The truth is, not many of us can afford to go out and spend thousands of dollars on survival equipment all in one shot. (If you can, call us, we would be happy to sell you everything you need!)
So you may be asking yourself, “Forget about the fully-stocked hideaway and the loaded four-wheel drive I would need to get there, how can I afford a good solid stash of food and a water filter?” The simple answer is, one step at a time. Unless you believe a disaster is imminent and you are prepared to max out your credit cards, start slowly and build your supplies over time.
Keep in mind that even if you had all the money necessary, you can’t buy everything you need, learn everything you’ll have to know and prepare for “the big one” in a day or a week. Preparedness is a lifetime journey, and your mental attitude is a key component. The best approach is to start small and build your resources. As time passes, re-evaluate and add to your plan, your stash, your skills and abilities. (See chapter 4 for more information)
Remember, survival is a mindset as well as a set of supplies. You may need to change your habits to build your stash. Create a budget and look where the money is going. How often do you eat out? How often to you go to Starbucks? Do you buy lunch every day? Do you get a new car every three years? You can free up thousands of dollars annually by changing these and similar habits.
After shelter, food and transportation are frequently the largest expense a family faces. Buying a few extra months of food can be a burden. But by shopping wisely and adding to your food stash over time, you can make this less expensive.
OK, the following may not be news to you, so if you feel you’re doing a pretty good job of buying groceries inexpensively, feel free to skip it. But I figure everyone may gain a kernel of knowledge, so it’s your call:
Shop Warehouse Clubs
One of the best resources for large quantities of food is warehouse club stores, such as Sam’s or Costco, and food co-ops. You can also purchase grain and other supplies from farm supply stores and wholesalers. This may take some searching out, but can be worth while if you want to buy bushels of grain to preserve yourself.
In Captain Dave’s experience, warehouse club stores generally offer large sizes of items that can be useful for survival. While it is sometimes possible to get better buys on some items when they go on sale at the grocery store, you have to shop carefully and watch the circulars to catch them. At the warehouse club, prices are constant, and sizes and quantities are large.
In addition to the survival-related foods you can acquire here, you may save enough money by buying at the club stores to afford some of those 45-pound kegs of red winter wheat you’ve been admiring in the catalog. Just be careful and don’t buy so much it spoils, or your savings will evaporate.
Some purchases Captain Dave has made for his stash include:
- 25- and 50-pound bags of rice. A staple in many countries, it could be yours during the bad times. Rice is one of the few foods that no one has allergies to, plus it is an excellent source of nutrients. And let’s face it; most of us don’t live where we can grow rice. Check out the Food Storage FAQ for information on how to preserve rice.
- 25-pound bags of flour. Although grains are better to store than flour, this is fine if you do a lot of baking already. You can bake your way through the bag and always have some ready in an emergency. At Dave’s house, we have one 25 pound bag of flour is use and one as an extra. When we open the spare, we buy a another to replace it.
- 5-pound bags of complete pancake mix. These are great because all the ingredients are ready to go with just the addition water. (Make sure you get complete, you don’t want the kind where you have to add eggs.) Muffins and other mixes are also available, but it’s a lot easier to cook pancakes than muffins over an open fire or camp stove!
- Number 10 cans or boxes/pouches of powdered potato flakes. OK, so they don’t taste as good as a fresh potato, but they store a lot longer and whip up fast. If you want, you can still pick up the 50 pound bag of potatoes. But the powdered stuff won’t grow eyes.
- 5-pound bags of spaghetti, elbow macaroni, and tricolor spiral noodles. These are a staple around here, so we always keep a couple bags on hand. Much cheaper buying them in bulk than the tiny boxes on grocery store shelves.
- 5-pound canisters of peanut butter. A favorite for kids and adults, plus you don’t need refrigeration. Don’t keep ’em forever or they could go rancid, but a good product to rotate in your every-day pantry. Add some crackers to your stash, too.
- Number 10 cans of canned vegetables or baked beans. I really don’t look forward to the day I have to sit down and eat nothing but canned peas or corn or whatever. But they are generally much cheaper than the small grocery-store cans, which would barely make a meal for one person. They won’t keep as long as freeze-dried veggies packed in nitrogen, but they’re good for feeding yourself and the hungry neighbors. To ensure rotation, use these for summer picnics or donate them to the homeless shelter every year or so. Of course, you can buy a6-pack or 8-pack of canned veggies if you prefer
- Number 10 cans of chili. We all know beans are a good source of protein, and a hot bowl of chili, which usually combines meat and beans, will keep you working for many hours. If you add some freshly baked some bread with some canned butter or a bit of olive oil, you will have a surprisingly tasty and complete meal.
- Six-packs of canned goods, including pasta, vegetables, fruits, meats. You may grimace to think you’ll be living on canned Beefaroni or Spam, but there just aren’t that many canned meats, and they’re a heck of a lot cheaper than MREs. Some of the pasta-products come in larger cans, too. Look for canned tuna, salmon, chicken and roast beef, which are a leap beyond spam in both price and taste. Buy an assortment of vegetables and fruits. Applesauce is also good to add to your stash.
- Large boxes of powdered milk (makes 20-quarts). These’ won’t last too long (see the Food Storage FAQ section on powdered milk), but if you are buying powdered milk, you can realize substantial savings over grocery store prices. A good item to keep in your spare refrigerator.
- 120 13-gallon trash bags. I could probably come up with a whole web page dedicated to 1001 uses for plastic bags. But you’ll just have to use your imagination. From storing water to lining your emergency potty, you’ll need them.
- Pouch noodles. I swear 30 years ago these were available only in backpacking stores, but now Lipton and others make them for the time-challenged family. Just add water, boil and voila: pasta Alfredo, shells in creamy garlic sauce or garden rotini with broccoli. These are small sizes and this is one product where you can definitely get a better buy during a sale at the grocery store.
- Pouch and box drinks. These are great for bug-out packs and survival stashes that could be subject to freezing and thawing. Captain Dave’s personal experience has shown the pouches will freeze and thaw throughout a winter stored in the car, but try it yourself in the freezer before you take my word on it. Every brand could be different and packaging changes and evolves as the years pass.
- For those with a large freezer or a large family, 5-pound blocks of cheese, 10-pound packages of frozen hamburgers and large quantities of frozen vegetables are often good buys. If the power goes out, you’ll just have to eat lots of hamburgers for the first day or two.
- Hot and cold breakfast cereals are available in quantity. Buy some oatmeal, cream of wheat or grits and some healthy cold cereals (get something with nuts and fruit rather than too much sugar).
- Power bars, breakfast bars, granola bars and other handy food bars are much cheaper in quantity than buying them a coupe at a time. Don’t rely on these exclusively, but they do have their place.
- Stock up on nuts, dried fruits, and similar items that will provide energy and calories.
- Paper products, cleaning supplies, candy and personal care products are also available in large quantities at reasonable prices.
OK, so what’s the down side, you ask? Usually, warehouse stores offer one brand, so you may not get the exact product you want.
Let me digress a moment for a comment about canned goods. Traditional canned goods aren’t the best for survival because they loose their food value over time, but Captain Dave thinks they have a lot going for them nonetheless. They are cheaper and easier to obtain than specialty foods such as MREs or freeze-dried foods. Also, you can drink the juice off vegetables to preserve your water reserves (as long as it isn’t too salty). Plus, you can get a wide variety of foods, and cans are a lot tougher than glass jars.
So let’s say you get an inside scoop that North Korea is going to invade South Korea in the next two days and you are worried about the use of nuclear weapons in such a scenario. You decide to high tail it off to your shelter before it’s too late. Do you call the 800 number and order a dozen cases of MREs and wait for the UPS man to show, or do you hightail it to the store and clean all the canned goods off the shelf? If you have a survival stash which already includes survival-type foods, these canned goods will be a nice addition and provide some much needed variety. Don’t forget canned fruits and vegetables which are both important for a balanced diet.
When Captain Dave wrote the first edition of the Survival Guide, he could find canned vegetables on sale a couple times a year at four for $1. Today, you are lucky to find them 5 for $4, an increase in excess of 300%. (And they say inflation is low. Ha!) That is no reason not to stock up. Canned soups and canned beans are also excellent choices.
Somewhere between the traditional supermarket and the Warehouse club lie discount grocers. This could be the Super Wal-Mart that carries groceries as well as just about anything else you need. There are also Food4Less and similar stores that are a bit like warehouse clubs, only they don’t carry anything except food. Becoming a careful consumer and a survival-shopper may require visit to all three types of stores over time.
Take advantage of sales and coupons. There are some things that grocery stores use as loss leaders that will always be cheaper at the grocers than at a warehouse store.
Food Co-ops and Farmers Markets
Food co-ops can be found in the yellow pages. While some require you to work, most allow you to purchase as non-working members at a slightly higher price than the participants. Others require that you order in advance so you can share in their volume purchasing
Food co-ops often make large purchases of fresh vegetables, nuts, grains and similar supplies. Many times, these are organically-grown, so you are benefiting health-wise as well as financially.
Some farmers markets are seasonal, usually around only during the growing season or only on Saturdays, but others are permanent. If you put up canned goods, there’s nowhere better to make large purchases of fresh fruit and vegetables. Whether you’re looking for tomatoes or peaches, this is the next best thing to growing your own.
Let’s say you want to can a few dozen pints and some quarts of peaches, but you don’t have a peach tree. Buy them by the bushel from the Farmer’s market when they are in season, and you will have the next best thing.
Special Orders and Volume Purchases
Many retailers will special order items for you and provide discount pricing if you buy in very large quantities. This is true form the farmer’s market to the traditional grocer to the internet merchant. So get together with your friends and link-minded individuals and form a buying group. Then approach retailers, distributors and even manufacturer’s to negotiate special pricing.
Let’s say that you want to buy two cases of rifle ammunition a case of pistol ammunition and a case of buckshot. That’s not a bad purchase, but it probably is not enough to warrant special pricing. Now, let’s say you get together with your shooting buddies and buy 20 cases of rifle ammunition, 12 cases of pistol ammo and 16 cases of various shotgun shells. That’s an order your dealer may be willing to cut you a break on. First off, with an order that size, the items will come palletized via truck rather than a few cases via UPS, so the shipping cost he pays is less. Secondly, he may get a volume discount from his supplier if he hits a certain quantity per year, or per order. Just be prepared to pay some or all in advance and in a lump sum rather than in 12 different credit cards.