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Poverty Prepping: Food Storage for Vandwellers

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The single most important thing you can do is have an Emergency Fund to replace your van. It comes before everything else! I bought this van for $3500, did a brake job on it, and have never pent another penny on repairs. Try to have  a $3000 Emergency Fund at all time to replace your van or make any repairs including rebuilding the transmission or engine.

The single most important thing you can do is have an Emergency Fund to fix or replace your van. It comes before everything else! I bought this van for $3500, did a brake job on it, and have never spent another penny on repairs. Try to have a $3000 Emergency Fund at all times to replace your van or make any repairs including rebuilding the transmission or engine.

Today we are going to start looking at food storage. Unfortunately I can’t really give you very specific advice because all of our situations are so different. I know some of you are on very tight budgets with a tiny income and very little extra room, while a fair number of readers have a fairly large monthly income and good-sized RVs. Beyond that many of us have dietary restrictions that must be worked around. So the advice I give to one person will be very different from the advice I give to someone else. To get around that, first I’ll give general advice and then in the next post I’ll tell you exactly what I’m doing.

General Advice

1) Put the first 10% of every paycheck into an emergency fund. Every one of us should be in the habit of paying ourselves first out of every paycheck!! An emergency fund should be your highest priority! It should come before your bills, debts needs or wants. Why? The fact that we are totally dependent on our vehicles as both our transportation and our home makes it imperative we have an emergency fund to pay for maintenance and repairs of our vans or RVs. I recommend we all have $2000 dollars ($3000 is better) saved to fix or replace our vans in a break-down. If you don’t have that already you should be putting the first 10% of every paycheck into building it up. Ten percent may sound like a lot but if you’re making $600 a month 10% is only $60. If your income allows it or you are frugal, put more than 10% into it but never put less.
2) Inflation proof your emergency fund. Inflation is constantly eating away at the value of our money so you will have to slowly increase your emergency fund to keep up with it. I recommend you stay somewhat aware of the price of a cheap replacement van or the cost of rebuilding your transmission. As of today you can buy a decent van or rebuild your transmission or your engine for $3000. So your goal should be to have that in your emergency fund. But in 2-3 years that may not be enough so be aware of costs and always have that much on hand. If a transmission rebuild goes up to $4000, then keep that much in your emergency fund.
3) Then, shift the first 10% of each check to buying emergency essentials. Once you’re comfortable with your emergency fund start putting the first 10% of every check into other emergency preparations and buy some of the things we’ve talked about based on the Rule of Threes. So start with cold weather gear, water filters and water jugs. After you’re sure you can survive heat or cold and can either carry or filter 14 days’ worth of water then you can start building up an emergency pantry. At the end of the survival series I’ll give you a detailed list of the things I think we should all have on hand.
4) Start building your survival pantry with canned and dried goods that are your everyday meals. Whatever you are eating now is what you should be stocking up on as long as you can store it for one or two years. The average American diet makes it easy to build up an emergency pantry because it is predominantly canned, packaged or prepared so it stores well. If you are eating mainly fresh foods that is an admirable thing but you’re going to need to find substitutes for a survival pantry. If you have the time, money and space you can learn to can or dehydrate the fresh foods you eat otherwise you’ll need to find canned or dried foods you can live with in an emergency.

Here is a list of foods to fill your food pantry with. Most of them have fairly long shelf lives but they all must e rotated by FIFO. None of them require refrigeration so make a good meal planner if you are foregoing a cooler.

Here is a list of foods to fill your food pantry with. Most of them have fairly long shelf lives but they all must be rotated by First In First Out (FIFO). None of them require refrigeration so they make a good meal planner if you are foregoing a cooler.

5) Shop ads and warehouse stores for the lowest prices. Grocery store ads (Kroeger, Safeway, Winn-Dixie, Food King) almost always come out on Wednesday while department store ads (Walmart or Target) come out on Sunday, so buy the Wednesday and Sunday papers and carefully go through all the grocery ads with a Magic Marker and circle all the items you want to stock-up on. You’re going to need to learn the prices of the things you are stocking up on so that you know if it’s a real savings or just hype. Over a period of time you’ll learn them but to start out you may want to write it all down. Once you’ve studied the ads you can take the newspapers to Walmart and buy them all in one spot because Walmart honors their competitors advertised prices as long as you bring in the ads and show it at checkout. Another reason to do this is that Walmart often beats other stores ad prices or their Great Value brand is cheaper than the national brands sale price.
6) Use coupons. Shopping ads will give you your most savings but often you can combine ads with a coupons and get really big savings! So buy the Sunday paper and clip any coupons that are on items you are storing. But don’t go out and pay full price for them, wait for them to go on sale then combine it with the coupon. You can also get many coupons on-line so do a Google search on “coupons.” You may be thinking that all this looking at ads and cutting coupons is a lot of work and you’re right, it is. But the money you’ll save and confidence a full pantry gives you make it more than worth it so buckle down and git-r-done!
These should be your first line of defense against emergencies. They're cheap to buy, go on sale often, store reasonably well, require little or no cooking and are tasty.

These types of foods should be your first line of defense against emergencies. They’re cheap to buy, go on sale often, store reasonably well, require little or no cooking and are tasty. Notice I’m counting their calories. Another good idea is to write the date you bought it and always use the oldest first.

7) Count calories so you’ll know when you’ve met your pantry goals. We’ll each have to decide what our goal is for an emergency pantry based on our budget and available room; but make it for as long as you can. Most of us should easily be able to have a month’s supply of food on hand and it is fairly easy to have 3-6 months supply. The way you’ll know is by counting the calories in your pantry. We talked about this in the last post.
8) Buy barter items and gold and silver. If you’ve saved an emergency fund and bought all the emergency essentials you need or have room for, buy gold, silver and barter items (matches, batteries, flashlights, etc.). Even in an extended emergency you may be able to buy some food from others but the chances are good that money will be worthless—the only things that will have value are items that either keep you alive or have historic value like gold and silver. So you should have things with intrinsic value on hand to buy, trade or barter for food. We’ll cover this in future posts.
Two things I recommend to defend your food and to buy more: 1) a gun 2) pre-1964 coins like dimes half-dollars and quarters.  They were .715 percent silver, so $1.50 face value is slightly more than an ounce of silver. So this is two ounces of silver which is about $22 an ounce now .so it's worth $44. The silver value makes it inflation-proof and it's small size and safety makes it easily bartered or sold.

Two things I recommend to defend your food and to buy more: 1) a gun 2) pre-1964 coins like dimes half-dollars and quarters. They were .715 percent silver, so $1.50 face value is slightly more than an ounce of silver. So this is two ounces of silver which is about $22 an ounce now, so it’s worth $44. The silver value makes it inflation-proof and it’s small size and safety makes it easily bartered or sold.

9) Buy self-defense tools and get self-defense training. If you have food and the people around you don’t, they may want to take it from you by force. Each of us has to decide for ourselves how we’ll handle that situation, I’ve decided that morally I can’t send anyone away empty-handed (so I plan to be remote so few people will be asking) but if they try to take it by force I will defend myself. I’ve stored guns and ammo for that reason (they will also have high barter value).
10) Even city vandwellers should stock up on food. You may be thinking that because you live in a city you don’t have to stock up on food, but I promise you that isn’t true. I’ve worked in grocery stores all my life and many people don’t understand just how fragile the food supply chain is. The grocery business has a very low profit margin so big companies need to be as efficient as possible to try to make a profit. One key element is to have the minimum amount of inventory on hand as possible without losing sales because inventory costs you money: 1) they pay taxes on inventory 2) freight in your backroom takes space to warehouse that has to be lighted, heated and cooled 3) they have to pay interest on the money that is just sitting there. For those reasons all of today’s businesses operate on the Just in Time (JIT) principle. The item they’re selling (or using to manufacture something) arrives just before its needed and not a second before.
This is the kind of amp I like for emergencies: it's remote, in a group, and just 5 miles from a lake.

This is the kind of camp I like for emergencies: it’s remote, in a group, and just 5 miles from a lake. But don’t think you shouldn’t be preparing if you live in a city!! You should be doing even more to prepare!

In the grocery stores I worked at we ordered 3 times a week and sent the order in the morning and it arrived that night when we stockers put it on the shelf. Only a very few ad items were ever kept in the backroom—which were very small. Everything else went straight from the truck to the shelf. So if there is ever any disruption in the supply line, the shelves will run empty in just a day or two. In fact every Monday we ran a double stocking crew because the shelves had run down to almost empty over the weekend and so Mondays order was huge. The first weekend of the month was the worst because many people only get paid once a month around the first so they do the bulk of their shopping then. I’ve gone into work on the first Sunday night of the month and thought “Wow, we must be going out of business!” because the shelves were so low.
That’s why anytime there is a weather emergency or a power failure the grocery store shelves are empty after the first day because of panic buying. Even worse, because there is nothing in the backroom there won’t be any more food until the next order gets there and if the weather or power failure prevent the trucks from running, there won’t be any more food until it clear, period!! So don’t think just because you live in the city the food will always be there. In fact, city vandwellers need to carry MORE food! Country people are more self-reliant so they won’t run down to the store in a panic at the first sign of an emergency. That means the shelves on their stores won’t run out as fast as the shelves in the city.

11) Because of Just in Time ordering we’re terribly susceptible to bad weather. There are no warehouses somewhere filled with wheat, rice or peaches from two years ago; storing it is just too expensive. There is some give and take in the system but if there is widespread drought, flooding or early freeze two years in a row the price of food will skyrocket or simply won’t be available at any price. It’s totally your responsibility to have enough food on hand to get you through an emergency or be able to pay for skyrocketing food prices–NO ONE WILL DO IT FOR YOU!!
12) Rotate your food pantry for freshness, even your canned goods! I’ll cover this in more detail in my next post.
In my next post we’ll look at my emergency food pantry to see what I’m doing.


    • Bob

      Thanks for the link Rob, very interesting story!

  1. jonthebru

    Bob, you may be “retired” and have a lot of time on your hands, but you are using it very wisely.

    • Bob

      Thanks jonthebru! My friends see how much I’m working and they can’t figure out why I am “working” so much, my answer is if you love what you do then you never work an hour of your life. And I really do feel that way!

      • acajudi

        Real truth about loving your job, means you never work a day in your
        life. Helping others is paying forward also. It is nice to be nice.

        • Bob

          acajudi, Yes, the very few people who actually love their jobs are very, very lucky!
          It’s very nice to be nice!

  2. Myddy

    Thankfully vans are a bit cheaper here. My high top conversion van with tv and back seat that rolls into bed was 1600$ average price is 1800$ currently. I talked the guy down on price.

    • Calvin R

      Where are you located? I can’t do better than about $2500 without great patience here in Ohio.

      • Myddy

        Calvin I am in Eastern Tennessee, so no where near Bob’s current placement!

    • Bob

      Myddy. true, regional pries vary quite a bit. If you travel though, you may want to use a national average for your emergency fund since you may not be home when the van needs to be replaced. The point of n emergency fund is to think in terms the worst likely situation.

      • Myddy

        This is a very good point. I’m glad I bought my originally here. Hopefully before it kicks the bucket I would be able to come back here and replace it. My family is here and my dad is a mechanic. He has told me that I got very lucky on the mechanical condition my van was in- the only thing that’s needed replacement so far was the alternator. And that was 8 months after I bought it!

        • Bob

          Sounds like you got a winner for a van Myddy!

  3. Cayoot

    Great article, but if I may be so bold, I would add the monthly purchase of an extra tube of tooth paste & floss and every 6 months add an additional toothbrush to your stash. If times get bad, dental work is going to be nearly impossible to find.
    A bit of regular preventive flossing & brushing is much cheaper and less painful than having to pull your own teeth or get a root canal!
    Also, dental floss is a strong line that has many other uses.

    • Bob

      Cayoot, thanks for a great reminder! Earlier in the series I did recommend people take good care of their teeth and in a later post we will cover it along with health care and sanitation in general in more detail.

  4. Wayne

    Thanks again Bob for this info. I have been really trying the last few years, to get my family and friends to start stocking up on essentials, but it is very hard to do.
    I believe your article(s) on this and other important matters, Financial and spiritual to name a couple, will really help a lot of people. Just ordered some items from Augason through Walmart. Some good deals here.

  5. LaVonne

    Thanks, Bob, this is a great reminder to get our houses on wheels in order. My biggest challenge right now is to save 10% of my SS check, but I’m going to make it a priority!

    • Bob

      LaVonne, you really need to have an emergency fund and paying yourself first is the best thing you can do. You’re worth it!

  6. chuck

    I times get that bad, we’ll have to start forming tribes. One man or woman won’t be able to take care of themselves. Sound weird don’t it?

    • Bob

      No, that sounds totally reasonable to me Chuck. The Navy Seals have a saying “Two is One and One is None.” and that principle of strength and security in numbers is totally true. It takes a tribe to be safe and secure.

      • Myddy

        I think if things do hit the fan, tribes will naturally form since socialization is something that humans are engrained for. Tribes will be the safest bet against any raiding parties. I actually wrote an article about this a little while back. The isolated farms will be in more danger than they think from raiding parties that are unaware of how to take care of themselves.

        • Bob

          Nyddy, I agree! Being connected to a group of family or friends is the single most important thing you can do. And all of them being mobile means they can pool their resources and find the safest most secure spot to hold up in. A vandwelling tribe is probably ideal!

  7. denoving

    Bob: Thanks again for the good words. The content of this post is good advice whether you live in a van or a castle. Good advice for anybody and everybody. Don’t be dependent on the generosity of strangers. Be independent and be prepared whether strangers are generous or not. Know what your needs are or will be, and provision for that no matter what the future may hold. keep the good words coming!!
    Best wishes,

    • Bob

      Thanks Dan! I’m trying to keep things practical and not go off the deep-end with prepping and survivalist stuff.

  8. Mitch

    Enjoyed your article but I have come to a conclusion that my van can’t hold enough supplies for my comfort and I don’t want to do storage units for supplies (They will be hit when SHTF) so I have been caching supplies in water tight containers and hiding them all over The states. I put some into the ground and others are hidden away but all are mapped with a compass and GPS. Someone may find one but I’m not to worried. I got the idea from a game my son plays called geocaching. I have even done it with items I just didn’t have room at the time in my van but knew I was coming back that way. So I hide them and pick them up on my way back. Its a risk but Im getting good at camouflage and most places I hide things are never traveled much but there is always a chance you can lose it. So dont put all your eggs in one basket.

    • Bob

      Mitch, I’m actually thinking about doing the same thing, or at least recommending it to other people. Later on I’m doing a post on either buying land or caching on public land. Would you be willing to write something about how you are doing it yourself? I understand the need for privacy, you can’t cache survival items and tell the world where they are. But maybe you could write a general outline of how you are doing it? Details like what methods of protecting it and navigating to it. How did you choose where to bury it? Things like that. I will certainly understand if you don’t want the attention that will draw.
      Thanks for the idea, it’s a good one!

      • Mitch

        I can do it without giving away my locations but how detailed you want me to get? short version would be to go on-line and Google geocaching. It will give you the basics of what I’m doing and you might even enjoy the game. Its world wide. I cant always trust a GPS to work in some areas and if SHTF they may not work anyway thats why the compass. Learning to use a compass is very usefull and there are books on them to train you but get out and do it don’t just read in the book and say O ya..I got it.Practice,Practice,Practice. I can tell you the best type of compass to use and why. I can tell you where to get free water proof containers to store your stuff in. Now for the details on hiding and camouflage? Im a old scout and trapper. Its looking at the lay of the land and surroundings, possible traffic at different times of day/month or year. Are we where it will snow and freeze? Are we caching for SHTF or what I’m doing for just plan convenience and reassurance of mind… Bob..I could write a book on this..hahaha..Let me know..Ill do my best if I have time.
        The best to you and your tribe.

        • Bob

          Mitch, for sure I didn’t think you would give away any locations. If you are you caching more than just water I think most people wonder how you are protecting things from the elements. Are you using PVC tubes or something else.
          What are you caching?
          Where are you caching it (generally not specifically)? Public land, private land, other?
          How are you caching it?
          Who–are you worried someone else or critters will find it and dig it up?
          What about fires, landslides or construction changing the landscape?
          I’m really curious about all those things!

  9. Mitch

    Ok Bob I will go down your list of questions and do my best to answer them.
    !) How do I protect from the elements?
    The PVC tube seems like a good idea but the cost can get up there with bigger tubes, end caps, plugs and also you would need tools to get the plug out.
    I like to go do my food shopping at a market that has a deli and bakery. I stop by the bakery and ask if they have any buckets. Most times they have 2 or3 with the lids. You have to clean them. They are food grade buckets and will reseal just fine. These are Sturdy enough for most situations. You can also check for them at buffets or Restaurants.
    2) What am I caching?
    It varies so much from person to person what they cache and what is needed in their mind. It really depends on their knowledge and abilities or if they are caching for convenience.
    Here is mine. Food all dried and sealed in bags, Dollar store 5-6 cup aluminum coffee pot) Yard sale cheap 10” kitchen knife. (The more carbon base the better) . Basic medical, 1/2 pint Ever Clear, Water purification ( 60ml. bleach), cheap handyman tool, A candle. Magnesium bar with embedded ferrocerium Sparking Rod. Or just the rod. A spool of #36 bank line. 100” of bailing wire, Fishing hooks, Sinkers. Two sewing needles one large and one small. Two garbage bags. Duct tape. Pair of leather gloves, 2 bandanas.
    I use to hunt certain places around the East North and Midwest on regular bases. On these properties I did cache in case of emergency where I lost or damaged hunting equipment along with what I just described above. I would cache Four 12 gauge cowboy empty brass shells, 30 rifle primers, can of black powder. Pack of BBs, Pack of sling shot balls. 4 broad head arrow heads. Duct tape, Spool 36 bank line, 100” bailing wire, Skinning knives ( I hunted with a modern 19” H&R single shot 12 gauge shotgun) I could shoot regular 12 gauge ammo or use the cowboy brass shells with black powder and make my own shells in the woods) I prefer black powder because you can reuse the brass shells and make any kind of load you want without the worry of blowing yourself up with modern powder. These caches were all removed 2 years ago due to my disability.
    I never cache fire arms or ammo for SHTF. I don’t believe it is worth it.
    3) Where do I cache?
    I will not cache with in a 150 mile circumference of a city. It makes no sense and if SHTF I don’t want to be around them. For normal times I can just go in the city for supplies
    I cache almost every land out there Private and public that looks good to me. I know I’m trespassing at times but its all in how comfortable you are.
    I have cache mostly in the East, North and Midwest. I have a son in Az. So I have done a couple there. I try not to get too far off the road if I can. I scope a spot out during the day (I’m always looking) then I go back about dusk and do the deed of burying in the ground or back into some rocks. I use my small foldable shovel with pick. I take a 4×4 tarp to put dirt on as I dig. Once deep enough I place my bucket in and load dirt back off the tarp into the hole then I rake the top soil back over the area and maybe find some brush, limbs or rocks to make it look normal and brush away my trail on the way out. Take the rest of the dirt on the tarp and dispose of it elsewhere. Remember you want to be out of line of sight to passer byes and stealth of the night in some cases.
    I have cache on side roads with old abandon cars and dug under them. I have put in abandon limestone quarry holes. I have barred them in the woods and in rocks but I like them in the ground the most. Look around. You will see good places to hide them for your convenience
    Do I worry about people or critters getting to my stash?
    It’s possible someone will stumble onto one of your caches but unlikely. So far I have not lost one that I know of but you are eventually going to lose one. I have not had any containers bothered by animals. The containers are air tight and located so they can’t get to them and as long as the container has been cleaned and you don’t leave any attractive smell, it will not draw animals to dig at it. You can check on your stash for the first couple weeks if you want but after that I say its ok and you did a good job. I have not encountered forest fires with mine but I would say they would survive if buried. Look what the fire fighters do if caught? They dig a hole as deep as they can and climb in covering themselves letting the fire go over them. Now talking about a avalanche or land slide? Well nobody will find it, not even you. Start off small and cheap to experiment. Once you feel you have the hang of it then go for it but always be ready to lose one or two. That’s why you put many out there over years.
    Bob I’m no writer so rewrite this any way you want it and just to let you know I have not cache anything for 3 years but there still out there. I hope this answered your questions

    • Bob

      Mitch, it’s very good! Few more question. How do you find the cache after you’ve buried it? GPS, map and compass, landmarks? It seems like that would be the hard part. Do you worry about rust from moisture in the air or fro moisture getting in? What is the longest you have gone back and found and it up a cache to check on how it did? Any problems?

  10. Mitch

    Bob most GPS will take you back to with in 10′ of your cacha. I always keep a log of coordinates on my GPS and have a log book that is also on flash drives. I keep one flash drive on my key chain but you must keep a detailed log of coordinates and land marks, Yardage from such land marks. Detail it as best you can with more then one land mark and foot steps for yardage and do your compass coordinates also. GPS may not work when you need it. You may even want to put a log on line such as iCloud.Just don’t explain what it is on there. That way you have it if you can get on line. Look into the geocache game. It would be fun for you and give you plenty of practice. Searching others cacha from there coordinates and riddles. I am sure in your travels you have walked by hundreds of them. There may be one right where you are camping now but you must have a hand held GPS to play.
    The longest time I left a cache then went back to retrieve it for inspection was 3 years. It was in very brutal conditions. I placed a food grade 5 gal bucket with supplies and bag of silicant inside, pushed the lid down hard to push as much air out of bucket. Then dug a hole 4′ deep in clay soil. placed bucket in hole and put a 60-70lb rock on top of it and firmly pack the clay soil back in. It was placed on a major river bank in a flood zone. It flooded and froze way below -10f many times. It once was 19′ under water for many days. I went and dug it up and almost couldn’t get it open, The air had been pushed out and it was under vacuum. I destroyed the bucket getting it open but the contents were in perfect shape. Not a drop of water or moisture. That sold me on the food grade containers. If you put them above ground? Yes you are going to be dealing with moisture or condensation. Silica will be your best bet but above ground is a much shorter term in my view.I check the freeze level in areas where I cache and try to put them down in the ground that far. but I never expected to find that bucket after the 19′ flood. I figured it would work its way up out of the ground even with the rock and packed clay on top.

    • Mitch

      Sorry I hit the send before I wanted too. Like i said I check the freeze level where I cache and put them below the freeze level. Doing long term cachas in freeze zones means you can’t get to them in the winter. Its just a fact but you can do short term cachas if you want. Its best to be like you Bob: Travel with the weather but you still have to go by the same rules, I go by freeze levels you need to go by heat levels so getting your buckets down out of the heat into average temp ground year round is critical for long term. Average temp means no swings in temp for condensation and it puts it deep enough so nothing is going to bother it. I would say 3′ of soil on top of bucket would be sufficient almost anywhere in the USA. I’m done..ask all the questions you want Bob..I will do my best to answer them.

      • Mitch

        One more critical note. When building your buckets it is important to build it at the lowest humidity levels possible. what ever humidity is in the air at the time you close it up is the amount of humidity that is in that bucket. Condensation does not seep through the walls of the bucket, Its a sealed container. So build your buckets at lowest humidity levels possible and store them till your ready to put them out and dont forget to put in silica.

    • Bob

      Thanks Mitch, very helpful!

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