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Prepping is a financial challenge for most preppers. Oh, there are the wealthy ones, who are building survival retreats that you hear about. But they are in the minority. The rest of us struggle with trying to fit prepping into an already stretched budget, as if we can make each dollar go three ways. Sadly, dollars don’t do that, so prepping usually means that we’re not doing something else, so that we can use some of our money on prepping.

Even then it’s a stretch for most of us to have the money to stockpile all the supplies and buy all the equipment that we want. We try to find bargains and ways of cutting corners, but some of the things we need are just so darn expensive. This means that our prepping is delayed, as we try to buy what we need, bit by bit.

Yet this is our family’s security we’re talking about, so nobody really wants to have to drag things out any more than absolutely necessary. So we struggle between our desire to get our preps in place and the need to take care of our family’s other needs.

If only there was a way to make prepping cheaper, without having to cut corners; that would help a lot of us out. Fortunately for us, there are a number of things we can do, to reduce the cost of prepping, while still getting the job done. We just need to be willing to invest a little time in our preps in order to make things work out.

The world is filled with bargains, for those who are bargain hunters. You just need to know where to look, what you’re looking for, and what the items are worth. That last one is important, because not everything that looks like a bargain really is a bargain.

Have you ever really compared the prices of things at dollar stores with the big department stores? Sometimes, you could pick up the exact same item, or one that’s even better, for a lower price at Wal-Mart, Target, or K-Mart, as you can in the dollar store. But because it’s a dollar store, everyone assumes that it’s the lowest price around. Not necessarily.

Knowing what something is worth is even more important when looking at used items. You might see two similar items at two different garage sales, for about the same price. But one of them was actually much more expensive originally. Why is that? Mostly because people buying and selling at garage sales aren’t basing their pricing decisions on quality, but rather on what the item is and what it usually sells for at a garage sale. So, the cheap version of the item might actually be overpriced.

So, What Exactly Are We Talking About?

There is a tendency amongst Americans to always think in terms of buying new. Most of us aren’t deliberate about buying things used, unless we are talking about buying a home or a car. But not even all of us think about buying new cars. I know plenty of people who only buy new cars, even though they really can’t afford it. 

But when we buy something and then use it, it becomes used. So in reality, we own very little that’s actually new. It’s either been used by us, or it’s been used by someone else, before it became ours.

The thing is, most American sell their used stuff extremely cheaply. That’s partially because they just want to get rid of it, and partially because nobody will pay top dollar for something that’s used. If anything, they act like they are doing you a favor, taking it off your hands.

But that plays to our benefit. It means that we can buy used items extremely cheaply, saving ourselves a lot of money in the process. Take my word for it, my whole house was furnished with used furniture. About the only furniture we have, that we bought new is the mattresses on our beds. But even then, the bed frames and headboards are used.

How to Buy Used

However, if we’re going to buy used things for use in prepping, there are some things we’re going to have to do, in order to make it work. We don’t want to just go out and start looking, we need a plan and some preparation, in order to make the most of our shopping jaunts.

To start with, we need to know what we’re looking for. This can either be by item name or by item function. I say that, because we might be able to repurpose some items, making them into what we need for prepping purposes. So we’d want to be looking at the function of the item, or how we could use the item, not what it’s called.

Let me give you an example. One of the things we all need for survival is water. Many people have written about the need to identify potential water sources nearby your home. If the city water goes out and stays out long enough that you use all the water you have stockpiled, you’ll need to haul water from one of those sources, back to your home.

That means you’ll also need something that you can haul water with, besides your car. I’d say that there’s a pretty good chance that if the water is out, the power will be out as well. So that means you won’t be able to buy gas for your car. Without gas and the ability to use your car, you’re going to need some way of hauling water from those sites you identified back to your house.

Here’s where looking for the function, rather than the item comes in handy. You’re probably not going to find too many custom made water hauling carts anywhere around. But if you are just looking for something you can haul water in, you might see a bicycle trailer and think that it would work for hauling water, especially since you already have a bicycle. That’s thinking outside the box; but it would work great for meeting that need.

The next thing you need to know is something about the items you are looking for. Let’s say that camping gear is on your list, so that you can use it for a bug out. You need to learn a little bit about tents, sleeping bags and camp stoves, before you go shopping. Otherwise, you won’t know if what you’re looking for is going to fulfill your need.

Another part of that is knowing enough about the various features and options that those items have, so that you have a general idea of how well a particular item will meet your needs. If you would normally research an item, to learn about it before buying it new, then you should do the same amount of research before buying it used. New or used, it still has to fulfill the purpose you’re buying it for.

Fortunately, there are a lot of buying guides for just about anything you can think of online. So a half hour spent before the computer the night before, will equip you with the knowledge you need, so that you can make some intelligent buying decisions.

Finally, you need to think through your personal survival plans, before buying anything. Many of us run out and start buying prepping equipment and supplies, before we really know what we’re doing. The end result of that is we buy a number of items that aren’t going to meet our needs. In the end, we either have to replace those items, or we decide to just put up with what we’ve got. Neither is a great option.

Where to Look

There are actually a lot of different places where you can look for used items to buy. I mentioned garage sales and flea markets in the title of this article, but those aren’t the only places where you can look. Just about any city will have a number of stores that sell used items. These are often referred to as “salvage stores” as a lot of what they have in inventory comes from salvaging a shut-down business.

Another really good source to look at is Craig’s List. In our connected, computerized society, Craig’s List has taken the place of the classified ads in the newspaper. But it’s much more than that, as you can find bulk items to purchase, as well as many items that people would never have bothered paying for an ad for before.

While Craig’s List is probably the biggest online source of online deals, they aren’t the only one. There are a number of apps you can get for your phone or tablet, which provide similar sorts of services. Apps like Letgo, OfferUp and 5miles, plus a host of others, provide you with additional resources you can use to find used items near where you live.

Let me tell you an important secret here, than only true pro garage sale experts know. That is, when you go to buy something used from an individual, chances are there are other items that they have, which they would be willing to sell, but haven’t thought of selling. Going back to our camping gear example, you might show up at someone’s house to look at a tent they want to sell. While you’re digging it out of their garage, you might see that they have more than one camp stove; a new one and an older one. Ask them if they want to sell one of those too. You never know what they’ll say.

Once again, you’ve got to think outside the box to get the best deals. Asking them if they want to sell something that they weren’t planning on selling can reap wonderful rewards. Besides making better use of your trip, chances are that you’ll get a better deal on the added item, just because you caught them off guard. They wouldn’t have had time to think about how much they wanted for it.

Great Deals to Look For

Okay, so we’ve talked about where to find good deals, but what are we going to look for great deals on? That’s the question now. There are actually quite a few items we can look for at garage sales, flea markets and even on Craig’s List; such as:

  • Backpacks – Good quality backpacks, of the type you’d use on a backpacking trip or for a bug out bag are another costly item that people buy, use once or twice and then let sit in the garage or basement until they get tired of it taking up space. Once they do, it’s out to the garage sale.
  • Bicycles – Great for alternative transportation that doesn’t require gasoline. Every family member should have a good bike, preferably a mountain bike. If you can find luggage carriers for your bikes, so much the better.
  • Big screen TV – The old big screen televisions had one part which was extremely valuable, from a survival point of view. That was a large Fresnel Lens, located right behind the screen. Taking that out and mounting it in a frame gives you a way of focusing the sun’s rays for a very powerful solar cooker.
  • Blankets – If you are heating your home with wood in the wintertime, your bedrooms probably aren’t going to get a lot of heat. You can still keep warm though, just like our ancestors did, by just piling the beds high with lots of blankets.
  • Board games – Entertainment will be a problem for your family in a post-disaster world. You may not be able to pop in a movie to watch it or use any of your other electronics. What will you do then? Board games are a great way to have some family time and keep everyone entertained.
  • Books – It seems that people are giving up books for their electronic equivalent every day. But while electronic books might be cheaper, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to use them in a post-disaster world. If the power is out, your Kindle isn’t going to do much good.
  • Boots – Good boots can be rather expensive, but you’ll find people who buy boots to go hunting or hiking and then never use them again. After a while, they end up in the garage sale
  • Building materials – There are two reasons why you might be interested in building materials, from a prepping point of view. One is to build a survival retreat somewhere away from the city and the other is as repair materials for your home, should it be damaged in a natural disaster.
  • Camping gear – We all need the capability to camp out, as part of our bug out plan. While we usually talk about backpacking gear for this, we only do that so that it will fit in a bug out bag. But if you’re bugging out in a car, you may as well take advantage of the space to take along something a little heartier. People sell camping gear all the time, simply because they are no longer using it.
  • Candles – Everyone needs candles for when the power is out; but buying candles in the store is expensive, especially if you want to buy larger candles. But at garage sales, candles typically sell for about a quarter, no matter how big they are or how expensive they originally were. You can save them as is, or you can melt them down to make survival candles, pouring the wax into jars and adding a wick (or multiple wicks for more light).
  • Canning supplies – You can find these all the time, especially the jars; and they’ll be lots cheaper than buying them in the grocery store.
  • Clothes – Growing children can keep you broke, just keeping up with their clothing needs. Trying to keep clothes for them to grow into, on top of what they need today, is usually out of the question. So what are you going to do to keep your kids clothed if there’s a major disaster and the stores are closed? Having some used clothes in the sizes that they are going to grow into will at least help forestall that being a problem.
  • Coats – Good coats are nice to have, but they can be costly. Fortunately people sell them all the time, for no other reason than they don’t like the style anymore. Don’t forget about coats for the kids, in sizes they will grow into.
  • Cookware – Cast iron cookware is the only way to go, if you’re cooking over a wood fire. While that can be a bit costly, you can often find it at flea markets for a fraction of the price. Don’t worry if it looks a little rough or has some surface dust, you can easily clean that off with a wire brush and re-season the cookware with a little cooking oil.
  • Diapers – People who choose to use cloth diapers generally sell them off when their babies outgrow that stage. In a post-disaster world, that will be the only kind of diapers in existence.
  • Fabric and sewing supplies – The only new clothes you may get in a post-disaster time are those you make yourself. Bolts of fabric, spools of thread and lots of needles don’t take up much room, but can be worth their weight in gold when the time comes. People get rid of these supplies all the time, after having spent a lot of money and then never made the project.
  • Firewood – While you probably won’t find firewood at the flea market, you might just run across it at a garage sale. Even better is to find someone who is selling it on Craig’s List, as chances are they’ll have more.
  • Food – You’d be surprised at the bulk food that you can find on Craig’s List from time to time. We’ve bought what’s known as “railway salvage food” which is food from shipments that have been damaged. Once the insurance pays off, what is damaged is scrapped, but what is good is often salvaged and sold off.
  • Gardening tools – Like other tools, people get rid of gardening tools all the time. Keep in mind that you’re going to be doing much more gardening and other manual chores during a time of crisis, than what you’re useful. Maybe you have a shovel now, but do you have enough for all your family to be spading up the backyard together to turn it all into a garden?
  • Gas powered tools – While not all that common, you can occasionally find chain saws, rototiller sand other gas powered tools at a yard sale. Just make sure it runs or that you can fix it, before buying it.
  • Hunting and fishing gear – Even if you already have good fishing gear, buy some spares. That stuff can break and you’ll need something to replace it. At garage sale prices, it’s worth the expense. It’s not uncommon to find camouflage gear that a hunter has bought and isn’t using anymore for whatever reason. It’ll be a whole lot cheaper at that garage sale.
  • Kitchen tools – Manual kitchen appliances, like grain mills and meat grinders, show up from time to time. Remember, you won’t be able to use your blender and food processor. Even an old-fashioned manual eggbeater would be quite a find.
  • Medical equipment – Wheelchairs, crutches, walkers and a whole lot of other durable medical equipment ends up in garage sales, usually after gathering dust in the garage. Even if you don’t have any family members who have a need for then, you never know what tomorrow may hold.
  • Oil-burning lanterns – These aren’t all that common on the garage sale circuit, but you can find them from time to time.
  • Radios – Few people use a radio anymore, having other means of receiving their news and music. So it’s not uncommon to find them getting rid of one. But when the power goes out, they’ll be wishing they had that old radio that you’re using.
  • Schoolbooks – Few people think about it, but you’ll need to educate your children in a post-disaster world. If the schools are closed, that means home-schooling them. But textbooks may be a bit hard to find then. Fortunately, books sell super-cheap at garage sales.
  • Sewing machine – If you can find an old treadle sewing machine, that’s a find. Keep your eyes open for the older electric sewing machines as well. Often, those were adaptations off of the treadle machine, just with a shorter belt and an electric motor. If the motor is removed and a longer belt put on it you could build a treadle mechanism to power the machine.
  • Parabolic dish – Keep your eyes out for an old-style parabolic satellite antenna. That can easily be converted to a very effective solar oven, just by gluing aluminum foil to it and making a stand to hold the food pot.
  • Tools – You can find people selling everything from the old manual-push lawnmowers to antique wood planes. Ignore the power tools and make sure you have some good manual tools you can use when the power goes out.
  • Trailer – Most of the time, we talk about bugging out in a minimalist way, concentrating on the bug out bag. But if you want to bug out and be able to live in comfort, you’re going to need a lot more than just your bug out bag. Having a trailer to pull behind your car or SUV will greatly increase your cargo capacity, even allowing you to carry along larger items, like a yurt. Another great thing to watch out for on Craig’s List.

Know What You’re Getting for Your Buck

Any time someone is selling something at a garage sale, it’s obvious that they are not using it anymore. But why is that? Is it just that they’ve moved on in their life and they don’t need that tent anymore? Or could it be that there’s a tear in the fabric and the tent pegs are missing? Never assume that something you are buying used is okay, throwing caution to the wind for a good sale.

You always want to check these items out thoroughly. For a tent, that means actually setting it up in their front yard, so that you can see that all the pieces are there and nothing is ripped. For chainsaws, it means starting the saw, even if you have to go home for a gas can. A few moments spent in checking things out thoroughly can save you hours of frustration.

Don’t automatically discard something that is broken or has a missing part though. Many times those things are repairable. I can’t remember how many lawn mowers my wife has brought home from garage sales, over the years, which I’ve made functional once again. However, broken goods or those missing pieces aren’t worth as much as things that are complete and working. Make sure the price they are asking reflects the condition of what you’re buying.

Having said that, buying stuff that looks like garbage, but can be made usable again is one of the greatest ways of saving money. Most people don’t have the foggiest idea of how to repair things anymore. So they either throw it away or sell it in a garage sale, passing their problem on to someone else. Well, if you’re that someone else, their lack of repair ability can mean big savings for your prepping budget.

Dave Steen

About The Author: Dave is a 58 year old survivalist; father of three; with over 40 years of survival experience. He started young, learning survival the hard way, in the school of hard knocks. Now, after years of study, he's gray-haired and slightly overweight. That hasn't dimmed his interest in survival though. If anything, Dave has a greater commitment to survival than ever, so that he can protect his family. Click Here To Read More About Dave


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