Getting your tax return can be a nice windfall to the family budget. Assuming that you’ve already got a healthy budget and are meeting all your monthly obligations, you might want to use your tax return to get ahead on your preparedness goals.
Some tools and equipment needed for self reliance may cost more than your monthly budget can accommodate, so using your tax return to get some of these items may give you a big boost to reaching your preparedness goals.
First things first
Start with the most important thing. Every household should have an emergency plan: your blueprint for what to do in case of sudden disaster, like a fire or tornado. It should include a bug out bag and a 72 hour kit for each family member. If you do not already have this in place, this is where you should start.
The next priorities
The next two most important elements of preparedness are food and heat. Nothing else matters if you are hungry, so let’s cover food first.
There are three main components of your emergency food plan:
- Producing food (gardening, hunting, fishing and foraging)
- Preserving food (drying, canning, freezing, etc)
- Buying commodities in bulk
Hopefully you already have started gardening, even if it’s a small little patch. This might be the time to purchase materials for raised beds or soaker hoses for regular watering. Or maybe you’ll want to get protection from cold to extend your garden season: things like cold frames or wall-o-waters.
When we talk about preserving food, canning is usually the first thing that comes to mind. Hopefully you’ve already done a bit of water bath canning. If not, the equipment for this is very inexpensive, especially if you buy it at thrift stores. If you’ve already mastered water bath canning, pressure canning is the next step.
Pressure canning is essential for canning meat and most vegetables. You can also can dry beans and soups to put lots of ready-made meals on your storage shelf.
There are basically two kinds of pressure canners: those with gaskets and those
without. Presto and Mirro are the two biggest brands in pressure canners, but there are others. There’s not a lot of differences between them, so get whatever is cheapest. It should be at least 22 quarts, large enough to accommodate a batch of 7 quart or 10 pint jars. Larger sizes will let you do a double batch. If you have a large family or a large garden, the taller size may be worth the money.
The second style of pressure canner is one without a gasket. There are lots of advantages to a gasket-free canner over a canner that has gaskets, the biggest one being durability. A gasket-free canner
will not just last a lifetime. It will be something your grandchildren will use. The All American brand is the best known of the non-gasket pressure canners and is by far the very best.
I’m not gonna lie. It is expensive—about $250-$500, depending on the size (2022 prices.) But I think it’s worth it. After having two pressure canners (one was a Mirro brand, the other Presto) fall apart on me, I broke down and bought the All American 915 model. It’s 15 ½ quarts and will process a batch of 7 quarts or 10 pints at a time. Later I got the 921 (21 ½ quarts) so that I can do big batches of 20 pints at a time. After using them for 25 years I would never go back to canners with gaskets.
After canning equipment, the most important food preservation tool you can have is a food dehydrator. Dehydrating is the cheapest, easiest and most versatile way to preserve food. (Read here why I love dehydrating.)
I’ve used a dozen different dehydrator makes and models and put them through their paces. The Excalibur is the best by a country mile. The heater and fan are in the back, not the bottom, like most dryers, so the food dries evenly. The square trays make the best use of space and are the easiest way to dry fruit leather and soups. The space between trays can be adjusted as well as the temperature. The Excalibur has the best quality workmanship by far, which is why they can offer a 10 year warranty. I’ve used mine steadily for over 20 years now and it’s still going strong.
If you are already proficient at producing and preserving food, it may be time to look at bulk food purchases. You might be tempted to buy a pallet of freeze-dried foods with your tax return. It’s super convenient to just buy one of the many package deals that emergency stores offer. There’s a lot to be said for freeze-dried foods. Freeze-dried foods are tasty and have a long storage life. They also give you a great variety of foods.
But my personal opinion is you should first start with the basic foods of long-term storage. The foundation of a good long-term food storage starts with the five basics: grains, legumes, salt, honey and milk. If you have a nice windfall, you won’t go wrong if you invest it in these foods. Be sure to read my post on long-term food storage before making any purchases.
Once you have a good supply of the five basics, then by all means, you should supplement it with freeze dried foods. I would start with meat and dairy since these are the hardest foods to store long-term. Then add some spices and other mixes to make your meals more flavorful. Then fruit (freeze-dried fruit tastes much better than frozen or canned.) and finally, when you have plenty of everything else, get vegetables. I would focus first on the vegetables you cannot easily grow and preserve from your garden.
Third Priority: Heat
Being able to heat your house and cook food are the next most important things you want to prepare for. Heat is especially critical if you live anywhere that temperatures get to freezing for more than a day or two.
There are two ways you can address both heat and cooking and a third way that’s much cheaper, but it will just provide heat. We’ll start with the cheapest: a Mr. Heater or similar propane heater. The Mr. Heater is an affordable, compact propane heater.
That means you can easily heat a room or two and it won’t cost a lot.
Propane fuel is easy to buy and relatively safe to store. But you still need to use caution when using heaters like this. This type of heater has an emergency shut off if it gets tipped over. It burns cleanly and will shut off if it detects low oxygen levels. But there’s no guarantee that those safety features might not malfunction, so be aware. You should never use any carbon-fueled heater (kerosene, gas, propane, wood, etc) without having a working carbon monoxide detector and a fire extinguisher on hand.
Now let’s get to the more expensive way to provide both heat and hot meals. The first is a generator. I’ve written about the questions to ask to determine if a generator is a good purchase for you. Read up on it and if you decide that a generator is for you, now is a good time to get it, when demand is low and the selection is varied.
The last option is a wood-burning stove. A wood-burning stove is a major investment,
not only in money but space and labor as well. The cost to purchase and install a wood-burning stove is quite a bit more than that of a simple generator. But depending on where you live and the style of your house, a wood burning stove can (emphasis on “can”) increase the value of your home. Or it can detract from the value of your home. Do your research to see all the upfront and long-term costs.
If you have an abundant source of inexpensive or free wood, a wood stove can be the ideal solution. We installed our stove over 25 years ago and it has been a godsend. It was a lifesaver in more than one winter-outage. We kept our home toasty warm and were able to feed a hot meal to our neighbors during a three-day winter-time outage. Even when there are no outages to contend with, it helps keep our heating bills down. I don’t know why, but wood heat just feels warmer than electric.
If you’ve taken care of food and heat you have the most important things covered. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other things you might want to consider. That list could be almost endless.
The home-size freeze dryer has become quite popular among preppers and homesteaders. I have to admit: I’m in love with the idea but it’s a big-ticket item that you’ll want to carefully consider. I’ll write about the pros and cons of a freeze dryer in the near future.
You might look into getting barrels for water storage, ham radio or other communication equipment, a wheat grinder, pressure cooker or an advanced first aid kit. I find a pressure cooker (not a canner, but smaller, something that holds 4-6 quarts) to be indispensable for cooking dry beans. But since you can still cook beans without a pressure cooker, and you can still use wheat without a grinder, these are not on the A-List. But they are definitely at the top of my B-List.
You can’t go wrong when you take classes to learn or improve a new skill or increase your earning capacity. Books that you can reference are always a
Here’s my list of things to get with your tax return, in order of descending priority:
- garden supplies or tools
- supplies for hunting or fishing
- canning supplies
- pressure canner
- bulk commodities
- freeze-dried food
- heat source, whatever fits your needs and budget best
- wheat grinder
- pressure cooker
- containers for water storage
good thing. Depending on what your family goals are, you could have a never-ending list of things to get.
But start with the most vital things first, the things that will help you meet your goals faster. and add only those things that are most likely to prove necessary and useful.