One of the most common questions I’m asked in interviews is how I got started prepping. That crucial moment when you decide that you need to change the way you live is paramount to understanding the motivation to live a prepared lifestyle.
Recently, I asked many of you how you started out, too, for an article I was working on. You answered via email and social media, and I so thoroughly enjoyed hearing your stories that I decided to publish some of them in this collection, as opposed to merely quoting bits and pieces in the original article I had planned.
Sometimes I think we all have days where we lose our prepper mojo just a little bit. These stories of our awakenings can serve as a reminder to push you through the low spots, and they just might inspire someone who is considering becoming more prepared to take the leap. For privacy reasons, I’ve redacted anything that might identify the person or their location.
How I Got Started Prepping
20 years ago, I was a new mom to a lovely baby girl. My husband had a good job, we had an adorable little apartment, and we were doing okay on our small budget. Then, when my daughter was just 3 weeks old, my husband came home unexpectedly in the middle of the day.
His good job was no more. Completely out of the blue, he had been laid off.
Panic ensued. Rent was due, which used up most of his paycheck, and we had 2 jars of peanut butter, 10 bags of bagels in the freezer, and a garden that had just been planted in the yard, but had not yet produced anything we could eat.
He began applying for jobs the very next day. He was young, intelligent, and strong, so we figured he’d have no trouble finding work. Unfortunately, we were wrong. He also applied for his unemployment benefits, but it was going to take 6 long weeks before any money would arrive.
We went into survival mode.
We rationed out our bagels and peanut butter over the course of those six weeks. We never even considered asking for help, even though our parents would have gladly given us some groceries or money. We buckled down and just focused on getting through until that first unemployment check came in. He managed to get some day labor work a few times, which kept us in enough money to go to the laundromat to wash diapers and clothes, kept our electricity on, and paid our rent. Any debt we had incurred before this, of necessity, went unpaid. We couldn’t even afford groceries, so we certainly couldn’t manage minimum payments on credit cards. The only bill we paid was the car payment, since we lived in a small town and he needed a vehicle to seek work elsewhere.
Since we couldn’t afford any type of entertainment, I spent a lot of time at the library. One day, when searching for frugal recipes (back in the days of the card catalog), I stumbled across a book that would change the course of my life. It wasn’t a preparedness book in the sense of “prepping”. It was about frugality. Amy Dacyczyn had written 3 books (that have now been combined into one big compendium) called The Complete Tightwad Gazette. Amy wrote with a sense of humor and a friendly tone, added quirky illustration, and immediately become my hero, my go-to girl for all things frugal. I felt a glimmer of hope when I read about her “pantry principles” and I knew that there was a way I’d never have to be in this desperate situation again.
Although I didn’t know it, a prepper had been born. Once hubby’s unemployment money came in, I began to quietly build a pantry. I was determined that my child would not ever wonder where her next meal would come from. Over the years, with the ups and downs of life, I’ve had many occasions to be thankful for my pantry: when I was laid off from my job as a single mother, during lengthy power outages due to bad weather, after incurring a major medical bill. A few years ago, when we relocated from Canada to the United States, I had to leave most of my supplies behind. (This book was inspired by what I learned when rebuilding our stockpile.)
Personal economic disaster is a common theme.
Overwhelmingly, people who responded to my question shared that they had begun prepping due to a personal financial crisis.
My husband having a motorcycle wreck last July. He broke himself in seven places along his right side, suffered from MRSA (they had to do an IV four hours a day) had some of the hardware that was put in removed in the 2nd surgery and now has four blood clots on his opposite arm where he had to have a pik line. Almost a year later he suffers from inflammation and chronic pain. If it wasn’t for me being a couponer at the time and having a stockpile I don’t know what we would have done!!
My husband also lost his job right when our first (turned out to be only) baby was born. Those first few years were rough.
I inherited my nephew when his mother and father passed away. We went through my 3 month supply pretty quick, and I had to ask for charity on his behalf. When I was just starting out, there were too many times that I had to make a decision to buy a can of beans or a roll of toilet paper.
911 certainly got our attention but it was the banking crisis and subsequent recession the end of 2008 that gave me a major wake up call. My construction company went from 7 employees to little ole me. Personal income dropped 70%. From my perspectivthat felt like a depression, not a recession. We managed to weather those difficult years and had we not lived well below our means prior to the recession, we would have been in serious trouble.
Now, here’s the take-away from all this. During that period of time, I was not a happy man about what had happened to my business or my great employees. Now, looking back at that adversity….I’m thankful for that experience. My wife and I ultimately survived AND thrived. There was blood, sweat and tears involved, but as a result of that experience, we are now better able to handle most anything life may throw at us. That’s empowerment. That’s freedom!
I lost my job in 2009 after I broke my back. Although it healed up, I couldn’t no longer do the heavy work I’d been doing for 20 years. The same year my wife used all of her maternity leave before going back to work and 2 weeks later shattered her ankle. They let her go.
It was in the worst of the crash and no one was hiring. We lived on miracles and prayer for about a year. We had just moved. I planted a garden and studied how to plant intensively, bought chickens, she couponed and learned how to do things like make our own detergent to save expense. I think in the meantime it became a lifestyle that we enjoy.
We have been blessed since then and the pantries are now stocked for about a year. Expanding on that many other things such as hand powered tools and kitchen appliances, candles, rechargeable batteries ect and the solar panels to charge things have found their way into the inventory.
It’s a scary thing to be on the verge with few applicable assets and we chose not to be arrogant in assuming it can’t or wont happen again. In fact we continue strongly in Iight of the current economic and geopolitical situation the world is in and there is NO guarantee that unemployment benefits will be there to help next time.
Don’t panic, prepare.
A heart attack and financial devastation
The seed was planted in March of 1979 when the 3 Mile Island “accident” happened. We were newlyweds, married only a few months, living about 50 miles from the power plant and worried what we would do if we had to evacuate. Then I read the book “Solar Flare” by Larry Burkett (if you haven’t read it, it’s a page turner & a fascinating novel based on facts) and the seeds were watered.
Then 6 years ago my husband went to work as always to be told he was being layed off due to downsizing. We had just re-financed our mortage and done $30,000 in upgrades to our home and were afraid we could lose it. The seeds were now sprouting. We were lucky that my husband was only out of work 3 days, a family member got him an interview that led to an immediate job. It took about a year to get back to the wages he had been earning, money was very tight. but we were able to keep our home and our kids did not die as a result of having to attend public schools.
We now are preparing for whatever hits the fan first, economic colapse, solar flare, terrorisim, peak oil, etc. My 15 year old son is my greatest ally in prepping. We shop at big box stores and try to put up 1/4 of each shopping trip. We also shop yard sales, auctions, etc. in search of non-electric tools like butter churn, treadle sewing machine, victrola & 78 rpm records, etc. We are currently looking for an older (pre 1970) pick up truck and a camper in case we would have to bug out, but we are hoping to be able to shelter in place as we have a lot of grid-free items at our home.
The 2008 financial dip. It was a reminder of the need to be prepared. The economy has not improved and I don’t see it improving any time soon. Plus, my husband became disabled.
For some people, self-reliance was always their lifestyle
My husband and I live in (redacted), rural area, 1800 ft. elevation, near a university town, and we love disaster movies…etc. We just thought it made sense to have some food put back, well bucket, water filtration backup, etc. We burn wood for heat, propane for cooking. Our most vulnerable aspect so far is our good well, 140 ft. deep, wouldn’t be usable without electricity.
We live on an Island where we are isolated for the most part 4 months of the year, so prepping is a necessity for those months. Recently I have extended the prepping to include clothing for growing kids, lots of medical supplies ,and many off grid living items. I think economic problems and the extreme weather everyone is experiencing got me thinking, better safe than sorry. If nothing happens you have less to spend later, also getting chickens soon!
I was born into being a prepper. Being raised with humble circumstances, we were taught from a very early age to throw nothing away and take care of yourself. Back then there was no government handouts. Everyone supplied their own needs. We grew and raised everything we ate from gardens to livestock. I didn’t think much about it until the 60’s and then became a “Mother Earther” and learned to dry foods, everything from my family’s cereal to fruits etc.
Later on my wife and I felt led to take in foster children from 5-10 years old, all hard core sexually abused children. I bought a 3 acre place with a house and barn. I figured since I had been raised in that situation and with a great circle of relatives and was well adjusted that it would work for them. We had 5 at a time plus our own 2 older teenagers. We milked our goat twice a day, raised pork, beef, chickens, ducks, rabbits and all things in between. It worked wonders for them as we and our animals gave unconditional love, like our Father.
Again we got away from it until the 08 election at which time we started all over again and will continue. All 7 of our grandchildren are older and the joke is not to stand in one place too long or grandpa will vacuum pack you or freeze you. They all enjoy the dried jerky, fruit etc. They do have a lot of good laughs about all our prepping supplies, lanterns, portable crapper, Big Berkey, food dryer etc. That’s how I got started and we continue on at 70 years old. Just makes good old common sense with our upside down world. God richly bless you and keep you.
Sometimes an outside event triggered the awakening.
My start at prepping began three days after 9/11/2001. While hearing the reports of what was going on and happening in NYC my wife described the scene as best she could without losing her voice. I am and have been blind since age 24, had two wonderful careers, public sector and private sector and when my wife described it to me I turned to her and said “our world has changed just now, to what extent and how and when it will change is yet to be seen but we need to prepare” .
Not knowing at the time what it meant I went to my computer that evening after things had began to sort themselves out and began seriously searching for long-term storage food, generators, and other such prep items. I have a special software package that allows me to have the screen read to me if it has text on it and at that time the internet had quite a bit more text than fancy graphics and animation which is the case today. I slowly began to build my supplies of food, tools etc even though my wife was a skeptic about what good it would do. I began in earnest finally settling on Amazon and a couple other web sites that had shown up selling prepping supplies such as alternative energy, food and water supplies.
In 2008 my wife had to go to a nursing home and I was left alone in my house which I sold and turned the small amount of money I made into more preps and finally purchased a home in ( near my sister in a rural area and did even more prepping such as building up a solar system for power as I am a ham operator and wanted power for operating my ham gear and keeping my freezer and refrigerator running as well as being able to use my 700 watt microwave to cook since I am a klutz about real cooking. The solar system is capable of charging a bank of 8 large marine deep discharge batteries with 1000 watts of solar power each day the sun shines and it can operate without sun for up to a week for the things I need in my house. I am currently building an alternative water collection system using rain gutters which I had installed on my metal roof and placing about 3 55-gallon barrels around the house to collect the water and filtering it as it goes into the barrels for watering my SIMGAR container garden and my abundant white clover patch on the half acre for the honey bees on my property.
But what got me started? I had in my mind an idea that it would come to this ever since high school. I was attending the Arkansas State School for the Blind in Little Rock and in 1959 a B-58 exploded about 1500 feet above the area the school was in and we were without power for over three days and also water etc and that started some wheels to turning in my brain which really got to spinning with the September 11, 2001 attack and I have been plugging away at it ever since.
Watching the news and realizing what I was seeing going on in the world ,terrorism,impending economic collapse,all the natural disasters .I’m a christian and knew from scripture what I was seeing coming to pass and setting in place to happen,when I saw all the for rent and for sale signs I hadn’t seen in 40 years of living in my town and the jobs started leaving mills closing down I talked a family member into pulling out the 401 k and paying off their mortgage,it saved their home the only employed family member got laid off ,they would have lost their home,blessing from the lord,I think it common sense to prep as a lifestyle even in good times you lose nothing and if the worst suddenly happens your family stands to suffer much less ,it also teaches the next generation how to
I have always been interested in being self-sufficient. Ever since my early 20’s (I’m 66 now) I’ve had a garden when I lived where I could have one, and tried to learn a new skill or raise a new veggie every year. I’ve raised bees, hogs, now raise dairy goats and a few cattle. I can most things rather than freezing.
But all that was for long term self-sufficiency.
There were two things that got me switched on to prepping, literally overnight. The first was the 2007 economic tanking and the government response to it: TARP, QE, monetizing the debt, all showed, and continue to show, that we are in for some real pain because no one is willing to identify and fix the real problems in our economy.
The second thing was the election of Barack Obama. Not because he is Black (stupid comes in all colors), but because I listened to what he said and took him at his word that he meant every word of it. The course and direction that he said he was taking the country, and post election the things he said and did, made be firmly believe that if he accomplished his stated goals, there would be nothing left of the America that I grew up in.
Sadly, he seems to have succeeded. Crushing debt, uncontrolled government spending, Ferguson and Baltimore race riots, poverty and racial tension are all pushing this country to a precipice and any sudden shock could spill over into widespread rioting and looting.
We’ve lost the backbone of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility in favor of being on the government plan (or plantation). Even worse, we’ve put up impediments and disincentives for those who still want to try to improve their lot in life. Over the last generation we’ve turned out grads who are progressively less and less educated; can’t read, can’t write, can’t do simple math. We’ve regulated and over-regulated to the point that new entrepreneurs aren’t starting businesses.
I founded and ran my own engineering business until I got fed up with the taxes, regulations, crime and congestion that came with living in Baltimore, so I sold my portion to my partners and ‘retired’ to a farm. I have tried to have some small artisan business income from the farm activities, but (redacted) is not very friendly to that sort of thing. So now I do my thing under the radar, not legal but not illegal as long as I don’t get into ‘public commerce’. <sigh>
I can, I make cheese, I bake and am still learning new things. The latest is that I’m raising rabbits for meat.
I’ve got food and water stored, am finishing my rainwater collection system for sustainable water, I’ve got my self-defenses set up and a plan for what to do if family shows up on the doorstep. For the last few years I’ve been experimenting in the garden to improve yields and reduce labor (mostly to reduce weeding). I’ve got manual tools and know how to use them when the power or fuel runs out, and my fuel tank holds almost 2 years of diesel with current usage.
When the SHTF, we may not make it out the other side, but we’ll be here long after most others are gone.
Y2K. Thank goodness it didn’t happen, nor did I lose my faith in the preparedness mentality. Best thing thing that ever happened – getting me off my chops and being proactive.
My desire to protect my family from H1N1 started my prepping journey. It started out gradually by purchasing N95 face masks, bio suits, gloves/booties and lots of sanitizer. That led to purchasing supplies in case we needed to quarantine ourselves. Finally I gave up my stand against firearms and adopted the mindset of beans, bandages and bullets, with one as none and two is one. My family has slowly come around. As a joke, my oldest sent me a picture of an emergency/camping port-a-potty as a possible Christmas gift for me. Imagine his surprise when I told him I already had one.
For others, it was the influence of another person that woke them up.
Occasionally, something that doesn’t affect others with the impetus to prepare speaks to you in a different way. Sometimes it’s popular culture, and other times an influential personality.
Ok my story is going to sound a little ridiculous but it happened and now I prep. My husband was a prepper before I came along. He would always try to talk to me about it by I would shut down the conversation because I didn’t want to hear it. I was scared. Scared to think of what could happen. Scared of the tough decisions I would have to make for my kids. My husband and I came across The Walking Dead on New Years. They had a marathon on and my husband and I sat down to watch from the beginning since we had missed so much. It was like the hand of God slapped me and said you will do this and there will be no fear. That was 5 years ago. I haven’t looked back and I have no fear. My kids are on board and we prep as a family.
Reading Ron Paul.
Finally listening to my husband. He’s been prepping for a while. I just didn’t want to believe it. I think I really understood once we had kids. Between dealing with schools and pediatricians and just how much the Government had their hands in my life is very unsettling.
Extreme weather is also an eye-opener.
An ice storm here in (redacted) left us without power for 8 days. No power meant no well water. We cooked & heated with our woodstove but had to collect snow, ice & cold water from nearby creeks for water–in the cold. We began storing water for non drinking uses in milk containers after that event. Good thing. The following summer, freakish hurricane-force winds knocked out power for a week. By that time, we had managed to store plenty of water. That was 7 years ago and now we collect rain water in large containers & continue to store in gallon containers. Drinking water is stored, we own filters as well. We have also found alternative water sources in our area. What began as a survival mentality has become routine for us with water, food, medical supplies etc.
2011 tornado outbreak brought me back to it. I was raised being prepared, but became lax.
There’s a common element in these stories.
Nearly all of these situations could happen to anyone. None of it was extreme or a stretch of the imagination or the culmination of a conspiracy theory.
- Bad weather.
- The loss of a job.
- A natural disaster.
- An accident resulting in serious injury.
- A power outage.
- A financial downturn.
- A nearby industrial accident.
- A terrorist attack.
No one shared a story about a comet hitting, the overthrow of the government, or a Mad Max scenario. These were everyday situations that happened to everyday people, just like you and me.
Sometimes, we face the mockery of those who don’t understand our need to be self-reliant. The mainstream media never fails to put the word “prepper” in quotation marks, as though it’s a delusional term used by people who also believe in unicorns. But when we look to stories like these, it’s obvious that learning to live a prepared, self-reliant lifestyle isn’t “crazy.” It’s actually the height of common sense.
What inspired you to get started?
For those of you who shared your stories for this article, thank you. You may never know it, but your story might just be the gentle push someone needs to get started.
How did you get started with preparedness? Please share your story in the comments below.