Those new to the prepping/self-reliance community often make the same common mistakes, but even a surprising number of experienced folks—including me—have made many of these same mistakes.
Some continue to do so. Even worse, many of the so-called “experts” actually recommend many of these mistakes.
Avoiding them (the mistakes, not the people—well, maybe some of the people) is critical to quickly becoming self-sufficient at the lowest cost possible.
Storing the wrong food.
One of the first things people do when they decide to become more self-reliant is to stock up on food—most often focusing on quantity rather than stocking what they actually eat. It’s perfectly fine to store dried beans in bulk if you eat lots of beans, but if not, you’re wasting valuable storage space, money, and time. Instead, buy the types of foods you eat every day, and rotate them regularly to ensure you always have a fresh supply. An easy and cost-effective way to do this is to buy one extra package of whatever you normally buy, such as canned fruit and vegetables, dried beans, rice, pasta, etc., each time you go grocery shopping.
Storing food improperly.
Given the choice of maneuvering around boxes of freeze-dried food like an episode of Horders or simply tossing their food storage into their garage, most people opt for the latter. While it’s far more convenient to tuck your food away into your garage, the heat and pests will have a dramatic impact on its shelf life. Your food should be stored at the coolest temperature possible, and sealed in airtight containers along with oxygen absorbers to ensure the longest shelf-life possible. You may think you don’t have the space inside your home, but you might be surprised by the space available
- under beds
- behind bookshelves
- behind entertainment centers
- inside the cold air return
- in a basement
- under the stairs
- inside an ottoman
- inside closets
- utility rooms
Relying only on food storage.
I’m in favor of storing food—as much as space and money will allow, but that should never be your only source of sustenance. That Murphy fellow was on to something; when something can go wrong, it usually will. Imagine if a burst pipe, fire, pest infestation, or even outright theft eliminated your food storage; how would you feed your family? You can find enough space, even in most suburban yards for a garden that produced enough fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as small livestock (rabbits or chickens are small, quiet, nutritious, and breed quickly) to feed your family. But don’t stop there; include food gardens tucked into wooded areas near your home, at various distances from your home in all directions, and along your bug out route. You can also utilize these gardens as cache sites for properly packaged canned, freeze-dried, and dried goods, or set them up at alternate locations. This approach ensures that even if plans A, B, C, and D fail, you’ll always have plenty of food.
Storing water improperly.
Many people are content to stack a few cases of bottled water in their pantry and call it a day. That’s great for a day at the beach, but when you consider that you need to store a three-day supply of at least one gallon per person, per day, you realize how inadequate that is.
Minimums are just that; you obviously need water for drinking, but also for cooking, hygiene, and irrigation, so I advise storing at least a 30 day supply of 2–5 gallons of water per person, per day. This should be stored in food-grade containers that can be sealed tightly and have never held toxic chemicals, such as large water jugs or even plastic 55–gallon drums. (The latter should be sought locally—due the shipping, it’s usually not cost-effective to buy them online.) Water should also be rotated ensuring that your supply is never more than 6 months old. It doesn’t go bad like food does, but the longer it’s been stored, the greater the likelihood is that pathogens will multiply and cause health risks. Avoid glass containers because they can easily break, or milk jugs because they degrade over time and can harbor bacteria.
Believing that knowledge alone is sufficient.
Do you know how to start a fire without a lighter? Butcher livestock or wild game? Purify water? Maintain a garden? Great! But contrary to popular belief, knowledge is not power—it’s only potential power. Lots of people in the survival/prepping community have a wealth of book smarts, but a surprising number have no first hand experience.
Learn as much as you can, but put your knowledge to use with regular practice. Turn off your power on a weekend and see how you and your family handles it; you’ll quickly find your weak points. Go into the woods to hone primitive survival skills. Practice hunting and fishing. You may be surprised to learn how difficult many things are that you thought you knew how to do.
Believing that weapons are the end-all answer.
I am a huge supporter of the 2nd amendment and believe that most sane adults should arm themselves whenever possible, but buying a weapon is just the beginning—not the end of this aspect of prepping. Few people put anywhere near enough time into proper weapons training.
If you don’t already have one, buy a weapon now. They are a lot like parachutes; if you don’t have one when you need it, you’ll likely never need one again. Next, get adequate training. If you’re wondering what qualifies as “adequate,” the answer is always more. I spent several years in the Marine Corps infantry and have fired literally over a million rounds in my lifetime, yet I still continue training regularly. This includes training on my own, training with other experienced folks, and training with professional instructors, both under a variety of real-world scenarios—not just time on a static range. Finally, you need a sufficient supply of ammunition, both to defend yourself and to train regularly. Without that, your high-speed, low-drag AR-15 is nothing more than a high-priced club.
P.S. You don’t need 37 rifles and 100,000 rounds of ammo—it would be nice to have, but there are other areas your time and resources could be better spent on.
Becoming a “specialist” prepper.
I have a dirty secret, I sometimes watch Doomsday Preppers. I know it’s bullshit and completely scripted like any reality television, but you can still pick up a few tips here and there. The problem I have is how they (the producers) present the featured preppers; particularly the fact that they imply that they are prepping for a specific incident such as an EMP, pandemic, shift in Earth’s polarity, mass civil unrest, solar flares, etc. The problem I have is that those new to the community watch this show and think that’s the right approach; find some freak, scarey, and statistically nearly impossible event, and prep like hell for it.
You should almost never focus on a specific event. You’ll notice I said almost; that’s because there are some specific events you should prepare for. Here in Tampa, for example, flooding is quite frequent. In California, earthquakes are a common occurrence. Blizzards happen often in Montana. These are legitimate areas to put a little more emphasis into, but your core focus should always be on becoming prepared in general because you never know exactly what is going to happen.
Believing you can handle everything on your own.
I’ve come across more than a few of the “lone wolf” type who think they can go it alone. Don’t be arrogant enough to depend only on yourself; you’re just one major injury or illness from being incapacitated. And then what? You don’t know everything and you can’t do everything, so establish relationships within your local community. A group will have a wider range of skills, be better able to share the day-to-day workload, bring more ideas to solve challenges, and be more effective at providing security. Leave the “me against the world” mindset to teenagers and rappers.
Being married to your plan.
I believe in having a strong plan, along with several backup plans, but becoming over-dependent on any one aspect of your survival/prepping strategy is a huge mistake. I’ve also heard several who thought that everything will be fine if they just store enough food, buy enough guns, or pack the perfect bug out bag. Being married to a plan is a recipe for disaster. Maybe you’ve got the perfect set up at your home; plenty of food, gardens, livestock, and water, a strong community trained and armed to defend your neighborhood. What happens when a wildfire or flood forces you all to leave? Do you have a plan B? Things will go wrong—usually at the most inopportune times. We had a saying in the Marine Corps: “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome” and that applies equally to prepping.
Becoming a financial slave.
Prepping isn’t just about supplies, weapons, and skills—it’s also about self-reliance, and that hinges on financial independence. I’m not a financial planner, so I won’t go too deep on this one, but it comes down to two key factors; becoming debt-free and controlling your income. The first is as simple as spending less than you make. The second is equally simple; build your own company instead of relying on a corporation to provide your income. This provides significant tax advantages and far more control over your financial opportunities. It’s important to point out that I said this is simple, but I didn’t say it would be easy. The steps are pretty straight forward, but accomplishing them will require working your ass off.
What are some of the common prepping mistakes you’ve seen? Share your experiences in the comments below.