Thursday, October 30, 2014

Preparing on a Budget: How the Middle Class Can Become Prepared

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Whenever the topic of prepping comes up among friends, acquaintances, or even people I  just met, I almost always cringe. Usually, they have read some of my posts, whether they subscribe to the blog or see it on social media. And, because of that, they have an opinion of me and they want to see if it is true. When they bring it up, they almost seem to readying themselves for hearing what I have to say just as much as I am readying myself to deliver the answer. That is to say, am I as crazy as they think I am? 

We all know that "prepping" is an overused buzz word that TV has exploited for shows. And, these shows have frequently done a disservice to people like myself. It has taken this buzz word and relabeled all of us under one umbrella term.  But, even like the characters on those shows, preparing yourself is a very unique process and everyone goes about it a different way. We all live in different geographical locations, in different social structures, and we all have an IDEA of what it is that we fear will cause the need to prepare. 

If you did the math on the different locales, social structures, skill sets, family sizes, resources, and different End of the World as We Know It scenarios, you would find millions of possible combinations. And though these variables create a statistics base that says that there is no way to provide a roadmap to help others in different walks of life to prepare, there is one statistic that most all of us fall under. 

Looking at the statistics, almost all of us reading this post fall under one critical and similar statistic: We all have a budget. And not only do we have a budget, must of us are under a pretty similar one. If you eliminate the top and bottom 10% of people who have an income, you would find the rest of the 80% within an order of magnitude for gross income and disposable budget. 

Like most of the people in this country, I have decent income. I have a mortgage, car payment, student loans, 3 kids, and lots of hobbies. And, like you (since you are reading this), I have a desire to take care of my family during dangerous and dark times, whatever that may be. Because of my desire to be prepared, I made "prepping" one of my hobbies. But, like all hobbies, one must exercise prudence and be a good steward with ones income. That is to say, not putting yourself in a financial bind by buying prepping supplies without regard to your budget.

When people ask me if I am a "prepper", the very next question is usually about what I have and how much I have stored. When I say "a fair amount", people figure they have labeled me as what they expected, and commonly launch into their next round of questions.  Do you have hundreds of acres in the woods and how did I set up my underground shelter?  Does it have a water recycler and some sort of high end filtration setup? How many years of food do I have? Do I have 5,000 rounds of .223 in crates? How did I afford to spend thousands at a time to feel comfortable. No, I tell them. I have a budget, unlike the people they show on those aforementioned shows. And while I don't have a full underground shelter buried in my backyard with years of free dried food, I do have a significant storage and I do have a plan to grow that storage. And, this is a plan that anyone can follow. That usually takes people aback, and to be honest, they are usually genuinely interested in what I have to say NOW than they were when they first approached me. 

No, I don't have years worth of food stored up. I don't have THOUSANDS of rounds of ammunition. I don't have a full self-sustaining water treatment facility. Shamelessly, I admit that I am nowhere close to having the supplies I would like. But I am slowly working towards being self-sufficient, at least for a set period of time. And I am doing it on a budget. How am I doing it? I have identified what is truly necessary to survive and just how much I need of that particular supply. Then I put in place a schedule of how to obtain it.  I admit that the easiest and cheapest way for you to fill your storage with all the essentials is to buy in bulk. There is zero question about it. Buy once, buy cheap, and be done. And though I do believe that there is a very real chance that we will have a socio-economic breakdown in my lifetime, I don't believe there is adequate risk vs reward to go to one of the websites and order an entire year's worth of goods. And, to be honest, I couldn't afford it anyway.  But I have a structured plan that I am following that will get me to where I want to be in a pretty short amount of time by prepping on a budget. And, I like to point out that I don't have to have enough food to last the rest of my life. Just enough to last through my neighbors lives. Let's be honest, if it is an environmentally destroying EOTWAWKI type event, count me out. I'd rather get it over with quick. The other fear is a full out social breakdown, which can encompass everything from zombies, to the Red Army, to simple power grid failure during the winter. But, since I live in a pretty temperate climate with game readily available and soil that will produce, I just have to outlast everyone else by staying inside. Then I can get back to doing what I know how to do: hunting, gathering, building, and growing. But I have to make it through that roughest stretch, which most experts would agree is the first 30-90 days. 

Before we venture too deeply, let's consider what we are really after. As we noted above, the reality of my situation is that I really only need about a month to 3 month's supply of the necessities. That is, the ability to lock my home down and to wait it out for a month or so, 3 months at the most. I need food, water, and heat most of all, and in the quantities we are talking about. Do I need the aforementioned air filtration system? Well, if it comes down to it, my chances weren't so good anyway. Do I need 50,000 rounds of ammo? Certainly not. I need to eat, drink, and stay warm and dry. Don't get me wrong, it's nice to have all the extra things. But I have to face the reality of both the future and current situation. I have only so much money now and the chances to survive a situation greater than what we have referred to are quite remote. 

Lets talk about perhaps the most critical resource you may need when you lie low, which ironically is the cheapest. We talked months ago about the shear volume of water that a family of 5 would need in our Water Management post. Can the average prepper-minded American, with all their bills and hobbies, afford to buy an off the shelf a water reclamation, filtration, and storage system? Let me rephrase that: are they willing to drop one lump sum, probably requiring them to save for awhile, to drop on this system?  No. But, this person can buy 2 cases of water every two weeks when they go grocery shopping. You can frequently find a 24-bottle case of bottled water for $4 on sale at most retailers, but usually around $6. For me, I erected shelving and have slowly filled it up. We calculated that my family of 5 would need 3 gallons a day. That means that each case you buy is exactly 1 day of water for a family of 5. With one 7 foot, 3 row shelf, you should be able to easily store 12 full days of water, minimum. And, it cost you $60 total including the shelf.  For a good metric, a month of water would take you right at half a year to stock up if you bought 2 cases of water every two weeks (we shop on paydays) and a total of around $180. That's hardly breaking the bank. This isn't the most efficient technique for prepping, by any stretch. Cases of water are heavy, they take up space, and it's more expensive in the long run than it would be to buy an off the shelf closed water system, a filtration, or reclamation system. But buying a few cases for between $20-40 a month is doable for anyone. 

Food storage is probably the most considered aspect of prepping. Let's take a look at how this translates. A year supply of typical canned food supply (222 cans) will cost your $1400 at a major retailer. I don't have $1400 to spend on ANYTHING in one lump sum, especially 222 food cans. I wish I did, but I don't. It would make a lot easier to be able to pick out everything I would possibly need for the EOTWAWKI, but I don't. But, I can apply the same principals as I did with my water supply. Every pay day, I can buy one of the 1-month buckets every pay day. These buckets will cost around $150 per bucket, which drives the same cost-per year to $1800, $400 more than buying it all together. 

Buying batteries is another resource that I have started collecting over time. Anytime I am in a retailer that is reasonable on price, I pick up a different cell-class pack. It's hard to forget as Wal-Mart, Lowes, and even Academy Sports have a stand at every checkout aisle. Most brands have fairly large packages that are between $10-15 dollars for 12-24 individual batteries (depending on what cell class). Yes, it's an additional Franklin on the end of your bill, but batteries are one of the most useful and certainly most forgotten items on the prepper's list. 

 I can think of several other necessities that make the list that are much cheaper to buy in bulk, but may be a stretch for the cost minded individual. A typical "necessity" to the average prepper is ammunition. The average person can't afford to buy the 5,000 round case, but they can afford the 440 round case for $140. An item that may not make the list, but is an item that a household would need to have good stuck of, is candles. The average house will have under 20 candles in it, which wouldn't last more than a few evening. You can source a small case of 72 candles on Amazon for $20. Each of these candles will supply 10 hours of light. using 1 per room in a 4 room house, you have about a month of candlelight in each case. If you were to buy one case a month, you could easily have a solid stock of candles with little to no financial stress. One of the items that I like to continuously stock up on, which is constantly overlooked, is propane or LP. Large bottles of propane or LP can serve multiple purposes from boiling water, to cooking, to providing warmth. Perhaps most importantly, they are portable.These bottles frequently cost $40-60 for a new tank, so stocking up and having 6-8 of them stored is extremely pricey. The other option is to have a large in-place tank dedicated to the task, another pricey option. But, picking up a bottle once every few months when you go to Lowe's or Home Depot isn't too much of a strain. Once you have the necessities taken care of, you can move on to other useful items. There are many other items that you can easily add to this list, specifically those that will become invaluable later down the road, such as Stocking Up On Fasteners.

This method of buying isn't' for everyone. If you have the money and the desire to spend it, to it the right way and buy in bulk. Have the supplies you need right now and in the right quantity. For the rest of us, we have to figure out different paths to stock up. But, so many times people think that if they can't have it all RIGHT NOW, then it isn't worth doing. Prepping on a budget is doable. Is it time efficient? No. Unlike buying it all at once, it takes some time to save up an appreciable amount. Cost efficient? No. But the stress of coming up with the money upfront is alleviated. With some dedication and structuring, any family, regardless of their views of the EOTWAWKI can stock up on important items without financial stress.