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Poverty Prepping for Vandwellers

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Homeless camps like this one are going to become more and more common as things get worse.

Homeless camps like this one are going to become more and more common as things get worse.

As you read this post you are going to be very tempted to think to yourself, “What a bunch of nonsense! Things aren’t going to be that bad and even if they are there is nothing I can do about it. We’re all just at the mercy of the powers-that-be anyway.”
And that may well be true. But I’d encourage you to consider the consequences of doing nothing on one hand or doing what I suggest on the other. If you do nothing and I’m right, your life might very well get very, very rough. But if you follow my advice and I’m wrong you really haven’t lost anything. Nearly everything I’m suggesting is good for you right now and if times get better instead of worse, then your life will still be better off for following my advice.
However, I honestly don’t think I have to justify or convince you to live this way because …
Simple, independent and self-reliant living is the very heart and soul of vandwelling! More importantly, it is an end in itself and needs no justification; it is its own reward!
Would you rather plan ahead for a life like this with an unlimited supply of water and firewood or .....

Would you rather plan ahead for a life like this with an unlimited supply of water and firewood or …..

In my last post I painted a very grim picture of what I think the economy will look look like in the near future. Believe me, I think it is actually going to be much worse than those predictions because there are so many other devastating financial problems on the horizon. However, they are hard to explain in a short blog post and I don’t know enough about economics to make it clear. While I believe all the facts I gave you in the last post are true, and common sense tells you they are gigantic problems–the outcome is still just a guess and I could be all wrong.
...or a life like this lived out of a shopping cart?

…or a life like this lived out of a shopping cart?

Some of your comments to that post were very concerned and you wanted to know what you could do even though you have very little money. Like a good Boy Scout, I believe we should be doing everything we reasonably can today to prepare for it. Therefore we’re going to continue looking at how we can merge some of the best parts of prepping for survival into our lives as vandwellers. As we’ve seen, the two complement each other very well.

Poverty Prepping

I got a cash settlement from my broken arm so for the first time in my life I have some extra money on hand. Because I think inflation is going to wipe out its value I am investing it in the Rule of Threes: shelter, water and food, this whole series is about how I am doing that. However, many, if not most, of you don’t have any extra money to play survivalist with so I’m trying to gear my recommendations toward cheap preparations, what some people call Poverty Prepping.
I know some of you are living on as little as $300 a month and most of you are living on less than $1000 a month. That means traditional survivalist recommendations are just sheer nonsense to you. You can no more afford 20 acres of homesteading land with a years supply of freeze-dried food than you can fly to the moon. It just ain’t gonna happen!
Here is the single most important thing about Poverty Prepping, I’m convinced that the problems I’ve described will unfold slowly over a period of time. Gas and food prices will slowly creep up and inflation will start slowly and snowball. Droughts, floods and extreme heat and cold will slowly get worse every year. As bad as that is, it’s slow arrival is good news for you and I especially for those of us on a tight budget. No matter how little you make each month, if you start small right now, and are consistent, you can be surprisingly prepared when things get worse.

This is 47,000 calories (I wrote the number in each can on the lid). If you ration that down to 1000 calories a day this is 47 days supply of food but even at the full 2000 calories a day it's 23 days of food and has a 25 year shelf life. Nearly all of us can find room for it in our van if we have to.

This is 47,000 calories (I wrote the number on each can on the lid). If you ration that down to 1000 calories a day this is 47 days supply of food but even at the full 2000 calories a day it’s 23 days of food and has a 25 year shelf life. Nearly all of us can find room for it in our van if we have to.

Or you can close your eyes and risk eating like this.

Or you can close your eyes and risk eating like this.

How will you do that? By building up your emergency preparedness essentials as much as you can afford every month. Even if you are on a very limited budget you should be able to come up with $10 to $20 every month on a few extra cans of food, clothing or water storage and purifiers. Fortunately, being Prepared doesn’t always have to cost you money. There are many steps you can take right now that are free and they are all good for you.

  • Staying healthy is critically important in bad times. So try to eat as healthy as you can and go for a brisk walk every day. Use the bad times ahead to motivate you.
  • If you have any bad or unhealthy habits (especially ones that cost you money!!) like cigarettes, drugs, or an excess of sugar, alcohol or drugs, do whatever it takes to stop them. Use the bad times ahead to motivate you.
  • In bad times you aren’t going to eat as well so stock up on daily vitamin pills. Be sure it has plenty of vitamin C!
  • Take good care of your teeth! There may not be money for a trip to the dentist in bad times.
  • Learn as many skills as you can so you are less dependent on others and so you can trade and barter your skills with others.
  • Keep your van maintained and running good and try to learn to do all of it you can yourself.
  • Do a deep housecleaning of your van to make room for more Emergency Essentials. When inflation skyrockets having a van full of food will be so much better than a van full of meaningless stuff no one wants.
  • Proper sanitation will be more important than ever. Have plenty of hand sanitizer alcohol gel like Purell on hand. Not only does it kill germs, it makes a good fire-starter!
  • Buy generic or house brands! Generally they are just as good and will save you lots of money.
  • Shop sales and use coupons! My local Albertsons grocery store just had Chicken of Sea Tuna on sale for .69 cents each so I bought 24 cans. Especially watch out for Buy One Get One Free (BOGO) sales and stock up when they do. But be careful you don’t spend more for gas than you save. Walmart will honor other stores ad prices so take their ads in with you to Walmart and then you won’t have to run around town.

In my next post I’ll talk about setting priorities with your limited amount of time and money and we’ll start looking at stocking up on food, the third of the Rule of threes.


  1. Diane Bentley

    So many people are living paycheck to paycheck with their heads in the sand. I have witnessed this repeatedly due to the once thriving blue collar city I live in that is now partially closed down. It can happen to anyone. People need to heed your warnings. If you and me are wrong, then all is well and good and laugh if you must.

    • Bob

      Diane, its hard to see how being frugal now and setting aside some things for a rainy day is anything but a good idea no matter what your point of view of economics and the future.
      The one thing I’m certain of is that we live in uncertain times, why not hedge your bets?

  2. Joe S

    “But if you follow my advice and I’m wrong you really haven’t lost anything.”
    This rings true to me. I actually found your blog while surfing a wilderness survival forum. All of my “preps” are used for camping and I like to camp so I don’t feel like I wasted any money.
    My vacations are all based around hiking, mountain biking and camping… basically anything out in nature. When the time comes to “full time” it, it will be like an extended vacation.

    • Bob

      Joe, that is just how I look at my life, just one long extended vacation.
      If you’ve ever done any long trails the key is planning and having food drops in place along the way. That’s all I’m suggesting!

  3. Sameer

    I believe what you are saying is true and going to happen. How can it not? I like everyone else don’t have a lot of money, but I am starting to prepare. When I first started I carried a months food supplies then got lazy and only carried two weeks worth of food. I am going to stop that foolishness NOW!

    • Bob

      Sounds wise to me Sameer. And if you watch sales you can stock up and save money at the same time. Instead of buying one of an item on sale, buy two or three, especially BOGO sales. If your careful and take your time you can probably double or triple your food storage and barely spend any more.

  4. openspaceman

    Once again thanks for the effort you put in…and helping me plan and stay focused.
    The Van: I just purchased the Haynes’s repair manual for my Ford E250, $16. I’m definitely not a mechanic but at least when something goes wrong I will be able to better communicate with a mechanic and have a less chance of being taken advantage of.
    Staying Clean and Healthy: I used to live on a steady diet of pizza and beer… empty calories…but delicious. I never went to the health club before moving into the van but because of the need to shower for work I do a little cardio and run thru the machines everyday and feel pretty good to boot.
    I just spent one of the coldest/longest winters on record in my van in the Midwest with most days below zero. I ate fresh fruit and vegetables (expensive), washed my hands all the time, used hand sanitizer and drank plenty of water…just common sense things. I didn’t get sick once. But I did use some propane… still a lot less expensive than heating a house.
    *I know some folks don’t have the option…but I am going to go thru you to Amazon and buy a 30 day supply of Emergency food and Vitamin C and only eat that over the next month and see what happens to my body then I will report back.

    • openspaceman

      After researching the food thing…being in the city…I’ll have to stick to peanut butter sandwiches, canned fruit and vegetables and dehydrated camping food…a little to much prep with the emergency food supply and tryin’ to be “maybe not stealth” but a little less conspicuous.

      • Bob

        Really? The ones I bought just require boiling water and then you pour in the food and stir. If you have a Coleman propane stove it can’t get much easier than that.
        Do you not cook inside your van?

    • Bob

      Openspaceman, I’ll be very curious to hear how you like the Emergency food. Which ones are you buying? I bought this30 day supply of food for $189:
      If you think about it, that isn’t bad for a months supply of food that requires no refrigeration and you just boil water to prepare it. It could be ideal for vandwellers. I’ve just started testing them. The cream of potato soup was excellent, but the chili was poor.
      If you’re willing, would you consider writing down your findings and I will publish them as a guest post? Especially give a grade to the taste of each type of food and it’s health affects.
      If you don’ have time I understand!!

      • openspaceman

        I have been eating Subway when it’s a $5 foot long with a ton of vegetables…that’s $150 a month…I’m a creature of habit. I get two good meals out of that and supplement with some fresh fruit from the grocery and the occasional peanut butter and banana sandwich.
        *Because of the cold weather I haven’t been cooking in the van besides boiling tea a couple times a day…but now that it should be warming up over the next month…I will let you know if I decide to eat the Astronaut food for a month and give you a report on the taste. I have a bunch of parks around me and I can wash my camp bowl in the bathroom sink. I have running water in my van with a marine foot pump but it’s been to cold to use it.

        • openspaceman

          That’s the main difference between living in the city and boondocking in the forest/desert…I have daily access to food so I don’t have to put much time into prepping and having enough…but when I start traveling it will be a different lifestyle.

          • Bob

            right, it is very different. There are some adjustments between them

        • Bob

          Thanks Openspaceman! I really like Subways $5 menu. Fast, healthy and delicious! What’s not to love?

  5. CAE

    The stats claim that only 24% of us have “enough” money for retirement. That means that the rest will be living on very little money and that’s out of about 75M people.
    The one thing everyone should do is to get healthy. It’s the best thing anyone can do for themselves and it’s within almost everyone’s ability. And I’ve seen plenty of very wealthy people that are not healthy and they are not living a good life at all.

    • Bob

      CAE, a whole bunch of us can’t go more than a paycheck or two before we are flat broke and on the edge of disaster.
      Somehow the idea of setting something aside for a rainy day has totally lost favor in this country. We have houses full of worthless crap we borrowed to buy, but if the power goes out for a week we will be at deaths door with no extra food, water or fuel.
      Staying healthy is the foundation to EVERYTHING in life.

  6. Vern M

    Many who read your blog likely agree with the premise. But, there remains a big set of questions.
    How do those not capable of heading to the beautiful desert west and southwest, find like souls in the areas where they are tied to providers of specialized health care? And/or tied to some place to receive bills and SS or other necessary things not easy to shake free of?
    And how do they find like souls without getting too visible by advertising locally? It’s a great, sane and valuable idea you have developed from your early experiences, but it is of little value without more innovative — and stealthy — answers to the questions I continue to confront as I’m sure others do too.
    How about some dialogue on local linking?

    • Calvin R

      Providers of relatively specialized health care abound, although that may become more of an issue in the future. A person can be relatively close to a city such as Tucson (say, 15 miles) and still have a great deal of quiet time in nature. As far as addresses in general, there’s plenty of good information on this and many other sites.
      Finding like minded souls is probably best accomplished on the Internet. The various Facebook and Yahoo groups,, and searches have shown me near-infinite resources.

    • Andy

      You can look at Intentional Communities. These are prepper communities where land is bought and people contribute their skills to make the community viable. The objective is to become fully self sufficient as a community and live off the land.
      Here is a directory that has hundreds of Intentional Communities around the USA.

      • Bob

        Great suggestion Andy!

    • Bob

      Vern, one of the things were going to talk about is finding local public land in your area to bug out to. Hopefully you can find some close enough to be close to health care and everything you need but safe when you need it. I think the majority of laces in the coutnry can do that but there is bound to be some places you can’t.
      there is an old saying that if you want to have friends you have to be friendly. keep your eye out and you will probably find plenty of local vandwellers in your area. Be friendly and get to know them. Some will struggle with mental illness but if you keep looking you probably will find some that don’t.
      You can also get on the internet forums and actively be friendly and looking for friends in your area. Have you joined my forum? Have you posted looking for other vandwellers in your area?
      It really is on your shoulders, no one else can do it for you.

  7. jonthebru

    Purell as a fire starter! Learned something new today!
    To comment for Vern directly above, like minded people are around your area; they may use a name or objective that you may not recognize. “Vandwelling” for example may not lead others to think of surviving a societal breakdown or even self-sufficiency. Many use the “dig-out” idea. Even the “Tiny House Movement” leads quickly to preparedness.
    Its there. I always think back to a young Lady whose apartment burned and she had to leave without even her cell phone. Because we have numbers in memory these days she was unable to inform others close to her because she didn’t know their phone numbers. That changed her life. Preparedness comes in many flavors. Personally, I don’t have an emergency food supply as pictured above but I do purchase foods in bulk and rotate them through the pantry. Even cat food. What we have these days is economic hardship across all strata of society. A reset (Hopefully not a hard reboot.) will occur and when it does we each must have some sort of preparedness in action. When the moment arrives a group will be better than going at it individually as far as I can see. I think I’ve tortured everyone enough this morning, I’m gonna go do my 2 mile walk; thanks for having this forum.

    • Bob

      jonthebru, thanks for lots of common sense ideas! For the most part I’m not suggesting anything radical, just have a few extra gallons of water and cans of chili and soup on hand for emergency needs. We should all do as much to prepare as we can whether it is a little or a lot.
      Making connections with any like-minded people is a great idea!

  8. denoving

    Another good food for safety back up preparation is dry beans, especially black beans or the large white beans are very high in protein and have decent flavors. They have written songs about red beans and rice. They don’t take up very much space, all they need is potable water, and you get a very balanced dietary food. Rice is good, but unfortunately you get Nano-grams of arsenic with every bite. Potatoes kept the Irish from starving in the past, but they’re perishable.

    • Bob

      denoving, that’s a great tip, thanks!

  9. Toni

    Thanks for the good information, Bob. Here are two websites I use all the time to save on food that I thought others might want to know about. One is Every week they publish the weekly grocery store sale ads for the major (and not so major) grocery stores across the country. With this you don’t need to buy a newspaper or run around to get the ads. They also have lots of other saving tips. The other site is passion for This site has amazing info on sales and deals, plus printable coupon links. And Bob, you will love this. They tell the current money saving deals on Amazon. Sign up for their emails for the hottest deals. They even tell you how to get free products, and not just samples either. I have no financial or personal connection to these sites. I use them all the time and I think others will find them helpful as well.

    • Bob

      Toni, thank you so much for those! I just signed up for the email because I love saving money!

  10. Myddy

    I have a supply of freeze dried food that I eat normally anyway, I buy it once a month. The servings come out to 30 cents each, and I get a 30 day supply usually. It lasts longer anyway because I’m never hungry enough for 2000 calories a day! So I save money all the time buying that stuff regularly!

    • Bob

      Myddy, thanks for the feedback! what kind do you use? Do you have a link to it?

        • Bob

          Thanks for the recommendation and the link Myddy! That’s an exceptionally good deal. Would you be willing to write up a short guest post for me about it? I’m especially looking for photos, cooking tips and a report on the taste. Just your overall impressions of everything about it.
          You can be anonymous or we can put in your name and a link to your blog. It should bring you some traffic.
          I’ll understand if you don’t have time or would rather not.

          • Myddy

            I would love to! I’m real big on making food cheap and easy either where I work or in my van.

          • Bob

            More about that coming up!

  11. Charlie Mican

    Yes Bob, It’s always better to be prepared. About 2 months after the Japan Earthquake, Tsunami 2011, I ordered 60 servings, of Wise emergency food. I decided I better start stocking up on food and supplies, incase tragedy would come my way. When I ordered, I received an email that my order will take 6 to 8 weeks because of the tragedy in Japan and there is a big demand for survival food. Couldn’t you see if something happened here in the US. But I been seeing emergency food companies springing up everywhere. I guess taste doesn’t matter, when you’re hungry just about every kind of food tastes good.

    • Bob

      Charlie, even though we get hit by storms and blackouts often, every time it happens you hear stories about people in real trouble because they don’t have even the basics of extra water, lights or food.
      Good for you for taking actions to be prepared.

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