COVID was your wake-up call, and you’ve come to understand the importance of being well-prepared for disaster. 

Disaster can strike anytime…are you prepared?

Unfortunately, you’re broke!

If you’re already struggling to make ends meet as it is, how on earth can you be expected to prepare your family for a disaster? How do you prep on a shoestring budget? 

Prepping 101 with Allison
Allison gets it.

If this is where you find yourself, then read as we run you through the necessities you need and also how to keep things budget-friendly.

It’s not as difficult as you might initially think…

Table of Contents


What Should I Prep? 

Well, what do you need on a daily basis to survive? I think if we nail that down first, we can better hammer out the specifics later. 

Let’s consider a few of the main areas people need to cover:

  • Water
  • Food
  • Protection
  • Medicine
  • Hygiene
  • Communication
  • Information

If you’re prepping on a shoestring budget, here are my tips for what to focus on within each category. 

Food & Water

Water Purification Tablets
It’s essential to have water and a way to clean more of it.

You have to have pure water.

Surviving a terrorist attack only to get killed off by cholera is rather anticlimactic. 

If one is looking at prepping their water storage and purification ability on a budget, here is what I recommend:

Gallon Jugs of Water ($0.80/gallon)

Water Storage Containers
Water Storage Containers

These can easily be found for under $1/gallon at your local grocery store.

If you’re like most Americans, you probably go to the grocery store once every week or two, so spend $2 on water the next time you go. 

That’s really easy to swing budget-wise and will greatly help you to improve your disaster resiliency.

Knock-Off LifeStraws ($7/straw)

Life Straw
This is the real deal, but many knock-offs are just as effective at a lower price point.

The knock-off versions are waaaaaay cheaper and to my knowledge, they all work the same.

These are a simple and economical means of ensuring that you always have a form of water purification with you. They can easily be found online for all of $15 for a two-pack.


If I was looking to get as many calories out of my dollars as possible, I would focus on dried beans, bags of rice, generic brand dried pasta, and generic brand canned goods.

While there are all kinds of great “prepper foods” out there, these are readily available, inexpensive, and store very well. 

So, skip the Mountain House freeze-dried meals at the moment, and focus more on the below…

Beans ($1/pound)


Any type of dried bean will do, but at the moment, you can get a pound of pinto beans for a dollar.

That’s somewhere in the ballpark of 2,600 calories. Protein and fiber are necessary for your daily diet, and this is a cheap way to get both.

They taste great mixed with rice too!

Rice ($10/25 pounds)

If you don’t have a bulk store membership, an Asian market can be a great way to get rice in bulk.

There’s a reason so much of the world predominantly eats rice…it’s cheap. 

As of this writing, I can get a 25-pound sack of rice at my nearby Sam’s Club for $10. That’s 250 servings of rice. A serving of rice is typically a cup, which equals around 200 calories. 

That means your $10 investment here could easily net you 50,000 calories. I’m not aware of too many other food sources that are as filling and inexpensive as rice. 

Spaghetti ($1.25/pound)

This big ol’ box of pasta was bought for cheap at a bulk store.

We eat a lot of Italian food in my family, mainly because there’s a lot of us and it’s cheap.

There are somewhere around 1,600 calories per pound of dried spaghetti too. Considering you can get a pound of this for just a little over a dollar at your local grocery store, that’s not a bad deal. 

It’s not anywhere near as many calories as rice/dollar, but I’ve never been able to subsist on rice alone. You have to have some variety, you know? 

Canned Goods ($0.80/can)

Canned Food Survival
Canned Food

No, do not buy name brands. Focus on building up a reasonable larder first.

Then look at purchasing more of the “fancy” canned goods.

Soups, vegetables, and fruits would be my main focus here as I built up my supplies on a shoestring budget. 

Look for cans that aren’t dented or rusted. When you get home, mark the date you bought them on top with a permanent marker.

Food TP Bullets
Pandemic starter pack

If you focus on the generic brand and shop around for sales, you can get some pretty good nutrition here with minimal investment. 


Micro Compacts Sig Sauer P365XL
Sig Sauer P365XL

We could argue over the price of guns for days here and which is the best of the best, but I’m going to focus on two — a 9mm handgun and a 12-gauge shotgun.


at GrabAGun

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

If we’re truly on a budget, that’s going to be more in line with what most people can afford rather than a $700 AR platform

For more recommendations on wallet-friendly guns, check out the Best Budget Guns for New Shooters and the Best Affordable Full-Size Guns Under $400.

Ammunition ($20-$40)

9mm Ammo in Stock



Free shipping

Ammo is expensive. But there’s no point having a gun for protection if you’re not also going to prep with ammo storage.

Okay, so you don’t quite need this much.

The cheapest way I’ve found to buy ammo is to find a bunch of buddies who are looking for the same caliber as you are.

Together, make a bulk purchase when it’s on sale and split the cost. 

If this is out of the question, however, I recommend purchasing one box of ammo a month.

This can be done for around $20 to $40 and will help you slowly build up your ammunition stores without requiring a large initial investment to do so. 

5.56 and .223 Ammo in Stock


There are several different routes to go when it comes to post-disaster communications, but the goal is to stay within the confines of a budget.

While I would argue you’re going to want to work your way up to having all four of these communications bases covered, start with what you deem to be your most pressing need first. 

President Adams CB Radio ($60)

President Adams CB Radio
President Adams CB Radio

For those interested in setting up a larger information network than what FRS requires and who also don’t want to do the training required of amateur radio, I would recommend a CB.

Specifically, I think the President Adams is a fantastic choice, and it’s hard to beat at $60.

Baofeng UV-5R ($25)

Long-Range Radio
Long-range contact is great for getting an overall sense of things without access to news.

The de facto prepper radio. If you’re willing to put in the time for licensing and training, this radio will give you long-range comms within your region no problem.

I was listening in on an EchoLink repeater with mine the other day, and the person I was listening to was in Scotland. 

Retekis V115 Shortwave Radio ($25)

Shortwave Radio
Get the scoop on important things like weather and aid with a shortwave radio.

Want to get the scoop on what’s going on in the world? Then you want a shortwave receiver. This Retekis version can be found for all of $25.

FRS Radio Pack ($25)

FRS Radios
Communication within your group is essential.

For retreat security purposes (e.g., protecting your neighborhood against attack), it’s hard to go wrong with FRS radios.

These require minimal training, have a range of about a mile, and will allow your retreat to communicate important information to each other ASAP. 

No licensing is required either. It’s a win all the way around for retreat security

Medicine & First Aid

Having a good IFAK or first aid kit in your car is a wise plan but you also need to carry a tourniquet on your body. If you have an EDC you can also have an EDC TQ.
It’s good practice to have this stuff on hand anyway.

This type of gear is no fun to attempt to shop for when you desperately need it.  

*man holding a bloody stump of an arm*

“Excuse me, good sir. On what aisle are your tourniquets?”

Get what you need now

Generic OTC Medications ($25)

DIY First Aid Kit Home Kit
DIY First Aid Kit

I virtually never purchase name-brand OTC meds. Oftentimes the generic version is made in the exact same place and can be yours for the taking at several dollars cheaper.

Go to your local store and pick up the meds you end up using the most — things like Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Benadryl, etc.

Focus on those first, then tackle the rest when you have your basics squared away. 

First Aid Kit ($15)

DIY First Aid Kit Car
DIY First Aid Kit

My advice here is to take a trip to your local Dollar Store with first aid on the brain and stock up.

It’s surprising how much good stuff they have here for your first aid supplies, and at a fantastic price as well. Nothing will be name-brand, but it’s all worked great for me so far. 

For a more in-depth guide, check out my guide to building your own first-aid kit. Also, don’t forget that skills are more important than gear, so get spun up with the Best First Aid Classes and the First Aid Skills You Should Know.

Trauma Kit

Best Tourniquets

Typically, this consists of a tourniquet, gloves, a blood-clotting agent, and a pressure bandage.

You can check out our tourniquet recommendations to help you make your choice there.

For the other items, I would go ahead and buy name-brand Celox and an OLAES pressure bandage.


The travel size options are cheaper, but go will full size to make sure you have enough to last. (Photo: Ulleskelf)

Proper hygiene is absolutely vital to post-disaster health. If you don’t want to end up catching some type of nasty bug, you need to ensure you’re staying clean. 

So stock up on things like toothpaste, toilet paper, toothbrushes, floss, soap, shampoo, and other hygiene supplies.


Some items just don’t fit well within any of the other categories that we’ve named. That said, they make disaster situations much more pleasant than life without them.  

Mora Knives ($10)

Mora Knives
Mora Knives

You’ll want a quality blade, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a knife with as good of a reputation and an economical stance as Mora. I just picked one up the other day for $10, and it’s fantastic. 


13. Gerber Principle Slicing Paracord
Paracord is useful for all kinds of situations.

I consider this a necessity as cordage makes survival situations much more pleasant.

Tarps ($10)

Tarps are like duct tape. They’re good for all kinds of stuff. Pick up two of them when you can. Most of the time, these can be had for $10.

Headlamps ($14)

Waterfall Squat 2
Headlamps are great for survival and fun for exploring in the dark.

Power outages are incredibly common (and annoying). They can also be rather dangerous if you find yourself attempting to move about a house in pitch black.


at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

I’ve found headlamps to be a superior form of lighting in such a situation.

The Black Diamond Storm is a great option, but you can also find even cheaper ones that are still of great quality.


Best Survival Books Group Shot
There are a ton of books out there that can be used as handy survival manuals.

Having the right gear is only a part of the equation. Knowing what to expect with each different disaster and what to do to survive is another significant part. 

If that’s where you find yourself, I highly recommend you check out Pew Pew Tactical’s Survival & Prepping Guide.

In it, you’ll find information on just about every aspect of prepping imaginable. We have how-to guides, reviews, and a host of other articles you’re bound to find useful. 

Final Thoughts

Prepping doesn’t have to be an expensive activity. Bottom line: it’s better to mitigate your disaster risk with the budget you have available

DIY MRE Fried Rice and Spam Ingredients
You can even prep with things around the house!

You make do with what you have, right? Protecting you and your family from disaster isn’t just a rich man’s game.

Anybody can do it with the right ingenuity and mindset. And by following some of the above tips, I think you’ll discover just how easy it can be. 

Are there other tips and tricks for prepping on a shoestring budget that we didn’t cover here? Let us know in the comments below! Want to keep things cheap? Check out how to prepare your own MREs at home!

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