While many would-be survivalists were waiting to win the lottery or planning to discreetly bump off a rich uncle to build their Ultimate Survival Retreat in Idaho (complete with underground bunkers, escape tunnels, a decade’s supply of dried lentils, and customized Super Whizz-Whacker 3000 rifles at every lead-shuttered portal) … a handful of authors have been telling us how to do it another way: cheap.
First came Brian Kelling with his Travel-Trailer Homesteading Under $5,000
Then along came Phil Garlington with his witty, irreverent, charming, and surprisingly practical Rancho Costa Nada: The Dirt Cheap Desert Homestead
This year they’re joined by one of the blogosphere’s most noted survival writers M.D. Creekmore of TheSurvivalistBlog.net.
Kelling and Creekmore both talk about travel-trailer living. Garlington leans more toward primitive structures. All three offer voice-of-experience advice suitable for both low-budget emergency retreats and year-round living. All three bring their own varieties of sage advice: Kelling gives the Cadillac plan (albeit a used Cadillac that’s probably been up on blocks for years), with details on how to create an in-ground homemade septic system and convert a travel trailer to wood heat. Garlington’s lifestyle and advice is for the real don’t-give-a-damn desert rat who loves to scrounge and improvise and doesn’t pay much heed to civilized amenities.
Kelling and Garlington’s books were published by the late, great Loompanics Unlimited and to the best of my knowledge are both out of print (though they’re available via the Amazon links above). So Creekmore is your #1 contemporary option for this sort of book.
And that’s good because his advice comes from a nice, comfortable spot in between his predecessors.
When Creekmore bought a couple acres of junk land and a travel trailer, he never intended to live there full time. He intended the place to be only a campsite and weekend getaway. But a layoff, a divorce, and increasing financial desperation drove him to the country. So he set about adapting his place as a permanent retreat.
He starts off by making one hugely important point about why a cheap retreat might be the way to go: If you don’t own your place outright, then you risk having a bank take it away from you just when you need it most. (Score one for M.D. Creekmore.)
He then goes on to give brief how-tos on:
- Acquiring inexpensive off-grid land
- Selecting and buying a trailer
- Building a simple solar power system
- Getting water and dealing with waste
- Establishing security
- Stockpiling water, food, guns, and other supplies
His writing style is clear. He definitely knows what he’s talking about (I, too, have lived in a travel-trailer on off-grid land and would spot any bogus advice). The slender book contains enough good information that you could slip it into your back pocket and consult it as you carried out your plans.
The subtitle is “One Man’s Solution” — and that it is. The book tells what Creekmore did and most of the detail he gives relates to his own experience. For instance, he talks at length (and shows photos) of his own solar power setup but merely mentions wind power in passing since he has little experience with it. That may be a drawback, but in a way it’s also a strength, since you can be sure that Creekmore knows what he’s talking about.
Some of his systems are simpler than what you might want. For instance, he tried Kelling’s homemade septic system, then found that it didn’t work for him because of local soil conditions. So he switched to a portable toilet and a labor-intensive “humanure” composting system. (His garden probably appreciates the change.)
Yet (with only a minor exception) he remains on track when it comes to guiding his readers toward their own goals. IMHO, the most useful thing about Dirt-Cheap Survival Retreat is that it lays out a pretty comprehensive outline of everything you need to consider in building a retreat. Your solutions might (and probably will) be slightly different than his. But he gives you a framework — a guideline to follow from start to finish.
He delivers some excellent reality checks: you will be chilly in cold weather; you will steam inside your tin-can refuge in the summer. You can mitigate these problems, but you won’t eliminate them.
The one place he went astray made me laugh. On the penultimate page, in a list of otherwise very well thought-out miscellaneous items you might want for stocking your dirt-cheap retreat, he recommends “$1,000 worth (face value) of pre-1965, 90% silver U.S. dimes.”***
In your dreams, M.D. Creekmore! At the moment my review copy arrived from Paladin Press, $1,000 worth of pre-1965 U.S. coins was selling for close to $40,000. Even at the currently reduced “bargain” price of $37+ per ounce of silver, that bag of coins would set you back more than $27,000. Would it be a lovely, lovely asset to possess? You betcha. Will it become even a more blessed thing as the U.S. dollar tanks? Oh, indeed. But how it fits into a dirt-cheap plan — now, that’s another thing.
Try to budget for a $100 face bag of those coins. Or buy $10 face every time you get a little extra money in, or even $1 face. You’ll be glad you did. But don’t intimidate yourself by thinking that a “dirt-cheap” plan should include a small fortune in coins. With the lifestyle implied by a dirt-cheap budget, when the really hard times hit you’re more likely to scrounge, barter, make do, or do without than you are to whip out a fistful of silver dimes and impress your neighbors (and any burglars or tax-leeches who may be around) with your newfound wealth.
But that’s a nitpick. Creekmore has produced, and the good folk at Paladin have published, an inexpensive, useful guide to both budget-minded living and inexpensive retreat building.
Above all, as the author writes, don’t be afraid to live as he does or prepare a retreat as simply as he did — if the idea intrigues you:
Some people prefer a life of simplicity to a “normal” stressed existence. Others want to eliminate debt and the possibility of homelessness after an economic collapse or personal economic downturn.
Some people may be reluctant to embrace such a stripped-down lifestyle for fear of what others will think of them. …
To those who fear the hardships involved or doubt their ability to live off the grid, let me assure you: your fears are unfounded. Before making the move, I too had thoughts of ruination — yet I suffered no hardships to speak of. In fact, I’m actually content for the first time in my life.
*** ADDED: Be sure to read M.D. Creekmore’s comment below. And heaven save all us writers from awkward typos.