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How to Prepare for a SHTF Situation



There’s been lots of talk in the prepping world that America’s fluffy existence is soon coming to an end – or at least taking a long break. Massive government debt (currently over 19 trillion) and personal debt (3.4 trillion and rising) numbers in America alone are causing concern for many economists and governments. If a major financial, political, natural or terroristic disaster occurred, how would stressed out Americans handle it? Would there be widespread riots? Cleared out grocery store shelves?

According to a popular prepping article, Germany has warned its citizens to be prepared for potential impending disasters by having a ten-day supply of food and five-day supply of water on hand. Other warnings are being given throughout the world, even in the United States.

Maybe government officials know something we don’t, or maybe they’re just encouraging citizens to take smart steps to protect themselves. Either way, it’s a smart idea to know what steps you can take to prepare yourself and/or your family for a SHTF situation. As I spoke of in this post, it’s important for everyone to be prepared.

Today, though, we’re going to talk about specific steps you can take to prepare yourself for an unexpected disaster of any kind. The most important part of prepping is having a plan securely in place; a plan that will reduce the temptation to panic and will cover all of your basic needs should a disaster occur. Here are the steps we recommend taking to prepare a safety net in the event of a SHTF situation, whether that be a natural disaster, financial disaster, terrorist event or even a personal disaster such as a job layoff.

Get Your Food Needs Covered

A disaster may mean that grocery stores are unavailable due to a power outage, or simply sold out due to widespread panic. Statistics show that it takes less than three days to clear out a grocery store in the event of a disaster, so your best bet is to be prepared ahead of time so you don’t have to depend on grocery stores if you don’t need to. How to do that?

  1. Have a minimum of two weeks (serious preppers recommend six months) of food for your family on hand in your house or apartment. Not having a big house isn’t an excuse; see this article on how to find “hidden” storage space even when you think you have none.
  2. Make sure and choose foods that your family likes when creating your stockpile. Ask family members and make a list of non-perishable foods that everyone likes. You want to be prepared to thrive, not just survive, during an emergency.
  3. Set your stockpile up like a grocery store. Older foods at the front of the pile, newer cans at the back of the pile. Since you’re picking foods you like and buy anyway, when you replenish an item in your kitchen pantry, buy it at the store and put it in your stockpile at the back. Then take the oldest of those items (hopefully at the front of the pile) and put it in your pantry for daily use. This should help you avoid food waste via expiring items.
  4. Make a plan for preparing food, or have only pre-cooked foods in your stockpile. Keep extra propane tanks on hand for the grill or have a generator at your house for if the electricity goes out. Have TWO manual can openers at your house at all times. All the food in the world does you no good if you can’t open it and prepare it.

Get Your Water Needs Covered

Good prepping means having a plentiful water supply for both you AND your pets. Plan on one gallon per day, per person for minimal drinking water, cooking water and cleaning needs. You’ll likely not be able to take a hot bath during disaster times so a short sponge bath every few days will have to do. Water for drinking purposes is easier to store than milk, soda etc. and better for you.

Water Storage Techniques

In order to store water for emergency purposes, you can choose from a couple of options:

  • Store bottled water (either personal sized bottles or gallon jugs) in a cool, dark place in your house or garage
  • Use food grade five gallon buckets or 55 gallon water safe barrels to store water.

Emergency Essentials Water Barrel – 55 Gallon Drum

5 Gallon White Bucket & Lid – Durable 90 Mil All Purpose Pail – Food Grade – BPA Free Plastic –

These five gallon food grade buckets are also great for storing rice, flour, beans and other non-perishable items that you might buy in order to save money on groceries or for prepping purposes.

Here are some guidelines on safe water storage that will help you to avoid accidentally contaminating your stored water.

Figure Out a Backup Power Plan or How You’ll Live Without Power

That may mean purchasing a generator for your home, using a wood stove for heat and cooking, having back up lanterns or leaving your home for a place that has power. You don’t want to be stuck at home in the dead of a northern winter with no heat.This portable generator has great reviews on Amazon.

DuroStar DS4000S, 3300 Running Watts/4000 Starting Watts, Gas Powered Portable Generator

Get Your Medicine, Toiletry and Other Needs Covered

Again, you have to assume regular items won’t be available in a SHTF situation. That means it’s important to have an ample supply of toiletries and meds on hand. Again, serious preppers recommend six months. Here are some items you might consider for toiletry/med stockpile


  • Prescription meds; a 30 day supply if you can manage to get your hands on one
  • Over-the-counter meds such as ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen, benadryl, etc
  • First aid items such as antiseptics such as Neosporin, hydrogen peroxide, isopropyl alcohol, wound dressings, ace bandages, arm slings, foot and knee stabilizers, etc. I recommend having a suture kit on hand as well for minor cuts requiring stitches. You could also get these steri strips from 3M: 3M Steri-Strip reinforced Skin Closures – 1/2″ x 4″ – 10 pack of 6 strip envelope (60 strips)  They’ll close a wound for you with no stitches required.


Here are some ideas for what types of toiletries to have on hand.

  • Toilet paper
  • toothpaste, floss and extra toothbrushes
  • shampoo, conditioner and bar soap
  • contact solution and extra contacts/glasses
  • diapers and wipes
  • hand sanitizer
  • women’s supplies such as tampons/pads
  • razors and shaving cream
  • dish soap
  • detergent (you may need to hand wash clothes if electricity isn’t available)

This is just a short list – go through your household pantry to determine what else you might need or want to have on hand.

Have a Plan in Place

The next tenet of preparing for a SHTF scenario is having a plan in place. Your plan should fit your individual family and should include the following ideas.

Where Are You and Where Will You Meet?

It’s important when making a plan to determine how you’ll gather the family together  and where you’ll all meet. If you have under driving age children, this includes determining who will pick them up from where they’re at.

You need to make your plan assuming that you won’t be able to communicate via land line or cell phone. In other words, have the plan already in place so that everyone knows where they’ll meet and how they’ll get their if something happens. Determine ahead of time who will pick up the kids based on where they’re at. An idea of a plan is:

In case of a SHTF scenario, Mary will pick the kids up at their school at the door on the north side of the school, where they kids know to wait. She will then meet husband John at their home (or their in-laws’ place or their cabin) where all supplies will be ready because John stopped and picked them up on the way out of town or because they store them at the cabin, in-laws, etc.

Recommended Reading: Survival: The Ultimate Survival Guide – How to Survive Anything and Anywhere in the World, Essential Outdoor Survival Skills and Prepping Strategies (Survival & Prepping Book 1)

Your plan should apply to everything from a widespread disaster to situation where you need to leave a store quickly due to a personal or other emergency. Consider having a code word that won’t draw attention to yourselves that all of your family knows. When our kids hear our code word, they know that that means “Get your tail over here RIGHT NOW.”

To Bug Out or Not to Bug Out?

Some SHTF scenarios call for leaving town, others call for holing up at home. Discuss in advance which scenarios you’ll leave town for and which you’ll head home for. Here are some other SHTF planning tips to consider.

  • Learn several driving/walking/biking routes from your home or workplace that will get you where you need to go. In the case of an unexpected event, highways and interstates will likely be gridlocked unless you can get our early.
  • Bring passports, birth certificates and drivers’ licenses with you. Have them in a secure place all in one bag so you can grab them and go.
  • Have a bug-out bag containing basic necessities such as meds, snacks, water, etc. for if you have to leave your area quickly.
  • Be prepared to have to defend yourself or get away quickly from other people, who may be frightened, angry or agitated
  • Always have several hundred in cash on hand in case ATMs aren’t available and proprietors can’t take credit/debit cards
  • Always keep your gas tank AT LEAST half full in case you need to leave town quickly. Don’t expect that gas stations will be open and/or not packed
  • Keep your vehicle in good running condition at all times

You’ll never regret being prepared for an emergency situation, but you may regret not being prepared. Take the steps you need to take and make a plan for your family that will keep them safe no matter what kind of unexpecteds happen.



*This post may contain affiliate links

Am I missing anything? Do you have a SHTF plan? 



  1. Candles and camping lanterns work great. If things really go bad doesn’t hurt to have a couple rifles to defend your family. MRE’s are great to store in pantries if you ever have a natural disaster

    • Laurie says:

      I hear you on the rifles. We have shotguns and rifles for just in case we need to kill our own food, too, though I suspect we’ll rely largely on garden veggies.

  2. Wow I hadn’t heard the warnings from the German government, that’s a little concerning. Thanks for giving us something to think about. We do have firearms as well which would certainly be handy.

    • Laurie says:

      I know – creepy, right? Firearms are good in the hands of good people like yourself. Definitely a prepping necessity, both for protection and for hunting.

  3. I’ve read an entire book and a number of articles about prepping for a disaster, but I still feel greatly unprepared. I just never make it a high enough priority. This is some really solid advice and I think people would greatly benefit from planning ahead at least with water and food. In Minnesota I worry about prolonged power outages and what that would mean in the middle of the freezing winter.

    • Laurie says:

      Actually, we are looking into a portable generator right now for that reason, DC. We’ve experienced several power outages since moving to the country. Luckily, none of them were long enough to cause any serious trouble, but it could happen. I worry about that too with our often sub-zero winters. Now you’ve got a specific list to get your tail in gear, DC. 😉

  4. kay ~ the barefoot minimalist says:

    I love these lists Laurie. They are very well thought out and extremely helpful. You’re doing a great service for your readers, most significantly, me! 🙂

  5. Lila says:

    You know sometimes I worry that we’ll have our own version of the 1930’s depression. It could happen. Pretty sure that no one saw the crash of ’29 and the depression coming!

    Other times I think the preppers are going too far, so I’m not sure what to sometimes think. I do agree you should at least have a minimum for 2-3 weeks.

    • Laurie says:

      I believe it will happen, Lila, I really do! The financial and social conditions in America are very similar to what they were right before the 1929 crash that started the Great Depression. Preppers can definitely go too far. One episode of Doomsday Preppers will show you that. Then again, maybe they’ll prove us wrong. I think the problem can come when fear takes over common sense, you know?

  6. Iforonwy says:

    May I ask where the information regarding the German warnings originated? Living this side of the pond and in Europe this is something that we have not heard.

    Only yesterday I was looking through our small stock of dried and tinned goods and making a note of what we had/needed.

  7. Important information here, Laurie! I get so uncomfortable when I think about being in an emergency situation. I have some work to do. I think I’m a borderline food hoarder, so food isn’t an issue, but I do need to work on stocking up on water. Mostly, I need to do some planning with my family. We all go entirely different directions each weekday, so we really need to have a plan in place. Thanks for the reminder!

  8. Good point about the manual can openers! If you go through every aspect of life and consider how it would be impacted by a lack of electricity, that’s a whole lot of change. Strange for me to read comments about guns. They aren’t legal in Canada – except for people with a hunting license.

    • Laurie says:

      We’ve had some things happen a few times now during power outages that really kind of woke us up to the reality of living without electricity. It can be scary! Interesting about guns. I wonder if a lot of hunters don’t actually hunt but just want to be able to legally keep guns around?

  9. Josh says:

    I think it is inevitable that something will happen. It’s just what will be the straw that breaks the camels back (Social Security going broke, the world calling our national debt, community polarization, etc.) we don’t know.

    But it’s been happening to enough small island economies that it’s only a matter of time before something big happens. Our move to the country is of some comfort as we do not live in the city center, but we still do not live in the boonies (i.e. the back 40 in Montana).

    I think prepping is important, but one of my larger fears is looters.

  10. This is exactly why I save so much of my income. Yes, I don’t NEED to save so much currently but I have no idea when something will happen. This makes saving almost an insurance policy where I don’t have to pay a company if something bad happens, I’ll have years of savings racked up already if something does happen!

    • Laurie says:

      Yes!!! Great comment, FS! Although I highly recommend saving goods as well. All the money in the world will do you no good if grocery store shelves are cleared out.

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