The Simple Way To Make Bug Out Bags on a Budget

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So I started a few months ago by making a list of everything I would want to put in our bug-out bags … the list went on and on. I quickly realized a simple backpack would fit enough gear to prepare us for anything we could possibly face.

Likely Scenarios

My focus shifted to the most likely scenarios in our area. Upon evaluating our emergency scenario possibilities, I realized there are very few scenarios that have us leaving our home. Most of those involve heading to another location just a day or two away from where we would either have nothing (house fire) or could take what we could (tornado damage). After that evaluation, I decided that I need to pack mainly travel bags that would have supplies for up to three days. Still, three days worth of food, clothing, and supplies for six people is not a cheap endeavor. I wondered if I could do each bag for under $20, not including the bag itself or if I added a personal water filter device. I am planning to look for deals on the water filters so we can have some in the bags and our emergency supplies at home. There are backpack sales in October after school starts and during holiday sales. (I do plan to reinforce stitching if I do end up buying backpacks that are not camping quality. Sewing skills will come in handy for doing this.) I also decided I would gather clothing from what we already have in the house to use in the bags, with the exception of an extra pair of gloves and hat. We also have lots of leftover crib size blankets that I can use.
TIP- No one wants to evacuate. We all love the comfort of our homes. But what if we have to evacuate? Where do we go? Your ideal evacuation route, first of all, should include more than one route. Learn more about how to plan your routes and stay safe.


I went to the local dollar store and big box store to get some ideas for items to include in the bags and prices. I looked at toiletries, first aid supplies, food and comfort items.
For toiletries, one of the best deals was to buy a travel kit at the big box store. For $6, the kit for a woman included shampoo, conditioner, lotion, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, flosser, a comb and a bag to keep it all in. A kit for a man included shaving cream, deodorant, 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner, razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, a comb and a bag. I could get a pack of 18 washcloths for $4 and then I’m up to $7 a bag. (I would grab feminine hygiene products from the house to supplement the bag.)
Another option is to buy 3 oz. bottles to fill with products from home. They’re about $3 for 4. I would then need to add a comb, deodorant, toothbrush, and toothpaste, which would add another $3. If that works, it would bring the total to $7 a bag, including washcloths, too.
For first aid, a very simple first aid kit can be found for $1. It has a few band-aids, gauze, antiseptic wipes and a case. Medicine could be added to the kit from home supplies (make sure to label and put dosage directions).  Some antibacterial soap could be added for $1 more. Now, the total is up to $9 for a bug out bag.
TIP- Recently, I bought an E-Cloth.  It’s a microfiber towel that has been proven to remove 99% of bacteria from hard surfaces using only water.  , but I think it’s also something worth packing in Bug Out Bags


Food is a very important part of the bug out bag. Trail mix, beef jerky, dehydrated or freeze-dried food, MREs (meals-ready-to-eat) and some comfort food are probably the best options. This can be the most expensive part of the bug out bag. Big bags of trail mix are $7 and beef jerky isn’t cheap, but a can of chili can be found for $1 or less. I don’t think three days of food can be included in the $20, but I could supplement by what I have on hand. I try to buy beef jerky when I see it on sale and I have been buying freeze-dried meals from Thrive Life. Candy is a great item to buy on sale after the holidays to have for comfort items.
If I put three freeze-dried meals, two bags of beef jerky, three granola bars, some candy and divided up a bag or two of trail mix between the bags that would probably be enough food for three days. Silverware would also need to be included and I found sets of 4 forks for $1 at the box store. If I do this and supplement from home, I’d just be adding about $4 a bag to the total (trail mix, silverware and granola bars).  I’m up to $13 now.

Comfort Items

 I don’t want to spend $7 on comfort items alone, so I also looked for things that would be useful. Depending on the ages of your children, the dollar stores have great comfort items like stuffed animals, books, puzzle books, pencils, notebooks, stickers, and games. I would pick two things for each of my children and vary them so they could share. I might see if I had notebooks or paper at home to put in everyone’s bags, along with some sharpened pencils (we have a lot of those). With $2 on comfort items, I’m up to $15.
I could stop there, but I did find some other useful items that weren’t very expensive. At the dollar store, you can find glow sticks, flashlights, batteries, hair ties, sunglasses, matches, bungee cord, rain ponchos, gloves, hats, pocket knives and toolsets (a screwdriver, bits to fit on it and a knife). I would probably add several of these items and spread them out across our bags. If you had some of these items around the house, you could supplement with them. Use the saved money to buy some of the items that you need.
Now that I’ve calculated the cost, I’m off to finally shop and build our bug out bags! I may not do it all in one day, but I could easily find $20 in each paycheck and build them over the next few months. I’ll keep an eye on the sales racks, especially after the holidays, too. Even for a family of six, bug out bags are doable and can be fairly affordable.
TIP- Your bug out bag might be as fully equipped as can be, but if you haven’t covered the Five S’s, it may fall short just when you need it most.
If you only had $20, what would you buy for a bug out bag?
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Sarah Anne Carter is a writer and reader. She grew up all over the world as a military brat and is now putting down roots with her family in Ohio. Visit her at

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9 thoughts on “The Simple Way To Make Bug Out Bags on a Budget”

  1. I find many of the things I put in my bags at Goodwill. Sleeping bag 8lbs of fill $8.00, closed cell foam sleeping pad (thick yoga mat) $3.50, mess kit (pan, dish, small pot and cup. that nest and close) $2.50, good large backpack $7.00. I even found a backpackers tent new (the tent poles and stakes were still wrapped in plastic) $3.00. box of 48 tea candles $1.50. and GI wool blankets as well $1.00 to $2.00. flash lights $.50 and some of them were surefire lights. always run any cloth product you buy thru a long high dryer cycle at a laundry mat before bring it in the house. and before you even wash it (this will kill any bedbugs washing dose not do it). do not run wool blankets thru the dryer wet. if the are dry the do not shrink

  2. Thrift stores, garage sales, craigslist are your friends if you are trying to build a BOB on a budget.

    Personally the one thing that I always carry no matter what is a roll of vet wrap and a couple packs of gauze in a ziplock. Vet wrap at a feed store costs 88 cents a roll. Gauze at a feed store is under 3 bucks for 200 gauze pads. Exact same stuff they sell in drug stores for 5 dollars for 25 pads, except the animal ones aren’t individually sealed. Hands down those two items are what I use the most in medical emergencies. Couple them with small containers of whatever disinfectants from home and you have a far superior first aid kit to any you can buy in a store.

  3. Great article!

    I would add: Water bottle…stainless so can use to boil water for dehydrated meals, emergency blanket

  4. Wow, it’s interesting that you went through the possible scenarios before completely packing. My cousin is looking to buy a 12-hour bug out bag so he can do some fun stuff with his friends this year. I think I will also talk to him about thinking about the possible scenarios so he can pack accordingly.

  5. Great guide on a budget! As far as the bug out bag goes, I’m trying to plan for the possibility that if the SHTF in the winter, I may have to survive off of it for a few months… I’m worried about equipment malfunctioning or getting lost over such a long period, so I think I tend to overpack. It’s a struggle!

  6. Food, as much food as I can 🙂

    Just kidding! I would say a stainless steel pot, matches, a knife(like those $1 knives with saw-teeth) and a wool blanket.

    Fair enough? Probably not!
    What I would be more concerned about is the psychical impact of an outage. Now, that’s a real issue to deal with.

    I’ll leave you with one of my fav quotes: “Do the hard things when it’s easy!”

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