No-Buy & Pantry-Only Challenges

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Editors Note: Another guest contribution from R. Ann Parris to The Prepper Journal. A timely subject with so many of those who serve us daily having to forgo a paycheck this week because of the children we elect (repeatedly) to represent us.

No-buy and pantry-only challenges can make great assessment tools for preppers. Go ahead and do one – any month, although there’s some added value to certain seasons. It’ll take a little prep work to avoid unnecessary expenses and allow accurate tracking, but the data gathered can be invaluable for identifying gaps in our supplies and challenges we’ll face.

Apply Ratios

When you trial what it’s like to live and eat off of your storage, make sure you maintain whatever duration and pacing or proportion is stocked. That means if I only have enough coffee and tea for a daily cup in my six months of storage, that’s all I get during my test run.

That in-stock equivalency ratio applies to everything.

What are your cooking options? How much fuel do you actually have for cooking, for heating, for light? How much water does it take to wash dishes and laundry, and keep clean? Brush teeth? Water gardens and pets and livestock? How much time and effort would you spend collecting that water if nothing came out of your faucet tomorrow?

Be honest with yourself, and test it, whatever “it” is. Otherwise, you’re guessing and gambling. We spend an awful lot of money and time on preparedness to let it be riding on pulling the right card.

Hiccups & Hitches

Daily modern life has requirements we can’t wedge into our no-buy, pantry-only challenges. Things like school projects, repairs, and travel can all interfere with our test.

That’s okay. After all, the most common disasters we’ll face are personal and local, many of which will still require work, appointments, educated children, and good/decent hygiene.

Please don’t go under a 2-4 week supply, in case something does happen. (You’ll have savings from not spending for replacements, but we’re trying to avoid empty pantries if a snowstorm, flood, etc. limits travel and resources in your area.)

Please keep your tanks topped off, again, in case something does happen.

Please see a doctor/veterinarian immediately, don’t wait just to try and get to the end of the challenge month.

Track any hiccups and hitches. They’re exactly what we want for formulating good plans.

Non-Grocery Preps

Skip new movies, TV, books and magazines, and find an alternative for entertainment. Depending on your situation, there’s liable to be a household riot if you unplug the internet for even a week or two, but track the hours spent there.

Yes, we’re likely to have busier lives. Everything will take longer to accomplish if we’re limiting or eliminating powered assistance like gas/electric stoves and tools, and if we’re using books for how-to instead of popping up 3,000 results on the internet in 0.015 seconds.

Part of what is normally our down-time reading and surfing and game playing will end up replaced by tasks. That doesn’t mean our need for entertainment and distraction goes away.

Throughout history we have had entertainments.

Some of the games we play and recreations we enjoy started with knights and peasants in castle eras, or got handed down to us from various native peoples. Colonists of all phases still had time for their varied gatherings, homestead games, and reading.

We may take longer to accomplish things than Medieval Europeans, Iroquois, and Incas. We’re not used to doing some of the tasks, or doing them by hand, and we lack the community and infrastructure that made their lifestyles work.

Even so, it’s unlikely we’ll never have some time to kill, or always sleep when the sun is down or it’s pouring rain.

And, again, there are a lot of things that can go big-time wrong – like job loss, fuel shortages or price skyrocketing, big bills – where our households or even the whole country is affected to one degree or another, but we still have expectations of a fairly “normal” existence.

Things like small crafts even for older kids and adults, new/different games and books, small “finger-diddle” gadgets and puzzles, tabletop and carpet versions of some of our sports, jigsaw puzzles, board games, and other distractions can help alleviate some of the “loss” from our impacted lives, lift moods, and combat stress.

Knowing what we gravitate to in our free time will let us better choose those alternative preps.

Biggies on the “non-grocery” side of the house are our electricity, heating/cooling, indoor plumbing, and waste disposal. A lot of our health, safety, and abilities revolve around them.

How many times do we flush? Do we actually have enough kitty litter or waste processing built into our plan? One way to find out is to cut the water to it and line it, or put one of those geriatric toilets with buckets and liners between it and the door to make sure it’s actually getting tracked.

How many degrees of warmth do we add to our homes autumn, winter, and spring? What’s the burn time and heat output of our alternatives? Can we create much smaller spaces to heat?

Most of us can track meters for energy use. Many already have them available for water, too. Some will have to install them or work out of tubs/tanks they can track instead.

Right now most of us have garbage men coming through or drive to a dump. Various pests are going to become a problem when trash builds up. Is there a plan for those?

Let the trash build up an extra week or two. Yes, some of what we throw away will go away or be reused in a disaster, but it’s going to be dependent on storage types and emergency systems. It’s also going to be an adjustment, not automatic.

Don’t forget that women, babies, and regularly seniors have additional daily and monthly needs that also generate laundry or waste.

Over-the-counter meds, cooking fuels, and animal feed needs – without normal scraps and treats – are others that seem to regularly escape our notice, both in budgeting and anticipating needs.

Replacements for Food Storage

I’m not talking about busting through actual storage foods – unless it’s time to rotate. We can pretty easily find facsimiles, or skip the extra packaging steps.

Instead of MREs, hit the various nuke-‘em pouches, tubs and canned stews, pasta, and rice meals and add commercial sweets and crackers.

There are all kinds of boxed and bagged noodle and rice meals that can help avoid busting into any expensive bucket and can kits. Many are nearly as fast and easy to heat. They make a decent one-to-one exchange on the Wise and Augason Farms meals for the most part.

To replicate a Mountain House meal instead, snag some of those just-add-water or frozen dinner kits that includes the meats. I’m inclined  to say stick to cans, because it’ll be closer to storage foods than pre-cooking and freezing them will be.

A lot of kits have soups. Bear Creek makes a whole line that’s actually pretty good, and regularly goes on sale two for $3-$5 in our areas, so they’re already a common storage item for us. There are other options in any supermarket.

Match any “flavored” oatmeal in your storage with packets from Walmart. Same for granola and for fruits – canned for freeze-dried or if you can’t find the dehydrated versions at Dollar Tree, Ollie’s, or Walmart.

For a good test, if you don’t have extra seasonings, sweeteners, cream, etc., in your storage, make sure you’re not adding any to the challenge week/month.

Supermarket Coolers

If you’re not harvesting meat, produce, eggs, and milk products from home, make sure to switch for shelf-stable, wet-pack canned, and dried equivalents for them, too. If you can’t or you’re on your own within a household of non-preppers, make extra sure you keep track. That way, the right amount of shelf-stable alternates can be stocked.

Be aware that many of the dry and dehydrated versions, or substitutions like TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) and beans are far lower in calories and especially fats.

Supermarket Snacks

One of the biggies to keep track of, are the treats. That’s stuff like the soda, beer, candy, bakery rolls, cakes and frosting, nummy crackers, pudding, chips, popcorn, trail mix, nuts – even the non-local fruits. Don’t forget coffee and tea, cocoa, flavored milk, and soft drinks.

You’ll need to stock equivalents or alternatives to account for the calories they contribute to your diet, and you might consider some for a pick-me-up here and there or to ease transitions from “normal” to long-term disaster eating.

Keep track of sugar consumed, too. For storage planning, sit down to make a list of how much sugar a lot of the goodies we munch require to make at home or from scratch. (That goes for water bath canning jams and fruits, too.)

Non-Grocery Goodies

That “goody” might also be non-food items – my silly routine of certain music while I do my physical therapy and Pilates or before bed, tennis balls for my dog, or my father adding to his Lego collection every 2-4 weeks and taking half the day for his weekly shopping instead of 2-3 hours because he’s chatty and likes to look (at everything).

Many of us are accustomed to – if not hooked on – news and information, connectivity, gaming, and social media. “Goodies” can also be time spent on sports, reading, watching TV and movies, or outings that would no longer be safe or affordable in a crisis.

Our bodies and our minds are adapted to having certain things. Many people will react just like an addict in withdrawal if their goodies are eliminated, regardless of their form. If we can ease that, we can ease the stresses.

Some of those activities, outings, and routines are also already the ways we de-stress. Eliminating that relief while adding other stressors is a recipe for problems.

The basics take precedence, but prepping to retain and replace some “goodies” is worth consideration.

Track the Results

“Track it” keeps getting repeated. And by track it, I mean, track it. Write it down. Write down your feelings and your observations of others’ ongoing personalities and opinions as well.

It’s important.

A trial of a week or two will open some eyes. A trial of a month will give you a lot more information. We can use the data we gather to better plan for all aspects, from transition phases from “normal” to “okay, this is going to be longer than expected” all the way out to disasters we know from the outset are going to be huge and life-altering.

We only have that data to apply if we try it – and if we adequately track it. Otherwise, we’re making our plans based on guesses and somebody else’s say so. Those kinds of preparations are better than nothing, but do we really want to gamble health, safety, and survival on them?

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