Learn how to prepare for hard times now, before you need to, without buying things you’ll never use or making people think you’re crazy.
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First, I want to be clear that this is not intended to help you survive the apocalypse or be anything like a comprehensive “prepping” plan. When I say hard times, I mean the more boring and more likely possibility that your current standard of living will be interrupted for one reason or another.
This can be because of job loss, a local homebound period, a far-away disaster that disturbs supply chains, or something as simple as a worker’s strike that makes certain goods unavailable.
Hopefully these ideas are helpful to you and not panic-inducing. Even if you never need any of these ideas, your efforts will not go to waste. Being prepared and more self-sufficient saves you money and keeps you calm, two valuable things no matter what the circumstances may be.
When money is tight, or supples are hard to get, you have to rethink your whole method of cooking. You don’t get to start with a list of meals you want to eat that you have pulled out of the sky. Instead of shopping around your desires, you have to eat what is available. This is a big change for most people.
Learn to cook
This is a skill everyone should have, and it is slightly different from just following a recipe. Can you open your pantry and make something out of rice, beans, and canned tomatoes? Do you know how much seasoning to use to make it taste good? Can you mix up a salad dressing knowing basic ratios of the ingredients? Can you tell when meat is done by looking at it? Can you tell that bread dough has been kneaded enough by feel?
If not, that’s okay! This is something that comes with experience. It is pretty much impossible to cook every day and still be a bad cook. Just keep doing it, and you will get there.
There are a lot of luxuries in our culture that are sort of crazy when you think about them. One of them is the idea that all foods should be available all the time. Fresh fruit in winter is not a constitutional right. If you can learn to embrace seasonal eating and enjoy things in their time, it will be less of an adjustment when those things become unaffordable or unavailable.
Canning is one of those things that gets a lot of attention but is actually not really necessary. It’s relatively new in the grand scheme of things, and people survived for very long without it.
But when you have an abundance of produce in the summer and fall, it makes sense to preserve things for later. But think of your canned items as supplements used mostly for flavor and variety. Things like pickles, jams, and tomatoes are very welcome in cold months. Just remember that it’s hard to live off things like that.
More practical for many people is simply keeping produce in a cool place. Whether you grow your own or buying bulk from the farmer’s market, you can store apples, potatoes, onions, and cabbage for a very long time in a cool place.
If you can get in the habit of buying these items in bulk, you will save money and always have fresh produce on hand.
For even more information on this, or plans to make your own cold storage room, pick up a copy of Root Cellaring.
Store grains in bulk.
You don’t have to go crazy, and please don’t buy things you will never use, like hundreds of pounds of buckwheat. But bulk purchases of rice, oats, flour, and cornmeal will not go to waste if you cook with them regularly. You can buy bulk grains from restaurant supply stores and have them delivered to you. I like this source for flour.
As far as storage goes, you will need something airtight to keep them dry. I use these storage buckets. They can be reused endlessly and the lids easily turn on and off. You can store them in the basement and then refill smaller kitchen canisters out them occasionally.
Gardening for Hard Times
Gardening and food storage are related, but not the same. Anyone can create a food storage system, but not everyone can have a significant garden. But knowing how to produce food with a few supplies and a little hard work is a priceless skill.
Almost everyone can grow something, so read on, even if you don’t have space for a huge garden.
Learn to garden
Despite what many people will have you believe, gardening is not easy. It takes time to build your soil, understand what does well in your area, and build your skill. Is that plant wilting because its too dry? Too wet? Do you need to cover your kale in a frost? Will your family actually eat zucchini? This knowledge only comes with experience. So start now, if you can, so you know what you’re doing when you really need it.
Garden without a lot of “stuff”
Like any hobby, gardening can be very expensive and use a lot of inputs that you might not be able to acquire or afford when times are hard. So even if you can afford them now, try not to overly rely on things like that.
Compost and animal manures are good fertilizers. Crop rotation and letting areas of the soil rest make sure you don’t deplete the soil too much in the first place.
An excellent resource on this is the book Gardening When It Counts, which teaches you to lay out your garden for the best yields and how to not rely too much on outside inputs.
Seed saving and starting
This is a very valuable skill, and you can reduce your dependence on nurseries and seed companies if you learn it. Once you start raising your own vegetable plants, you’ll find that its very hard to go back to the overpriced wilting seedlings you find at the hardware store.
And if you focus on growing heirloom varieties, you can save seeds from year to year. By selecting the best specimens of each plant, you also end up self-selecting for a variety that will do well in your specific climate.
Saving seeds is not exactly hard, but each vegetable has its own required technique for harvesting and storing the seeds.
These is so, so much to learn about this topic. The classic, definitive guide is the book Seed to Seed.
Health and First Aid
People often think about storing food in an emergency but can often forget about basic hygiene supplies and medications. And yet many of these things can be the hardest to get when supply chains break down. If you’re wondering how to prepare for hard times on this front, you’ll need to either stock up on your medications and supplies, or find suitable alternatives.
Learn Herbal Medicine
This may be a bit wacky to you, but it’s one of the few truly self-sufficient first aid methods available. Of course, there are many things for which only modern medicine will do. But if it appeals to you, research herbal home remedies for things like stomachaches, headaches, menstrual pains, and minor cuts and burns. You may be surprised by what you can grow at home to treat minor issues.
My favorite book on this topic is Rosemary Gladstar’s beginner’s guide.
Wean yourself off unnecessary medications
This is easy for me to say, but obviously hard to do in reality. But discuss with your doctor whether some of your medications are really essential. What about things like acne medication or other non life-threatening issues? Would a lifestyle change allow you to give those up?
As far as medications that are essential, make sure you have enough stored for a few months. Discuss with your doctor whether you should taper off slowly if a situation arises when you know that you can’t get a refill.
Learn Basic First Aid
If there is a big emergency, most first responders are likely to be occupied with rescue efforts. They might not be available for other, smaller emergencies. You will never regret learning basic first aid skills like CPR, the Heimlich, and applying pressure to a wound.
The National Safety Council has a free video library here, available to anyone.
How to Prepare for Hard Times as a Community
Of course, complete self sufficiency is impossible and ultimately undesirable. Having ties in your local community will help you survive and thrive if things change.
Are you going to be hoarding your supplies and fearing your neighbors? Or are you going to work together, trade with each other, and all do better as a result?
Imagine that, for whatever reason, grocery stores can’t get deliveries for a month. Your community becomes dependent on itself for food. Where is this food coming from?
Local farmers, if you have any left in your area, are great friends to have. Even if you never need to support them, you should. And if you need them, you will be grateful that you have made the effort to buy from them at farmer’s markets and buy meat and milk from them locally. You will have their contact information and will have earned a measure of their trust.
Master one skill, or produce a lot of one thing
It’s impossible to have a little of everything that you’ll need. But it’s definitely possible to have a lot of one thing, that you can trade to get what you need.
Both goods and services can be traded. Maybe you have dozens of chickens and plenty of eggs to trade. Maybe you master seed starting and trade your seedlings. Maybe you learn to make soap, or sew cloth diapers, or learn to bake bread, or make baskets, and you trade those items.
Or maybe you have a practical skill that is valuable. Perhaps you know how to stitch up a cut, till up a garden, or replace a rotting deck. As long as other people will need help with it in the future, you can use that skill in trade.
Make friends with your neighbors
Now if you don’t know anyone in your local community, attempting to trade or collaborate with people is going to be hard. And attempting to approach them during a depression or emergency is probably going to be met with suspicion.
Keep in mind that if you are better prepared than your neighbors, you can become a target. It is easier to attack a stranger than a friend.
So make an effort to befriend them now.
Make your kids productive members of the household
And what does this have to do with anything? Well, if your children are accustomed to a life of leisure while you serve them, you might as well change that now. If you are going to be living on less money, that often involves a lot of work. And they should help with that work, and with all household work.
If you need help getting your kids to help you around the house, I love and recommend this program to help you train better habits in your kids.
What about everything else?
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of everything you would need to do to prepare for something like a hurricane, economic depression, or quarantine.
You will need to think about what you will do in the event of an extended power outage, loss of water supply, etc. But those issues depend on your access to a generator, whether you have a well, where your power comes from, and many other factors. You will need to consider pet care and baby care if that applies to you.
And what if hard times never come?
Well, that would be a good thing. Maybe you’ll have a pretty garden and the ability to live off your pantry to show for all your hard work. And peace of mind is never wasted.
If you are interested in just learning about simple living, follow my Facebook page, Old Fashioned Mama, where I share tips for homemakers collected from all over the internet.