This week, Americans have been indulging in the annual food extravaganza known as the national day of Thanksgiving. People have been baking pies, roasting turkeys, and stuffing themselves with stuffing. We took part in the festivities, too, but in the couple of weeks leading up to Thanksgiving Day we’ve been eating our own dog food.
Not literally, I’m happy to say.
“Eating your own dog food” is a slang expression that means personally using the same products and practices that you recommend to others. If we don’t do what we encourage others to do, why should anyone?
In our case, we’ve been preparing meals using long-term storage survival food from a one-month kit that we bought from Augason Farms. We don’t want to give you the impression that we’ve been living on survival food exclusively. Far from it. (You can read our introduction to this experiment here.) But we thought it wise to sample a variety of long shelf life food and learn how to cook it and make meals with it before we found ourselves in a situation where we absolutely had to use it to survive.
Going into this experiment, we had a lot of the same questions that anyone would have about food they aren’t familiar with:
- How is it different from what we normally eat?
- How does it taste?
- How easy is it to prepare?
- Could we really live on a steady diet of this stuff?
- What would we miss from our regular diet?
The one-month food kit that we were working from is largely a collection of ingredients that you combine to make recipes, rather than pouches or cans of just-add-water freeze dried entrées. We own and have tried some of the ready-made entrées. They’re quick and easy to prepare, and are quite tasty. They’re also relatively expensive, so we gravitated toward the much more affordable ingredients approach. Most of the ingredients are dehydrated, but some were the more expensive freeze dried varieties. Besides, if you buy a freeze dried beef stew entrée, what can you make with it? (This isn’t a trick question.) The answer is “beef stew.” But if you have all the ingredients you need for beef stew, you can use them to make beef stew or many other dishes. Consider Taco Bell. They’ve built a fast-food empire by coming up with different combinations and preparations for about six basic ingredients.
What have we eaten?
The kit from Augason Farms came with a booklet with 54 recipes. There are also recipes on each of the cans. Using the booklet as our guide, we’ve made:
- Creamy Corn and Potato Chowder
- Chicken Noodle Vegetable Casserole
- Creamy Wheat Cereal
- Scrambled Eggs with Bacon Bits
- Buttermilk Biscuits
- Broccoli Cheese Soup
- Mashed Potatoes
We should note here that one category of food that is glaringly missing from our list is desserts. We haven’t sampled any of the desserts or drinks yet. The pictures of milkshakes on the box look delicious. How do they taste? We don’t know yet.
How is it different from what we normally eat?
That’s a very personal question and your answer will undoubtedly be different from mine, but my answer is that it’s not drastically different from what I normally eat. Providing familiar foods that people already eat and enjoy is one of the major goals of a long-term storage food vendor. In this regard, Augason Farms was on the money. Dehydrated foods are a part of the dining landscape more than we realize. Grocery stores sell a lot of products that include dehydrated or freeze dried ingredients. The quality of these kinds of products has increased a lot over the years, and these are the same kinds of foods that come in the cans of long shelf life survival foods.
One major difference from my normal diet is that survival food won’t provide large portions of meat, fish, or poultry. No thick, juicy cheeseburger. No platter of fried chicken. No big honking slice of ham. I grew up in an age when kids heard a lot (at least from our parents at the dinner table) about the people starving in China. Real oriental food (not the Americanized stuff we get at carry-out restaurants) traditionally used proteins sparingly to flavor a dish, almost as a condiment. Rice or noodles and veggies were always the bulk of a dish. You’ll need to adopt that kind of mindset when you use your survival food.
How does it taste?
Having said that the foods are familiar and tasty, I’d like to add here that many of them are much higher in sodium than I am accustomed to, especially the soups, which are a staple in the survival menu. That’s bad news for anyone on a reduced-sodium diet. The good news is that the soups are flavorful enough that you can use them as a topping for potatoes, rice, or noodles. This practice will stretch your food budget while cutting back on your salt intake.
Another note on taste is that since you are preparing the recipes, you can modify them to your liking. The first meal that we made was the Creamy Corn and Potato Chowder. It was OK as is, but we had some leftover chicken that we added to it. Adding the little bit of chicken made it less like a soup and more like a meal. The pancakes were fine as is, but we tossed some frozen blueberries into the batter and kicked it up a notch. On another occasion, I made a sauce for baked potatoes by mixing some of the Broccoli Cheese Soup with just enough water to make it a sauce consistency and added some of the TVP Bacon Bits (a vegetarian soy-based bacon replacement) to give it a smoky kick. (Prepper Fun Fact: A little bit of TVP bacon bits goes a very long way. Use them sparingly.)
Of course you can also modify a recipe by leaving out things that you don’t like. Augason Farms’ recipe for Scrambled Egg with Bacon Bits included adding dehydrated chopped onions. We obediently followed the recipe, even though we don’t normally put onions in our eggs. We were open to trying something new, but the result was that the eggs were pretty strongly oniony. I was OK with the novelty of it, but Sandy didn’t like it at all. It wasn’t just the oniony-ness of the eggs, that Sandy didn’t like, though. She found the powdered eggs less than desirable in general. She’ll eat them in an emergency, but she won’t be pulling them out to make a meal when we’re out of eggs.
One of the questions we asked as we ate each meal was “would we serve this to guests?” In many cases the answer was “yes.” The creamy corn and potato chowder or broccoli cheese soup would be totally fine to serve to guests on a “come on over for soup and sandwich” night. Having friends over for breakfast? The pancakes would be fine, as would the creamy wheat cereal. The cereal is especially good with some raisins or other fruit thrown in. Of course, be sure to stock cinnamon because your cereal will come alive with some cinnamon. The biscuits were good, but the texture was a little off. We want to experiment with them a bit more before we serve them to friends.
Having said that, we’re thinking a “Prepper Food Tasting Party” might be a great way to introduce some of our friends to the prepper lifestyle.
How easy is it to prepare?
Most of it is just add water, simmer, and stir. Sandy, who does very little of the cooking in our house because she truly hates it did most of the cooking during our experiment. So I’m seeing a real benefit to adding some prepper food to our diet on a regular basis!
The Chicken Noodle Vegetable Casserole was more involved. You simmer some ingredients for 20 minutes, then combine others and bake it for 15 minutes. The result was a real casserole-style dish, but for a survival situation it was too energy intensive. I don’t want something that I have to both sauté and bake. Too much heating. One or the other, please. Still, having the capability provides nice variety. Maybe we’ll splurge on energy usage for a special occasion!
Could we really live on a steady diet of this stuff?
It has suitable nutrition and caloric content to sustain life. It tastes OK — sometimes better than just OK. We’ve become spoiled by abundance and variety. Of course we could live on it.
The Apostle Paul wrote a letter full of joy to his friends in the church in Philippi. In it he said, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13, NIV)
Sandy and I have been broke many times in the course of our 36-year marriage. Going broke is a good thing, if you know the secret of being content in any and every situation. It develops an appreciation and a gratefulness for the simplest of pleasures, the most basic of necessities. None of these are guaranteed in life. Entitlements are a man-made fiction. Can we live on a steady diet of long-term storage survival food? It might not be our first choice, but when it becomes our only choice I suspect that we will be quite happy to have it.
What would we miss from our regular diet?
My mother (who would have celebrated her 100th birthday this month if she were still on this earth) grew up dirt poor in the hills of central Tennessee. She told me that her favorite Christmas gift every year was an orange that she would get in her stocking. Not a pony. Not an iPad. Not a trip to Paris. An orange.
In a prolonged period of austerity, there are things that each of us will miss. We each need to give this matter some serious thought and plan accordingly. We might only be able to get fresh fruits and vegetables when they’re in season locally, which is a major change from what we’re accustomed to now. Learning to can and store those items would be helpful. We’ve also mentioned that large portions of meat might become a thing of the past. Those can also be canned. A lot of people store bulk quantities of wheat, but are they also storing baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt, and all of those other “minor” ingredients that we take for granted?
Sandy and I consider our experiment of “eating our own dog food” to be a success, but only a preliminary success. We’re going to make this an on-going part of our preparations. We will continue to learn to cook with food storage items and practice cooking on camp stoves and rocket stoves and maybe a solar oven. Food preparedness is about more than just hoarding. It’s also about knowing how to use what you’ve stored.
Of all the articles that we’ve written, the one that is the most enduring favorite of our readers has been Grocery Store Prepping. It only makes sense. Most people make two or more trips to the grocery store every week. If the grocery store sells the stuff that we need and use the most, we should probably be thinking of it as our first resource for beginner preps. Once we get the basics covered, we can venture to a wilderness outdoor equipment store for the more exotic preps.
Besides grocery stores, there are other vendors in our neighborhoods that can also serve up some pretty good preps, and many of them at discounted prices. Today we’re going to focus our attention on dollar store prepping, but don’t ignore other options such as Goodwill or resale shops and the good old yard sale.
We are blessed to live in a rural area that is well serviced by a number of the large chain dollar stores, such as Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree. These stores have become our go-to places for certain items that we regularly use, and we’ve discovered that dollar store prepping can be a thrifty prepper’s best resource. These stores tend to be cut-rate general stores that stock a lot of what you need to get you through routine emergencies, such as a power outage or storm.
The impetus for this article was a one-day sale we found at our local Dollar Tree store that’s happening tomorrow. While you can save money prepping at Dollar Tree or any of the dollar stores any day of the week, you can save more money (or buy more preps for the same money) on Sunday, November 23 (2014). It’s Customer Appreciation Day at Dollar Tree and they are offering 10% off all purchases that total more than $10. That makes every item you would normally purchase for a dollar only…wait for it… 90 cents! (Yep, we can do basic math here at The Approaching Day Prepper.) To get the 10% discount, you need to print this voucher from their website and present it to the cashier.
We’ve found that the products sold at Dollar Tree are often off-brand, but off-brand doesn’t always mean inferior. Sometimes you’ll find a product by a little unknown brand that beats what you’ve been paying much more for elsewhere. Be adventurous! What the heck — it’s just a buck. But don’t be a careless shopper. Take a minute or two to read labels, making sure you’re getting what you expect. Packaging can be deceiving, so read the label to determine how many feet, ounces, or items you’re getting for your buck. Check expiration dates as well.
Here are some ideas of what you can buy at your local Dollar Tree store. (You can buy them online, too, but Customer Appreciation Day applies only to in-store purchases.)
- Bins & baskets – You’ll find a wide variety of sizes and types. You may not have an immediate use for them, but you’ll sure find one soon.
- Baggies – It’s always good to have a supply of baggies in various sizes – sandwich, freezer, snack, etc.
- Plastic wrap, aluminum foil – Watch package sizes to be sure you’re getting a good deal.
- Canning jars and lids
- Canned vegetables – Watch for expiration dates. If the dates are soon, perhaps you can use them immediately in lieu of pulling from your pantry. You’re extending the life of your pantry which is, in effect, extending your food storage.
- Boxed foods (or as we call them, “cardboard food”) – Brands may not be those you’re accustomed to, but you can find some interesting items to try, including some imported items that you’ll never find in your grocery store.
- Canned meats – We list these separately because many people forget about canned meats. They’re great prepper food. Think tuna, chicken, sardines, Vienna sausages, etc.
- Candies – This is often an overlooked item in prepping, but let’s plan for a life with treats!
- Cords, twine, rope, clothes line — I can guarantee you that in a longer-term emergency you or someone close to you won’t begin to have enough of this stuff on hand.
- Tarps, ponchos, vinyl table cloths, and shower curtains – Anything that you can use to keep things covered and dry outside.
- Glow sticks
- Duct tape
Kitchen Utensils & Supplies
- Pick up that extra can opener you should have. Look for utensils that can be used in outdoor cooking. Look for small items that can be put in your bug-out bag.
- Baking tins for making your own cleaning products. I make some of my own cleaning and health products. They often require pans and utensils and I don’t want to use the same as those I use for baking. Cupcake pans, small loaf pans and cookie sheets all come in handy.
- Grater – Both for food prep (you may not be able to use your electric food processor) and for making cleaning products.
- Wooden spoons – Can you ever have enough?
- Paper plates and plastic ware
Cleaning & Sanitation
- Soap and laundry detergent, for less than what you pay elsewhere
- Chlorine bleach (but beware that chlorine bleach doesn’t store for very long)
- Cleaning wipes / wet wipes — especially if you have young kids
- Towels & rags – I recently bought four good quality dish towels to replace the towels I put on my counter under my tea station and by our plant area. The old ones are permanently stained. I figured I could spend $4 to quit looking at the stains. If I had waited for this 10% off sale, I could have gotten them for $3.60. I might go buy more!
- Latex gloves – Both disposable and longer-use gloves.
- Rubbing alcohol
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Lip balm
- First aid tape
- Toothpaste, toothbrushes, toothpicks
Holiday Items & Decorations – While not a prepper item, per se, I think it’s important to remember to plan for the fun events in life when setting aside items for a time when life is less comfortable than we know it.
During National Survival Month, we encouraged readers to identify a task they hoped to accomplish. We were slammed with work that month and getting ready for vacation, so I picked an easy task that had been on my list – create a menu to be used during the first month of a serious emergency and gather the needed recipes.
As I began the menu project, Phil reminded me that we had purchased a one-month food supply kit from Augason Farms. This kit contained 48 small cans of dehydrated and freeze dried ingredients and came with a recipe booklet with more than 50 recipes. Wow! Menu task accomplished! Well, not quite. But close.
From that easily accomplished goal we decided that after returning from vacation we’d set aside a week during which we would make some of the recipes and get a more realistic idea of what it would be like to live off of our long-term storage food supply.
Our original plan was to eat nothing but food from our long-term food storage, with a focus on the Augason Farms kit. After putting off our one week of survival food experiment several times, we realized that our original plan needed some tweaking. We realized that maintaining our normal schedule of work and ministry activities meant that it wasn’t practical for us to only eat survival food for that week. In an emergency, these commitments would be radically altered. We weren’t willing to make those adjustments for our experiment. Still, we were able to accomplish our goals by eating most meals from our long-term food storage while allowing the restaurant or fast food option when our schedule demanded.
Yes, we know that we’re not practicing true survival. We’re not forcing ourselves into simulated hardship. Instead, we’re practicing with and sampling our survival food. I’m OK with that for this experiment. So what were our goals?
Our goals for the week are to:
- Taste the food. Do you remember the line from the movie Crocodile Dundee – “It tastes like crap, but you can live on it.” Were we going to be miserable eating what we’d bought? The Augason Farms kit has a wide variety of their staple products and recipes that could be made from them, so we’d be able to sample much of it. (And we’d have an idea of which foods we might want to purchase in larger quantities…and which we wouldn’t.)
- Practice preparing the food. It’s never a good idea to wait until five minutes before you really need something to start learning how to use it. We want to practice preparing the food before we absolutely need to use it. Our one-month food kit is not a case of prepared entrees. It’s an ingredient-based kit that allows you to mix and match items to make a lot of recipes. There’s a big difference between reading the contents on the box and figuring out what you could make with it.
- Evaluate what’s missing from our food storage plan. When we start living on survival food, what will we be craving that we don’t have? It might be fresh fruits and vegetables, or meat, or desserts, or salty snacks. But until we start using what we have stored, we won’t know what is lacking. We need to fill in the gaps now.
- Evaluate how much water we’d be using when cooking primarily dehydrated and freeze-dried food. (As it turns out, the kit clearly specifies that it takes 23 gallons of water to prepare all of the included food. That’s 23 gallons of water for one person for one month for just food preparation. What does that do to your estimate of how much water you want for every person to include drinking and washing?)
- Evaluate portion sizes. Would their claimed “makes 2 servings” really make 2 real world servings?
- Share our findings with you.
With all that as a backdrop, we finally picked a week to start – last week as a matter of fact. Here are our first lessons and impressions from our week of survival food testing:
- We have more food in our fridge at any given point than we realize. We were scheduled to begin sampling the survival food last week and immediately realized that we had enough food in our fridge that we needed to use before it spoiled to last us nearly a week. So the first five days were spent eating from our fridge with a little supplement from our pantry shelves. I was actually surprised at this because I don’t think of us having that much ready food on hand. I know we have a healthy-sized pantry, but didn’t realize that we had so much that needed to be eaten. I was really encouraged by this. I know that if an emergency takes out our fridge and freezer (which it likely would), that week would turn into “eat as much as you can in the next few days”. I’ll have more to share with others than I thought I would. (And no, we didn’t go out and do big shopping shortly before our survival food experiment was to begin. Quite the opposite. We had abstained from grocery shopping for about a week before that.)
- With our on-hand “need to eat” food, our one week of survival food experiment has turned into two weeks of survival food. We’re five days into it and we tasted our first survival food today. (Yes, we’ve tasted many other products in the past, but today was the first in this experiment.)
- There is a lot of variety in the Augason Farms one-month pack. You can do a lot with it. In addition to their recipe booklet, there are also recipes printed on each can’s label. Being who I am, I put them all into a spreadsheet and created a weeks’ worth of menus.
- Along with the variety, there’s also a lot of repetition in the Augason Farms recipes. Chicken noodle soup, chicken noodle casserole, and chicken noodle vegetable casserole sound a lot alike to me! Still, having just tasted my first variation of potato soup (creamy potato soup with corn and chicken), I’m embracing the variations. (More on that in our next blog.)
- I’m really looking forward to this!
Without trying to sound like a commercial, it seems like I should give more info about the Augason Farms one-month pack. This pack is advertised as providing almost 2,100 calories per day for one person for one month. Nutritional information is provided on each can. The only absolutely necessary ingredient that isn’t provided is water. Some of the recipes in the included recipe book include ingredients that you may not have available (sour cream or hard cheese, for example), but most do not.
The kit includes 21 different items in a total of 48 cans:
- Beef, Chicken, and Bacon TVP (textured vegetable protein)
- Cheesy broccoli soup mix
- Creamy potato soup mix
- Chicken noodle soup mix
- Southwest chili mix
- Broccoli (freeze dried)
- Corn (freeze dried)
- Potato dices (dehydrated)
- Potato gems (for mashed potatoes)
- Onions (chopped dehydrated)
- White rice
- Whole eggs (powdered)
- Creamy wheat cereal
- Buttermilk pancake mix
- Strawberries (freeze dried slices)
- Banana slices
- Milk (powdered)
- Chocolate milk (powdered)
- Orange delight drink mix
Have you ever seen the cooking competition show called Chopped on the Food Network? Chefs are given a basket with four ingredients. Some of them are normal ingredients, some are very abnormal. The challenge is to make a tasty meal using all four ingredients, plus whatever else they have available. This kit is like playing Chopped. What kind of culinary wonders can you create with these ingredients and what’s in your pantry?
These aren’t the jumbo #10 cans that you normally see for long-term storage food. Those big boys hold almost a gallon each. The food in this kit all comes in the smaller #2.5 cans which only hold about a quart. The smaller size makes it practical and affordable to sample a lot of products. Besides, the big #10 cans aren’t always your best choice for every type of food storage, as blogger The Survival Mom points out in this excellent article.
The regular price of the kit is $256.99 (with free shipping as of this writing), but it is occasionally on sale. We paid at least $60 less for each of the packs we’ve purchased. (We purchased three kits at different times, so the price of each pack varied.) If you’re just getting started with prepping, or you’ve looked at the huge one-year food kits that many food storage vendors offer and found them to be way out of your budget or your prep plans, this one-month kit might be just the ticket for you. It’s way more affordable, takes up way less space, lets you sample a lot of products, and could be good as a starter pack for you or as a gift for someone else whom you wish was better prepared.
At the regular price, assuming 3 meals/day for 30 days, the price per meal is less than $2.63. That seems pretty darn reasonable. At the prices we paid for our one-month packs, our cost went down to $2.18. And when the meals are stretched with rice or pasta, the price goes even lower. Of course one of our purposes in this experiment is to find the things we like most and purchase those items in larger cans at a better price. But considering the convenience of the smaller cans with menus provided, I’m a happy camper.
Assuming the food is good. Assuming it truly is 30 days’ worth of food. That story comes next…
We’ve never run an article verbatim from another site before, but yesterday I stumbled upon this one while I was searching for something else and the story moved me. It’s about a product that was conceived of during a blackout. It doesn’t just solve a problem. It changes people’s lives. Here’s the article, with some further comments by me at the end:
Sarah Collins couldn’t sleep. It was 2008, and rolling blackouts had darkened the city of Johannesburg. There were severe, ongoing energy shortages throughout South Africa, and everyone was affected. Cities and towns, hospitals and schools — all had power only once every several days, and then only for a few hours. It was during one of these blackouts that Sarah leapt out of bed at two in the morning and woke up her roommate. “I’ve got it!” she said. “I know how I’m going to change the world.”
Sarah had devoted her entire life to searching for ways to empower people in rural Africa, especially women. She worked in AIDS orphans clinics. She did environmental conservation work. She started community-based businesses to help rural women generate an income. She even created a political party and ran for government.
But the night of the blackout, Sarah flashed back to her childhood. Growing up on a farm in a remote part of the country, she had watched her grandmother bundle blankets and cushions around a hot pot of stew to keep it cooking and conserve her limited fuel. “Why wouldn’t that work?” she thought. Then she remembered watching the San people bury food in the ground while they were cooking. “I thought to myself, ‘This is the oldest technology in the world.’”
The next day, Sarah created the prototype for her heat-retention cooker, the Wonderbag. After food is brought to a boil, the pot is placed in the heavily-lined bag where it slow-cooks for up to 12 hours. “Finding firewood for cooking takes a huge amount of rural women’s time,” explains Sarah, “and gathering it is very dangerous. The wood fires used to cook then cause indoor pollution, a leading cause of death worldwide in children under five. Having the Wonderbag would empower the women to feed their families, generate an income, and save them time.”
“Right away I knew it would work,” says Sarah, “I just knew it. I called my brother and said, ‘I’ve found it! I’ve found my life, I’ve found my destiny, I found the way I can help make a difference.’ And I described the idea, and he joked, ‘Sarah, for years the family has been looking for an excuse to have you institutionalized, and I think I just found it.’”
Sarah brought her first bag to a grandmother she knew who cared for nine orphans. The woman earned a meager living selling food that she cooked all day over a wood fire, but still struggled to meet her family’s basic needs. The tarpaulin where they lived was always full of smoke. The kids weren’t in school, because they had to spend their days gathering firewood. “I said to her, ‘I’ll live with you while we see whether this works.’ But she got the idea right away,” says Sarah. “Their lives were completely changed. Within three months, the children only needed to gather firewood once a week, and they were all in school. They had money for shoes. It was a catalyst out of poverty for them.”
Five years later, Sarah has sold or donated more than 700,000 Wonderbags throughout Africa.
The Wonderbag is now available in the U.S., through Amazon, and Sarah’s new goal is to sell one million to people worldwide. For every bag sold, one is donated to a family in need. “I chose Amazon because I loved the idea of combining the oldest technology in the world with the most high-tech, efficient, environmentally-friendly way of doing your shopping,” says Sarah.
“Having the Wonderbag on Amazon brings healthy, wholesome, slow-cooked portable food into mainstream kitchens. Just as important,” says Sarah, “it empowers consumers, by giving them innovative ways to be part of the solutions that the world is looking for.”
- This is a prepper story. I wasn’t aware of the rolling blackout problems that this story talks about, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they occurred in America eventually. As flaky as our crumbling infrastructure is, the most vulnerable element seems to be our aging power grid. Prepping is about more than just storing beans, bullets, and band-aids for a potential future emergency. It’s also about making changes to our lifestyle now, before anything happens, to better train and equip ourselves to deal with hardship when it comes. One huge aspect of that lifestyle change is learning to make do with less. The less you use, the less you need. The slogan “Reduce – Reuse – Recycle” is beginning to resonate with me. A great place to start is to find ways in which you can meet your needs while using less energy. Sarah found a way to use less fuel energy by cooking in a Wonderbag.
- The Wonderbag isn’t a new idea. Sarah plainly says as much in the article. She watched her grandmother bundle blankets and cushions around a hot pot of stew to keep it cooking. She got this brainstorm for a new product that was actually a very old idea. “Old school” techniques and technology rock, especially in a prepper situation. Keep your eyes peeled for information on how people got by in the pioneer days or during the Great Depression. It might be helpful someday. And look for ways to update some of these old ways. You might be able to put a new spin on an old technology and have a life-changing impact on many people like Sarah did.
- Because this is “the oldest technology in the world” and Sarah’s grandmother was able to accomplish the same thing with blankets and cushions, you don’t have to buy a Wonderbag to cook your meals. Use your own blankets, or dig a hole in the ground and put your pot in it. Sarah’s new-fangled Wonderbag may work better than those approaches, or it may not. I don’t know. Clearly, more research is called for. (Perhaps I should apply for a government grant.) The answer to your problem isn’t always to spend more money or to buy a new product. Sometimes you just need to use what God has already put in your hand in a new and different way.
- At the a selling price of $56.57 (as of the time of this writing), the Wonderbag is over-priced. Intentionally. For every one you buy, they give one to a needy person or family in Africa. You can’t buy one for a lower price and not have one go to Africa. They don’t give you that option. If that bugs you, you can always try making your own or try the digging-a-hole-in-your-backyard approach. If their forced philanthropy appeals to you (as I’m certain it does to many), you can buy two Wonderbags. Keep one for yourself and give the second one to the person of your choice. (I strongly believe that prepping is about sharing, but I very strongly believe that I should be the one who gets to decide who I share my stuff with.) And you can feel good about blessing two families in Africa.
- If the Wonderbag works as well as the reviews suggest (out of 237 customer reviews on Amazon, 166 of them are 5-stars), it’s selling price of $56.57 is a bargain. When I read the article, my mind instantly went to a group of contemporary products that do the same thing. They’re called thermal cookers, and they use the exact same principle — bring your food to a simmer and then transfer it to a thermal-retention unit. It continues to slow-cook on residual heat for hours. The one I’ve seen the most positive comments about on other prepper sites is Saratoga Jack’s thermal cooker. People rave about it, but at $110 plus $13.50 in shipping it makes the Wonderbag look like a bargain. And Saratoga Jack’s isn’t the most expensive such product by a long shot. Zojirushi (whose products I hold in high regard) sells one for $194.65, which makes the highly-rated Wonderbag looking down-right cheap by comparison.
The bottom line is that necessity is the mother of invention. Plato said that, a very long time ago, and it still holds true today. Whether you buy a Wonderbag or try to cook stew in your sleeping bag, we need to get creative about using less and making due with what we have. It will save money in the short-run, which could enable you to buy more stuff that you need in the long-run.
Ever since I became aware of the need to be prepared for a disruption of life as we know it, I’ve been drawn to solar power. I’ve been impressed with solar power since the first time I saw a solar powered calculator many, many years ago. A tiny photovoltaic chip generated enough energy from ambient light to run a calculator. How cool is that?
I’ve wanted to dip my foot in the solar pool (so to speak) as part of my preps. What has kept me from it so far is that I wanted to start small. Why? Because solar can be expensive and I’m on a low budget, and because I’m a solar power dummy. Unfortunately, the problem with starting small in solar power is that there just aren’t a lot of small applications that would be of any real value to me. (Beyond the nifty calculator mentioned above, that is…but these days that doesn’t have a lot of value either.) Yes, I could shell out $100 for a solar gadget that would recharge a cell phone or power an LED light, but it just didn’t meet a real need or solve a real problem in my life, so I put solar power on the back burner.
I’ve Finally Got a Problem that Solar Power Solves!
But now I’ve acquired a problem for which solar power is the ideal solution. In my last blog I discussed our decision to purchase a pellet-burning stove (as opposed to a more conventional wood-burning stove) as an alternative heat source for our home. You can read about my contrarian reasoning in that blog. But one of the key factors that impacted my decision to go with pellets was a critical piece of information provided by my stove vendor. He told me that a pellet stove, while it requires electrical power to operate, uses so little electricity that you can get a battery back-up unit to run it when there is a power outage. I asked our stove guy how much a back-up system like he was talking about would cost and he said $500.
I’m no stranger to battery back-up systems. We’ve been using battery-powered back-ups with surge suppressors and voltage regulators on all of our desktop computer systems in our office for over 20 years. The problem with those battery back-up units is that they don’t run very long. The battery just isn’t big enough to provide power for very long. They have to be recharged from a working electrical outlet. That’s not a long-term solution in a grid-down situation. And that’s when I knew that I had found my perfect small-scale application for solar power. I could get a battery back-up that recharges from a solar panel. No need for an electrical outlet. So long as the sun keeps coming up each day, I would be in business.
What Components Do You Need for a Solar Power System?
If you’ve read this blog for very long, you know that I’m a guy who knew nothing about prepping when I started. Dumber than a bag of hammers when it came to gardening, guns, first aid, ham radio, solar power — you name it. But I like doing research. I read a lot. I like to shop online. So I set about to learn what I needed to meet my modest solar power need.
My research soon took me to a line of products offered by Goal Zero, a company that I liked well enough to add as an advertiser to this site. They make a nice line of products that address a wide range of small-to-medium sized solar applications, including three sizes of portable “solar generators.” Sounds like just the thing. And at $460 for the Yeti 400 model, the price was in line with the stove guy’s quote of $500 for a conventional battery back-up for the pellet stove.
Not content to be taken in by Goal Zero’s slick website, I dug further online looking for reviews of their products from people who weren’t selling them. I lurked online in solar power forums and off-grid websites. What I found were two types of people: those who actually used Goal Zero products and liked them, and those who claimed that you could easily assemble components to build your own system for half the price. The second option intrigued me. If I can put my own kit together, be able to upgrade bits and pieces as needed, and save a buck in the process, I’m all for it. (More on Goal Zero vs. DIY below.)
What components do you need to build a solar powered battery back-up system? You’ll be pleased at how simple it is:
- An energy source. Since we’re talking solar here, solar panels are the obvious choice. Just to expand your thinking a little bit, the power source could also be a windmill or a water wheel, but for our purposes, we’re sticking to solar panels for now.
- A charge controller. Solar panels capture energy from the sun, but they don’t store it. You need a battery to store the energy until needed, but you can’t tie your solar panels directly into the battery. You need a charge controller between your panels and your batteries to control the flow of energy into the batteries. As it turns out, batteries are kind of fussy about such things. Too much juice all at once will ruin them, so you need a charge controller.
- One or more batteries. Batteries store the electrical energy until you tap into it. Be advised that there are a lot of types of batteries that can be used with solar systems, and some kinds are better for some applications than others. I’ll do a blog that discusses battery types and features in the future, but this one is about solar power for dummies, so we’re keeping it simple. But I will say this — not all batteries are suitable for indoor use. Some of them emit fumes that require that they be for outdoor use only. Read the small print before you buy.
- An inverter. Solar panels and the batteries used with them have something important in common. They work with direct current (DC) power. Your car battery also uses DC power. Nothing in your house does. All the electrical appliances and gadgets that we use run on alternating current (AC). So how does one get the DC power stored in your batteries into the AC power that your electrical stuff craves? With an inverter. Don’t ask me how it does it. I’ve already told you more than I know. But the bottom line is that you plug your stuff into the outlets on your inverter and it works, just like plugging into your home’s electrical outlets.
Just four pieces. Panels, charge controller, battery, and inverter. Mystery solved.
Is that really all you need? If you’re keeping it small, portable, and simple, the answer is yes. If you’re going to expand your system, which you can do to meet your growing needs, you’ll want to add fuses and input/output meters and who knows what else. But at that point you’ve gone beyond small, portable, and simple, which is what we’re shooting for today.
More on Inverters
I told my stove guy that I was looking into a solar powered solution to my electrical back-up need for the pellet stove. He was dubious. While he was pro-solar in general, he had heard a number of reports from customers who had tried solar powered back-up systems and had poor results. The electrical components of the pellet stoves ran erratically or not at all when running on solar power. He didn’t know why.
Ah, but I do! It all goes back to the inverter, the magic box that coverts the battery’s DC power to usable AC. The electricity coming out of your wall socket comes out in nice, smooth “sine waves.” All of your electrical devices love these pure sine waves, but less expensive inverters don’t generate pure sine waves. They generate “modified” sine waves. In this case, modified means chunky. Depending on how good the modification is, the waves can be almost pure or they can be clunky, chunky stair steps. A modified sine wave is good enough for many electrical devices, but not all of them. You’ll get a lot of “noise” on TVs or audio devices — and apparently, pellet stoves don’t like modified sine waves at all. For my purposes, I would need an inverter that generates pure sine waves. You can buy them, but they’re more expensive than modified sine wave units.
DIY vs Goal Zero
So how does the home brew system match up with the sleek and sexy Goal Zero equipment? I put a lot of time and effort into finding the right components to beat the price of the Goal Zero Yeti 400 solar generator, but I just couldn’t do it. Too many trade-offs. I wanted small, simple, and portable. I wanted something that was safe for indoor use. I wanted a pure sine wave inverter. The expandability of a homemade component system would be nice, but not absolutely necessary for a starter purchase. The Goal Zero Yeti 400 provides all of the features I wanted and more.
If (when) my power goes down, I’ll want more than just my pellet stove to work. The Goal Zero Yeti 400 has two AC outlets and two USB ports. It doesn’t come with solar panels. You have to buy them separately (just as you would with a homebrew system). But here’s a huge plus — you can also charge the battery on the Yeti 400 by just plugging it into a wall outlet. Your home’s electrical system can keep the Yeti fully charged and ready to rock until your power goes off. This is a feature that I really, really like, because recharging the Yeti from solar panels might not always be a better option than from a wall outlet while the grid is up. It also meant that I didn’t need to buy solar panels right away (which my dwindling budget appreciated). A wall outlet recharger would be a fifth piece to a DIY setup, and I only found one vendor that carries anything like that. You can buy them online from Northern Arizona Wind & Sun, but it adds $154 to the price of the component system. This made the Yeti the clear winner for my needs in terms of both features and price. Another added plus is that you can also recharge the Yeti from a car battery. That feature might be the icing on the cake for some users, but it’s not something that I feel a need for right now. But it’s there if I need it. Better to have it and not need it… And the Yeti also has a simple meter built into its control panel that shows you how much charge is currently in the battery and how much power is being drawn by the stuff that you’re running off of it. A meter like this would be another expenditure in a homemade system.
Getting back to the expandability issue that I said would be nice, the Yeti 400 allows you to daisy-chain more batteries to the system, giving you more capacity than what comes in the box. You can’t add on to it infinitely like you could with a homemade system, but it provides a degree of flexibility while staying small and simple. I’ll most almost certainly go to a component-based solar setup at some future date, but that doesn’t negate my preference for a Goal Zero Yeti for my particular current need. Having a solar unit that was designed from the ground up to be grab-and-go portable just makes good sense to me, for bug-out or any number of other uses.
The Bottom Line
I haven’t had my new pellet stove delivered and installed yet because I’ve been gone on vacation, so the solar back-up unit hasn’t been an immediate need, but I knew going into the pellet stove purchase that this would be a vital part of the stove system. I never would have bought the pellet stove without this capability being available to me, but by the time you read this, I may have already placed my order with Goal Zero.
As a closing remark, I said up front that I wanted something small to get into solar power, but it had to be something that met an actual need cost-effectively. I’m guessing that most of you don’t have a burning need for a back-up power system for a pellet stove (yet, but many of you may have a need for an electrical outlet where none exist. It could be while you’re camping or doing something in your yard or elsewhere outdoors. Goal Zero has a lot of products that meet these kinds of needs head on. Simple, portable, rechargeable electric power. I know some folks who use the dreaded CPAP masks for sleeping with apnea. A battery back-up system like one of the Yetis could be wonderful to have for when your power goes off. CPAP users can even go camping with them. There are probably other medical devices that aren’t coming to my mind right now that could be run off a Yeti when the power goes down.
I’m not trying to sell you anything (although, in the interest of full disclosure, we make a little money from the purchases made when you click on the ads on this site). We NEVER want to nudge anyone toward buying something they don’t want or need) — just doing a little brainstorming. At the risk of nullifying what I’ve just said about not trying to sell you anything, allow me to inform you that Goal Zero is having a Buy 2, Get 1 Free sale on their 15-watt solar panels. It’s a $90 value (nothing to sneeze at), and is good through October 31, 2014 when you use the code EXTRASOLAR at checkout. Just thought you’ like to know.
We live in a drafty, 50-year-old house. Despite having a good furnace in our basement, the ductwork was done in such a crazy way that what little air gets to the second floor couldn’t begin to be called warm. We’ve explored various options with multiple HVAC vendors over the years and have come to the conclusion that it can’t be fixed. So our furnace doesn’t do a great job of heating our whole house. We’ve tolerated the situation by supplementing our heat with space heaters in the three mostly commonly used rooms. Not a great option and an expensive one.
Also, if we get hit with a power outage of any duration, we have no heat at all. Our forced air natural gas furnace requires electricity. That means we need something that would become our primary heating solution in a power outage situation. So last year we started to think about installing a wood-burning stove.
Wood-Burning Stoves Are Great!
Wood stoves are the darlings of the prepper crowd. They’re simple, durable, affordable, and about as old-school as you can get. And now there are also catalytic wood-burners that are much more efficient than basic models. As it turns out, nearly half of what makes up a log is smoke and creosote, both of which are merely wasted byproducts when you burn logs in a conventional wood-burner. A catalytic wood stove gets so hot that it burns the smoke and creosote too, making your wood-burner almost twice as efficient. If you have an adequate source of free timber, a wood stove becomes a no-brainer. Sign me up!
So why don’t we have one yet? Why did we spend all of last winter living out of a bedroom with a space heater to try to save the cost of heating the whole house? What was the deal breaker for us?
Our Problems with Wood Stoves
With a wood-burning stove, you are required to have a substantial chimney that can sustain a lot of heat. The chimney has to extend above your roof. Since we live in a two-story house, the new chimney would cost as much as the stove itself, doubling the price of the new heating system. The affordable wood stove was no longer affordable for us. We don’t have deep pockets. The addition of the chimney requirement knocked the wood stove out of our price range. We made do without, and hoped for no power outages. But the need was still there, and so was the desire.
OK, we could take a little time and save some money to build the chimney that we would need, but there are other downsides to a wood burner for our set of circumstances. We may decide to move elsewhere. We could presumably take our wood stove with us, but the chimney is staying put. That money is gone. If we took the wood stove with us, we would most likely have to pay to construct a new one at the new location. More money.
Any other problems? Yes, at least for us.Wood stoves put out inconsistent heat. They’re cold until you start a fire in them, then they get blazing hot for a while, then they burn with a steady heat for number of hours, but they eventually burn down and get cold again. A moderate-sized stove would need to be stoked about three times a day to keep the house from getting cold. Call me lazy (it’s been done before), but that’s a bit high-maintenance for me.
What else? For the time being, we live in a rural area, but we’re “townies.” We live on an unwooded quarter-acre lot. We don’t have any friends that own acres of forest that would give us wood for free. That means that we would have to buy firewood and have it delivered to our home (because we don’t own a truck, either). Yes, we want a truck. (At least I do. Sandy isn’t sold on buying one yet.) Yes, we want to live on land that has a lot of trees. But right now we just aren’t there and we need to do something that will meet our current needs within our current limitations.
For all these reasons, we abandoned our pursuit of a wood-burning stove last year and just decided to wait things out a bit longer.
Pellets for Preppers?
Being city kids and fairly new preppers, we didn’t know anything about wood stoves until we started shopping for them last year. We visited a couple of dealerships and found that there was another alternative to wood stoves that is pretty popular now — the pellet-burning stove.
Pellet stoves are high-tech wonders dressed in wood stove clothing. They look like a wood stove, but they don’t work like a wood stove. Instead of burning logs, pellet stoves burn pellets made of compressed sawdust. Pellets come in 40-pound bags, like buying a big bag of dog food. Dump a bag in the hopper and a motor feeds a small quantity of pellets to the burn pan. Pellet stoves are more efficient than wood-burners and need to be cleaned less frequently.
Pellet stoves are popular because they are a blend of the time-honored effectiveness of a wood stove with modern technology. Many pellet stoves are thermostatically controlled to maintain a consistent temperature in your home. The thermostat on a pellet stove controls the rate that the pellets are fed into the burn pan. If no more burn is needed for a while, the thermostat will shut the stove off and then electronically reignite itself when a new burn is required, keeping the heat consistent all day and night. And you only need to fill the hopper once a day. Pellet stoves are a cleaner and more efficient alternative to wood stoves, which is why they’re so popular these days. At least with the non-prepper crowd.
The Problems with Pellets
But we didn’t even give pellet stoves a second glance last year. They just aren’t “prepper.” The big issue is that they require electricity to feed pellets into the burn chamber and to ignite them. We want to go closer to being off-grid and any major appliance that requires electricity is a step in the wrong direction.
Besides that, pellet stoves aren’t simple or old-school. They are full of moving parts and electronics (even a motherboard, for crying out loud!) that can fail and need to be replaced. Where are you going to get a new motherboard in a TEOTWAWKI situation? Very un-prepper.
You want more unprepperliness? Pellet stoves can’t burn logs. They aren’t built for it. Instead of cutting down a tree and throwing hunks of it in the stove, you have to buy pellets that are made in a factory. If (when) the grid goes down, it will be mighty hard to procure a few tons of factory-made pellets.
Not very prepperly at all. No thank you. What self-respecting prepper in his or her right mind would choose a pellet stove over a wood stove?
If you guessed us, you’d be correct.
What Were You Thinking?
Yes, we are the proud owners of a new pellet stove, just awaiting delivery and installation in a month or so. “What!?” you say. “What were you thinking? How could you possibly choose pellet stove over a wood-burner?”
This summer, we ran into one of the local wood stove dealers at our county fair. He had a pellet stove set up for a demo. We told him that we were close to buying a wood stove last year, but the cost of the chimney installation killed that plan. He told us that we should consider a pellet stove. Instead of an expensive chimney that extends above your roof, you just need to vent them out of the side of your house like a clothes dryer vent. Cheap and easy!
Yeah, but pellet stoves had one inherent drawback that we just couldn’t get past. We wanted an off-the-grid heating solution, and pellet stoves require electricity. The stove guy smiled when we said “off-the-grid” and told us that he was very like-minded himself — and that the electrical components in the pellet stove only required six watts of electricity to run. So little that we would never see it on our electricity bill if we installed one. So little that we could hook it up to a battery back-up unit to power the stove if our electricity goes down. And we could recharge the battery with solar panels. This electric appliance could do it’s thing off the grid.
It’s amazing how a little additional information can cause your train of thought to go in a radically different direction. Our objections to a wood stove were still fully in effect, but our major objections to the pellet-burner were being overcome.
OK, but what about the issue of burning logs versus manufactured pellets? In our case, that was a tie. Since we don’t have access to free firewood, we would have to buy it and truck it in, the same as we will for pellets. In our situation, neither works well in a long-term grid-down situation. But we’re not going to let the potential of the grid going down stop us from getting a supplemental heating system that meets our needs now. We’re looking into a small solar-charged battery system to serve as our electrical back-up unit. It will be my excuse to dive into the world of solar energy on a small scale with a very practical application.
Another factor is that we may decide to move to a better location someday. The pellet stove can come with us. It’s much lighter than a wood-burner, making it easier to transport. It doesn’t require an expensive chimney in the new location — just a vent out the side of the wall. It’s even safe and approved for use in a mobile home. And we won’t have to leave an expensive chimney behind when we leave this house.
Pellets are fairly cheap right now. If you keep them dry, they can be stored for years. The don’t attract pests like logs do. We can stock up on pellets and be good for a while. Just two or three tons of pellets would give us a whole year to figure out our what to do next in a true TEOTWAWKI situation.
So with much lower cost of installation, our no-power-grid objection mitigated, and the portability of the pellet stove benefit, we opted for a Harman pellet stove. Can’t wait to have it installed – our weather is already hitting 45° in the early hours of the morning.
I imagine some of you are still thinking “Dude…it’s not prepper!” Perhaps not, but what works for one prepper doesn’t work for every prepper. We’re surprised we ended up with a pellet stove, but are confident it’s the best option for us. You can’t let yourself get stuck in a single mindset. Sometimes the best solution to your needs is something that goes against the flow.
We’ll let you know how well our new pellet stove heats our drafty home in February or March.
Most of our friends haven’t bought into this prepping thing. Phil and I have discussed the objections people have to prepping and have found that they break down into a few basic categories. We thought we’d share them with you along with our responses.
Objection #1: I don’t believe in the zombie apocalypse
My response: Neither do I. But I look at the world and I see a very fragile place. There are so many things that could go wrong – wars, natural disasters, economic uncertainty, nasty diseases… the list could go on. These are all plausible things that could directly impact my life. When I consider those things, it only makes sense to me to prepare for the eventuality that something will go haywire at some time in my life. Phil boiled it down to a single reason in this blog: Why Bother to Prep? For a bit more detail on the kinds of things that some people are prepping for, check out this blog: What Kind of Event Are You Prepping For?
Objection #2 – Sacred Version: I trust God to take care of me. The Bible promises that He will provide for all my needs. Why should I prep?
My response: I trust God to take care of me, too. However, the Bible also says that if we’ve been warned about something, we’re responsible to take action. I can’t do everything one might need to do to be prepared for every potential emergency. I trust God to cover those things. He will provide for my needs. But prepping is not a whole lot different from buying house or car insurance. I trust God, but I also spend a lot of money on insurance for my car, home, and health. Through the money I spend on prepping, I am preparing to improve my circumstances in a future that might be very different from my present. Beyond that, though, is a much greater reason for being a prepper. I am prepping so that I can show God’s love to those around me during times of upheaval and stress. Because I’ve bought extra food and extra Bibles, I can share tangible support and spiritual comfort with others. God uses His Church to bless others. I want to be a vehicle for God’s blessings to others. If you aren’t able to meet your own needs, you can’t be in a position to help others.
Objection #2 – Secular Version: I trust the government to take care of me. They won’t let anything bad happen, or if it does, they will fix it quickly and take care of me in the meantime.
My response: I’ll go against the grain of many other preppers here and say that I believe that our government has our best interests at heart. At least, I believe that their intentions are good. But there are two major problems with this. First, the government’s vision of “my best interests” doesn’t always line up very well with mine. The government increasingly wants to take by force of law from those who have earned and saved, and give it to those who haven’t earned or haven’t saved. Obviously, from my answer to the “sacred” version of this objection, I want to do this, too. But I want to be the one who gets to decide how, when, and where my stuff gets distributed, and who it goes to. I trust myself to do this more efficiently and effectively than the government. Second, the government increasingly wants to disarm its citizens. More good intentions, but with disastrous results. Every person has the God-given right to defend themselves (see this excellent article). Too often, the good intentions of government produce the exact opposite results. When things get bad, I want to be able to defend myself, not wait for a cop to show up. When things get really bad, the cops won’t be able to get to you anytime soon.
Objection #3: I can’t afford to be a prepper
My response to this is four-fold:
- First, remember that any prepping you do is better than no prepping. Don’t feel like you have to go all out or it’s not worth it. If I had that perspective, I’d be in tears most of the time. There are so many areas to prep in and we sure don’t have enough hours in the day or money in our pockets to be as prepared as we’d like to be. But I know two things: Doing something is better than doing nothing, and God is faithful. I trust Him to cover what I can’t do.
- Prepping is about more than spending money. I appreciate that finances are quite lean for many people – being self-employed, our income fluctuates significantly. Or as Phil puts it, we go flat broke every couple of years. During our “broke” years, we spend more time learning and practicing than buying. During our “not so broke” years, we do more buying and storing. The things we buy and store help get us through the lean times. We’re prepped for it. You can do many prepping things that cost little or nothing. Learning to consume less and make the most of what you have is prime prepper training.
- A lot of prepping can be done for not nearly as much money as you think. Every week at the grocery store, buy two or three of something that you would typically buy one of. Store the extras away from your “every day” supplies so that they don’t get used immediately. Those extra purchases won’t add much to your total bill, but you’ll slowly begin to develop a “convenience store” in your own home. When items go on sale, buy five or six of them instead of two or three. If a disaster strikes six months from now you may not have a month’s worth of food, but you’ll have enough for several days, and several days is better than no days. Several days buys you a little time to figure out what’s next. It reduces your stress in a stressful situation. Those are good things.
- Add prepping to your budget. Find ways to save money for prepping. Prepping is like saving. You save a little each month and it adds up. You save first and budget around it. Phil and I sometimes make a game out of saving for prepping. What can we do (or not do) this week to save money? That saved money goes in the prepper money jar.
Objection #4: I don’t have time for prepping!
My response: I feel your pain. But you gotta make time. As with money, start small, but start. Making a decision to be a prepper is the place to start, then develop a plan – a written plan – of what you want to buy, learn, and do. I’ve said it many times, but it bears repeating here — we haven’t done nearly as many things as we’d like to, but because we’ve made the decision to be preppers, we’ve done a lot more than we would have otherwise. And everything you do puts you ahead of the game.
Objection #5: There’s too much to do. I’m too overwhelmed by it all, so I do nothing.
My response: Noooo! Don’t let the overwhelmed monster get to you! Seriously, I totally understand. Phil became interested in prepping first. (Speaking more truthfully, I would say that Phil felt God’s prompting to seriously step into prepping.) One day he told me there was something he wanted to talk to me about. We sat at our dining room table and he started talking. I quickly agreed with him about the need to prepare for a future that could look very different, but I’m a practical person. “So what do we do?” I asked. He started talking and I started outlining. I’m a planner by nature so outlining things to do helped me get my arms around it. But we had only started our discussion on things to do when I became quite overwhelmed and fearful. That was our signal to end the conversation. We prayed and set the discussion aside for a day or two. Then I was able to come back to it without being afraid or overwhelmed. Start in one area – water or food. Look for blogs on that subject. We gear The Approaching Day Prepper toward beginning preppers (because we still consider ourselves beginners). Our Getting Started blog links you to many of our beginner blogs. Or check out other blogs listed on our “How to Begin” page.
Objection #6: My spouse doesn’t agree with my desire to prep
My response: This is a tough one, but not something that can’t be overcome. I would start by going back to Objection #3 and using the approach of buying multiples of food and household products that you use on a regular basis when you see them on sale. Food prices are escalating. Stocking up on stuff that you already use when it goes on sale is something that even an anti-prepper can see the wisdom in. Use opportunities to show your spouse how nice it was to have something that you needed on hand. For example, it’s a holiday and all the grocery stores are closed. Wasn’t it good that we had an extra jar of pasta sauce in our home “convenience store”? Find things that plug into your spouse’s interests and encourage them to accumulate more things along those lines that could be useful in prepping. For a non-prepping wife, it could be food or sewing or some hobby that could be adapted for prepping. For husbands it could be tools or building supplies or sports equipment that might have a prepping value.
Prepping is rarely convenient. Even if you’re on fully board with it, there will be times when you have objections of your own for doing what needs to be done. Keep your focus, lead a balanced life, ask God for wisdom, and do something. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but do something that will make you better prepared than you were yesterday. You can’t steer a parked car.
In my previous National Preparedness Month blog, I encouraged you to review what preps you’ve made in the past year and consider strategic purchases to improve your preparedness position. Some of you know off the top of the head what your highest prepping priorities are, but for most of us, I’m guessing a more directed approach to evaluating your preps would be helpful. We’re here to help. Use the Preparedness Check and Challenge checklist below to evaluate where you are now and where you want to be.
There are more areas in which we need to prepare – communications, transportation, and medical, to name just a few. But our readers tend to be beginners in prepping, so we’ll stick with these basic topics for today’s blog.
We’re still working on every area (of course), but we’re making progress. My personal challenge for September is to complete a 3-day and a 1-month food plan with recipes. As I was writing this blog and explaining my alternate approach to evaluating my stored food, I realized that I can easily look at my pantry and evaluate if I have the necessary food to meet my immediate and short-term needs. Today, that is. That wouldn’t be the case in an emergency. You see, cooking is a weakness for me. Phil can grab ingredients and make good food. I can’t. I used to become paralyzed in video rental stores – there were just too many options. I also become paralyzed when faced with an immediate need to make food if I don’t have a plan.
So, by the end of September, I hope to have several written menus for the first three day s and first month of an emergency, and make sure that we keep all the ingredients on hand to make those meals. If we don’t have the ingredients in stock, the menu plan isn’t worth anything.
Let me urge you – spend a few minutes reading this brief checklist, then challenge yourself in one area. Set a specific goal of what you want to accomplish before the end of September (National Preparedness Month). That’s only two weeks away, so be reasonable about what you might be able to do, but don’t be too easy on yourself. The harder you work now, the easier you’ll have it when you need it.
- Recommendation: The government recommends 1 gallon per person (and pet) per day for drinking and cooking. We say more is better, but 1 gallon is a minimum place to start. Oh, and if you want to keep yourself and your things clean, plan on needing more water.
- How much water do you need/want to store:
____ (Number of people/pets) x ____ (number of days) x 1 gallon
- How much water do you have stored: ________
- What are you going to do to upgrade your water storage and/or purification capabilities?
- Recommendation: The average adult intake is about 2000 calories/day under normal conditions. In an emergency, you’re likely to be burning more calories than that, so if you can plan for 3000 calories/day, that’s a good thing.
- How much food do you want/need to store:
____ (Number of people) x ____ (number of days) x _____ (number of calories)
- How much food do you have stored: ________
- Don’t forget pets. If you have pets, how much do they eat each day? Multiply that by the number of days and you know how much pet food you need to have stored.
An Alternate Approach — Having just given you the formula, let me tell you that I don’t use the formula any more. I did at first, as I was developing my plan and understanding of long-term food storage. Now I take a different approach. I consider my preps in three stages: immediate, short-term and long-term. I approach my evaluation according to these three stages:
- Immediate: How many meals can I make with little or no preparation in the first 72 hours? My goal is 3 meals per day for 6 people. I can easily look at my pantry and determine if I am at that goal.
- Short-Term: How many meals can I make from my pantry with minimal dipping into my long-term storage food during the first month? My goal is 3 meals per day for 8 people, with some desserts added to help keep up morale. Again, I’m going to visually inspect my pantry to determine if my goal is met.
- Long-Term: How much long-term food do I have? Phil and I met our one-year plan for the two of us last year, so now we look at how many other people can we help.
- If the power grid is down, do you have the capability to cook the food you have? What key purchase would allow you to say “yes” in response to that question? Consider a propane camping stove (don’t forget to store some propane), an outdoor fire pit with grill, a rocket stove and/or a solar oven. (I have plans for a DIY solar oven that I can’t wait to try. Oh if there were just enough hours in the day!)
- Do you know how to cook the food you have with the cooking method(s) available?
- If for any reason your current shelter is no longer available, do you have a backup plan? Where will you go and how will you get there? What kind of challenges are you likely to face in getting there? What will you take with you? What do you need to be able to make the trip? How quickly can you be on the road?
- In a no-power-grid situation (whether it’s from a snow storm, a tornado, a hurricane, or a power-grid failure) do you have a plan to keep you family warm? Start with buying extra clothes and blankets. Add to it by developing an alternate heat source.
- Is your home an easy target for being broken into? What can you do to “harden” your home? (Think about things like upgrading your entry doors or planting thorny bushes under first floor windows.)
- Are you prepared to protect your family? What do you need to do to become more prepared and better trained?
- How’s your prepper notebook coming? Read more about it here. People tend to put off gathering important documents and creating a prepper notebook. If this is the one thing you do during National Preparedness Month, you will have done a good thing.
What’s your Preparedness Check and Challenge goal for this National Preparedness Month?
Today’s article is by Gale Newell, a young woman who is taking positive steps toward becoming self-sufficient. Gale has written for a number of prepper blogs and submitted the following article to us to help us get control of one of our most important resources — our money. This may become the first installment in an ongoing series on financial issues from a prepper perspective. I’ll turn this over to Gale now, and chime in with my own comments below hers.
Budgeting for Prepping
Paper currency will always be a major factor in your life, unless you plan on disappearing into the mountains to live the rest of your life in a cave. Some of us (including me) hope to do this someday, and live a self-sufficient life. Even then, someone will probably find you and want money for something. Until TEOTWAWKI comes and the foundation of our society crumbles, paper currency will continue to hold value in our world. So, what can you do now, as a prepper?
Step 1: Keep track of all of your expenses. There is still a lot of value in balancing your checking account. In addition, recording all your transactions in your checkbook’s register allows you to double check everything your bank does, without relying on an internet connection. A bank has thousands of transactions every day and mistakes, while rare, do happen.
I personally don’t carry my checkbook on me. While this means I can’t record my expenditures as I make them, I keep the receipts from all my transactions in my wallet and then add them to my checkbook’s register at the end of the day. It only takes few minutes and it provides me with an organized record of all my expenditures. Furthermore, it provides me with an accurate, up-to-date balance. Online banking is great, but it can take a day or two for transactions to clear.
I personally like to sit down and compare my checkbook’s register to the information available at my online banking. It’s a quick way to double check my work and the bank’s numbers. This could be seen as an optional step, and it is, but I highly recommend doing it. If everything is accounted for and looks good, it’s time to create categories to sort your finances into.
Step 2: Budget. After about a month of recording transactions, the process of creating a budget can begin. Here are some very useful budgeting forms from www.DaveRamsey.com, which can help you divide your overall budget into meaningful categories. If you are looking to cut certain expenses out of your life you could label a category “unnecessary expenses.” Once you have sorted your various expenses into their proper category, add them up. The totals in each category should give you a good idea of where your money is going.
Step 3: Evaluate. Now that you have a good picture of what you are actually spending your money on, you can decide which areas require some cutbacks. If you created an Unnecessary Expenses category, you could immediately use that money somewhere else. The Unnecessary category could be very handy if you need to save up money to put towards outstanding debts, or if all your debts are paid off, put that money towards additional preps. All you would have to do is set aside the amount you would normally spend on expenses you deemed unnecessary into something like a savings account. Any money sitting in a savings account should not be touched for any purpose other than putting a down payment on a house or getting out of debt.
Hopefully this will help readers see how staying organized and planning ahead can reduce the stress of living within the current times. Budgeting is not something over the head of a prepper. In fact, it becomes doubly important for reducing your financial footprint and making strides to getting off the grid. In a capitalist economy in which everything revolves around money, remember there are things much more important than material goods and extra stuff. Use saving money as a chance to reconnect with friends and family, not spending so many nights out or making impulse purchases.
Gale Newell is continually working on being a self-sufficient human being. She finds herself spending her summer days outdoors, whether raising food in her organic garden or playing cards with friends and family. She enjoys grilling meals on her old-school charcoal grill and has overcome an addiction to multiple television series. Gale feels freer than ever and is truly happy. She is prepared for the future and ready for whatever happens next.
Phil’s Two Cents Worth on Budgeting for Prepping (pun intended)
Gale brings up some excellent points. The late, great motivational speaker Zig Ziglar was known for saying, “Money isn’t the most important thing in life, but it’s reasonably close to oxygen.” Next to tithing and providing for the needs of your family, budgeting for prepping may be the most important thing you do with your money.
Creating a realistic budget can be terribly difficult because it forces us to be deadly honest with ourselves. The things that will really kill your budgeting process are the dreaded occasional expenses. We all have WAY more of them than we are aware of. I read recently that the Back To School season is the second biggest shopping period of the year, second only to Christmas. The average family spends $600 per child on back to school expenses. Did that annual expense make its way into your monthly budget? I just had my roof replaced a couple of years ago. It cost thousands, and it’s something that typically has to be done about once every 15 years where I live. Is that in my budget? How about medical expenses, insurance, car maintenance, saving for my next vehicle, replacing my aging water heater, or the need to travel across the country to visit a sick or dying relative? How do you budget for these kinds of things? I’m going to need to replace virtually everything that I own at some point. Do I have that in my budget? Do you?
I recommend making the most realistic budget you can possibly conceive of, then adding about 30% to it, which you stick in the bank or your private vault, and guard it against foolishness and dissipation until you really need to tap into it. Great advice, Phil. [ Note to self: Maybe I really need to start doing this myself, instead of continually being taken by surprise and driven into debt. ]
An obvious way to squeeze the most out of your prepping budget is to buy items when they’re on sale. September is National Preparedness Month. (Who says our friends at FEMA aren’t looking out for us?) You’ll find some deep discounts on prepping supplies from all of the following vendors. We’ve bought from them and are able to recommend them to our readers.:
Once again, our thanks to Gale Newell, who saw a need and stepped up to address it. I look forward to more thought-provoking articles from her in the future.
In case you haven’t seen the emails or heard the news, allow me to let you in on a secret — September is National Preparedness Month. That brings several questions to my mind:
- Am I more prepared today than I was at this time last year? In the light of the very long list of things I could (and want to) be doing to be better prepared, it’s often easy for me to be discouraged by this question. That’s when I say “STOP! Take a deep breath and let’s get specific.” When I made a specific list of things I have done this year to become more prepared, it turned my discouragement around. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed. Stop. Take a deep breath and encourage yourself before you move on. (Having trouble identifying what you’ve done to improve your preps this year? Maybe reading our list will help. It’s at the end of this article. We’re providing it just to help you jumpstart your list of things you’ve done.)
- How can I take advantage of National Preparedness Month? One obvious answer is to take advantage of the sales that most preparedness vendors are having this month. It’s a great time to make some very strategic purchases. The definition of “strategic purchases” will be different for everyone, so before you make those purchases, now is a great time to evaluate your preparedness – otherwise, how can the purchases you make be strategic? While we generally have the perspective that buying more food is always a good thing, our cash available for purchases isn’t unlimited (not even close to it). That means that we have to balance our spending and fill in some of the gaps in our preparedness plan. So, as good as the food sales might be, perhaps the most strategic purchase would be a sun oven or a rocket stove to help you cook some of that food if your normal energy sources aren’t available. Maybe it will be a solar energy kit. We can’t know that until we take a step back and evaluate where we are. Don’t let your “wants” leave you with a long list of “needs.”
- How can we help our readers take advantage of National Preparedness Month? We are all at different places in our preparedness. Those of you who have been prepping for a while undoubtedly have a list of “next steps” or “wish list” items, many of which will require making some purchases. Later in this article we’re including a list of some of our favorite vendors. You’ll also find ads from some of them in the sidebars of the various pages of our site. Let me offer a bit of help to those who are new to prepping. The question we get asked most often is “How do I get started?” If you’re in that category, stick around! In a month or two, we’ll be starting a “Prepper 101 Club” (or something like that). It will help you get started in prepping with a logical and easy to follow approach. In the meantime, what can you do this month? A great place to start is by reading our article, Getting Started with Prepping. After that, start with the most basic stuff – water and food. Below you’ll find some links to other articles that will help you get started.
Water comes first. How adequate is your water supply? (Hint: You need more than you think.) How do you go about collecting and storing water? Check out these blogs:
Our Three-Layered Approach to Prepping – This blog is a good intro about to our approach to prepping in general (short term, medium term, and longer term), and we use water storage as our example, so it gives you an idea about how to plan for your water storage needs.
Food is next. We recommend starting with our two-part Food Storage 101 series:
Once you’re past that pre-school stage, browse our site for other articles on food storage, preservation, gardening, and more.
Now food and water are just the beginning, but everyone has to start somewhere and we don’t want to overwhelm anyone. Wandering around our site will help you understand prepping more and will help you identify where you should spend your money and time this month.
Here’s a list of some of our favorite vendors:
Both of these vendors are preparedness superstores. They’re best known for their food products, but they both offer a wide range of preparedness products. Both of them have frequent sales.
Augason Farms is almost exclusively a food vendor. They also run great sales, especially on their large pails of staples. When they put stuff on sale, their prices generally can’t be beat.
We buy a lot of stuff from Amazon. So much so that we have a membership to Amazon Prime, which gives us free 2nd-day shipping on most items.
One of the most overlooked area of food storage is spices. All of those buckets of beans, rice, and wheat are going to taste pretty bland without a good supply of spices. Spices For Less sells a wide range of spices and seasonings in any quantity you want, with good discounts applied to larger quantities.
It’s no secret that The Approaching Day Prepper is a site that has Christian beliefs and values at its core. We believe that God sometimes gives warnings of approaching calamities and that when He does, He expects people to prepare themselves for those events. We also believe that if a prolong period of hardship were to come upon our nation, people who have never given much thought to spiritual matters will seek God. Part of our preps is a stockpile of inexpensive Bibles and New Testaments that we’ve purchased from Biblica.com. We want to be ready to lead a network of home Bible studies and we recognize that in today’s culture, not every home has a Bible. Ours now has dozens of very affordable Bibles that can be given out freely to anyone who will use one.
Here’s what we’ve done to improve our preparedness this year. We still have LOTS more to do. But perhaps reading our list will help you identify your own progress since last September.
- We’ve started making and storing meals in jars. (Watch for a future blog on this topic!).
- We expanded our garden by 50% this year and we learned tons more about gardening that we didn’t have time to implement this year. That’s OK. Learning comes before doing, then doing enhances the learning. We’re making plans for next year’s garden right now, applying some of our “lessons learned” during this growing season, so that we’ll be able to increase the size of our garden next year.
- We rotated our water and increased our water reserves. This included buying a food-grade water barrel, a rain barrel for the garden, and a Katadyn water filter that can process thousands of gallons of water.
- We’ve bought an ammo reloading press, dies, components, and supplies.
- Bought a new rifle that could be used for both hunting and home defense.
- We’ve picked out a pellet stove that we’ll be buying next week. Watch for an article on that purchase decision to come soon. We know buying a pellet stove doesn’t make sense to many people from a true preparedness point of view, but we decided that it was our best option.
- We’ve added storage racks and begun to reorganize our long-term food storage.
- We increased our inventory of long shelf-life food.
- We’ve purchased many non-food survival items – paper products (at last count we have about 300 rolls of toilet paper, enough facial tissue to last a year, and plenty of paper towels) and miscellaneous supplies like tarps and tape.
- I learned a lot about essential oils and use them regularly.
We’re making progress. It’s a continual process – one that sometimes gets interrupted by the necessities of work and family, but is never abandoned. We hope that you will take advantage of the sales offered by some of the vendors represented on this site during National Preparedness Month, and that you will become more prepared tomorrow than you are today. Also, watch our Facebook page as we’ll put notices there about sales we find interesting.