Financial Challenges — How Do I Prep If I’m Broke?

Financial Challenges — How Do I Prep If I’m Broke?

  • Post category:Prepper Q&A Series
  • Post last modified:January 28, 2024
  • Post comments:2 Comments
  • Reading time:28 mins read
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Listen To This Article: (Note: This is my first time recording my voice for the audio file, and I used a noise canceling mic, which clipped some of the consonants, making it sound like I have a cleft lip. I’ll do better next time.)

Financial challenges are not only common, they’re getting worse. In this article, number three of our Next Step Survival Prepper Q&A Series, I want to offer a little thought for those struggling with income and finances and seeking a better level of preparedness.

Financial Disclaimer — I Am Not An Expert

As always, my lack of knowledge disclaimer: (Part of my financial preparedness plan is not getting sued.) I am, now and always, an expert at only being myself and nothing more. I’m not a legal, health, financial, political, or expert on anything I opinionate about on this blog.

Everything I cover on this website is only opinion and not professional advice. You should seek assistance from a professional before taking steps that may interfere with or risk any part of your health, well-being, finances, sanity, or lifestyle.

Consider this a guide only in the sense of a guy you’re having dinner with as he talks about what HE thinks and does. Nothing more. For that reason, I’m going to limit this article to my own experiences and those of people I know directly.

Be sure to read the image captions.
That’s where I put a lot of the information.

Who Am I To Talk About Prepping With Financial Challenges?

With the disclaimer out of the way, I’ve always had an interest in finance and budgeting. It started way back in 1984 when I spent a couple of years working part-time with a networking company called A. L. Williams, helping families reduce their life insurance costs and investing the savings – while I was still in the Army.

In fact, one of my first websites (2004) was focused on frugal and smart living. I’m not rich, not even well-to-do, but I have managed to build a pantry without going into debt or wrecking our budget.

I’m Not Rich Either

We have our share of financial challenges as well. I’m basically the only bread earner right now. My wife is semi-retired with a part-time job (One or two days a week still helps). We have far fewer financial challenges these days, a lot of which I attribute to prepping, but it took decades to get here. As we know, nothing is promised, and one major event can undo all of that work. We keep pushing forward.

A very common comment of my prepper pantry video (Three years ago, 250K views, and over 1,400 comments) is, “How can you afford all that?” Just yesterday, I got this comment on that same video:

I don’t know how people afford this.

My Reply:

That took years. Everything fit into a single laundry basket in the beginning. A few extra cans of this or that builds up pretty fast. Don’t let years of effort discourage you. Every day of stored food puts you that much better off.

My biggest fear in publishing that type of content isn’t that people are going to raid my home for cans of corn (Another popular comment); it’s discouraging people from getting started by overwhelming them.

Being Broke Is NOT Being Broken

If you are struggling with real financial challenges, you are not alone. According to a recent survey, most Americans can’t afford a $1,000 emergency. A new Pew report shows that less than half of young adults are financially independent of their parents. Twenty percent of older adults skipped or delayed medications last year because of cost.

The system is broken, as it always has been, and it is getting worse in many ways. Being broke is nothing to be ashamed of. Honestly, Most Americans say they will be broke within a month if they lose their income. I’m not far from that statistic myself. Stuff happens.

Your true value to society doesn’t depend upon your portfolio or net worth. You know stuff. You do stuff. You’re doing your best and making the best with your dash. I just wanted to acknowledge that here.

First, Identify The Problem

“Having a process that ensures problems are brought to the surface, and their root causes diagnosed, assures that continual improvements occur.”


I know, you are broke. Says so right up there in the title. Why are you broke? Can that be resolved? Can you earn more? We’ll dive into that in a bit.

Where are your expenses going? Is there any wiggle room? Can you trade one monthly extra, e.g., online subscriptions and entertainment memberships, for a little more prepping? Assuming you have an emergency fund. I believe that should come first, and we shouldn’t rob our emergency fund or go into debt for preps. Just my opinion.

Your Emergency Fund

I don’t want to change the focus of this article, but I want to mention that an emergency fund IS part of prepping. I use automatic savings plans to help build up our emergency fund. A certain amount goes into a separate online interest-bearing checking account automatically every week. My wife does the same thing bi-weekly for our vacation fund.

We even have a third account with automatic deposits solely for prepping expenses.

Related Article: Reallocating Funds For Prepping — Finding Money In Your Budget For Prepping

This only helps if you have a consistent paycheck and if you have the flexibility, but it’s worth mentioning. It has been a game-changer for us.

How Do I Prep If I’m Broke?

You do the best you can with what you have. At the risk of sounding a little cheesy, we are all in different seasons of our lives. We have different circumstances, resources, and challenges. This is why there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

We do what we can. I won’t be one of those telling granny to do more with her $800/month social security check. I have way too much respect for people to do something like that. I watched my mother struggle in that exact scenario. (Yes, we all helped where we could)

If you’re able, you earn more with a side gig. It doesn’t have to be a second or third job. It could be making a little extra selling crafts on Etsy, side gigs on Fiverr, reselling items on eBay, or offering your knowledge skills in the form of consulting. More on side gigs below.

Not Every Prep Takes Money

Water – from our taps isn’t expensive. Many say it’s free, but unless you have a well, there is a small expense involved. Filling washed containers like one-gallon juice and tea bottles or two-liter soda/pop bottles isn’t going to add to our financial challenges. I know I’m going to get a little pushback from the purists on safety issues and plastic contaminants. You decide what you want to do. I’ll risk more plastic particles (Yes, it’s a real issue) in an emergency before I die of thirst. I also recommend a decent water filter if you can afford one.

I have gotten free food-grade 55-gallon drums from a local brewing (beer) supply company and a local beverage flavoring company. God fills my drums free with rainwater. Thank you, God.

If you go into a fast food restaurant or motel and don’t accept the complimentary stuff like packets of condiments, platicware, spices, soaps, etc., you hate money. These go well in our go-bags. Leave the TV and towels please. 😌
Brian D. Hawkins

EDC – What we carry when we leave our homes is a personal choice, and expenses vary widely. I bet you already have things like a small flashlight and pocket knife that you can carry close by. A little medication in a plastic bag or a spare phone charger? I’ve spent years updating my EDC pack to the point it’s ridiculous, but 99% of that is unnecessary. Sometimes, having just a cloth in your pocket to clean the rain off your glasses can make for a better day. I’m amazed how many people have nothing with them – including a coat or jacket because they assume they’ll be in a warm car or office.

Learning New Skills – If you have a computer with internet access or a smartphone with service, you can learn a new skill. First aid, outdoor survival, self-defense, cooking, food storage, dehydrating, canning, situational awareness, and a ton more. Even understanding potential threats can put you ahead of the curve compared to most.

Gardening – After many years of backyard gardening, I will admit something upfront — A backyard garden will probably not save you in the apocalypse. It just isn’t enough. The great news is, hopefully, we’re not prepping for the apocalypse.

If done right, gardening can, however, give you better food at a cheaper cost than canned veggies, especially if you start from seed. Plant costs at the nursery are getting expensive. Grow what you eat. If you have extra, trade for something you need, except zucchini. We all have too much zucchini. 😉

Don’t forget to make your own nutrient-rich soil with compost.

An Emergency Binder – Gathering your important documents and writing an emergency plan costs nothing but time.

Saving Where We Can

I’m not going to insult anyone by telling someone who can’t afford food and medications, much less a prepper pantry, that there are ways to stretch a dollar. That drives me crazy. You’re already stretching every dollar until it rips, and someone writes a blog post or records a video on budgeting better.

That said, I will offer a few things we have done and still do to limit expenses.

Homestyle cooking – This might surprise many, but I do most of the cooking here. I also do most of the cleaning, dishes, laundry, and organizing. (Sorry, ladies, I’m taken. Forty years happily married to my best friend last August. 🙂) I can credit a lot of that to prepping. The cooking, not the marriage. The more serious I got into prepping, the more control I wanted in the kitchen. I learned to cook, and I’m pretty good at it.

I can make a large pot of whatever, and it will cover two meals and one or two of my lunches for work. I ALWAYS take leftovers in my lunch pail.

A couple times a month I will make an extra pot or pan of whatever to portion out and freeze. I can stick a frozen dish in my lunch pail the night before (with an ice pack), and it’s ready to eat by lunch. Chili, tuna casserole, spaghetti, goulash, beef stew, stroganoff – it doesn’t matter. And I’m eating it cold. 😉

Full disclosure, home and whole cooking don’t fix broke. No matter what you see on the internet. You already know that. A large $20 pizza will make two meals and a lunch just as well. Home cooking is better than eating out every day – which isn’t ideal for our health or preps.

Find Free – Many churches and food banks sponsor food donations for the public. • I’ve gotten MANY 5-gallon pails with lids from a local bakery — save one for an emergency toilet. • We got free coffee grounds for our compost bins from a local Starbucks, but the volume was overwhelming. • I’ve gotten cases of free resealable deli bags (Think Ziploc bags) because they needed to throw them out. • When we have a large storm, I offer to clear large branches from neighbors’ yards for the wood.

Always look for the discount – Whenever we eat or shop at Denny’s, Home Depot, Kohl’s, Lowe’s, etc., I ask for a military discount. • Since I’m old in the eyes of many businesses, I ask for a senior discount. • Even my cellphone plan is on a corporate discount through my work. • I get an insurance discount for using the same company for different policies — I often shop around for better deals.

Earning More Income To Hedge Against Financial Challenges

“The dream is free. The hustle is sold separately.”


Side Gigs – Probably the fastest way out of financial trouble is increasing our income. A side gig might not be in the cards if we’re not physically able. But many would be surprised at how well many elderly people, with or without physical challenges, do when it comes to earning a little extra.

Most of us aren’t going to become financially independent from a side gig. Speaking of financial challenges, I’ve been blogging for twenty years, and the IRS still considers it a hobby. They’re right. And I have a $540 hosting bill coming up in March, along with a bunch of other expenses throughout the year. It’s tough to make up for those expenses. Many have turned it into six and seven-figure incomes, however.

Several things take little or no upfront costs and do not take much time. Hundreds of articles by far smarter people cover earning money from home, so I’ll list just a few ideas. There have never been more side gig options than there are today.

Virtual assistant, tutoring, giving online or outside classes, affiliate marketing (Huge learning curve), writing, pet or babysitting, editing or proofreading, renting out a room, elderly home care, running errands, shopping, home and office food deliveries, even narrating audiobooks.

I had to seek money-making opportunities out –
They never magically appeared.

I’ll list just a few side gigs I’ve found:

Re-selling Deals – I’m not here to talk about shopping the sales and using coupons, you already know about that.

This is insane.
Store deals!

What you may not know is there are often unbelievable deals at Walmart. I imagine they’re at other stores as well. They need to get rid of items and all but give it away.

It might be very beneficial to make a friend who works at Walmart and ask that they give you a call when they have these unannounced sales. The product sells fast and can be from any department.

Along with the dozen kids’ backpacks below, we have an entire bin of school supplies. I have half a dozen US Flags w/poles in the garage. All one dollar – all from Walmart.

Thanks to finds like these, my kids haven’t had to buy many school supplies for my grandboys for years. I could have easily bought more and sold enough to make the entire haul free. And it’s not just school supplies. A lot of clothing, seasonal stuff, and even some food.

We could easily sell these on eBay or the Marketplace for many times the cost, and many people do.

We bought a dozen frozen whole turkey breasts a few years ago. A dollar? Not even. 54¢ each! They had a sell-by date just a few days away but were thawed out just in time for a bunch of weekend canning.

My oldest daughter goes to a local resale store that sells Amazon, Target, Home Depot, and other big box store items by the box. Every box is the same price. Each day has a different price. You open it at the register, and if you want it, you pay for it (Around $12, I think). She buys a lot of stuff that she re-sells on FB Marketplace. This is a local store, but I know places like this are popping up everywhere.

I have a good friend of 25 years who got into reselling in Amazon stores, photography on the side, making custom t-shirts, and doing handyman work. By the way, a couple of years ago, this friend walked away from a 27-year career earning six figures and is doing fine.

I’ll stop there, but you get the point. We all likely have skills or resources others are looking for. The trick is finding those opportunities.

Bartering – While it sounds somewhat unconventional, I’ve traded skills and products. It works when you find the right combination that benefits both parties.

I’ve traded overage from my garden for eggs and a little fresh meat (Deer). • I traded raw honey from our hive for several cases of quart canning jars.

I built a website for a local company in exchange for laying a new carpet. I built another website for a bunch of software I couldn’t afford (They’ve since ruined it in my opinion) I did the brakes on a plumber’s van for a kitchen sink install. • I gave a neighbor a ride to work every morning for two weeks, and he mowed our yard several times without asking.

My best bartering experience was making a deal with a prepper buddy living in New York. He had a large freeze-dryer that he allowed me to use for half of the freeze-dried food. We split the expenses right down the middle. That was well over a year ago, and that machine runs every week. This has sent our prepper pantry to a whole new level – along with another skill to drop into my prepper resume.

We all have skills and experiences that others may be looking for. I’d start with Facebook marketplace or the Nextdoor app.

Dealing With Financial Challenges As A Prepper Recap

  • If you’re broke, you are not broken.
  • Do what you can with what you have.
  • Do what’s free or inexpensive.
  • If possible, earn more.

Wrapping Up Financial Challenges — How Do I Prep If I’m Broke?

While working toward a more prepared lifestyle can be difficult during financial challenges, the payoff in terms of less stress can be worth the effort. Facing the issue head-on and finding solutions to both, even to a small degree, can make a difference when things go sideways.

Every day of stored food and supplies you have makes you that much more prepared.
Every dollar you’ve added to your emergency fund makes you that much more prepared.

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

Mark Twain

I could go on and on with the topic of stuggling with prepping when financial challenges are an obstacle. I’m going to force myself to cut if off here. If you have any tips, questions, or comments, feel free to drop them below.

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Next StepReallocating Funds For Prepping – Finding Money In Your Budget For Prepping

Stay safe. Stay prepared.
Hawkins Out.

Financial Challenges — How Do I Prep If I’m Broke?

Brian Hawkins

Father, grandfather, Veteran, animal lover, law-abiding taxpayer, homeowner, trucker, and a United States Citizen. Oh, and I'm also a prepper, survivalist, responsible gun owner, and hiker.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Mandy

    This was very encouraging, Brian. We are a one-income home now that my health has put me out of the workforce, and it has slowed our prepping down quite a bit. However, I always look for deals and even sell things on eBay and blog to make a little extra income. It’s not much at all, but every little bit helps.

    1. Brian Hawkins

      It seems like everyone is struggling right now. The news says things are improving, but I’m not seeing it. I understand the lack of income. We’re trying to live off just my income so my wife can completely leave her part-time job, but that’s turned out harder than I thought. That’s probably why finances and budgeting are on my mind. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

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