Do you think you have the skills to survive a Depression?
Let’s face it. We may say we’re preparing for winter blizzards or freak hurricanes, but down deep, if you’re a prepper, what you’re really preparing for is a collapse of America’s economy. It may happen within a few days, or it may be a continual downward slide over many years. Its causes may include numerous Katrina-size natural disasters, a toppling federal government, chaos on Main Street, and the odd meteor or two.
Regardless of the causes, we want our families to be as secure as possible for the long haul.
So, the question that naturally arises is: How do you prepare for a Greatest Depression? Is it even possible to prepare for something that may last a decade or much, much longer? Is it better to be a homeowner, even if someday you’re unable to make your mortgage payments, or is it better to have mobility and rent? Should you leave your life savings and retirement funds where they are or take the tax and penalty hit and invest in land, or gold, or a year’s worth of food?
While there are no definitive answers to these questions, you can take stock of your level of preparedness, see where the gaps are, and work to fill them.
Assess Your Depression Survival Skills
Let’s begin by evaluating your skills that would help you survive a depression. Answer yes or no to the following questions:
Easy skills level:
- Do you know how to sew on a button?
- Do you know how to use an oil lamp?
- Do you know how to boil an egg?
- Do you know how to ride a bike?
- Do you know how to keep houseplants alive?
If you answered yes to all five, move on to the next level.
Medium skills level:
- Do you know how to cut up a whole chicken?
- Do you know how to hem or fix a rip in clothing?
- Do you have a stocked first aid kit in your home?
- Do you know how to build and maintain a fire?
- Do you know how to cook and season dried beans?
If you answered yes to any of the five, move on to the next level.
Hard skills level:
- Do you know how to grow your own vegetables?
- Do you know how to use a pattern and sew your own clothes?
- Do you know how to can fruits and vegetables?
- Do you know how to start a fire without matches?
- Do you know how to raise chickens?
- Do you have a fully prepared emergency kit in your home?
- Do you own and know how to use a gun?
- Do you or someone in the home know how to fish and hunt?
- Do you have a well-stocked pantry?
- Do you know how to make a quilt?
- Do you know how to bake bread from scratch?
- Do you know CPR and basic first aid skills?
- Do you have the physical ability to ride a bike?
- Do you know how to purify water for drinking?
- Do you know how to cook in a dutch oven with charcoal?
If you answered yes to all in this level, congratulations! You will survive.
If you passed the easy and medium levels but failed the hard level, not to worry. You are teachable. A Boy Scout learns 99% of these depression survival skills! Select a skill to learn, make a plan, and then work the plan! Rinse and repeat.
Now, let’s consider a question.
Readers Respond: How Should We Prepare for a Greatest Depression?
If we could talk with survivors of the first Great Depression and ask them, “If you could go back to 1925, how would you have prepared for the Great Depression,” I wonder what they would say.
We’re preparing for something on a worldwide scale, so I asked Survival Mom readers this question: How should we prepare for a Greatest Depression? Here is a curated selection of those responses.
- Is it possible to prepare for something that may last decades? Yes, but it’s not easy. I think it involves home ownership (not a mortgage, which means the bank pretty much owns your home), enough land for self-sustainability, and the skills to utilize that land. I see prepping as something that will help me get through lean times. Hopefully, we never have to survive totally off our food storage. Instead, our food storage will just help us stretch our budget if things get hard. (Bitsy)
- I remember my grandparents and uncles talking about the Great Depression and WWII rationing; honestly, I don’t think they noticed a huge difference in their lives. They lived very simple lives in eastern Kentucky, my grandfather quitting school at 7 to go to work. But they also had skills that most of us preppers can only dream of. Inflated food costs were no big deal if you were growing most all of what you needed. They kept gardens, orchards, chickens, and cows. Made their own clothes. Mended their own shoes. Never really strayed too far from home. If we’re going to survive something long-term, we HAVE to relearn those basic skills and learn to take care of ourselves. (Andrea)
- The way I look at it, my food storage and other preps are giving me OPTIONS and increased flexibility at a time when we might all need to be extremely creative to thrive. I won’t be nearly so dependent on a steady paycheck, so even if I lose my job, I can make it for some amount of time without facing utter hopelessness. If I’m fortunate enough to have a job and steady pay, I can use my money for needs other than food. All I’ve stored is insurance and wealth for bartering. (Linda)
- We know how to can, dehydrate, and we are saving many staples, but do we know how to fix and repair? Can we stitch a wound or have an understanding of herbal remedies for when doctors are not in the budget? The preparation we need to do is on every single level of our lives. (Kris)
- I think of food storage as a supplement if things somehow manage to limp along. If things completely collapse, then food storage becomes not a supplement but a bridge to tide us over while new ways of growing and transporting food are worked out. Keep in mind that there are basic differences in types of food. Grain is relatively easy to transport for long distances and is more likely to be at least somewhat available. Perishable items like meat, eggs, and fresh vegetables are likely to only be available according to what is locally produced or from your own backyard. Basic gardening skills can be ramped up fairly quickly, but those basic skills take years to learn. If you anticipate the need to produce your own food, get started now. Even if it is on a very small scale, you need to learn by experience what works and what doesn’t for your situation. Once you’ve got the basics covered, expanding the output is just a matter of doing more of the same. Buying a can of “survival seeds” and thinking that you’ll just plant them if the need arises is not a plan – it is almost guaranteed to fail at a time when failure could have very serious consequences. Can we prepare for something that will last for generations? That is really the question in a society such as ours, where the same systems that make us so efficient and wealthy are extremely fragile and interconnected by their very nature. Our system has no resilience, so if one part collapses, it can take everything else down with it. My preparations for a multi-generational collapse take a different approach than the typical prepper. Long-term preparations include a home-schooling library for our grandchildren, an extensive library on a wide variety of topics, “obsolete” technology in the form of slide rules (they were used for all the calculations that put man on the moon and built the Boeing 747), and quality basic hand tools and fasteners of various types. The worst thing that could happen in this regard is for our society to lose the basic knowledge we have built over the past 6,000 years. (Stephen M.)
- Before the Great Depression, most Americans did not live the life of affluence, that is the middle class and above standard of today. They were not poor by that era’s standard. As a matter of fact, compared to their immigrant parents’ life in the old world, they were very well off. Go look at a middle-class house built around the turn of the last century. Rooms are small to conserve heat. The closets are tiny because that’s all the room they needed. Few people had more than two or three changes of clothing. My Grandmother rarely owned more than four dresses at any one time. The newest one for church and special occasions. The next older one is for going out in public, such as visiting and going to town. The next older one for everyday wear. (and I mean every day, the same dress.) The very oldest one, oft mended and patched, for doing dirty work. The house I live in now, built in 1920, originally had a total of only four electric sockets. Nobody thought someone would have enough appliances to need more. My point here is that many people like my grandparents didn’t feel much difference once the Depression hit because they didn’t have much to lose. They were accustomed to a life that we consider austerity. Modern Americans are more spoiled than they think. $8 a gallon for gas is no big deal when you don’t own a car and never did and only dreamed you ever would. (Barbara)
- I think it will be a different type of depression than it was back in the 30’s. People were closer to the earth and didn’t count on the government as much. They also “networked” alot and used barter with friends and neighbors even in the good times before the depression. This is one thing I have been working on myself. (Woodnick)
- Zero DEBT!!! (George)
- I would consider every purchase NOW in light of how it would be viewed if LATER we were in a Depression. For instance, would your child benefit more from a pocket knife or a new video game? A book or a plastic toy? An emergency radio that doubles as an MP3 player or an iPod? Buy things of quality, too. I would replace things now that you can. (Katy)
- I think learning skills to survive a depression and teaching those skills to your children is important. My daughter can knit, sew, and crochet better than I can. In fact, my son can sew better than I can. We homeschool, so we have lots of books, including stockpiled curriculum for grades my children have not yet reached (in case we can’t afford to buy a math textbook then). Textbooks get low priority compared with food. I guess I am looking at a scenario where life is likely to get much harder and everything but food and shelter is considered a luxury. (Katy)
- You get comfortable with populations shifting around, little or nothing in the way of government public services, and surviving without a job. You get used to using absolutely every part of everything you have. You “fix it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” You learn how to plant and harvest and butcher and shoot. (Sunshine)
- For a large-scale long-term Depression, I’d continue to store food and basic necessities as there may come a time when we have to completely rely on them. However, if there is no telling how long it would last, then money and storage would eventually run out. I have written about coming up with a personal economic crash plan to fall back on if or when a worst-case scenario happens. Not pretty to think about, but it may have to include moving in with family to pool resources, selling off belongings, possible bartering, etc. The main thing is survival and learning to live on less now. Imaging the worst-case scenario would help in preparing and not being in a state of shock if it happens. (Bernie)
- Lately, every time I shop and buy something, I ask myself, “What would I do if I couldn’t buy this thing? How would I make do ?” It’s really made me think and has caused me to stockpile some items I hadn’t previously thought about, like repair supplies for water hoses and shoes and iron-on repair patches for clothes. Sometimes, I’ve gone to the internet and printed off recipes for homemade cleaning products, vinegar, fruit pectin, and instructions for darning socks, making paper and homemade ink and glue, etc. I don’t have time to learn to do all that stuff right now, but I want that info in my survival notebook for later, just in case. (Linda)
- My mother will soon be 88. She was young during the depression. She said there wasn’t a change in their living standard. They lived in a rural area on a working farm. If they didn’t raise it or make it, they didn’t need it. They never had much to begin with, and when the depression began, they couldn’t tell any difference. I suppose somewhere in that story is our lesson. I am afraid that we may have lost enough of our morals and skills and have grown so used to our creature comforts that perhaps a depression could be much harder on us than the last one . . . much harder. (Reggie)
- I advise stocking up on tools and tools and more tools. Especially consumable tools. A bow saw with a dozen extra blades. Extra drill bits. My cordless 14.4 drill is going on 12 years. I advise a solar panel for recharging. If you have the motivation, tools will help you tremendously in building what you need. I think that there will be an abundance of emptied structures to strip for raw materials. We will be pulling screws and nails from buildings. Every one will have value. But stocking up on extra boxes now is not a bad idea. (Sierra D.)
- We are concentrating on learning skills to survive a depression. This year we are learning to save seed from our garden produce. I learned to knit this summer and have gotten some yarn on clearance from different places. I just watched videos on how to make tallow candles and pemmican….we have never saved the tallow from the deer and elk that the boys harvest each fall…now we will! Hopefully, the skills we learn will help fill in the needs as they arise as times get harder. (Sheri)
- I think we’ll be seeing high prices and scarce commodities (if only because fleets will be grounded for lack of fuel or too-high fuel costs) and an actual lack of petroleum-based products like gas, plastics, and rubber. So one thing we’re doing is stocking up on spare tires for our biodiesel vehicles and bicycles, tire patching kits, plastic bags, etc. – anything made from petroleum that we think we need during a major transition to a different lifestyle. Oh – and fabric, thread, needles (besides food & seed). (Mary)
- This is why I’m learning skills: gardening, animal husbandry, repair, crafting (practical things like knitting socks), cob building, and the like. I think if you already know how to do these things, it will be much easier to make the transition. (Herbwifemama)
- My mom lived in a NYC tenement during the depression, and it was pretty bad. She said the only time she got enough to eat was when they went to my great-aunt’s farm in the summer to work. Sickness was everywhere and you couldn’t afford medicines. My grandmother lost her hearing due to ear infections. All my mother’s teeth were cracked and broken due to poor nutrition and illness. (Vicki O.)
- My parents both lived through the depression before they married. My father, at times, nearly starved and worked at any job he could find. My mother’s family owned a farm and always had food. They didn’t have extra money and were very frugal, but they were able to eat well. I think preparations must include knowledge….how to grow food, both animal and vegetable. (Bernadine)
- Practical, hands-on knowledge is, by far, the best thing we can do for ourselves. What good is an emergency seed bank if we don’t have the proper soil for it and don’t know what to plant when? How do you can your produce and meat over a campfire? Do you know the medicinal properties of the common herbs we use for cooking? (I didn’t know that Thyme tea is excellent for upper respiratory problems–specifically the ears!) What about hunting without a gun? Butchering what you’ve managed to kill? Get past the squeamishness and learn how while there is time to make the necessary mistakes along that learning curve. (Patty)
- Has anyone thought of blacksmithing? Back in the day, every village had a blacksmith. I figure we’d need at least one skilled blacksmith for every few hundred people. (Chandra)
- Interestingly enough, I had a grandmother and mother who lived through the Great Depression with lots of info! My grandmother lived on a farm, worked hard, lived frugally, and wasted nothing ( even cooking water went back to water the gardens…and amazing gardens she had!). She reused paper towels and foil later on in life, composted, and never bought anything without purpose ( big lesson there!). She spoke of hard times but not starvation. My mother grew up in New York City and painted quite a different picture: standing in food lines for bread every week, no heat or electricity ( too expensive), cooking potato soup on a potbelly stove, clothing from the Salvation Army, quitting school at nine years old to work in a pencil factory for food for her family, getting Christmas presents from the local church ( one gift, a wooden cradle, her father promptly broke up and burned to keep his children warm…heartbreaking). While hard times are ahead, I think the standard of living is so different now that we have many ways to downgrade and still live very well. It goes back to living intentionally, shopping with purpose, and planning ahead. We do need to learn to provide for ourselves and learn long-lost skills should our modern conveniences ne’er return. We also must return to forming communities, getting to know our neighbors beyond a wave of hello at the mailbox as we hurry inside. (Doctorb)
- I used to have a class in a large city teaching people skills and urging them to make the move to the country. We had a very interesting large panel discussion on the depression. We invited people who had lived thru the depression and could relate stories of what they went thru. I’m glad we filmed it (quite amateur but a good record). It was fascinating! One consistent thing was that those who had lived in the country had gardens and lived like “kings and queens” compared to those who lived in the cities. They often said that as children, they didn’t know they had it bad. They ate well, played outdoors with siblings, cousins, etc. People in the cities often went hungry, stood in bread lines, and made meals out of the most meager ingredients. (Jan D.)
What skills do you recommend to survive a depression?
Originally posted January 27, 2016, with contributions by Lisa Todd; updated by Survival Mom editors.