Practical Tips for Practical Preppers
at the Doomsday Five & Dime
Ok, so you don't have the money for an underground nuclear bunker, or a 100-acre bug-out location, or a solar array on your roof, or an arsenal of assault weapons. Should you give up on the idea of prepping? Of course not! You don't need to be rich to be prepared. Most of what you'll need in any sort of SHTF scenario are items easily available at your local stores. You can prepare for doomsday on a dollar a day if you're diligent and resourceful. Here are some basic hints and tips for doing so!
Heating Pads & Electric Blankets
I live in earthquake-land and blizzard country. Earthquakes take out the gas lines, and I heat my home with gas. Blizzards take out my electricity. In a quake, both gas and electric are likely to go out, but the electricity is probably going to be restored far more quickly than the gas. The last time we had a major earthquake, it was 25 below zero. Therefore keeping warm is paramount-- and electric blankets and electric heating pads can be invaluable in such a situation. I have electric space heaters on hand for emergency heat, but in my old drafty house, staying warm is going to be much easier if I have a big stash of electric blankets and pads to sit upon and sleep under. You can find these, used but still working, at your local thrift shop, and I bet you can get them for a buck. When the heat goes out but the lights are still on, that's a dollar well spent!
There are a variety of types of emergency flashlights that plug directly into a wall outlet where they remain perpetually charged -- and will automatically turn on if the power ever goes out. I keep one of these in every single room of my house. If the power goes out, I have a flashlight instantly available, something which I needed - but did not have - the night of the big train wreck when I needed a flashlight in order to find a flashlight. There is one right next to my bed in case the power goes out in the middle of the night, which it recently did during a wind storm. I woke up and the only reason I knew that the power was out was because the automatic flashlight was shining, lighting up the whole bedroom. My favorite automatic flashlight is the one that's plugged in right next to my back door, because not only does it charge the flashlight, but it charges the big battery the flashlight runs on -- the same size of battery that my cordless screwdriver operates on. The cordless screwdriver is important because I stockpile lumber in my home, and the boards are usually held in place with screws. If a train wreck or earthquake shatters my windows on a sub-zero night, not only will I need that flashlight, but I'll also need a screwdriver in order to free up my stored lumber, and then screw it into place over the broken windows. I purchased all of my automatic flashlights at second hand outlets for a buck or two each, and they can also be purchased new for $15 or so at any hardware store. Having light when everyone around you is in the dark is a good deal.
Tuna Packed in Oil
When I'm buying canned tuna to eat now, I buy tuna packed in water because I don't need any extra calories at the moment. However, when I'm buying tuna for doomsday, I buy tuna packed in oil, because when SHTF, those extra calories will be needed. Tuna often goes on sale for less than a dollar a can and it makes a great survival food.
Baggies as a water collecting device
If you're stuck without water on a hot summer day, whether in the middle of New York City or the Mohave Desert, but you happen to have baggies with you, and there are some green plants around, then you can collect water by placing the baggies over the branches and leaves and sealing it up. The plant's respiration gives off water vapor, which collects in the baggie. Put the baggie on at first light and return to collect your water at dusk. Keep some in your car in case you break down somewhere hot and dry one day. Buy your off-brand baggies at the local dollar store for a buck.
Everyone LOVES to ridicule window film: "Yeah, right, like window film is going to save you in a nuclear war!" But this stuff really rocks. I put window film on all the windows in my big old drafty house, and my heating bill dropped by 25%. If you have broken windows due to tornado, hurricane, hailstorm, nuclear bomb, earthquake, or riot, this window film goes up in a jiffy and keeps the wind and weather out of your house. In a nuclear war, it will help prevent radiation from entering your home, and could come in handy if there's ever a killer pandemic or chemical attack. The plastic attaches to the window frame using double-stick tape and a heat gun or hair dryer, but I also keep PLENTY of duct tape on hand in case the power is out and the heat gun isn't working. (Be sure to have enough duct tape on hand to surround every window that might be broken.) You can also use the plastic to create a solar still when the water goes out: Dig a hole, put a bucket in the bottom of the hole on a hot sunny day, surround the bucket with green vegetation or anything that's damp (including pee), cover the hole with plastic, and drop a pebble in the middle of the plastic so that the condensation runs into the bucket. These window film kits can be purchased for a few dollars at any hardware store. I regularly pick them up in the hardware section of my favorite thrift store, as well as the Re-Store which sells used building supplies.
Mylar Sun Shades
Certain kinds of sun shades for cars are made out of Mylar. These are great at helping keep your car cool on a hot day, but they are also good for keeping a body warm on a cold day. Mylar reflects heat, any kind of heat, including body heat. Place this under a sleeping bag if you've got zombies sleeping on your floor, or put it underneath an injured person suffering from shock. If the heat is out and you haven't got electricity for the electric blankets you stockpiled (see above), then put one of these in your bed to help you keep warm at night. Use them to keep your pet warm. Hot sun glaring in your living room windows during a mid-summer brown-out? Put these in the windows to help keep your house cool. Collect a bunch of them, and store them flat underneath your mattress. Keep a couple in your car too, in case you break down in the boondocks. Note: Skip the sun shades that are NOT made out of Mylar.
Vacuum Storage Bags
"Space Bags" can be a prepper's best friend. Not only do they provide the greatest amount of storage in the smallest possible space, but they make it air-tight and waterproof, insect-proof, and rodent repellent. I store bunches of stuff in these and they are always worth the investment. They are a little bit pricey, costing a few dollars each if you buy them new at Wal-Mart or Amazon. However, these are one of the many items I glean from garage sales and flea markets, where they turn up on a regular basis. You can make your own vacuum storage bags out of any over-size Zip-lock baggie if you have a vacuum cleaner with a hose attachment and a crevice tool nozzle. Just fill it with stuff, stick the tip on the nozzle in the edge of the baggie, and suck all the air out.
I always protect the vacuum-packed bag with several layers of pillowcases (which I purchase at the same thrift shop for ten cents each) because when I shove the bundle into storage, the smallest snag will catch on the plastic bag and tear it open, ruining the vacuum seal. I'm always trying to prepare for a massive bug-out, and I want to be able to heave this package into the back of a truck, and I don't want to worry about it splitting open on something sharp.
Towels & Wash Cloths
Douglas Adams, in his book "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" was adamant that the one thing you absolutely must take with you when you travel the universe is a towel. Shortly after a small earthquake jiggled my town, the Authorities issued a press release saying that in the event of a "real" earthquake, the water service to our city might be out of order for up to three months. Thinking through the ramifications of that, I decided to store towels and wash clothes, which sell for ten cents each at the same thrift store that sells me a sack full of clothing for $3. If there's a baby in diapers in your home, or if you have a single injured or incontinent person in your household, you are going to really appreciate having a big, big bundle of clean towels and wash cloths if you're in a no-laundery-services-available situation. I packed a huge stack of them into a vacuum storage bag, which I then protected with several thicknesses of pillowcases in order to avoid snagging the plastic bag while in storage. I also included a big bunch of several hundred safety pins (lower left corner of top picture) which I buy at the Dollar Store. If you need to make bandages or diapers, you'll need safety pins. You can repeat this process of vacuum storage with socks, underwear, sweatshirts, hankies, bandanas, and so forth-- anything you'd want to have on hand in a SHTF no-laundry-for-months situation.
This stack (above) is only about half of what eventually fit into the vacuum storage bag below.
At the local dollar store, I can buy a package of 80 baby wipes for a buck, meaning each wipe costs one and a quarter cents. How much is that going to be worth when the water is out indefinitely and there's no way to clean wounds, wash hands, or wipe babies? I keep a package of these in my car, some in my camper, more in my bug-out bag, and a whole load in my first aid kit. Definitely worth a buck per package!
While we're on the subject of wiping, don't forget to stock up on toilet paper, because when the sh!t hits the fan, we're all going to need toilet paper! I'm on a self-prescribed toilet paper tithing system, where each time I buy some for everyday use in the household, I also buy extra for the day after Doomsday. Don't forget that our pioneer ancestors used to use pages from the Sears catalog for the purpose, so if you have catalogs, newspapers, a phone book, or maybe a long awful novel handy, you'll be set.
Chlorophyll is the substance in living green plants that enables photosynthesis. It has long been touted as a health food supplement. I can't say for certain if it's going to give you more energy or a healthier liver, but one of the side effects of swallowing chlorophyll in capsule or tablet form is that it makes your poop not stink. (It's also purported to remove bad breath and body odor.) In an enclosed area with no running water and little sanitation, where everyone is using the same bucket as a toilet, chlorophyll could well be worth its weight in gold. Find it at your local health food store for about ten bucks a bottle. Just be sure not to confuse it with chloroform.
These six-inch tall bed risers can be used underneath any piece of furniture in the home in order to raise it off the floor, providing extra storage space beneath. I use these extensively throughout my home under tables, dressers, desks, and beds. You can buy a set of four for less than $20 new, and they are often found at second hand outlets or estate sales for just a few dollars.
My local lumber yard sells small blue tarps for a dollar each. I buy one every time I visit that store. I keep them in my underwear drawer; I simply took the underwear out of the drawer, laid down a layer of tarps still in their package, and put the underwear back in the drawer. This way, they don't take up any of my very limited space, they are easily accessible, and no one knows they're there. If you have a drawer that's not quite full, maybe you should do the same. How about the drawer in the dining room that holds the tablecloths and linen napkins that you use twice a year? Got some extra room in there for tarps? Make sure you have one for every window in your house, and a few extra to spare.
Here's a list of twelve things to do with a one dollar tarp:
15 Bean Soup; 15 Bean Garden
In any grocery store in America in the section selling beans, you'll find a package of mixed beans intended to make 15 bean soup. This is a very nutritious soup; however, it's worth remembering that beans are seeds, and bean seeds grow more beans. From this one-pound package you could conceivably sprout, plant, and harvest entire bean fields of 15 different varieties. Beans are among the easiest of plants to grow; their leaves and stems can be fed to livestock; and they enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen. If you can't afford the heirloom seeds that the hardcore preppers spend money on, at least set aside a few packages of 15 bean soup. They cost about $3 or $4 per package, which is certainly a bargain worth the investment.
Food-Savers & Seal-a-Meals
If you can't afford the whole five-gallon-bucket-with-mylar-liners-and-oxygen-absorbers thing, then you can certainly afford a Food-Saver or Seal-A-Meal, which can be purchased for a few dollars at any thrift shop in America. These will help prolong the life of your stored food considerably, and can be used to protect many other items as well, such as matches, cigarette lighters, ammo, and so forth. As long as you're spending the money and taking the time to put supplies aside, it's worth the minimal investment to protect those supplies as best you can. Food-Savers retail for about $75 new, but I bought mine on half price day at the thrift shop for $2, and it even came with a good supply of bags. When buying a used Seal-a-Meal, make sure it's a model that still has baggies available online.
Stainless Steel Bowls
Stainless steel has an average life expectancy measured in centuries. These nesting bowls will never melt, break, or rust. You can put them directly in the campfire, leave them out in the rain, drop them off a cliff, and they will still be good. I want to be able to feed hordes of hungry zombies (soup, not brains) so I collect these compulsively. Because they nest so nicely, it's very easy to store dozens of them in a small space. They can be used as bowls, buckets, or basins. Use them to collect rainwater, as bedpans, as wash tubs, or cooking pots. Shop for them at your second hand store. I honor a standing vow never to walk by one if I can buy it for a buck or less.
Solar Garden Lights
The local dollar store often sells solar-powered garden lights for a buck each. These lights have a rechargeable AA or AAA battery inside them. When I was trying to increase my supply of rechargeable batteries, I found it was cheaper to buy solar lights with their rechargeable batteries than it was just to buy the rechargeable batteries alone. The lights come with a stake to be pounded into the ground, but the light can be unscrewed from the stake, leaving you with a handheld rechargeable solar flashlight AND a method of recharging all of your rechargeable batteries when the power is out. Although I can buy these lights for a buck each at the dollar store, I prefer to pay $2 each for the lights that often go on sale at K-Mart. The difference between the two is that the $2 type have a battery that can be removed by simply flipping open the battery compartment door, whereas the cheaper variety require a small screwdriver to do so. Additionally, the $2 kind have an on/off switch, which the cheaper kind does not; they are simply on when it's dark, and off when it's light. I also find these lights at garage sales for cheap money, usually because people think they're dead. I take them home, pull them apart, clean out the collected cobwebs and dead bugs from the electronic connections, and stick the battery into my normal battery charger over night, revving them up again. Usually the problem with dead solar lights is that they were in the shade or covered with leaves or debris, cutting down the amount of light that hit the charger. Eventually the battery just goes dead. After being revived, they usually work just fine. Try to be sure you get a fair mix of AA and AAA solar lights so you'll have both types of batteries available in perpetuity. Stick half a dozen of these lights into a bucket of sand and you'll light up the entire room.
This is an interesting bottle filled with multi-colored kernels of corn. As it happens, elementary schools often undertake arts and crafts projects that involve filling various containers such as this with various kinds of seeds and beans. They make a nice Mother's Day gift from a third grader, and a few years later you find them for sale in a thrift shop for a quarter or a dollar. I always buy these. I empty them out, save the contents, store the seeds in my seed cache, and donate the container back to the thrift shop. I can't afford heirloom seeds, but I'll never turn down a dose of third grader Mother's Day seeds.
Cheap Home Security
If you can't afford to spend gobs of money on a home security system, head on down to your local dollar store and pick up a few of these. These little lights are designed to automatically switch on as soon as a door or drawer are opened, breaking a magnetic connection. They're meant for lighting closets and cupboards-- but it would afford you an excellent early warning for anyone sneaking around your property. I bought some to have ready to affix to the fence gate in my yard, and I have a few extra for the doors in my home. You can also purchase high-pitched alarms that function on the same principle if you prefer an audible warning to wake you from sleep. (These are designed to help you keep track of toddlers and people with Alzheimer's.) I have some of each; a ten-dollar security system that just might be worth the money one day.
Water: Cheap Tip #1
Yes, it's wonderful if you can afford a Berkey Water Filter system for your bug-out location. If you can't afford a Berkey Water Filter system and don't have a bug-out location, you're still gonna need water. So, start with a big bunch of coffee filters to filter rain water, river water, or lake water. Try to gather water that's in motion rather than stagnant. Coffee filters will go a long way towards filtering out the chunky parts. If you don't have coffee filters, use hankies, nylons, or clean socks.
Water: Cheap Tip #2
One of the most effective methods of cleaning dirty water is to run it through a charcoal filter. Well, guess what's in the filter of a Brita water pitcher, and other similar brands? These pitchers cost $15-$20 new, and fresh filters cost about $3 to $5 each, but they are a common item at second hand outlets-- not only the pitchers, but also the filters. These charcoal filters are not going to filter out giardia germs or cholera, but they will go a long ways towards providing you with a decent drink of water if you've got reasonably clean water to start with, or a few key elements (below).
Water: Cheap Tip #3
Chlorine is used to sterilize municipal water systems from coast to coast. It's also used in swimming pools all over the world. And it's highly effective at killing all the living things in that pond water that's going to save you from death by dehydration. Add 16 drops per gallon, shake it up, and let it sit for 30 minutes before drinking. It should taste like a public swimming pool. Buy a gallon of unscented bleach at your local dollar store and be sure to write "16 drops per gallon" right on the bottle with permanent marker so you don't forget. Bleach does expire, so rotate your supplies annually.
Water: Cheap Tip #4
We put iodine on our cuts and scrapes because it kills germs. Well, it kills germs in water too. Most outdoor and camp supply stores sell tiny bottles of iodine pills which you drop into a canteen. These are an excellent item for your bug-out bag, camper kit, or emergency car kit. It's so much easier to carry a little bottle of pills than it is to carry a bunch of bleach around. If you don't happen to have the iodine pills, but you do have regular tincture of iodine in your first aid kit, just use 32 drops to the gallon and wait five minutes.
Water: Cheap Tip #5
If you're hard up for water and caught without any method of purification, just make your own all-natural water purifier using alternating layers of grass, sand, and charcoal.
Water: Cheap Tip #6
As discussed in the "window film" section above, here's a simple method of making 100% clean 100% safe water: the solar still.
Cheap Alternative Energy for Dummies
If your power goes out and you've never gotten around to installing that solar array on your roof or that wind generator in your yard, then just be sure to have a few simple items on hand, such as this thingy which clips to any car battery just like jumper cables and then offers you the option of powering any item you happen to have that you typically plug into the cigarette lighter in your car, such as those found below:
Cheap Alternative Energy #2
These items all run off of a cigarette lighter in a vehicle: a fan, a light, and an electric blanket. I keep a cigarette-lighter electric blanket in each car during the winter months in case I'm ever stranded in a blizzard. That way, I can either run the car and use the heater for warmth, or plug in my electric blanket and stay warm using power from the battery. The object would be to alternate between the two, in order not to run out of gas, and not to run the battery completely down. During a winter power outage at home, I can still have an electric blanket if I bring my car battery inside, as long as I have an adapter like the one above.
Cheap Alternative Energy #3
This converter can be used in the cigarette lighter in your car, or bring your car battery indoors and plug in the cigarette lighter adapter shown above to use it inside. After getting hooked on the convenience of this adapter, I will never be caught without one. There's one in the glove box of each of my vehicles and I use them constantly to charge up my cell phone and laptop when traveling. If the power goes out for a good long time, this item will be worth its weight in gold. Trust me on that. They usually run about $20 or $30 and well worth the investment.
Cheap Alternative Energy #4
With this handy-dandy converter, I can bring my car battery indoors, hook it up to this inverter, and be able to plug in any electrical item (within reason -- probably not the microwave or the fridge). I can charge my cell phone, use my computer, watch movies on my DVD player, plug in a regular electric blanket, run a radio, or turn on a light. You can purchase these for about $20 or $30 in the automotive section of any store that has an automotive section-- which makes it cheap alternative energy indeed.
Dog Chew Stew
If you have dogs, be sure to stockpile unflavored rawhide chews. These unflavored rawhide chews are not necessarily for the dog. Depending on the severity and duration of the event, rawhide dog chews can be transformed into a nutritious base for soups and stews. Just boil the heck out of 'em and use the gelatinous glop as a broth base with whatever else you have on hand that would make good soup. Seriously, how often have you read about lost explorers eating their boiled leather shoes? Julia Child and other chefs call this stuff 'aspic' and there are many recipes that use this as the starting point. If nothing else, this will keep your beloved dog fed, offering much more nutrition than simply having the dog eat the rawhide raw. Laugh if you must, but those who survived the siege of Leningrad will tell you that Dog Chew Stew beats starving to death.
Hand operated food processor
If the power is going to be out and if I'm going to be feeding a big bunch of people, I want one of these hand-crank food processors on hand. I actually find these at thrift shops and garage sales on a pretty regular basis, so I have several of them set aside, in order to be better able to organize a crew of kitchen workers. They slice! They dice! They whip, they chop, they beat, they mix. Definitely worth the money!
A battery tester is a really good thing to have on hand in a SHTF scenario where you will be depending upon batteries instead of electricity. These little jobbies sell at the local Dollar Store for a buck each. I stockpile batteries, both normal batteries and rechargables, and every time I fill a storage container with batteries, I also include a battery tester. Because the battery tester runs on button batteries, I also include a package of button batteries which I also buy at the Dollar Store. Definitely a must-have for your post-Armageddon kit.
Folding Hand Fan
It doesn't get too hot where I live in Montana, but it gets hot enough. If I've got a bunch of people huddling in a stuffy basement waiting for the fallout cloud to pass, a whole bunch of these can go a long long ways towards keeping people comfy. If you live in a hot place and would be lost and miserable without central air conditioning, pack a number of these inexpensive fans in your kit.
Flint Lighter for Acetylene Torches
I stockpile cigarette lighters. I stockpile matches. But cigarette lighters and matches will always run out if the factories shut down. These handy dandy little flint lighters for acetylene torches throw off wonderful sparks and will last forever. They are very inexpensive - costing about the same as a decent cigarette lighter - and are small enough to fit in your pocket. These are definitely worth adding to your Doomsday kit.
Most of the ready-made pre-packaged emergency kits include flimsy paper masks which are cheap and disposable. However, they also offer a bare minimum of protection against anything in the atmosphere you don't care to breathe. I can't afford the full-blown gas masks of the type you see in nuclear Armageddon films. However, respirator masks of the type worn by professional painters will go a long way towards protecting your lungs. If I'm crawling through the dust-choked basement of my neighbor's house looking for survivors after an earthquake, these will come in handy. Purchased new at a hardware store, they run $20-$30. I lucked into an estate sale of a man who ran an auto body repair shop where I bought about ten of them for around $20. Be sure to stock replacement filter pads!
I store a number of respirator masks to protect my lungs, but they still leave the eyes vulnerable. Because I happen to live in ski country, it's easy to find used ski goggles at thrift shops and garage sales for a few dollars. The type with a foam padding around the rim make a nice tight seal. These can be used for protection in many different scenarios: blizzard, hurricane, volcano, nuclear event, or forest fire smoke. My main reason for keeping some of these around is for clambering through rubble and dust after an earthquake.
Homemade Gas Mask
Complete instructions for making a homemade gas mask from a pop bottle, some duct tape, a rubber band, and a dust filter can be found HERE.
As the hostess of the Armageddon Inn, I'm expecting to be caring for quite the crowd on the day after doomsday. Because I have only seven rooms available, sleeping quarters will be tight. Earplugs are SO cheap and SO effective that there's no reason not to have some around. If you're going to be turning Zombies back into people, you'll be needing these so that everyone can get a good night's sleep. Find 'em at your local hardware store, cheap. Don't forget to pick up a few acetylene torch lighters while you're there, as well as a few spare filters for your respirator mask.
Water bottles with nipples instead of caps
I rarely drink bottled water because it is so wasteful. I do buy bottled water from time to time and I use the bottles over and over again until they finally expire and are recycled. I prefer bottles that have pop-up nipples rather than screw-on caps for several reasons. First, it's just so much easier and quicker to get a drink when you don't have to screw and unscrew a cap. Second, when they tip over, they spill very little water. Finally, they're excellent for toddlers and babies to drink from. I don't have children or grandchildren and therefore I store very few preps specific to caring for infants. But these can work as a baby bottle in a pinch. For soothing agitated youngsters, make a hot drink out of powdered milk, powdered cocoa, and honey, vanilla, sugar, or cinnamon (all of which are good "forever" foods). Shake it up in the bottle to mix it well, and cover the bottle with a thick sock to keep the drink warm and provide something the child can hug and hold onto for comfort.
These shop towels are not your ordinary paper towels. They are so thick and sturdy that they can be washed, dried, and re-used. I keep a roll of these in each car and it's amazing how often they come in handy on the road. In a situation where there's no running water, these would be a godsend. They can be used as emergency bandages, diapers, wash cloths, or feminine sanitation. A local auto parts store used to put these on sale for 99 cents a roll and I'm glad I stocked up when they did. Now they cost a lot more than that -- but they are worth the investment, especially if you may be taking care of babies.
Battery operated radio
Every emergency website, hotline, and booklet will remind you to be sure to have a battery operated AM/FM radio on hand. That's because this is the best way to get information out to the populace in times of trouble. It's far easier to find a battery operated radio than it is to find a battery operated TV; you can walk into any thrift store in the nation and walk out with one for a buck or so. Find out which radio station in your town is officially designated the Emergency Alert Station (previously known as the Emergency Broadcast System: "This is a test. This is only a test. Had this been a REAL emergency...."). Mark the location of that station on the radio's dial and have the radio pre-set to that station. Be sure to include extra batteries (or buy a hand-crank radio) and include some headphones for private listening as well.
My dollar store sells these chain locks for a buck each and I've invested about ten bucks in them. There are a lot of situations where they would come in handy. First of all, I have a chain link fence surrounding half my property, and a chain lock like this would keep both the gates closed. Looters would have to go over the top of the fence rather than walking right through the gate. Secondly, I have several small generators which would certainly be a target for thieves, so I would want to keep those chained up tight while they're running to prevent people from walking off with them. Finally, I'd want to keep my bicycle safe. Chain locks are an excellent purchase.
In a Mad Max type of scenario, a siphon could be worth its weight in gold. And you only have to get a mouth full of gasoline ONCE in your lifetime to understand the beauty of a pump siphon. They are cheap. They are useful. BUY ONE.
You will be amazed at how often you're going to need a good sturdy trash bag after SHTF and all that S needs to be cleaned up. In every single trash container in my home, I've placed an entire extra package of trash bags underneath the bottom of the bag, where it's out of sight but not out of mind. They don't take up any storage space in my home this way, and they're very accessible when I need 'em.