Treasure Hunting, Prepper-Style

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Nearly two-thirds of all the furnishings and prep items in my home were used when I got them. As the economy has continued to crumble, any stigma attached to shopping on the cheap has given way to pride at getting a good deal. Forget designer shoes or imported coffee – I get absolutely giddy when I come home with a great “find”!

But can you rely on bargain shopping to get all the things you need to help your family be prepared for whatever comes your way? Is there a way to really make “treasure hunting” both fun and successful?

Yes! All it takes is some planning together with a positive attitude and a pre-determined budget. Even if you aren’t pinching pennies, why waste your money when you can find great items at bargain prices and redirect those extra dollars to food or debt reduction? And if you are on a budget (and most of us are), this organized approach lets you decide what’s important and where you should look for the best buys.

Do your homework

  • Get a small notebook that fits in your pocket, purse or glove compartment. Never leave home without it!
  • Sit down with your family. Identify your needs and prioritize them. For each item, determine:
    • Exactly what the item is. If your husband needs a Left Handed Monkey Whatzitgrubber and you don’t have a clue what that is, have him show you a picture of one and explain what it’s for. Guys, the same goes for you if you don’t know the difference between a tea strainer and a colander.
    • The condition you’ll accept. Is there someone you know who could refurbish or repair – a broken or not-working item?
    • $$ you’re willing to spend. Be sure to set aside funds that can be readily accessed if you find a great deal on one of your high priority items.
    • Specifics such as make, model, caliber, size, etc. Remember, you can’t take it back if it doesn’t fit!
  • Put these items in your notebook on a Priority List. These are items you’ll actively search for on a regular basis.
  • Make lists of less critical items that you’ll keep your eyes open for whenever you find them. Divide the lists into heading such as Equipment, Survival items, Clothing, Consumables, etc. I keep a summary of categories at the front – my “list of lists”.
  • Next, if you have a group of like-minded friends that are planning and training together, have a serious discussion and identify the needs of the group. You may want to start with a checklist such as the ones found online or in your favorite SHTF book, customized for your group, location and budget. Determine what items and supplies you don’t have that are critical to your group, then prioritize and budget for them. Agree who will house the item, the condition you’ll accept, and who will contribute how much.
  • Share your own priority list with your group and keep a list of their priorities in your notebook. The more people looking, the better!
  • Be sure to ask and note such requirements as size, caliber, dimensions, colors, etc next to each item on everyone’s lists.

What can I expect to find?

Anything and everything! You’ll shake your head at some of the objects being sold for pennies on the dollar or thrown away as trash. Here’s a sample of some of my recent finds:

  • 6’ black wire bakers rack – $10
  • All-American pressure cooker, new (still in the box) – $15
  • 2 Coleman camping cots – $2 each
  • 15 PermaGard chem suits new in packages – $1 each
  • Excalibur dehydrator – $10
  • Craftsman toolbox with more than 120 Craftsman, Stanley and other tools – $20
  • 5 gal bucket chemical toilet (new) – $2
  • 3 oil lamps with extra globes – $3 each
  • Metal ammo cans – $4
  • Grocery sack full of new first aid supplies (at the end of an estate sale) – FREE
  • Garden tools (2 rakes, 2 shovels, a hoe) – $3 each
  • 10 person, 3 room Coleman tent in very good condition, along with two sleeping bags and a Coleman lantern – $75

Where to look

Now that you know what you’re looking for, the question is where to find it. Your options will vary depending on where you’re at and how much time you can devote to “the hunt”. Be sure to check:

  • CraigsList
    • Check under Yard Sales, Farm & Garden, etc, and use key words to search the general “For Sale” category for your priority items at least once a week. Remember, it’s a first come/first serve situation.
    • Beware of scammers. Try to take someone with you when you go to purchase an item.
  • Other web sites such as,,, or

    • Some of these require that you buy a case full of something. This is where coordinating with a group of friends is useful. You may not need 20 gas masks, but your group may need that many for all their family members.
    • All states and many municipalities also have surplus sales or auctions. The same is true for hospitals, colleges, school districts and other large organizations. Be sure to check their web sites for upcoming sales.
  • Yard Sales (especially estate sales)
    • Yard sales are mainly held between April and September, although they can be year round in warm weather areas. Watch online and along the streets for signs that the “season” has begun.
    • Look for sales in locations best suited to your items. Identify sales in rural vs urban areas, look for nice homes in neighborhoods that have yards or gardens. Make a map/list of sales in geographic and priority order.
    • Be there first, with plenty of cash in hand. Always be friendly – greet the seller with a smile! They’re much more likely to give you a good deal if you’re not gruff and rude.

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