Country Living Series

Monday, October 4, 2010

The economics of Prepping

A subject that some people have wondered about is the economics of Prepping. I mean, doesn’t it seem like a dumb idea to be spending all sorts of money on stuff we may never use?

My husband and I have given this a great deal of thought, largely because we are fairly low-income and thus have very little discretionary income to divert toward Prepping. Why, then, do we do what we do?

Putting aside the obvious – we believe an economic tsunami is coming our way and feel it’s best to be as prepared as possible – we also believe that Prepping is financially sensible. This may seem counterintuitive, so let me explain. Actually, it’s not “me” who’s explaining a lot of this, but my husband. Much of what follows are his thoughts.

We don’t feel that proper and sensible disaster preparation is ever a financially negative thing to do. Yes of course there are outlays of cash – sometimes large ones – but in the end you have something tangible to show for it. Those “tangibles” may include medical supplies, food, water storage, guns and ammunition, clothing (socks and underwear, winter coats and boots, sewing supplies), metals (gold and silver), rural property, nonhybrid seeds, livestock, etc. Some of these things, properly maintained, will last pretty much forever (i.e. guns, rural property, metals). Some of these things, properly handled, will multiply (i.e. livestock and seeds). And some of these things must be rotated in order to maintain maximum usefulness (i.e. food and certain medicines).

Now tell me, which of these things would be a “bad” investment, especially in light of the uncertainty that now surrounds traditional investments such as stocks, bonds, interest-bearing accounts, etc.? In the last few years, people who had money in the stock market have lost staggering sums of money. But people who invested in “tangibles” have seen their items either increase in value (sometimes drastically, like the more economically-successful souls who could afford gold) or at the very least stay immune to inflationary pressures.

You see what I mean? Even seasoned economists are suggesting that people dump their stocks and invest in tangibles.

Besides, look at it this way. Whatever you buy and store now is thereafter immune to all inflation. That 50 lb. bag of rice you bought for $15 will never have its price jacked to $20, or $25, or $30. Properly stored, rice will last for years and years and years. Rice you buy at today’s prices will not be subject to tomorrow’s inflation. Ever. Tell me why that isn’t a sensible investment.

Same thing with ammo. Same for silver or gold. Same for non-perishable medical supplies. Same for a water-storage tank.

Another thing to consider. When you buy food in order to store it, you often buy in bulk. I can get 50 lbs. of rice for $15 at the wholesale grocer’s in Spokane. But at my local grocery store, a 5 lb. bag of rice might cost me $2.50. Believe me, it’s a whole lot cheaper – dare I say, economically sensible – to buy in bulk.

And it goes without saying that, if the bleep ever hits the fan, these tangibles become priceless.

Another benefit to Prepping is knowledge. How many of your typical non-Preppers have any clue how to make cheese? Butcher a chicken? Can a batch of homemade pizza sauce? Make something using hand tools rather than power tools? Make soap? Wash and dry clothes without electricity?

But those with a Prepper mentality instinctively try to learn how to do things the old-fashioned way. It’s challenging, it’s fun, it’s creative, and it’s another priceless commodity should the bleep ever hit. And if the bleep never hits, we still have the knowledge.

Yet another economic advantage to Prepping is the “green” benefits. Due to our Prepper mentality, we do a lot of things the average “Greenie” is forever nagging people to do anyway. Preppers avoid or have eliminated disposables. They buy in bulk. They use non-electric alternatives whenever possible. Some are off-grid. I mean really, the list of “green” benefits just goes on and on.

But why do we consider our Prepper items as “investments”? Putting aside the inflationary immunity, many of the things we’ve purchased could be re-sold in a heartbeat at a profit. No, I’m not talking about our stored food (though I suppose it could be argued that even those are re-salable), but a lot of other things we’ve invested in have values that are going up. Sometimes rapidly. And nothing we’ve bought – not one single solitary thing – has gone down in value.

Most important, all the things we’ve purchased so far are either in active use or are available for immediate use. Those medical supplies sure can come in handy when we slice open a finger. And darn, I ran out of cornmeal in the pantry – time to crack a bucket and dip in. My reusable feminine hygiene items? Used constantly. My canning jars and reusable lids? Ditto. Our wood stove? It’s our sole source of heat in the winter. Our livestock? Re-salable, renewable, and an excellent source of, um, fertilizer. Rechargeable batteries, mousetraps, oil wicks, clothespins… the list goes on and on. All of these things have saved us money in the long run because they replace disposables, because they are reusable, because they are bought in bulk (thus beating inflation), or because they maintain or gain in value.

I hope this puts to rest the absurd notion that Preppers are fools who are buying a lot of useless stuff. On the contrary, I sleep better at night knowing that if the very worst (we pray) thing that happens is we get snowed in this winter (a frequent occurrence), we don’t need to fret in the slightest.

We are prepared.


  1. You thoughts on this echo mine very well! As I was reading, I was mentally going down my list of preps and I have to say, there isn't a single thing we have bought for preps that is not useful for every day living or any emergency you could name (storm, pandemic, unemployment), unlike our 401k and future (lol) pension which have lost considerable value.

    Great post!

  2. Prep supplies also provide insulation against shortages (caused by panic shopping by the unprepared), rationing, loss of income, supply disruptions (raw materials, manufacturing), distribution channel disruptions, and adverse weather (too much snow for travel or failed crops).

    If someone cites the nonevent of Y2K, that's understandable because hindsight is 20/20. Not many people understood computers then, so it was all a big mystery to the general public. The massive effort to remediate the date issue was not conveyed sufficiently to the public. I worked for a factory that made truck frames, and it was our mission in life to ensure that anything with a chip in it wouldn't be affected. And that was for truck frames. The big fear was banks and utilities. They had their act sewn up way before the event, but you wouldn't know it listening to the media.

    Y2K was a discrete event with a single source of failure. The mechanism of failure was well characterized, and concrete actions to remediate any issues existed and were implemented. Now, we face myriad systemic failures which are only superficially understood, with no clear path to a repaired state, and no political will to affect the necessary changes. Our sources of material and energy supply are often thousands of miles long, and our local goods distribution networks (hardware stores, mom n' pop groceries) have been supplanted by Wally World and chain stores. These systems have numerous single points of failure at a time when many of the involved systems are at risk of collapse or are currently collapsing. If that's a big picture that does not warrant serious prepping, I'm not sure what set of conditions would satisfy the prepping naysayer.

    I'd love to go back in time with a hidden camcorder to 1913 Austria and ask the average person on the street if they thought the bleep was about to hit the fan. Or 1926 Anywhere USA. Or 1938 Europe. Et Cetera. Then come back and see if the answers have a familiar ring today.

    I'll bet the poor country boy freezing in a trench near Verdun, with mustard gas clouds and these newfangled airplanes overhead, probably didn't anticipate just how far or how fast things had gone to hell in a handbasket.

    It's easy to think nothing will happen when we have not known a rainy day in decades. But when the dark clouds are here and it's thundering, you just might want to grab that umbrella.

    1. There is always concern over hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, floods, etc., or general economic collapse. I once asked a friend (the manager of a local supermarket) how much food was in our city in the even of a disruption. His reply? Three days. Could we expect a truckers' stike to be over in less than three days?

  3. Hmmm... Rechargable batteries.

    We use LOTS of them.

    Problem: Eventually, even with great recharging discipline, rechargable batteries loose their "re" and will no longer hold a usable charge.

    What then?

    I have not yet seen anything that will truly recondition a battery, so at present one must consider them consumed and not usable.

    What to do?

    Two thoughts, one of which I need to research. That research needs to answer the question: "How do I store rechargable batteries LONG TERM?" I have commented in the past that though lithium batteries (Li ion) are champions for power density, they start dying the day they are made and I have found nothing to stop that. Temperature will probably retard degradation (but what temp - too cold an I probably destory the battery - research), but allow me to recommend that "second tier" batteries - the ones you are going to long term store for the day when your lithium batteries die - should be NiMh family batteries not another set of lithium batteries which could well be useless. As to how to store NiMh against that "second (third, fourth...) tier" use I need to do research.

    The other thought. This is really only "do-able" if you have 60hz 120VAC power (your normal wall outlet power) available. If you have such power available, make an inventory of devices that "you can't do without" in the event of a lack of batteries for them. Plan on having AC to DC power supplies available. If you have a 12 volt DC system, you can "rescue" some of your devices.

    As a confirmed gadget hound, I have more than a couple of them which used to eat batteries which I now operate on house power. In some cases this is easy - the manufacturer put a socket on the thing for a "wall wart" (Nerd speak for those annoying wall outlet power cubes). The simple solution is to get wall warts for all of those items. Three problems, those fail pretty readily, the waste power when there is a large population and they are costly.

    The next step in your survey is to determine just what voltage they all "want". This is usually marked as VDC on the unit. For the terminally organized, make a spreadsheet listing all the items "without which life itself would be impossible" in one column and the required voltage in the next.

    Gather like power requirements together and search for a solution. You will spend more on 5 or 6 wall warts than you would on a single -shared- power supply.

    This is already w-a-y too long for a comment. I could go on, but do your own research. Don't neglect polarity and current requirements in your note taking and planning.

    Supplying DC to low current devices is not rocket science (otherwise I couldn't do it).

    This is how you operate something without batteries. You cheat. You use alternatives.

    Alternatives. Hmmm... Isn't that what Prepping is all about? (Whew! I knew that I could drag it back to the topic..)

  4. Right on, Patrice!

    Preppers today are merely doing what our grandparents and great grandparents did as a standard way of life. This is really nothing new, and doing it makes all the sense in the world to me. I feel much better knowing I have food in the pantry and alternative ways of doing things. Admittedly, I use all the modern appliances available (except the dishwasher, I like to wash dishes by hand) and am happy to have them. But I can just as quickly do things as my parents did or as my grandparents did. It's not that far a step because my parents were of the "old school," where they made do with what they had and were thankful for it. I am not as creative nor as skilled as my parents and ancestors were, but a small town girl can survive. ;)

    Anonymous Patriot

  5. "Oh well," said Dagny Taggart, " who is John Galt, anyway?"

    snrk snrk

    Keep up the good work and remain prepared. It's right.

    A. McSp

  6. when i was a very little girl my daddy worked in the steel mills in gary indiana. strikes and layoffs were very common then and we were poorer than dirt...many of our clothes were homemade from feedsacks or hand me downs from cousins. mama was always cooking and canning and i can remember daddy going fishing and frog gigging just to keep food on the table. i have spent half a lifetime getting ready for bad times...and although i do not have gold nor silver i have toilet paper, food enough, and i won't freeze in the winter months...because i am a prepper!

  7. Escellent case made, indeed!!

    Preparedness has only enhanced my life in the present, collapse or no collapse: Debt free, successfully trading in preparedness-related tangibles, etc.

  8. Great stuff, as usual. I'm wondering, do you know of any resources (books, blogs, whatever) that are specifically geared toward prepping in the desert? Firewood and water would be in very short supply here if the grid went down.

    Desert Bird

    1. I also live in the desert, but have a good well with a windmill (not currently in use, but I have all the parts to make it work) and a wood burning stove that provides probably 90% of my heat. (I also have 'backup' electric heat). I've heated my house since my 34 year old son was born with scrap wood from my construction business and have never run out. I usually have 2-3 years supply of wood cut up and waiting, and, in fact, usually have several pickup loads waiting to be cut up. I never seem to have time to get it all cut up and stacked before the next loads come in. Consider visiting construction sites to 'clean up' for them, offering to help with demolition to haul away the old wood. It's just going to the landfill anyway.

  9. Today is my stock-up day. Our grocery store starts their weekly sale today and I go down, grab the sale paper and stock up on what's on special. Like I explained to my sister in law--how hard is it to grab 2 extra cans of beans (or tomatoes, fruit, sauce, whatever) everytime you buy something at the store? It's not going to break your bank, and it's less than the mocha you were planning to get at the coffee stand on your way out. Now go home, write the date on top of those 2 cans and store them in your extra pantry under the stairs. Voila! you have a meal for your family of 4 for one day. Nobody is going to say it's gourmet dining, but it is nourishment that can be consumed at anytime it is needed, doesn't cost you a thing after the initial investment, and it doesn't lose any value.

    I short- sighted people even understand that if everything goes topsy turvy that paper money will be worthless? Those 2 cans of beans can be bartered for medical supplies, or a few pieces of wood to heat your home. What are they worth at that point?

    I don't know about anyone else, but I sleep better at night knowing I am trying my very best to do the right thing for my family while I am able.

    It deeply saddens me to think of all the people that may be forced to watch their loved ones perish because they were too stupid and hard headed to prepare when it was easy and cheap.

  10. It's all about us and them:

    Prepping--call it what you want-- comes naturally: You 'get it' or you don't.

    You 'get it' when the garden comes in. When the steer goes into packages. When the firewood piles are six feet tall and counting. When the yarn from that old sweater becomes several pair of mittens. Those of us who 'get it' are natural-born 'preppers' (or any other label).

    We just instinctively know that every gallon of water down the drain is an extreme luxury that few third-world households could imagine.

    We love the people who donate their clothes to thrift stores because they are a season old. Ha, we wear LLBean and Dockers for cents on the retail dollar. How cool is that?

    We wonder why others don't 'get it'. What could be more obvious? People work--earn money--the government takes a big piece of the weekly pay pie--then the take-home is divided up for day-care--second car--take-out meals--and the cost of a house where no one lives all week! And we 'don't get it'. At the end of the day, we have something to show for our labors and they? They spend their time complaining about 'being broke'. ccw

  11. I disagree with the preps as an 'investment' concept. I think this for two primary reasons. First it is just not the right use of the term; investment being "the commitment of money or capital to purchase financial instruments or other assets in order to gain profitable returns in the form of interest, income {dividend}, or appreciation of the value of the instrument." The way we buy and hold stuff doesn't have the reasonable expectation of any profitable returns and certainly not interest or dividends. For example it doesn't matter if that case of rifle ammo I stashed away doubles in value. It doesn't matter because I'm not selling it. Second it gives some folks the mistaken impression that they are somehow going to make money.

    I personally find insurance a much more accurate and useful analogy. Those buckets full of food, excessively well stocked medicine cabinets, garages full of camping gear, cabinets full of guns and cans full of ammo aren't going to make us any money. This stuff, while some of it may appreciate in value, is there to take care of us if something crazy happens.

    I have insurance in case my residence is burglarized or burns down. I have insurance to take care of my family in case I am killed. I have insurance in the form of all kinds of preps in case of other potentially bad situations.

  12. I'm very new to the prepping movement and have already seen it pay big dividends. I spent a little extra on food and toiletries last month and lo and behold, I got sick and had to pay a huge doctor's bill.The extra food and toiletries enabled me to cook for the month without once having to go to the store.

  13. Reply to Desert Bird:

    No, I'm sorry - I don't have any info on desert prepping since I've never lived in a desert. Let me suggest This spot has *extensive* resources on prepping in all kinds of situations, and is one of the best prepping references on the web. I'm sure there's info on desert prepping somewhere among the vast resources on that site. If you scroll down the left-hand side bar, you come across "Archives" which might prove useful. Just my $0.02. Good luck!

    - Patrice

  14. Desert Bird, I love the desert! When I can't go to the desert, I read about it in books and magazines and old journals. In fact, I spent a week in the desert just last month.

    An online search for "Desert Survival" will provide some information for you. Often survival and prepping go together, so one should lead to the other. You will also find some books that may be useful. (Whenever deciding which books to read, I use Amazon book reviews as guides.) Also, when perusing blogs, look for postings by readers who use "AZ" or "NM" or "Desert" in their screen names. These folks could prove to be helpful since they probably live in Arizona or New Mexico and know something about desert prepping and survival. And it could prove to be a good way to get acquainted with a fellow prepper who may live near you.

    Thinking outside the box will help, too. Instead of fire WOOD, how about using rolled newspapers? Newspapers should be easy to acquire right now, and rolling them for later use will save time and space if done before they are needed. I'd suggest, however, that they be stored in a container with a tight lid so bugs and mice don't use them as nesting sites. If you have the space, consider growing drought-tolerant trees on your property so you'll have your own wood should you need it.

    As for water, even the desert gets rain. You could set out collection barrels at roof valleys. Also, concrete collection basins can be built to discretely fit into landscaping. And think "cistern."

    Serious desert preppers go underground, literally. Something to contemplate perhaps?

    There were many Native American tribes that survived and thrived in desert environments. They knew how to find water, keep warm when cold and to get cool when hot. Studying their lifestyles may be helpful. And get a map of your area that shows all the known springs. It's amazing how many springs are in arid areas in this country. (Not all springs are surrounded by trees and shrubs, beware of those that aren't.)

    Good luck.

    Anonymous Patriot

  15. @Rob
    NiMh batteries are best stored partially charged in a cool environment (the fridge) but the benefits of doing this are not vast.

    In a truly TEOTWAWKI event you have a few years to adjust to not having batteries but by then you'll probably have learnt to go to bed at dusk and get up at dawn.
    Solar cells will probably outlive you so you can always use your other toys on sunny days and you'll probably have learnt to manage without them by ramping gently down (not suffering the cold-turkey cut-off of the non-prepper)