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Surviving Disaster on a Budget

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The low-down on how to survive and thrive during a natural disaster or harsh storm when you’re on a bare-bones budget!

It seems that over the last 60 years or so the household pantry has just about shrunk out of existence. Maybe it’s due to the fact that grocery stores are now located in just about every town in America. People assume that if they need food it’s just a short drive away, but have you ever noticed how bare store shelves get just before a storm?


Surviving Disaster on a Budget

The truth is that most grocery stores only carry enough food to sustain local residents for a few days.

Most people take food availability for granted. However there are a lot of factors that can affect the availability of food. Market prices are set according to how much a farm produces and how much it costs to transport goods to grocery stores. Drought, plant pests and viruses, and other natural disasters can drastically reduce crop yields, but farmers still need to pay their employees and mortgages as well as maintain their equipment. When crop yields decrease farmers must raise the prices of their goods to compensate. Rising gas prices also increase the cost of goods because it costs more to transport them to markets. If the price of food increased dramatically would you still be able to feed your family?


What if you suddenly had a loss of household income? Layoffs, injuries, divorce, or the sudden loss of a spouse can drastically decrease household income. If any of these things happened to you would you have enough food, or money to buy food set aside to sustain your family until you got back on your feet? An increase in the number of people needing help with food has greatly depleted food banks across America. Most food banks now only give out enough food to last a family for a couple of days and depending on where you live it can cost more in gas to get to the food bank than to just buy the same food at a local grocery store.

What I’m about to say next might sound like the ravings of a crazy conspiracy theorist, but I spent 8 years of my life studying science and I can honestly tell you that there are a whole host of catastrophes that can quickly decimate the human population. Many of the survivors of these catastrophes will undoubtedly be those who kept a well-stocked pantry.

Over the years many strains of bacteria and viruses have become resistant to our pharmaceutical concoctions rendering them useless against the spread of infection. Developing medications to combat these new strains takes time and there is no guarantee that a cure will ever be found. After all, it’s 2017 and as of yet there is still no cure for HIV.

When the H1N1 virus came out a few years ago healthy people without preexisting conditions suddenly began dying from getting the flu, an occurrence that in the past has generally been viewed as a non- life threatening inconvenience for such people. So how do you combat a deadly illness that is highly infectious and has no cure? You stay at home away from those who can potentially infect you. People who have a well stocked pantry will be able to hold out the longest, maybe even long enough for the CDC (Center for Disease Control) to get the illness under control.

Still not sufficiently convinced that you need a well stocked pantry? Here’s another interesting fact to consider. The earth is constantly bombarded with meteors and debris from space. Normally these celestial objects burn up in our atmosphere before they can do any real damage, but once in a while one gets through.

In 2013 a small meteor weighing between 13,000–14,000 tons, and measuring 65 feet wide penetrated the atmosphere and struck a remote area of Russia seriously injuring over 1,500 people and destroying a large tract of Siberian forest. Several times in earth’s history collisions with meteors have caused mass extinctions, but it’s not the impact itself that causes the most casualties. The extinctions occur as a result of food loss caused by massive fires which burn fields and dust clouds which blot out the sun for an extended period of time killing off plant life. I could go on listing disaster scenarios affecting food availability but I’m hoping that by this point you are beginning to understand why building a stock pile is so essential.

When I first realized how unpredictable food availability could become I felt terrified and helpless. I thought how am I supposed to build up a food surplus when I’m already barely making it from month to month? Up until this point I had always walked through the grocery store just blindly throwing what I needed into my shopping cart. If you had asked me how much I paid for something I wouldn’t have been able to tell you because I never even looked at a price tag. I just thought that’s what I need and that’s what it costs. However, once I began changing my shopping patterns I was able to start building up a surplus without increasing my food budget. Here are a few tips to get you started on your way!

Keep track of how much things cost and refuse to ever pay full price.

Stores have rotating sales. If you wait long enough, what you need will be on sale again. The trick to making this work is to stock up on items when they are on sale, buying enough to last until that item is on sale again. Be sure to pay attention to expiration dates. Don’t buy more of an item than you can use before it expires, and be sure to rotate your stock as you add to it.

You should always use the oldest can first. Stack coupons on top of sales whenever possible. Buying in bulk at wholesale stores often lowers the per unit price of products giving you more for your money. Many of these stores also offer store coupons that can be stacked on top of manufacturer coupons for even greater savings. Grocery stores have to make a profit on the foods they sell so buying foods in bulk online and cutting out the middle man can also produce significant savings.

Grow your own and Preserve it

Even if you live in an apartment with no patch of ground to call your own, you can grow fruits and vegetables in containers in your home or on your porch/patio. Some neighborhoods even have garden co-ops. Grow your own food and can or dehydrate it. For more information on how to get the most out of your growing space read The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre by Carleen Madigan.

If you had unlimited cash it would be ideal to stock your pantry overnight, but for most of us that isn’t a possibility. Each week try to add at least one staple to your stockpile. Most canned goods generally last for several years, but for the longest shelf life opt for dehydrated foods that have been properly sealed and stored. If stored correctly, dried foods can last up to 25 years. Using mylar bags with oxygen absorbers offers the best protection for dehydrated foods stored on a long term basis. For more information on how to preserve food read Saving $$$ by Preventing Food Waste.

What should I have in my stock pile?


  • WATER! – Each person in the household will require a gallon of drinking water per day in addition to water for cooking. You can purchase bottled water or store tap water in soda bottles. If you are storing tap water, clean your bottles with a tsp of bleach and rinse thoroughly. Fill bottles with chlorinated tap water, and put the date on them. If you receive your water from a well you must add several drops of bleach to each bottle. Replace unused water every six months.
  • Dry beans
  • Dehydrated fruits, vegetables and meats
  • Rice
  • Flour– all flours contain weevil eggs, straight from the factory. To treat flour for long term storage, freeze flour for 72 hours and then immediately transfer it an airtight container for long-term storage.
  • Corn meal
  • Salt
  • Baking soda
  • Baking Powder
  • Yeast
  • Corn syrup
  • Corn starch
  • Dried mashed potatoes
  • Alcohol such as Vodka or Whiskey – good pain reliever, disinfectant, and sleep aid.
  • Wine– good for drinking/cooking
  • Molasses
  • Pancake mix– add water only variety
  • Pancake syrup
  • Powdered milk
  • Pasta
  • Vinegar
  • Cooking oil – coconut oil has the longest shelf life of all oils, but olive or canola oil are also acceptable.
  • Seasoning Mixes
  • Edible seeds- sunflower, pumpkin etc.
  • Canned goods– spaghetti sauce, soups, fruits, vegetables, pickles
  • Coffee/tea– You should have a way to prepare these without electricity. You can purchase a camp style percolator to use on a grill, or tie coffee grounds up in a coffee filter with string and steep in a pot of water.
  • Ketchup
  • Sugar-both granulated and powdered
  • Honey -honey lasts forever, literally. Edible honey has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs. It’s packed with nutrients and is a great antimicrobial medicine. Take a spoonful if you start to get a sore throat or have other symptoms of a cold.
  • Pudding mixes -make sure you have a large container with a screw on lid. If the power goes out electric mixers won’t work. You will have to shake pudding in a container. My family prepares pudding this way. We all take turns. It’s great for family bonding and is good exercise!
  • Cocoa powder/hot chocolate packets
  • Powdered gravy packets- chicken gravy mix , beef gravy mix, country gravy mix
  • Peanut butter
  • Vitamins– especially vitamin C. Foods lose some of their vitamins when they are processed for long term storage.

Don’t forget a good cookbook. In an emergency internet access may be unavailable. You will want to know how to make basic things like bread, and use your stockpile to make meals your family will want to eat. Here are a few good titles to check out:

  • Cooking with Home Storage by Peggy Layton
  • Country Beans– How to cook dry beans in only 3 minutes by Rita Bingham *You will need a grain grinder to make many of these recipes. A grinder can be used to make flour and cornmeal from grains, beans, dried corn, and other ingredients.
  • The Prepper’s Cookbook: 300 Recipes to Turn Your Emergency Food into Nutritious, Delicious, Life-Saving Meals by Tess Pennington
  • The Amish Family Cook Bookby Jerry S. Eicher

Non-Food Items ( You may want to store these in a separate location)

  • Batteries
  • Hand crank radio
  • Bandaids/ bandages
  • Peroxide– cleaning wounds, mouth wash, can be used to induce vomiting
  • Iodine– cleans wounds and has additional uses.
  • Tissues
  • Baby wipes– a good way to bathe when you are trying to reserve water
  • Maxi pads– In a pinch a maxi pad can be used as bandage for larger wounds. Get the most absorbent ones.
  • Toilet paper
  • Super glue– I once had a deep gash in my foot that required stitches but I didn’t want to risk certain death by driving in a blizzard to get to the hospital. Instead I cleaned the wound and sealed the skin back together with super glue. I had to be careful to keep pressure off of my foot for a few days, but it healed just fine. It’s a trick I learned from my brother, an avid fisherman. When you’re out fishing it can be a long way to shore!
  • Disposable Dishes/ Cookware-Don’t waste precious water reserves on washing dishes, instead use plastic utensils, paper plates & bowls.
  • Paper towels
  • Aluminum foil– line your pans and discard after use
  • Pain relievers/fever reducers– Aspirin, Tylenol, and Ibuprofen. I keep all three because each one is best used for a particular scenario. I find that ibuprofen is best for pain, Tylenol is a superior fever reducer, and aspirin is a blood thinner which can save a person having a heart attack.
  • Matches
  • Extra propane for grills
  • Bleach– sanitizes water making it safe for drinking
  • Candles
  • LED lanterns or flashlights
  • Seeds for planting– It’s unlikely that an emergency will continue so long that you will have to grow your own food to survive, but it can’t hurt to have them since growing your own food can save money anyway.
  • Chunks of soap stone– If you don’t have a back up heat source for emergencies you can place soapstone on an outdoor grill or fireplace. Once sufficiently heated bring the soapstone inside and place on a fireproof surface. Soapstone absorbs heat from the fire and emits that heat for hours after it has been removed from a heat source.
  • Terracotta pots– You can also make a convection heater using terracotta pots and candles. Complete Instructions Here
  • Water Purification Tabletsthese Makes questionable water bacteriologically suitable to drink in 30 minutes

Additional Resources

To learn more about preparing for disaster on a tight budget check out these other articles:

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