I often stress that a key to survival is not what you have, but rather what you know. (See my Precepts of Rawlesian Survivalist Philosophy web page.) In part, I wrote:
Skills Beat Gadgets and Practicality Beats Style. The modern world is full of pundits, poseurs, and Mall Ninjas. Preparedness is not just about accumulating a pile of stuff. You need practical skills, and those only come with study, training, and practice. Any armchair survivalist can buy a set of stylish camouflage fatigues and an M4gery Carbine encrusted with umpteen accessories. Style points should not be mistaken for genuine skills and practicality.
To expand on those precepts, consider the following:
Balanced logistics are important for everyone, but absolutely crucial for someone that is on a tight budget. If you have a three year food supply, then a quantity miscalculation for one particular food item will likely be just an inconvenience. But if you only have a three month supply, then a miscalculation can be a serious hazard. Be logical, systematic, and dispassionate in your preparations. You need to develop some detailed lists, starting with a "List of Lists." Be realistic and scale your retreat logistics purchasing program to your budget. Avoid gong in to debt to "get prepared." A friend of mine who was a Physician's Assistant went way overboard in 1998 and 1999, stocking up for Y2K. The massive credit card debt that he racked up eventually contributed to a prolonged mental depression.
Choose your retreat location wisely. If you can't afford 40 acres, then be sure to pick the right 5 or 10 acres. Finding a property that adjoins public land, and/or property with like-minded neighbors, can make a huge difference. The smaller your land-buying budget, the longer your search should be, to get the most for your money. In today's plunging real estate market, don't overlook the possibility of finding a foreclosed ("bank owned") farm or ranch at a "below market" price. Watch the foreclosure listings in your intended retreat region closely. Two foreclosure monitoring services that I recommend are RealtyTrac.com and Foreclosures.com.
Buy used instead of new. It goes without saying that your purchasing dollars will go farther if you concentrate on quality used tools, guns, and vehicles. Remember that preparedness is not a beauty contest. There are no "Style" points awarded. So owning gear with some dings and scratches is not an issue. Just be sure to inspect used items very carefully. In the case of buying a used vehicle, it is worthwhile to run a check on the vehicle's history through a service like CARFAX. This will reveal if the vehicle might have been repaired after a major collision. Also, hire a qualified mechanic to do some checks before you buy a used rig. That will be money well-spent!
Clip coupons, watch and wait for seasonal sales, shop at thrift stores, go to garage sales and flea markets, attend weekend farm and estate auctions, and learn to watch Craig's List and Freecycle like a hawk. The only thing better that finding inexpensive used items is having thing given to you. This is a common occurrence with Freecycle. For example, it is not unusual to have someone give you several dozen Mason-type canning jars. Just be sure to return the favor, in the spirit of Freecycle.
Strike a balance between quality and quantity. I'm a big believer in the old adage: "Better is the enemy of good enough." Why buy a $320 Chris Reeve folding knife when a used $30 CRKT or Cold Steel brand pocketknife bought on eBay will provide 95% of the functionality of a custom knife? Buying at 1/10th the price means that you will have money available for other important logistics and training.
Take advantage of free or low-cost training. The WRSA, for example, offers shooting and medical training at near their cost. I've discussed other such training opportunities at length previously in SurvivalBlog. In my Precepts page, I noted:
Tools Without Training Are Almost Useless. Owning a gun doesn't make someone a "shooter" any more than owning a surfboard makes someone a surfer. With proper training and practice, you will be miles ahead of the average citizen. Get advanced medical training. Get the best firearms training that you can afford. Learn about amateur radio from your local affiliated ARRL club. Practice raising a vegetable garden each summer. Some skills are only perfected over a period of years.
Learn to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials. Do you really need cable television? Eating out? snacks from the vending machine? ? Use the cash generated to buy the really important things, like storage food.
When you don't have cash, then apply sweat equity. Do you need pasture fence or garden fence at your retreat property? Don't hire someone and "have it done" Do it yourself. Not only will you save money, but you will also learn valuable skills. You might even lose some of that flab around your midsection, in the process. Also consider that people are often willing to barter their excess tangibles in trade for your skills and time. Do you have an elderly neighbor with a big gun collection? Then offer to paint his house in trade for a couple of guns or a few of those heavy ammo cans that he won't live long enough to shoot? In my Precepts page, I wrote:
Invest Your Sweat Equity. Even if some of you have a millionaire's budget, you need to learn how to do things for yourself, and be willing to get your hands dirty. In a societal collapse, the division of labor will be reduced tremendously. Odds are that the only "skilled craftsmen" available to build a shed, mend a fence, shuck corn, repair an engine, or pitch manure will be you.and your family. A byproduct of sweat equity is muscle tone and proper body weight. Hiring someone to deliver three cords of firewood is a far cry from felling, cutting, hauling, splitting, and stacking it yourself.
People often assume that because my blog and novel are widely read that I am wealthy. I actually have a very modest income. The only reason that our retreat is so well stocked is that I have been systematically stocking up for 30 years. I am not a "yuppie survivalist" as at least one fellow blogger claims. I gave up my Big City salaried job years ago, to concentrate on living self-sufficiently. Part of this was a conscious decision to raise our children in a more wholesome environment. The major drawback is that the Rawles Ranch is in such a remote area that we don't get into town very often.
The Memsahib Adds. The good thing about living so remotely is there are no shopping opportunities. Even if I had the urge to indulge in some retail therapy, I'd have to drive more than two hours to do it. The next best things you can do is cancel your magazine subscriptions. If you analyze the contents of most magazines you will realize that they are designed to make you dissatisfied with your clothes, your home decor, garden, electronics, autos because they aren't the latest, greatest, and most fashionable. I also highly recommend selling or Freecycling your television, for the very same reason. A couple of exceptions to our magazine rule are Backwoods Home, and Home Power, since they are both light on advertising and heavy on practical skills.
In closing, do the best you can with what you have. Be truly frugal. I grew up in a family that still remembered both our pioneer history and the more recent lessons of the Great Depression. One of our family mottos is: "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without." I thank my mother for passing that wisdom along to my generation, and I am doing the same, with my children.