Prepping is more often than not done on a shoestring budget, or at least a rather small budget consisting of the flexible funds left over from the weekly paycheck. Self-reliant folks are very good at stretching their dollars to build what they need themselves or searching out bargains to satisfy the survival checklist.
Yard sales are an excellent option to score cheap preps. Each year my rural county has an annual yard sale. Folks come from many counties away to sell, swap, and buy secondhand treasures. My cousin-in-law and I found so many incredible preps during this year’s event that I had to call my husband Bobby to bring a truck to fetch the gear — it took him two trips. Missy and I were not cruising the back roads in a small vehicle. We completely filled the large SUV once, dropped off our goodies, went back out and filled it again, and still needed the pickup.
Although the glorious sunny days of summer will be over in just a month or so, the yard sale season never seems to end anymore, thanks to Facebook. Although I am not a fan of the social media platform, the “items for sale” community pages and county “trading posts” allow money-conscious preppers to find yard sale prices even when we are knee-deep in December snow.
The “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” phrase is a cliché, but old sayings become often-repeated adages because they are most often true. When digging through yard sales, both virtually and on the front lawn, I have often discovered that items with multiple uses, items that have a lot of life left in them, and items that are perfect for prepping have extremely low price tags. I have even had sellers hand over their wares, especially if they were heavy or large, completely free of charge (when I timed my visit just right).
BOLO (be on the lookout) Yard Sale Prepping Items
• Hand Tools - In decent condition, these items should always be snagged at yard sales, unless the seller is an American Pickers fan and thinks the handy vintage item is a rare gem and prices it accordingly. Hand-tool must-haves include hand drills and bits, wood planer, post hole digger, hammer, screwdriver, ax, two-person saw, machete, hand plow, pry bar, lock pick set, bump key set, Allen wrenches, potato/apple peeler, wrenches, scythe, rake, hoe and wheelbarrow. Remember, one is none and two is one . If the power grid goes down, all tools you now own will see extra heavy-duty work. Having multiples of one tool allows for a spare and makes a great bartering item.
• Manual Kitchen Tools – Yard sales at the homes of older folks or in rural areas are the best places to find such handy post-SHTF gadgets. Manual can openers, hand mixers, meat grinders, grain mills, and even coffee grinders are not uncommon finds. Don’t forget to snag any plates, cups, and other dinnerware for bartering and long-term use. Paper plates will eventually run out during a long-term disaster. Disposable plates may appear like a good idea but could actually wind up costing you more than the reusable ten-cent used plates that are often available at yard sales.
• Cast Iron Cookware – I have found super cheap cast iron skillets at yard sales that just need re-seasoning, but I’ve also found extremely expensive cast iron cookware because the durable cookware is an “antique.” Be aware of typical prices for various sizes and types of cast iron cookware before going to a yard sale to make sure you are not overpaying. Stock up on cooking oil to make sure the cookware can be seasoned as needed during a time of disaster.
• Medical Supplies – You won’t find medications at a yard sale. If you do, it is not a good idea to buy such items. However, when loved ones have cleared out a home after caring for a person with a lengthy illness, there could be some great emergency medical supplies placed on the table. Recently I purchased several oxygen tanks, walkers, crutches, and unopened bags of medical gloves for next to nothing.
• Hunting and Camping Gear – Stockpiling hunting and camping gear is not a breaking news tips for preppers, but can you ever really have enough fishing line, bow string, arrows, and lanterns? Instead of browsing the weekly sales flyer for your favorite outdoor store, browse the yard sale listing in your area and see if you can find some inexpensive bows, oil lamps, trapping supplies (which I recently found for pennies on the dollar, and in great shape) camo clothing, tents, binoculars, compasses or tent repair kits.
• Silver and Gold – if an economic collapse occurs, the almighty dollar will be nothing more than a pretty piece of paper. While investing in silver and gold bars is a good idea, smaller amounts (by weight) of the precious metals would be great for trading for items of lesser value. You can’t break a gold bar like you can a dollar and get change back – at least not easily.
• Morale Boosters – Board games, cards, puzzle books, books for readers of all ages, and even mason jars full of marbles can offer hours of old-fashioned fun and help boost spirits during a long-term disaster. If the power grid fails, your kiddos will no longer have Netflix and PlayStation to enjoy.
• Emergency Supplies – Old candles (you know, those decorative ones that gather dust and never get burnt) make great, cheap disaster supplies. Even slightly used candles can be melted down and poured into a mold to make additional candles for use or barter. My husband recently scored a huge bin of thread, which can be used equally well for sewing stitches or patching worn-out clothing.
• Cold Weather Clothing – My yard sale score of the century involved grabbing armfuls of heavy winter coats while browsing tables under the heat of the June sun. It was nearing the end of the afternoon (the best time to snag really low prices) when I heard a woman behind the money shout, “Everything is a quarter!” I filled my rather spacious SUV with 24 coats, flannel shirts, sweaters and sweatshirts. If any of the clothes do not fit someone in my tribe (mutual assistance group) they will be used for barter or deconstructed and used as material.
• Guns and Ammo – if you think you can’t find firearms and ammunition at yard sales, then you are not going to front lawns in a rural enough area. While not exactly commonplace, folks parting with a deceased loved one’s rifles, ammo for a gun no longer used, or firearms cleaning supplies and holsters, even cute CCW purses, can be found for a fraction of the price of new items. Of course it is “buyer beware” whenever you buy a used gun, but the risk could be worth the reward, especially if you can take the gun apart and check it out and test-fire it before purchasing. Even an old firearm could still have functioning parts that may prove useful. It is hard to find springs and screws for my old .22 pistol. They are quite pricey when I do, so I always keep an eye out for security supplies when browsing garage sales and auctions.
• Canning Supplies – During a fire call, which thankfully turned out to be a minor issue, my Bobby spotted pallets of dusty old canning jars in a basement. Knowing the folks he had gone to help, he asked if they still did a lot of canning and gardening. They said “nope,” that they had gotten too old to do such things anymore and said they just weren’t able to pack the heavy boxes out of the basement. A mutually beneficial deal was struck, and now we have a surplus of canning jars and rings. I even picked up unopened boxes of canning lids for 25 cents each at a porch sale a few months ago. Sadly, many people do not see the value of learning how to use Grandma’s old canning supplies, so they put them in yard sales for really great prices. Their loss could be your gain, but mason jars are popular for crafting, so arrive early at sales where the jars are advertised.