have added that to my inventory. I then bought some water purification tabs to complete my water kits in all of my emergency kits. Obviously that’s not the only items in my water kits but this gives you some idea of how I went about completing my purchases.
My First Aid Kit was next, although I did make a few purchases toward getting what was necessary for my Food Kit, too. A friend gave me some MRE’s (military) for me to try. I thought these would be just what I needed for emergency rations, but I quickly learned that they are too heavy for a Bug out Bag (BoB) and not tasty enough (unless it’s a dire emergency) for long-term storage. I ordered a few (3-4) individual freeze-dried meals to see if we could tolerate those and we actually liked them. They are lighter and much better tasting than the MRE’s, but they do take a little longer to prepare. I also bought a few food bars and added them to our BoB’s in case we need something in a hurry. I’ll continue to add more food bars and freeze-dried meals as my budget allows, but I am trying now to finish up my first aid kits.
I first made my decisions on which kits I wanted to put together, i.e., BoB, Long Term, Truck Kit, Car Kit, Office Kit, etc. Then I had to determine what I wanted in each First Aid Kit. Again, it was the Internet searches that gave me my list and the research for the individual items I wanted. It was obvious from the start that the larger quantity of any item I could buy, the cheaper the price per item would be. After making my “still needed” list (as above) I started shopping for the needed items. First I did the Internet search, and then began to shop around locally. I found that the big box stores (Walmart, Costco, CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, etc.) had the best prices, but not all of the items I wanted. I began buying a few boxes of bandages and tape, then some antiseptics, tape, etc., until almost all items were purchased over about six weeks. I’m still looking for a couple of things in specific sizes, but with patience and perseverance, I’ll find them.

Saving For the More Expensive Items
One of the hardest things to do is control your spending when you are trying to save for a major purchase. When you always need things to add to your survival stores, it’s difficult not to buy when you know you have enough money for something. Self-discipline is required when you’re saving for something else – just as in life when the family needs a new car, or washing machine, or a water heater. The same holds true for survival supplies. I’m attempting to set aside money for a retreat purchase, yet I know there are still dozens of items I still need for completing my survival supply lists. You must decide what is most important and how you will go about making these decisions. Other major purchases may include battle rifles, pistols, shotguns, or stores of ammunition. Fortunately, ammo is one of those things you can buy a little at a time (just be sure to set your priorities as to which caliber to by first).
Food stocks are another costly expenditure. To get the best price food should be bought by the case or larger lots. My suggestion is to buy extra of the canned and dry goods you eat on a regular basis (be sure to date them) and rotate your stock as you use them. In this way you will have extra food building up in your pantry while you are saving for several cases of freeze-dried meals. In the mean time, buy some individual freeze-dried meals and food bars to stock your BoB and emergency kits. Some of the dry goods (rice, flour, instant potatoes, and even dry milk) are not that costly and could be bought by adding one large size container of each of these each time you go to the store. Soon you’ll have a fairly good sized supply of food.

In Conclusion

Get prepared – that is, make your lists, do your inventories, and know ahead of time what you need. Stay alert for sales and opportunities to purchase at reduced prices. And buy what you can when you can, save for the things you need, and no matter what you’re still missing when TSHTF you’ll be far better off than if you did nothing.
Don’t depend on Uncle Sam – he cannot and will not do it all. Don’t depend on friends and family – they all have their own to take care of. Stock up for yourself and be ready to share with those less fortunate and in need.

Copyright 2005-2012 James Wesley, Rawles - All Rights Reserved