Prepping on a budget – How to prep for less

Prepping for Pennies

You can almost envision pupils dilate when survival blogs have posts with heaps of gear and cases of ammo. Then they add the latest and greatest flashlight or knife. Oh, don’t forget the piles of freeze-dried food. Be still my aching credit card!

Prepping doesn’t need to be, nor should it be like that. It’s always best to take a modest and balanced approach when looking towards the future. The following discussion looks at this restrained approach. Specifically, we will build up your prepper supply on any budget.

How much does it cost to be a prepper?

This is one question that I can’t answer for you. How much does anything cost? A car, a shooting class, a night out on the town. There is no absolute answer.

I commute long distances and won’t spend more money on a car than I have to. I have a good friend with more money in cars than I have in my house. It’s all relative. 

Tie the cost of prepping first to your means and second to your need. Never overextend your finances. If you do, you are exchanging financial security for personal security. Review your budget and set a spending goal. 

Finally, you should consistently set aside prepping dollars and continually improve your position. This is more important than a binge and purge over time. By establishing a discipline of prepping, you keep the process front and center. You are then less likely to neglect and forget your preps over time. 

With that in mind, you can prep on as little as $5 a week. It’s like eating an elephant – one bite at a time. Some say you can’t count all the stars in the sky. I say you can. You just need to keep at it, and never give up.

How to prioritize and where to start?

To be frugal in prepping you must avoid missteps. The best way to keep on track is with well-established priorities and a plan. 

I tend to organize in one of two ways: the rule of 3’s and my threat matrix. 

The rule of three’s states that your survival priorities are: 3 hours without maintaining body temperature (fire and shelter), 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food, and 3 months without human contact (communication). Add in security, health, and sanitation and you have covered your most basic survival needs.

A threat matrix is a personal list of risks that are most likely to affect your survival. Rank them in order of probability. A sample of items from my list (in order of probability) include:

  • Job loss
  • Medical emergency (hospitalization for more than 1 week)
  • Financial crisis
  • Social upheaval

If you are preparing for a world-altering event (EMP, WWIII) and you can’t manage the illness of a spouse or a job loss then you are not really prepared.

Ultimately, all disasters (personal or otherwise) have basic commonalities. Leverage this! Start small then work to fill the corner cases. Every prep you add will move you closer to the long-term goals while checking off the smaller bumps in life.

What are the essentials?

At the cost of being redundant, derive the essentials from the rule of 3’s applied to your threat matrix. Focus on the basics of survival: shelter and heat, water, food, medical, health, sanitation, security, and communications. 

It looks like a lot upfront, however, you most likely already have several covered and others are free. Let’s look at the potential approaches.

How to prepare on little or no budget?

When budgets are tight, focus on the least expensive options as well as those with the biggest payback. Most of the best preparations are free.

Shelter and water

Your first essentials are shelter and heat. For most of us with a roof over our head and few extra blankets are all we need. It costs nothing to review your home and create a plan that covers blackout, loss of heat, or severe weather. Identify and write down the steps to put you in a position of comfort and security.

Secondly, organize your shelter preps so that you know where your gear when it’s needed. Practice your plans. Confirm that everyone knows their job when the lights go out or the temperature dips.

Water is another low or no-cost preparation. Use spare jugs and bottles to store tap water. A gallon per person per day for a week can be put up in short order for little or no money. Clean the container and add a few drops of bleach to the water to preserve it. 


Two more free preparations are intelligence and planning. Intelligence is identifying sources of information around you and organizing that input. Use an old binder to store your intel data. 

Start with printing out names, numbers, and addresses of anyone or anything that referenced in an SHTF situation. This includes:

  • Neighbors
  • Utility companies
  • Doctors’ offices
  • Hardware stores
  • Grocery stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Vet offices
  • Police and fire stations
  • Get creative!

Next print Google/Bing maps for your area. Include road and satellite versions. Then move to secondary forms of travel. 

In the northeast, we have too many snowmobile trails to count. I can hop on one within a mile of my house and walk to my BOL or Canada if I choose. 

Another great option is railroad lines. One of my new favorite websites is Open Railways Map. I’ve used it to map out alternate walking routes from work to home.


It is said, “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.” That being said, I’d rather have a plan than “wing it” any day. Planning takes no money. All you need to invest is time and creativity. Create plans for common threats (power outages, severe weather, medical emergencies). Add each plan to your binder in a labeled section. 

Next time you have an ice storm or hurricane flip to the appropriate page and check off your preparation duties. When the event is over, update your plan with lessons learned.

Route planning is another valuable free exercise. Your bugout plan should include local, state, and regional bugout locations (friend’s houses, hotels, etc.). Spend time identifying multiple routes to your BOLs. Minimally, map out three options for each route. Mark these on your maps and include printed discussions. 

By gathering local intelligence and putting together a well-vetted plan you will be ahead of 90% the rest of the population! All of that with nothing but time (and a binder). 

Prepping on $5 a week

Prepping is like time and water wearing through a mountain. It takes a little input and a lot of patience. Most budgets can afford $5 a week. If so, focus on your priorities and slowly chip away at your goals. Add to one survival essential each week. Here are a few ideas for each category:

  • Food
    • Copy canning: Buy one or two extra cans of items in your pantry – alternate between the following
      • Vegetables
      • Fruits
      • Meats
    • Spices
  • MedicalHealth
    • Bandages
    • Dressings
    • Band aids
    • Feminine hygiene products
    • I’m leaving out medications due to expiration dates
  • Sanitation 
    • Soap
    • Shampoo
    • Toothpaste
    • Trash bags
  • Security 
    • Door wedge
    • Second-hand clothing 
    • Gun cleaning patches and supplies

Not everything in prepping has to be big and expensive and this list proves it. While a new AR is not in the mix, each item will make your life a little easier when times get rough. 

Cheap Prepper Food

Three weeks without food and your life is in jeopardy. Much more than three hours and my mood is in jeopardy!

When things shut down calories count. Extend your normal supplies of food with budget calories. This includes beans, rice, and flour. A large portion of the world lives on rice and beans. With a little spice, you can add variety and add a small serving to every meal. 

Rice is the ultimate extender. Add it to chili. Mix it in with meatloaf and meatballs. Boil it with extra water and make congee. Rice can be the base of both sweet and savory meals. It is a culinary chameleon. 

When I first started prepping, I focused on making bread. I knew that a 25 lb. bag of flour could make one loaf of bread per day for almost a month. With warm bread in our stomachs, we would be that much closer to comfort. 

Beans, rice, and flour are all about a dollar a pound. They also store for years (properly packaged). These should form the foundation of your inexpensive prepper food pantry. 

Cheap Prepper Supplies

You need not limit your cheap supplies to food. There are many tools and other additions to your prepper stores that you can stack high and deep with little money. These include tools. Not everything in your toolbox has to be a premium tool. Harbor Freight is a great resource here. 

L.L. Bean day pack from the factory discount rack ($30) vs 5.11 Rush 12 ($100)

Is a prepper worthy of the name without a bugout bag? There is little reason to invest in an expensive bag when a budget bag will do. Consider a returned bag from the clearance section of your local sporting goods store. You can also find great deals in the local Good Will or Salvation Army store. It just takes patients to find the perfect deal.

Now, add a quality knife to your bag. MoraKniv makes great tools at budget prices. Will it last as long as my Becker BKII, probably not, however for the price of the BKII I can by 4.

Next, head to a local dollar store for additions to your pantry or bugout supplies. Add candles, medical, hygiene, and sanitation supplies to your kit.

Finally, while not exactly cheap, we should discuss firearms. I have taken the approach of setting up my armory such that I use common magazines. My primary pistol, backup pistol, and both carbines all use Glock magazines. This saves me from investing over $100 for each gun to get a full complement of mags. 

Wholesale Prepper Supplies and Buying in Bulk

I love buying in bulk. The process satisfies two frugal needs – the best use of your money and securing supplies quickly. Bulk stores all allow your prepper dollar to go farther. Private wholesale suppliers and restaurant supply stores all facilitate purchases in bulk.

I frequent our local restaurant supply store. When I do, I can usually pick up most meats for ½ of what I find them in grocery stores. From a 40-pound case, some go in the canner and some go in the freezer. The rest get made into soup or stew for the second round of canning. 

Paper, canned goods, and dried goods are much easier to manage in bulk. In most cases, stack them up until needed. For the rest, you need to be prepared for a minimum amount of re-packaging. Mylar and plastic buckets hold your rice, beans, oats, and flour. 

Where to Buy

The good news to cheap prepping is that the trend of purchasing at a low cost or in bulk has caught on. Here’s a list of stores that can fit any slim budget.


Prepping doesn’t need to be expensive. You make your dollar go farther when you buy smart. This includes planning your purchases and shopping according to your threats and needs. Avoid impulse buys. 

Keeping an eye on each dollar allows you to smartly invest in the necessities of survival. This not only establishes fiscal responsibility but also saves money for larger expenses (ammo and guns) as well as facilitates a rainy-day fund.

Make your prepping money work for you so that you can provide for your survival needs.

Cody Martin

With over 18 years of federal law enforcement, training, and physical security experience, Cody focuses his time nowadays on both consulting and training. He regularly advises individuals, groups, multinational corporations, schools, houses of worship, and NGOs on security threats while conducting customized training as needed.

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