How to Begin Prepping on a Limited Budget

How to Begin Prepping on a Limited Budget

December 6, 2020


  1. Priorities & Goals
  2. Finances
  3. Health & Wellness
  4. Knowledge & Skills
  5. Gear & Tools

A subscriber recently sent us a detailed email expressing her concerns about being new to prepping and on significantly limited funds.  She felt the pressure and anxiety of wanting to prepare for the problems she knew we were going to face, and she felt overwhelmed with the sheer volume of things to prepare for and items to have.  It seems like everyone is selling something that promises it will solve your problems, but many of us are on tight budgets and whatever money is spent needs to be spent wisely.  

So what can you do to prepare for the worst of times with the fewest of dimes?  People come to prepping for various reasons, and there is a considerable amount of new sites and new tools and gadgets that have sprung up over the last few years.  While we have reviewed some of these items from time to time, we wanted to focus this blog on those new to prepping and with limited funds.  As you will see from what we discuss here, it isn’t too late to start prepping if you begin now; and you may already have many of the resources you need to weather even the worst of disasters.

1- Priorities & Goals

Priorities & GoalsThe first step with prepping on a limited budget is to set priorities and goals.  You need first to prioritize the most realistic threats you face.  While you may feel that you need to prep for the Yellowstone Caldera blowing, that’s not your best bet if you live on the east coast and you’re at the start of hurricane season, or the midwest and you’re entering tornado season.  List out the top possibilities for your area.  List everything from Near Earth Objects, to terrorists, to civil unrest, to earthquakes and floods.  Then rank your list logically by the likelihood of occurrence.  The list should help you focus your preparations a little more.

Next, list what you would realistically need for the top five or so events on your list.  You’ll find that prepping for one is usually the same as prepping for them all.  Common to all catastrophes that may befall us are specific needs: water, food, shelter, fire, etcetera.  When you are prepping for one particular crisis, you are prepping for many possible catastrophes.  

Finally, take a personal inventory.  What are your strengths and weaknesses?  Do you know how to sew or knit, fish or hunt?  Are you a quick learner or well-read?  Are you a beast at the gym or love a good long hike?  Do you cook, can, ferment, or know how to bake?  Do you understand medicine or your way around an engine?  Write out all the strengths you have, but also write out your weaknesses in another column.  Are you out of shape, have medical conditions, or joint pain after prolonged physical activities?  Are you overly dependent on eating out and couldn’t boil water, as they say?  Have you never learned a skill?  Some people are new to prepping but have never really been very self-sufficient in life.  

Once you have your two-column list of strengths and weaknesses, scratch out the word “Strengths” and replace it with the word “Practice.”  Scratch out the word “Weaknesses” and replace it with “Challenges.”  After all, you want to practice those strengths; you have to become more proficient.  Don’t just rely on the hope that you can consistently access that strength.  Cultivate it through practice.  

Likewise, those weaknesses are merely challenges you face.  If you have severe medical conditions that would prevent you from ever being able to bug out if you needed to, you have to make that one of the challenges you prepare to remedy.  Plan to strengthen your ability to hunker down safely in a crisis.  If being out of shape is one of your weaknesses, then that’s the challenge you need to overcome.  If your liability is that you are not very outgoing, your challenge and goal will be to try harder to make connections and build networks with people.  You might not race out there and join a Mutual Assistance Group, but you may want to join the community garden or a skills-based club to meet like-minded individuals.  Set your goals based upon your Practice and Challenges lists.  Set both long and short-term goals.  What can you start to do today? Remember, baby steps.  Where would you like to get when you think over the long term?

Now that you have it all on paper start working on your plans.  You won’t make progress on all of them all of the time, but give yourself credit when you chip away at the list a little each day.  Learning a new skill can be as easy as reading a book about it ten minutes a day.  That’s a start, and it positions you better than you were when you knew nothing.  Take your plans to the real world and start with the most important prep of all–yourself.

2- Finances

FinancesFinances are the top perceived barrier to adequate preparation, but some of the best-prepared people we have ever met haven’t been made of money.  So, it can’t be about money.  After all, the tool you take up in your hand is worthless if you don’t know how to use it.  The same is true for all those fancy supplies.  You could buy the best magnesium fire starter on the planet and a massive box of fat sticks, but that pocket lighter or zippo of your grandfathers would probably work better in most situations.  You could buy a three hundred dollar Berkey Water filter system, but that twenty-dollar Mini-Sawyer will filter one-hundred-thousand gallons and will slip in your pocket.  My point here is simple: you need to cover what you need to survive from your likely disaster list, but you don’t need to worry about not having a fat wallet to do it.

Here is where finances come to bear.  Many, many people live hand to mouth.  They work multiple jobs, and, at the end of the day, they are just scraping by.  We are not a financial advisor by any means, but we have read the practical advice of Dave Ramsey, Robert Kiyosaki, Grant Cardone, and others.  You can get their books at your local library.  They will tell you slightly different things, but there are some common elements.  Reviewing your finances and understanding your spending patterns is vital.  Living within your means and avoiding credit is another.  Each person’s situation will be different, but even if you have no money at the end of the day, you should be consulting these professionals about this topic.  You should take the advice that best fits your circumstances and try to make it work.  When we first started studying material like this, we were able to turn my dire financial situation into building a profitable business.  It took time, but we chose to invest in myself and it paid off in dividends.

Even if you are dirt poor, there are ways to slowly, paycheck by paycheck, set aside a little more.  Suppose you go to the store for groceries, but you have never learned to cook beyond punching a few buttons on a microwave. In that case, you can immediately reap benefits by learning to cook beans, rice, vegetables, and other unprocessed foods.  If you’re used to grabbing food on your way home from work, try a slow cooker once a week.  You’ll come home to a hot meal. You will learn how to cook for yourself, and you will save significantly.  When you sit down to eat, start adding up the total cost of the meal.  You will readily see that it’s far cheaper to become self-sufficient and less dependent on restaurants. 

As we said earlier, some of the best-prepared people we have ever met haven’t been made of money.  Those who have struggled with finances know how to get the full value out of things.  They can stretch resources.  They can look at an item and instantly understand how they might re-use or upcycle the container.  They roll their sleeves up and dig into fixing something instead of paying someone else or throwing the item away, resolving to learn as they go.  They have been prepping for years and maybe didn’t know it.

3- Health & Wellness

Health and WellnessHealth and wellness are the most often overlooked parts of prepping.  Try this exercise.  Ask a friend to randomly text you at any hour on one of your days off the word “Go.”  When you receive that text, no matter what you were doing at the moment you receive it, drop everything and walk across town and to the edge of town.  Since this isn’t a real emergency, you can take a cab or rideshare home after this exercise.  Does this sound like an exercise you are willing to do?  If that text came through at this very moment, would you even be able to make the walk home or out of town from where you are right now?  If not, you are going to have a hard time surviving in an SHTF situation. 

Are you unwilling to commit at that level, or do you know you’ll never make it to the other side of town?  Revisit your priorities and set some goals.  You can do this exercise without taking a walk, as well.  Just pause when that text comes in and jot down a quick plan of what you would do.  Running your brain through the scenario is akin to practicing it.  You won’t have the same level of physical readiness, but your brain will be calmer in the crisis, and your focus will be more precise.

You may not be in a good enough condition to even start a regimented physical fitness program.  You may not feel that you have the time after all the hours of the day are spent.  Know that there are traditional exercises like you might do at the gym, and there are exercises like walking on your lunch break or your dog after work.  There are even exercises that you can do sitting at your desk.  You won’t realize significant gains overnight in either strength or endurance, but prepping your body is a steady, slow process.  You can’t instantly buy health, but you can chip away at unhealthy habits and patterns to get to a healthier core.

With regards to wellness, that covers everything from what you put into your body or soul.  Your mental health is tied into this as well.  Your ability to cope with stressful situations is linked to this.  Make sure you are feeding your body and your brain.  Eat well.  Hydrate well.  Drink lots of clean water.  Read about prepping, but also read books that fill you up and satisfy you.  Try to avoid toxic or highly charged conflicts.  Turn your inclination to fight or argue with others into a focused effort to prepare yourself for whatever the world may throw at you.  Prepping your health and well-being is hands down more beneficial to you in a real catastrophe than any other tool you have in your inventory.  The adage “If you don’t have your health, you haven’t anything” could not be more true to the prepper.

4- Knowledge & Skills

Knowledge & SkillsYou can lay up for yourselves prepping supplies and foods stacked to the ceiling, but rodents may eat your food, rust can corrupt your tools, or marauders might rob you blind.  Nobody can ever take from you your knowledge and skills.  Next to your health, they are the most valuable tools in your prepping inventory.  When you think of knowledge, think of what they call book smart.  Maybe you don’t have any direct practical experience with building a cistern or raising chickens. Still, you can read a chapter in a book on it so that you could wrestle with the problem, and your chances of success would be greater than someone who doesn’t know what a cistern is or who has never seen a live chicken.  Yes, there are many of those people out there.

Think of your skills as things you have learned and practically applied at some point.  Did you get a cheese making kit for your birthday and gave it a go?   Congratulations, you now have the skill of making cheese.  You might not be able to implement it in the aftermath of a crisis immediately, but you know what you need to gather and the procedures you must one day follow.  Remember that metal shop class, woodshop, or home economics course you took in high school?  Guess what?   The purpose of those courses was to give you practical skills you could use in real life.  

Go back to your “Practice” list you made earlier and add some of these new skills with a dash in front of them.  These are partial skills you can brush up on in the future.  At any given time, you should be working on both knowledge and skills.  You want to be adding to your personal prepper inventory continually.  Even though you may not have space for a garden, read up on setting one up.  Build your knowledge base.  Get two solid pieces of rope and learn a new knot every week.  Most people can tie a shoelace knot and a square knot, and that is it.  That won’t do it if you’re forced to live in the wild.  Nothing is keeping you from learning.  Bolster your knowledge and skills every day.  Your brain is the best tool in your prepping inventory.

5- Gear & Tools

Gear & ToolsWe saved the gear and tools for last because we wanted to show you the resources you already have or can quickly build in your inventory.  There are, however, some essential things you will need that apply to any survival situation.  As we mentioned earlier, specific needs are common to all catastrophes that may befall us: water, food, shelter, fire.  First, you want access to clean water.  You may not have space for a dozen or more fifty-five-gallon barrels, but a Mini-Sawyer water filter like we will link to in the comments below will fit in your pocket and can filter up to one hundred thousand gallons of water.  If you live in the southeast region of America, water availability may not be a huge issue.  If you live in the desert southwest region of America, you will need to store some water for emergencies.  

You need food, preferably long shelf life food that is nutrient or calorically dense—rice, beans, dehydrated fruits and vegetables, and so forth.  If you cannot afford an electric countertop dehydrator, you can still dehydrate in the same way they have for years–in the oven or with the sun.  You can build a supply of food by setting a little aside each week.

When you think of shelter, think hats, gloves, and articles of clothing that shelter your body, but also think tents, tarps, and structures you can build.  Read up on building emergency structures and then attempt to practically apply what you have learned one day before you are forced to do it.

We don’t want someone reading this blog to get bent out of shape thinking they need a lot of gear to survive.  If you can process water, have food stored and be able to cook it during a disaster, you’ll be ahead of about 99% of those around you.  If you focus on the items we covered in the first 4 points of this video, having gear will just be a bonus to an already firm foundation you built.  Again, we purposefully avoided going into detail about gear in this section as we’d recommend anyone starting out in prepping to not go after gear, but instead focus on the other 4 items.  We’ll do a breakout blog shortly detailing the basic items each prepper should have.  


Prepping is more than just hoarding supplies and tools you have never previously had to use.  The real resources you need to survive can’t be purchased.  Even on a minimal budget, you can begin to build what you need to meet the challenge of the most pressing disasters you might face.  If nothing at all ever happens and your life is truly blessed, you will still be better off for having prepped.  Your life will be more comfortable and more affordable.  You will be more self-reliant and more self-confident.  Even if you are starting to prep today, you will still be better positioned to survive than the majority of the population, and you don’t have to break the bank to get started.  Start small, and build steadily over time.

As always, please stay safe out there.

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