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The urban prepper: Prepping on a strict budget Philly-style

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In Philadelphia, according to the latest stats, the poverty rate is 28% and the unemployment rate is over 9%. Don’t forget to add into that equation that many people who live within the city limits don’t make over $50,000 per year. Add to that mortgage/rent payments, car insurance, car payments, clothing and feeding your family, health insurance premiums, food and utilities. Don’t forget the elected political leaders’ favorite pastime, raising taxes, and you’ll discover that there isn’t a lot left over for anything especially prepping for an emergency.

Despite what you may see on YouTube, the news or other media outlets you don’t have to have a lot of money to prep just a lot of initiative and creativity. You also have to have a plan.

The easiest thing to prep, courtesy of the Philadelphia Water Department, is water and the good news is that you don’t have to treat it until you’re ready to use it. Right now it’s the one thing you have plenty of.

Some urban preppers use old soda and juice bottles to keep their water in and this is fine for now, but keep in mind stocking up on these types of bottles of water can take up a lot of space, but if you have an empty room, closet space or an unfinished basement you can use these apparatuses for now. Just make sure you don’t keep them where there’s a lot of sunlight because the water will evaporate more quickly.

One of the biggest hurdles someone who is on a tight budget will face is getting the needed large containers to store water in, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. Here are a couple of options:

1. If you are on friendly terms with the owner or manager of a bakery, restaurant, grocery store or delicatessen you can ask them to put aside the large white buckets that they get their icing, lard, pickles, etc. The only thing you have to be aware of is making sure the lids can be shut tightly on top of the container if it’s going to be used to store water. If they don’t lock or seal tightly you can still use them, but just not for water.

2. When your budget allows it or every pay day you can go to any home improvement store such as Lowe’s or Home Depot and purchase one or two buckets. Usually these buckets (called paint buckets) costs less than $5. The good thing about purchasing them new is that the lids will seal and/or lock. You can also purchase empty containers that people buy to store kerosene or gas in. Regardless to where you get these buckets from make sure you sterilize them very well using a solution of boiling hot water and bleach prior to filling them with water. Just make sure that you rinse them out very well before you use them.

Philadelphians also have the luxury of numerous other outlets at their disposal to get items for the purposes of prepping that many preppers don’t and these outlets are countless.

1. Thrift stores. At these stores you can cheaply purchase items like blankets, sheets, containers, sleeping bags, clothes, magazines, and furniture. Items like sheets and magazines can be used for first aid purposes as well as every day use. Some stores even carry items like tools, thermal underwear, panty hose and first aid supplies. Not all thrift stores are created equal so don’t get discouraged if they don’t have what you want. The stores get new stuff in almost every day. There are also stores located in every part of the city, but one of the biggest thrift stores is located in the Kensington section of the city at: 2439 Aramingo Avenue.

2. Dollar stores. It seems that every time you sneeze in Philly a new dollar store opens up, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing especially if you’re trying to save money. Dollar stores are great because you can stock up on non-perishable items such as Ramen noodles, cup-a-soup mixes, rice and noodle mixes, cans of tuna fish, evaporated milk, dry milk, instant hot cereal mixes like oatmeal, canned vegetables, salad dressings, salt, pepper, spices, honey, instant coffee and tea bags. They also have must-have items like duct and electrical tape, foil, candles, matches, hurricane lamps, batteries, plastic wrap/bags, toilet paper, soap, tarp, trash bags, rubbing alcohol, and ammonia. In Philadelphia at the Family Dollar stores you’ll get a $3 coupon good off anything you buy at your next visit.

Warning: Dollar stores got their name because everything they sell is $1.00. Over the last couple of years stores have been opening under the guise of being a dollar store, but hardly sell anything for that amount. The products that they sell aren’t any better than other stores. They’re just trying to make a bigger profit so only go to a dollar store that is just that: a store where everything is a dollar.

3. Asian supermarkets. These supermarkets are on the rise in Philly and can be found in every area. What the great thing about these stores is that they’re a lot cheaper than the chain grocery stores such as Shop Rite, Pathmark and Acme. You can buy a 25 pound bag of rice for pennies of what it would cost in a regular store. On top of that, the other stores don’t carry rice in that size.

It was once thought that these Asian stores only sold to Asians, but many stores have products listed in English as well as other languages and some even have American products like spaghetti sauce and soda. For an extra special treat they also sell big bags of fortune cookies. Many stores if you buy a certain amount in groceries will reward you at the end of your trip with something free usually food.

4. Flea markets. Flea markets are great places to find anything a prepper may need to get ready for the big one or two. Although it’s a common misconception that in order to go to a flea market you have to leave the state of Pennsylvania, but that’s not true. There are some of these markets in Philly that operate all year long such as Quaker City Flea Market which is located at 5001 Comly Street in the lower Northeast in the Tacony/Frankford section of the city. With spring around the corner seasonal flea markets will start popping up like, well, fleas.

Anything you can buy at a thrift store you can buy at a flea market and then some: manual tools such as hammers, screw drivers, ratchet sets, pinchers, wrenches and saws. You’ll also be able to find nails, screws, saw blades, staple guns, sand paper, professional glue such as polyurethane (as a prepper this will be your best friend), nuts, bolts, and rivets. Some of these manual tools may be a little rusty, but if you take them home and clean them with a little HD-40, scrub with a heavy duty sponge pad and they’ll be as good as new. Many vendors also will have electric tools for sale, but be warned that once an emergency hits you may not be able to use them so you may want to stick with the manual tools.

Very often you’ll discover that a vendor will be willing to negotiate a price with you as long as you don’t make them feel that they’re giving something away. If the vendor refuses to bargain and you don’t believe his asking price is realistic just walk away. The most important you have to keep in mind is your budget.

5. Military surplus stores. Military surplus stores sell used military equipment like P-38 can openers, canteens, wool blankets, military cots, uniforms, sleeping bags and tents. Unless you have the money stay away from I. Goldberg’s Army/Navy Store because they don’t really sell surplus items although they do sell some stuff geared towards the more financially well-off prepper. Their customer base is usually college kids, suburban families and young adults with more disposable income.

Military surplus stores are usually located outside military bases or in areas where there is a greater need such as near camping or fishing sites. Unlike I. Goldberg’s they get their surplus from either the military or former military personnel who are looking to unload some of the stuff they accumulated while on active duty. The nearest surplus store to Philly is Jay's Army & Navy Stores at 6218 Woodland Avenue and Lipman's Army & Navy at 5837 Germantown Avenue.

6. Sav-a-lot grocery stores. Another great resource is the Sav-a-lot chain of stores in the Philadelphia area. They sell several different types of canned fish such as tuna, shrimp, mackerel and sardines. The cans of tuna along with evaporated milk, fruits and vegetables are all under a dollar per can and there is never a limit to how much you can get. They also sell salad dressings, oils, vinegars, juices, coffee, tea, hot chocolate mixes and dried goods pretty cheap as well. The store has amazing sales every week that are often unadvertised.

7. Dumpster diving. Dumpster diving is the act of going to large dumpsters that are in back of stores or apartment complexes to get whatever you need or of what is of value to you. In Philly it’s called taking a walk around your neighborhood the night before the trash is picked up. Just call it Philly diving.

In order to be successful at this type of free shopping, try going to neighborhoods where the level of income is slightly higher such as parts of South Philadelphia and the Northeast. Besides furniture, toys and clothing you can often find containers, electrical wiring, fencing, newspapers and even tools if you’re lucky.

There are things you need to know before you start your journey of prepping for pennies.

• Make a list of what you want to prep and set a goal as well as a budget on what you can do every month. Stick with that list as well as your goals.

• Don’t get overwhelmed and don’t let anyone convince you that a good prepper spends ex amount of dollars. Do what you can with what you have because after an emergency hits everyone is going to be in the same box of dirty kitty litter – they’ll have as little as you in the way of finances.

• In order to survive you need shelter, water, food, clothing and security. If you have a dog you have the security. If you pay the water bill every month you have the water. If you’re current on your rent or mortgage you have your shelter. See how easy it is already?

• Leave the stores like Shop Rite, Pathmark, Wal-Mart, Target, K-Mart and Acme alone unless they’re having a great sale and it’s absolutely something you need. Also remember that you should have a good supply of everything you need. Five years is the ideal, but it should be at least one year. If the sale has limits as to how many items you can get it’s not much of a sale.

• When purchasing food just keep in mind the expiration dates and use them prior to the dates so you can restock. Doing this serves two purposes. The first is that once an emergency hits you aren’t stuck with food that’s gone bad. The second is that you develop a habit of using what you have instead of running out to the local Wawa’s to get your morning cup of coffee and bagel which by the way won’t be open during an emergency.

Prepping isn’t about spending money or about accumulating the most equipment. It’s about survival. There are preppers who have underground bunkers, large campers that are fully equipped, an arsenal of weapons that could put the Pentagon to shame and have taken every precaution that someone has told them to take, but there’s no guarantee that all of that will work because there has never been an emergency so that their theories could be tested. Sometimes simpler is really better especially in Philadelphia.

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