Prepping on a Budget – How To Get Survival Supplies When You Have Almost No Money

James Smith
By James Smith June 14, 2017 09:48

Prepping on a Budget – How To Get Survival Supplies When You Have Almost No Money

I look at the prepping lifestyle as getting your preps with as little cash outlay as possible. I spend enough of my cash just trying to get by in the world and don’t have a lot of extra left over for prepping.

I have found several ways to get many of my preps for little or no money. I’m pretty sure no matter your situation you can use one or more of these ideas to help you save money on your own gear and supplies.

Dumpster Diving

I’ll start with the free stuff, because that is where you should start as well. I have found just about everything under the sun while dumpster diving.

If you want food, check out grocery stores. They throw away literal tons of produce. Much of this can still be used.  You will find bread, rolls, bagels, pies, cakes, frozen entrées that are expired, dented cans and much more. You can eat it yourself, feed it to your livestock, cut it up and dehydrate it for storage food or even trade it to others.

Diving construction sites should supply you with all the building material you will ever need…Sure, you won’t find too many full-size sheets of plywood or full length dimensional lumber but you should be able to scrounge up enough for most prepper building projects. Be sure to ask the foreman for permission to go through the “Scrap”.

Business dumpsters are usually full of cardboard; if you have a use for that, you can get all you want for free. Sometimes you will come across store returns that have been tossed in the dumpster. Sometimes these are repairable or may not even have anything wrong with them in the first place.

Apartment dumpsters around the end of the month are usually pretty good to hit. They have everything that the tenants moving out didn’t feel like moving. Lots of times I have found boxes full of food where someone had emptied their pantry and set the box beside the dumpster.

You might get real lucky and have a friend who happens to work at the dump, and allows you to wander around looking for things during working hours.

In all this just keep an eye out for things you can use or sell. Aluminum, brass and copper still bring decent money and dumpsters are full of the stuff.

Dumpsters are a gold mine of free prepping supplies, or things you can sell to buy those supplies. I have even found ammunition, money, tools and military items.

Related: 11 Survival Tricks Learned from Homeless People

Dollar Store

There are several YouTube videos out there featuring the dollar store challenge. You get $10 and have to buy enough to get you through a night out in the wild, start a fire, and provide three meals.

After watching a couple of these I had my own ideas and headed to my local nothing over a dollar store.

I found your basic lighters and matches but also came across a 10×12 drop cloth used for painting which is compact and perfect for a bug-out bag.

If you were taking the challenge or had very little money, one of the chef’s knives for a dollar would make a serviceable survival knife.

But what really surprised me about the dollar store is mine has shelf stable milk for a dollar a quart. Most of it is dated at least six months out. There are also several other food items you might want to check out if you are keen on packing your own MRE type meals.

 Thrift Store

I have found thrift stores to be hit or miss. When they hit they really pay off and when they miss they tend to be kind of boring.

In the cooking section look for cast iron pots, Dutch ovens and skillets along with knives or other utensils that you may not have that would help you butcher, store or otherwise prepare storage food. I have seen many dehydrators over the years; if you get one, be sure it is one that has a fan to move the air. The still air ones do not work well (that is why they are in thrift stores).

If they have a camping section, look it over well.. I have seen lots of Coleman stuff there. I picked up my current two burner stove for $5.

In the clothing section, look for good work boots. I picked up a pair of almost new Chippewa insulated work boots for $0.45, yes that is cents. Camo and used BDU’s can be had if you look hard enough.

The last thing is to look at the books. I have seen where it looks like someone’s crazy prepper uncle died and the relatives donated all his books.

Thrift stores can have some really good finds for very little money. Here are 50 prepper items to shop for at the thrift store or yard sale.

 Antique Stores

Antique stores are great for finding that one item you want or need, and you just don’t want to spend money on a new one.

If a prepper needs a job done you can be sure that most likely someone 100 years ago needed that same type job done. What the old timers used to do that job will be found in an antique store.

 Flea Markets

Lots of us preppers like to rummage around a flea market looking for deals on gear and supplies. I have gotten way too many good deals to list but you can find things like knives, guns, animal traps, military surplus, farm and homesteading equipment, or even silver coins to invest in.

You never know what may pop up at a flea market.

Salvage Grocery Store

We have what they call a salvage grocery store a few miles from our house. We try to go every week to see what is thrown in the bargain bin.

These stores buy expired, close to expiring, damaged and overstock groceries by the truckload and make them available to the public. Here’s everything you need to know about expiration dates and what’s safe to consume and when.

Ours is similar to a regular grocery with its aisles only on the small side. Where it differs is that much of the stock turns over every week. One week they may have a great deal on coffee (lots of different brands real cheap) and the next week not have any at all.

We have found some incredible deals. A couple months ago we saw tuna packed in olive oil with oregano. It looked like high end stuff and packed in olive oil it should store for ages. We bought all they had at $.59/can. When we got home I looked it up online and found it was some European tuna that costs 5 euros/can!

These salvage groceries can be great places to pick up food you plan on storing, and sometimes if you are lucky you may get some real high end stuff for a bargain price.


I love local auctions. I have gotten lots of gear at auctions for much less than it would cost me even in a surplus store. I have picked up a shotgun for $20, cheap ammo, prepper and survival books, Backwoodsman magazines (primo stuff there) and lots of other things, sometimes by the boxful for a $1 bid.

Just be careful you don’t get into the auction frenzy and pay more than things are worth. Here are the 50 low-priced items that will be invaluable when SHTF.

Online Shopping

I keep an eye on things like eBay and Craigslist when I am looking for something specific. I figure out how much I want to pay and don’t go over.

A couple years ago I decided everyone in the family needed a fiberglass hunting bow. It took me about a month but I paid less that $20 each for them and now we each have one along with a couple spares.

Shop around and be prepared to let someone else win that bid; it is not a competition.

Second Job

If all else fails and you still can’t seem to be able to scrounge up your gear, you may have to bite the bullet and get a second job.

I have a friend who makes a comfortable living as an accountant. He also has a second job as a clerk at a convenience store. He puts all his second income into a separate bank account and uses it for mad money. Things like vacations and hunting trips.

If you took a similar approach for your preps and designated one stream of income or a portion of one to buying gear and preps you should be able to set a budget and plan how to buy any piece of gear your heart desires.


The big thing to remember is to always look for a way to get it cheaper or even free. If you see a great deal on something and can get more than one, get it, and then trade it for something else you need. In addition, always keep an eye out for things you can sell. You may not need it, but if you can sell it you will have that extra cash.

Our predecessors did okay for themselves without much cash. The Native Americans did okay for themselves with no money at all.

All it takes is the right mindset, and keeping your eyes open for ways to hold onto your hard-earned cash.

You may also like:

10 Great Depression Era Strategies For Saving Money

World’s Smallest Battery Powers House For 2 Days (Video)

10 Long Shelf-Life Canned Foods Every Prepper Should Consider Stockpiling

Pioneer Recipes That Survived The California Trail

One Month $0 A Day Prepping Ideas

James Smith
By James Smith June 14, 2017 09:48
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  1. Hotrod June 15, 15:17

    be careful diving for canned goods with dents. a dented can will allow for botchalism bacteria to form ( this could be deadly )

    Reply to this comment
    • rednig October 25, 01:02

      If you’re worried about botulism (which was still common when I was a kid), To counter the effects of food poisoning: one level teaspoon of rosemary leaves in a cup. pour boiling water over the cup, steep for ten minutes, and sip. No more than two cups per day for an adult. One cup usually knocks out even the worse case.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Wannabe June 15, 16:17

    Yes!! Dumpster diving!!

    Reply to this comment
  3. Farmer June 15, 18:31

    The local big box store is run by corporate driven computer. When corporate decides to discontinue certain items (even expensive ones), the computer puts a 1 cent price on it …. the store then collects those items and they go right to the dumpster. I’ve occasionally intercepted some of these items; including a $150 LED floodlight and checked them out quickly through the self checkout. …. I really don’t understand the corporate policy, but it’s their business. Oh, and they prohibit dumpster diving … darn!!

    Reply to this comment
  4. Boyo June 15, 18:49

    Yard sales/estate sales – found a primo micrometer for $15 at a yard sale and a nice $50 treadmill for my last dog in an estate sale.

    You’re not picking off the dead, the living just want the “junk” gone.

    Reply to this comment
  5. left coast chuck June 15, 19:58

    What is equally important to variety and quantity is calorie count. Bear in mind that most of us here in the U.S. need around 2500 calories per day. You can survive on less. From what I have read, the prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps and the Japanese POW camps survived on 1200 calories a day. Many starved to death and others died of nutritional deficiencies. I was stocking up on black olives and mushrooms to add taste and additional substance to other food supplies. Examination of the labels of each of those revealed that they furnished zero calories. Guess what is not in my emergency food supply now. I don’t have room to be storing substances that supply zero calories. Additionally, many “emergency food” suppliers list how many days their product is supposed to last. Examine the caloric content of the total package and divide the total caloric count by the number of days. You will be astounded and bitterly disappointed by the calorie count. Wise Foods which is widely distributed contains 900 calories a day in their “30 day supply of food.” Food for Patriots contains 1445 calories per day in their 3-day supply of food. Even Mountain House, the supposed gold standard of camping food contains 1800 calories in their ten day supply of food. Now you won’t starve to death on 1800 calories per day for ten days. Will you be hungry? You’d better believe it. Will you have lost weight? You betcha. Will your energy levels be down if you are chopping wood, hauling water, tending the fire and fending off marauding bands of zombies? Damned straight. 1445 calories a day for 3 days? You will just be hungry. 900 calories for 30 days? I believe you will be seriously impaired. According to the spokesman for Wise Foods you are supposed to supplement their rations with other foods. So, you had better have your possum traps and your “Edible Weeds in Your Backyard” book ready.
    The Armed Services provides between 3500 to 4000 calories per day in their MREs. That gives you an idea of how many calories you are going to need to maintain full strength for the vigorous life that survival is going to entail. Plan accordingly. At 1800 calories a day, for a man of my age, height and weight, with “moderate” activity, I will lose 1 pound per week. I would lose more with more activity. While I am sure my doctor would recommend a weight loss of a pound a week, that would only be until I reach what he considers my “ideal” weight. Of course, the less I weigh, the less weight I will lose on an 1800 calorie p.d. diet. It may well be that at 1800 calories at 130 pounds I can sustain. I haven’t explored how much I would have to weigh to not lose weight on 1800 calories per day with heavy exercise. SO! The net take-away from this long discourse is to make sure you are stocking up on calorie rich food unless you want to wind up looking like a resident of Dachau. If you are buying “emergency food” be sure you are getting what you are paying for.

    Reply to this comment
    • Wannabe June 16, 11:22

      Wow 1200 calories, I am on a diet trying to not go over 1379 calories a day. Lol

      Reply to this comment
      • left coast chuck June 16, 18:38

        What is your age; sex; activity level? If you are an inactive 75 year old female, that is probably an acceptable level for significant weight loss. If you are a 30 year old male who works at a physically demanding job, you are probably going to lose weight at a medically unacceptable level and will put the weight back on as soon as you quit that diet. In addition, you will have lost important muscle mass and will be unable to perform your job satisfactorily. High energy activity requires sufficient caloric intake in order to maintain our health. You can exist on significantly reduced caloric intake but you will be susceptible to disease that your body would ordinarily easily resist and you may well suffer from deficiencies such as beriberi, scurvy, rickets and other food deficiency disorders. At the start of WWII, many volunteers were rejected from the armed services because they suffered from food deficiency disorders as a result of the Great Depression.

        Reply to this comment
    • Jeff October 25, 18:16

      Great comment. I hate the way they pack 4 servings in one packet of food. For one person, I guess you pig-out or figure out a way to save the left overs. For two, me and my wife, probably split a packet, but now my supplies are down 50%…

      Reply to this comment
  6. Claude D. June 16, 05:19

    I did a little research on this subject too. good point!

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck June 16, 18:43

      I love mushrooms on my pizza and I use them to add something extra to soups and on meat and in salads. I like broiled mushrooms. They just add a little something extra to food. Unfortunately, that “something extra” is not caloric content. I guess that’s why they are popular. You can eat a bunch of them and not gain weight. In an EOTW situation, I won’t need food without caloric value. If I want to do that, I have lots of white paper I can make a broth out of. I won’t be hungry but I will be starving to death rapidly. My food storage space is at a premium and I can’t afford to waste space on valueless food items, hence olives and mushrooms had to give way to canned salmon which I don’t like nearly as much as m & o.

      Reply to this comment
      • Farmer June 16, 22:05

        Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free, and very low in sodium, yet they provide important nutrients, including selenium, potassium (8%), riboflavin, niacin, vitamin D and more.

        Reply to this comment
      • rednig October 25, 01:09

        I love ‘shrooms, too, but will stick to the few wild ones I know, and canned ’til we get a greenhouse up. Commercial growers now have permission (BO era) to use cardboard, newspaper,and garbage to raise mushrooms. This was done over the objections of the USDA. As per protein, you’d be as well off with the mushrooms as salmon. All protein in ‘shrooms is supposed to be digestible, but only about 20%+ of fish. Mushrooms are loaded with what grew i their feed source, and mercury should not be part of it.

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  7. vocalpatriot June 16, 21:52

    you lost me at the suggestion that I should get my food in a dumpster. dumbass.

    Reply to this comment
    • Proteus June 16, 22:28

      You might want to re-read the article. It appears that you might have missed the point.

      Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck June 17, 00:03

      Comments that are insulting don’t do anything to help disseminate information that many of us are very interested in. Hotrod’s comment to be wary of dented cans because of the possibility of botulism was far more helpful than calling the author of the article a vulgar name. Please try to make your comments in a helpful vein or refrain from posting. You only lower everyone’s opinion of your mental abilities when you post comments like that. In an end of the world situation, you might be positively thrilled to find a wilted brown-tinged bunch of celery or some only slightly moldy tomatoes, especially if your children are crying that they are hungry.

      Reply to this comment
  8. Homesteader June 20, 16:18

    Most grocery stores in my area use compactors for all their trash including all food being thrown out. They insure that food being thrown away cannot be used by anyone to try to avoid anyone getting sick from it and suing them. Any usable food is usually given to soup kitchens or food pantries. The cardboard is made into bales and so compressed it is useless for anything but recycling.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck June 22, 02:15

      I worked at Target one Christmas season right after I retired and we baled all the cardboard and there was a lot. If you wanted a box or two you could ask one of the stockroom workers and they would get them for you, but we didn’t make a regular habit of it because it took us from our job. One of the night guys ran the baler or if we got too many boxes scattered around during the day one of the stockroom guys would run the baler and band it for pickup.You need to realize that the closer a truck is loaded to capacity, the cheaper it is to haul that load on a per pound basis. In other words if you have a truck full of loose cardboard that weights 15,000 pounds, it costs the same as if you have that same truck loaded to the maximum of 40,000 pounds (here in Kally, anyway). The driver gets the same wage because he is paid per mile driven. The diesel used is pretty close to the same. Tire wear is more with the heavier load, but other costs offset that cost. Plus, it is quicker to load baled cardboard with a forklift than it is to load loose cardboard by hand. Forklift loading can be accomplished by one man. Hand loading requires several people and takes a lot longer. Driver doesn’t make any money standing on the dock. Truck doesn’t make any money standing at the dock either. It’s like any commercial piece of machinery. It only makes money when it is doing what it was designed to do. I had to keep my dumpster locked otherwise the bums would scatter the trash all over looking for stuff and the County Schools Office next door had a dumpster that was too small for the size of their office so they dumped their trash in my dumpster. I’d go out and it would be full of their trash so there was no room for mine. I finally had to put a lock on it to stop them. Complaining did nothing. Lots of companies do that. People think it is okay to throw their mattress in an open dumpster. It costs more to have a locked dumpster, but if you want to have a place for your trash, sometimes you have to lock it. Also bums seem to like to start fires in dumpsters, so locking them cuts down on dumpster fires which can set your building on fire. Ahh,, the joys of owning a small business.

      Reply to this comment
  9. Travis Walker October 25, 05:02

    Great list. Well, instead of Dumpster Diving, I’d rather have canned or preserved food at home and stash non-perishable goods every month. Whenever we’re shopping for food I always follow the 50/50 rule. 50 for our daily consumption and the other 50 is for stashing. This will be thrifty compared to buying bulk. Some stores are also giving survival food for free, and there are online stores who sell cheap survival food too. For the dollar store, I find some really great items there too. From lighters, matches and tinders to some survival knives. Really good ones! This is a really good way if you want to start to prep but you’re on a budget.

    Reply to this comment
  10. rednig October 27, 04:35

    A lot of states will not allow dumpster diving. California had too many crushed by garbage haulers. But, I live 11 miles from an Outlet store, where they sell outdated box goods and dented cans. When in doubt, re-can in jars, and the flour and pasta (has to be gluten free for us) can be stored in that most important friend of any greenhouse operator, CO2. As most gluten-free grain products are already sealed in plastic, this should not be needed, but if storing for a distant future, then place in airtight containers with the gas. Ditto the ‘instant’ noodle soups. Bottled juice should be good for a year or more after the date.
    We buy zinc and so on at the Dollar store (zinc kills viral infections). Look to see if it’s made in the US first. Light gas will go bad after a few years, if that’s what you’re storing. I lost a few good butane lighters to that.

    Reply to this comment
  11. LB November 16, 17:36

    Many of the items in my bugout back came from Harbor Freight. Always used a coupon and got a free item.

    Reply to this comment
  12. Pete June 25, 16:27

    You can rebuild old coleman stoves easily enough. Also they run on hi-test gasoline. Coleman fuel is expensive, but hi-test gasoline is about half the price and it last longer in the stove.

    Reply to this comment
  13. Sean October 30, 18:30

    I got a Coleman single-burner for $5 at a thrift store. Like new, still in box. Works for me because I already have a Coleman and fuel bottles. A few months back I bought an item at a thrift store that retails for $325. It was unused, with extra parts, $25. Since it was Wacky Wednesday, it was only $12.50. I could never have owned one at $325.
    Libraries sell used books as low as ten cents apiece.

    Reply to this comment
  14. Grammyprepper February 13, 06:56

    Many major retailers/grocers have ‘locked’ dumpsters. This is for liability reasons. God forbid, someone outside is dumpster diving when someone inside pushes the compact button.

    Reply to this comment
  15. Omega 13 December 21, 13:46

    Has anyone considered a food pantry? If you have little or no money, and there’s a food pantry in your area, odds are good you’re already using one.

    This is not for people who have money and just want to prep on a budget. It is for those who don’t have a lot of money and want to prepare for what may happen.

    My church runs a food pantry. In addition to a lot of dehydrated stuff like Mac and Cheese, there is rice and beans. There are a variety of canned goods (we have a specific item to donate every month), and also things like raisins. For those in need.

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