It seems like trying to find ways to save money on prepping is a never-ending task; at least for me it is. I’m always finding more that I need, but the money doesn’t seem to expand to fill the need. Instead, I have to find ways of getting the things I need, without spending money that I really can’t afford to spend. Fortunately, what’s one man’s junk, is another man’s treasure.
Early in our marriage, my wife demonstrated an amazing ability to find things at garage sales. She could find anything, from tires for the car to three-piece suits that actually fit me. So when we started prepping, it was only natural to see what we could get at our local garage sales.
There’s one important secret of hers, which I need to share with you, that has made this possible. That is, shop at the high-class garage sales; people with big homes and fancy cars. Not only are they going to have better stuff to choose from; but they are going to price it cheap, as they are more interested in getting rid of the stuff, than making money off of selling it.
Of course, buying anything at garage sales requires patience. You may have to look at a bunch of garage sales to find the things you’re looking for. But for some, that’s a great way to spend a Saturday morning.
Be willing to think outside the box as well. Repurposing things is a great way of getting what you need. I talked about a backpacking “trailer” in the article “Beyond the Bug Out Bag“. What else could you use for that? How about a baby stroller, the kind that joggers use? It’s lightweight, has large wheels and is designed to carry about 100 pounds. A few custom modifications might make it even better.
Speaking of modifications, if you’re good at fixing things, then keep your eye peeled for things that don’t work. I’ve saved a pile of money over the years, buying things that didn’t work and fixing them myself. Most people don’t know how to fix things, so when they don’t work anymore, they just replace them.
So, what can you find at garage sales to help you with prepping?
- Canning Jars – If you’re going to grow a vegetable garden, then you’re probably going to want to can some of your produce. Our rule is to never buy canning jars at retail. You can always find someone who is getting rid of them at a garage sale. All you’ll need to do is buy the sealing lids for them.
- Candles – Candles are expensive. But you can always find them at garage sales, usually fancy ones which have never been used, but have gotten damaged. Typically, these sell for about 25₵ You can either use these as they are or melt the wax down to make “survival candles” in jars. If you do this (which is my preference) then put three wicks in each, so that they’ll give off more light.
- Oil-Burning Lanterns – These are usually rather rare, but if you can find one, grab it. You can use just about anything for oil. The same goes for the old-style Coleman lanterns, as they will burn gasoline.
- Camping Gear – A bug out is just a spontaneous camping trip, right? Well, maybe it’s more than that, but most bug out gear or gear for a bug out bag is really just camping or backpacking gear. People get rid of these things all the time at garage sales. Just make sure all the pieces are there.
- Hunting & Fishing Gear – I’ve run across some great deals on fishing gear at garage sales; especially fishing rods. You can also find decoys and hunting blinds at times. But you’ll need to get there early, before others beat you to it.
- Bicycles – Great for alternative transportation. Each family member needs one, preferably a good mountain bike.
- Schoolbooks – Few people think this far ahead, but in the case of a major disaster, you may find yourself forced to teach your children at home, as the schools will be closed. Just like today, education will help them get ahead in a post-disaster world.
- Clothes – One of the things many people miss in their stockpile is clothing, especially for their children. My wife used to buy our kids clothes ahead-of-time, packing them away in boxes, by size. When the children outgrew clothing, all she had to do was pull the appropriate box out of the attic, and they had a whole new wardrobe. We typically had about three sizes up for each of our kids. And they had a lot of clothing. There were times when each of my girls had something like 30 party dresses in the closet.
- Coats – Warm coats are essential survival gear; yet they tend to be expensive. While you’re stocking up on clothes for the kids, make sure you’ve got good warm coats for them too. Don’t go for style, go for warmth.
- Boots – This is another one that can get rather expensive. But good boots last and it’s not unusual to find people getting rid of hiking boots or other quality boots, hopefully in your size.
- Fabric & Sewing Supplies – The physical work of survival is hard on clothes. This means more repairs and maybe even having to make your own clothing. If you can find an old-fashioned treadle sewing machine, so much the better.
- Building Materials – If you’re planning on building a survival retreat somewhere, you’re going to need materials to use. While buying building materials at garage sales may not get you exactly what you want, some people have managed to buy enough to build an entire cabin.
- Tools – This is my personal all-time favorite at garage sales. While few people sell off tools, every once in a while you can find someone selling them. This includes yard tools, hand tools and even chain saws. Usually, that’s a widow who is selling her husband’s tools; and selling them at a good price. Sometimes, the price has been so good, that I felt guilty, so I’ve given her more than she asked.
- Lawn Mowers – I think the lawn mower we have now is the first new one I ever bought. Before this, they’ve always been used ones from garage sales, which I fixed. The only reason I bought a new one this time, is that my wife wanted one that was self-propelled for the times when she decides to cut the lawn.
- Car Batteries – You don’t find them very often, but once in a while you’ll see a car battery. Those can be used for building a battery back-up power system. Just have them prove that it is good, before buying it.
- Big Screen TV – I’m talking about the old type of big screen TV here, not our modern flat panel televisions. These have a Fresnel Lens right behind the screen. That can be removed and made into a Fresnel Solar Cooker to cook food with the sun’s power.
- Satellite TV Antennas – Again, I’m talking about the old style; the big ones. These can be coated with aluminum foil on the inside and made into a parabolic solar oven. Another way of cooking with the sun’s power.
- Food – While it isn’t common, every once in a while you can find bulk food at garage sales. Usually it’s someone who managed to get a really good deal on something, then found that their family wouldn’t eat it.
- Manual Kitchen Appliances – Some of the oddest things end up in garage sales; things you wouldn’t expect to find. I’d say that this category is amongst them. Hardly anyone uses manual grist mills, meat grinders, and other such appliances anymore, but every once in a while you’ll find them in a garage sale. If you do, grab them quick, because they’re rather costly new.
- Cookware – Cast-iron cookware is the only way to go if you’re going to be cooking with solar power or over a fire. It’s amazing how many people have old cast iron, that belonged to their grandmother and don’t want to use it. That’ll get it for you cheap, especially if it’s rusty. Don’t worry about the rust, it will clean off with a wire brush.
- Medical Equipment – Crutches and wheelchairs show up at garage sales all the time. Usually they’re leftovers from some injury. These could be handy in a post-disaster world.
- Radio – Hardly anyone uses a radio anymore, so they are likely to end up in a garage sale. If you can find a good shortwave set, that will give you a good way of finding out what is going on in the world, if the news media is down. CB radios, which used to be the craze, will give your survival group communications.
- Trailer – If you’re going to end up bugging out, you’ll probably want to take as much with you as you can. Granted, you might end up being forced to abandon your vehicle and head off on foot, with nothing more than your bug out bag. But you might be able to drive to your destination. If it works out that way, that extra cargo space will be worth having.
One last precaution I’d like to make. That is, if you’re looking for anything in particular at garage sales, make sure you know what you’re looking at. Take a look at those types of items in the big box stores, so you’ll have a pretty good idea of features and accessories. That way, you won’t end up buying another man’s junk, which really is nothing more than junk.