It annoys me that so much of disaster preparedness is about stockpiling stuff – storing extra food, getting expensive wood stoves, buying sub-zero sleeping bags…
Not all of us are in an economic position to spend a fortune on disaster prepping, and the incorrect notion that prepping has to be expensive prevents a lot of people from ever getting started.
Yes, it is smart to have some basic prepping supplies stockpiled at home. And, yes, this will require you to spend some money.
But there are plenty of completely free ways to get prepared for disaster and even get free prepping supplies too. Here are just some of them.
Let me know if you have anything to add in the comments!
- Prepping on a Budget: How to Make Every Dollar Count
- Cheap Prepping Items which Will Be Valuable when SHTF
- Dollar Store Prepping Finds
Free Prepping Supplies
Buckets are often overlooked but have dozens of uses during emergencies. The most important one IMO is using buckets to make an emergency toilet. This could literally save you from being in a SHTF situation!
Free buckets are pretty easy to find. I recommend asking at local:
- Ice cream shops
- Donut shops (including Dunkin Donuts)
- Bakeries (including ones at big stores like Kroger and Walmart)
- Nursing homes and schools often have them
- Delis have pickle buckets
- Auto repair shops
- Pool supply stores
- Animal shelters (kitty litter often comes in buckets)
2. Rainwater Barrels
Large 55+ gallon barrels are great for rainwater harvesting but can be very pricey.
These are a bit trickier to find for free but it is possible. Some local governments have rainwater programs and distribute barrels for free (like this program in Bernalillo County, NM).
If you don’t have luck with your local government, try asking for free barrels at:
- Car washes – they often get large drums of soap in barrels
- Recycling centers
- Food manufacturing factories
*Avoid barrels that may have held toxic substances. Those cannot be safely cleaned out and would not be safe for drinking water or irrigating crops.
3. Dumpster Diving for Supplies
It is disgusting how many perfectly-good items get thrown away each year. If you can get over the worry that your neighbors might think if they catch you going through a dumpster, you can find tons of free prepping supplies in the trash.
If you know where to look, it’s even possible to make $250,000 a year from dumpster diving. You might not find prepping items, but if you can find other items you need, then you’ll free up your budget to prepping items.
Here are some of the best places to dumpster dive for free prepping gear:
- Military surplus store dumpsters
- Outside of military bases
- College dorm dumpsters after the school year ends – great for getting free storage units and scrap wood for things like boarding up windows
- Hardware stores – you’d be surprised how many tools you can find in the trash because one item in a set was missing
4. DIY Gear
Knowledge is much more valuable than gear, and that includes knowledge of how to make gear. There’s plenty of free preparedness items you can make yourself as a DIY project. Here are some:
- Hobo stove from tin cans
- Rocket stove
- Vegetable oil lamp
- Emergency heaters
- Gear from recycled plastic bags
- DIY survival weapons
- Char cloth
If you have a way to pick up the supplies, you can find tons of great prepping freebies on Craigslist. Granted, a lot of the free stuff on Craigslist isn’t meant for preparedness – but it can be modified with a bit of ingenuity.
For example, I recently saw someone giving away free aluminum windows on Craiglist. These could easily be turned into a DIY greenhouse. It just shows that creativity is actually the most important prepping skill!
6. Switch to Pee Rags
After the panic over toilet paper during the pandemic, I finally stopped using TP for pee. Instead, I made some rags out of old clothes (free!) and keep them in a basket next to the toilet. I use them for pee only and then put them in a separate basket so they can be cleaned later.
This saves me money (which can be used for other preps), frees up space, and readies me for a disaster where toilet paper might not be available. There are also these toilet paper alternatives.
Building a Free Food and Water Stockpile
7. Water Storage Containers
Water should be one of your main priorities when getting prepped. While they aren’t ideal, you can use recycled plastic bottles for storing water. You will have to rotate these bottles though as they eventually start to leak.
For more on that, read this reusing plastic bottles for storing water..
8. Dumpster Diving for Food
Back when I was a punk college student, I used to dumpster dive all the time. I even met one of my boyfriends in a Trader Joe’s dumpster – he gave me a bouquet of flowers that he dove out of the trash. 😀 Now that same guy runs the recycling program at a well-known hospital and also writes the blog Tyler Talks Trash.
I get that you might think it is gross or unsafe to get food from the trash. But, as someone who worked in supermarkets for years, I can tell you that much of the food in their dumpsters is perfectly good.
Label on a can of food gets torn? It goes in the trash.
One orange in a bag goes bad? The entire bag gets tossed.
Then there are cases of sheer laziness. Instead of taking food back with them, unsold food at farmer’s markets sometimes just goes in the dumpster. Go to a farmers market at the end of the day and ask them for any food they don’t want. You’ll be amazed at how much you get!
9. Preserve Food
A semi-free way to stockpile emergency food is to preserve food that you otherwise would have thrown away. Or, get free food by dumpster diving and preserve this. If you recycle glass jars, methods like pickling can be completely free.
10. Grow Your Own Food
Once you get it going, a garden not only gives you free food, but also saves you money. The problem is getting started – a lot of gardening supplies can be pricey.
It is possible to start a garden for completely free. Even if you don’t have much space. Here are some ideas:
- Use free buckets for your garden (see #1) and start a bucket garden.
- Start a vertical garden out of recycled pallets
- Get free dirt – just take a shovel to a nearby wilderness area with rich soil
- Grow easy crops – I actually grow dandelion in a separate part of my garden. People think it’s hilarious but the young leaves taste great, are nutritious, and the plant will survive even if you have no green thumb whatsoever.
11. Learn Wild Edibles
There’s free food all around us, if you just know where to look. Knowing which foods you can eat could save your life in an emergency situation. And, if you learn to preserve food, then you can actually build a decent free food stockpile.
- Our guide to foraging
- The crab apple tree
- Wild edible roots
- Foraging for wild teas
- Eating acorns
- Edible lichen and moss
12. Fresh Roadkill
My sister used to work for a Wildlife Management agency in New Hampshire. They’d get a call if there was a car accident involving a moose.
Everyone would come to the scene to carve up the approximately 500lbs of meat from the dead moose. The poor animal had already died, so might as well make use of it.
If you live in an area where accidents with large wild animals is frequent, talk to your local police department or wildlife agency about whether you could get notified. Or get a police scanner and quickly get to the scene of any wildlife-related accidents.
Learning Outdoor Survival Skills for Free
13. Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts
The Scouts are a great place to learn all sorts of survival skills for free. If you don’t have kids, you can still get involved as a troop leader.
14. County Office of Parks & Recreation
Check your local Parks & Recs website (better, visit or call them). A lot of these have tons of free classes on things like plant identification, animal tracking, safety, navigation, and much more.
15. Join a Hiking or Orienteering Club
Hiking and orienteering are great ways to get in shape (which is important for prepper fitness) and you’ll learn navigation skills in the process. The other members can also be a great free resource for survival skills.
Disaster Prepping Skills
16. FEMA Training
FEMA has a huge catalog of courses which will teach you how to respond during a disaster. This includes free online and in-person courses. Learn more at FEMA’s website..
17. Run an Outage Drill
An outage drill is a simple but very effective free thing you can do to get prepared for disasters. It involves turning off your electricity and/or water for a set period of day (such as for the entire weekend). This gives you firsthand experience of what it’s like to live through a disaster and whether your preps are adequate.
18. Do a Preparedness Assessment
Even if you have a large budget, you should still do a prepping assessment. It will show you where your strength and weaknesses are in regards to preparedness. Afterwards, you’ll be better able to make a plan and budget for your preps. You can do an assessment here.
19. CERT and NERT Training
CERT stands for Community Emergency Response Team. There’s also NERT – Neighborhood Emergency Response Team. This training is offered for free and covers valuable skills like first aid, search and rescue, triage, hazard mitigation, and more. It’s also a great place to meet other preppers.
20. Do Situational Awareness Exercises
These are exercises you can do to increase your situational awareness, such as playing the “Can you find it?” game. I give more examples of these exercises in my book. Sorry, that’s not free but we’ve kept the price low. 🙂
21. Free Books and Knowledge
There are plenty of places you can learn prepping for free. Just make sure you are diligent about gaining prepping knowledge, such as assigning yourself a 15-minute YouTube video each night or reading a few blog posts on a specific topic.
If you aren’t sure where to get started, have a look at our prepping 101 article.
Some of the places you can learn prepping for free are:
- YouTube videos and prepping websites
- Your local library – look for books on gardening, food storage, outdoor survival, etc.
- Army Field Manuals – these are readily available for free online
- Church of Latter Day Saints Preparedness Manual is free – click the link to get the PDF
- archive.org is a searchable online archive of over 20,000,000 books that you can download for free.
Other Places to Learn Prepping Skills for Free
22. Local Agricultural Office
County agricultural offices or the agricultural extensions of universities often have many free courses for the public. Topics include things like raising backyard chickens, gardening, veterinary science, pesticide application, and more.
23. First Aid
You can learn first aid for free. The Red Cross offers many free classes. Your local fire department might have training.
If you volunteer with a local emergency service team you will probably also get regular training. Lear more about how to learn first aid skills here.
24. Sewing and Knitting Clubs
Knowing how to make your own clothes and repair them is a valuable skill to have. There are many sewing and knitting groups you can join, including ones for men and younger people.
25. Community Gardens
Most community gardens do require an annual membership fee. Some might have grants for low-income people or at least allow you to attend events such as classes or workshops without a membership.
Have any other tips about how to get prepped for emergencies for free? Let us know in the comments.