$100 to Survive On

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What would you buy if you only had $100 in your pocket or bank account, and a trusted friend in the military told you that nuclear war will start in about 3 hours?

No seriously, what would you buy if you only have $100? You probably won’t get paid for another week and can’t get an immediate cash advance (recall the 3-hour warning). A few things about this question:

  • No cheating by using 5-finger discounts, because you won’t survive trapped in a holding cell.
  • These items need to last for the rest of your life (potentially 30-50 years).
  • And don’t say crap like, “Nothing, because I’m already prepared.”


I posted that question on several websites around the time I published my Shopping/Looting List in 2021. Here’s a sample of the useless “answers” I received:

  • Several smartasses said, “I’m already prepared.” Well, apparently you aren’t prepared to fucking read my question well enough to know that isn’t a valid answer.
  • Another useless response was, “If there’s a nuclear war, we can kiss our asses goodbye.”
  • “Nothing. Use that time to get out of the city as fast as possible.”

Nobody could provide an answer to my question, so I searched Google and was disappointed again. I reworded the question several times, but Google’s results tended to look like this: 

  • Investment strategies to make $100 a day on dividends/interest.
  • Can you live on $100 a day?
  • And bullshit “answers” on Reddit from people who merely want a social credit. 

At this point, the entire internet seemed to be conspiring to hide or cover up the answer to my question. So, I worked on other writing projects… but never gave up.

I ultimately decided to answer the question myself.

The Answer

There isn’t exactly a “correct” answer to the question. In fact, my original question may have been too focused on nuclear war.

I was originally thinking in general terms and nuclear war seemed like a disaster anyone could relate to. I didn’t consider that a lot of people have religiously latched onto many different scenarios and are prepping solely for those things. I happen to be prepping for many different things and should have known better than to be so specific.

Shame on me 😉

To answer my question, I created a list of things I would buy if I had 3 hours advance notice of an impending disaster. We’ll get into that, but I have a few things I should explain about the list first:

  • The 3-hour notice I previously mentioned merely adds dramatic importance to being prepared in advanced and survivalists should take it as such. However, since I had it in my original question, I’ll use it as a factor in my answer.
  • The order of items on this list are based on items of immediate utility, with non-variable prices. I placed equipment that could range in price at the bottom because they may be more expensive or you may need more time to evaluate if those items fit in your budget.
  • Most of these prices are of the cheapest version of the item, available to me locally.
  • These prices are examples and I only used the base price. Most stores place items on sale and you may get lucky and get some of the gear on sale.
  • I didn’t account for tax. Here in Texas the sales tax is 6.5%. That means if you have no more than $100, you can only afford $93.90 worth of gear. Maybe you’ll be lucky and catch some items on sale.
  • Assume that your vehicle is in good condition and has enough gas to get you wherever you need to go.
  • In addition to “The 3-Hour List”, I decided to make an extra list of things I’d buy online because it still isn’t too late to prepare.

The 3-Hour List

This list is based on only having 3-hours to grab supplies and get to your bug-out location. In the scenario, I have advanced warning from a trusted friend in the military, and only a small percentage of the population knows disaster is about to strike. That means I can afford to use about 1 to 1½ hours to shop at two, maybe three stores.

You can find most of these items at a sporting goods store, so that should be the first stop you make. A Walmart supercenter should be a close second, but a grocery store may have some if the things you need too.

Average PriceItem
$10.00Backpack (to hold everything; useful if you need to start walking everywhere)
$20.00Water Filtering Straw (LifeStraw or similar)
$10.00Water Purification Tablets
$10.00Basic First Aid Kit[1]
$3.00G.I. Can Opener
$3.00Emergency Blanket
$2.00Poncho (plastic)
$2.00Two, 32 oz Generic Electrolyte Drink (provides better hydration than water; 2 per person; the bottles can be reused)
$2.00Generic Electrolyte Drink Mixes (box of 8-10 packets)
$5.00Tarp (starting price is $5 at most stores)
$3.00Magnesium Fire Starter
$1.00Classic Pocket Lighter (the flint can spark a fire even after the lighter fluid runs out)
$5.00Bath Towel, about 50-60″ in length (How a towel can be a survival tool)
$5.00Cheap Multitool
Your shopping bill should be about $80 at this point, maybe less if you’re lucky. The cost for the following items range depending on type and availability. They may contain multiple items or some of the gear listed above, which means they offer more value for the buck. Of course, you only have $100 to spend and may need to recalculate based on the gear’s contents, and/or prioritize what you can afford.
$2 – 7Cooking Equipment This could be as simple as a metal cup ($2), or a basic Mess Kit ($7).
$3 –20Survival Knife Depending on style or intended utility, this can be anything from: Swiss Army knife ($3), pocket knife ($10), or a Machete ($20)
$10 – 20Sleeping Bag ($10) or Travel Hammock ($20)
$3 – 10Trash Bags – Small home bags ($3) and large 55-gallon bags ($10) Trash bags generally hold stuff. They can help protect clothes and equipment from water, or they can be used to hold rain water. I especially like 55-gallon bags because they have more uses. They can be made into a make-shift poncho (without hood). They trap heat and humidity and can be used as a sleeping bag substitute. Heck, you can even build a shelter out of them.

Prep in Advance for $100

Do you recall that 3-hour notice was intended to provide dramatic effect? Hopefully, we have plenty of time to prepare and can afford the extra time required to order survival items online. By searching online and/or buying in advance, you can get the essential items I listed and more. Just remember that most big box stores charge shipping and handling fees[2].

Here’s what you can buy for about $100.

Average PriceItem
$10.00Amazon/Walmart: Backpack (to hold everything)
$23.00Amazon: 216 Pcs Survival First Aid kit, Professional Survival Gear Equipment Tools First Aid Supplies for SOS Emergency Hiking Hunting Disaster Camping Adventures
This has a bunch of stuff like: First aid, decent pocket knife, magnesium fire starter, paracord, a spork with knife, fishing hooks, and so much more.
$20.00Amazon: Water Filtering Straw (LifeStraw or similar)
$9.00Amazon: Water Purification Tablets
$10.00Academy: Sleeping Bag
$7.00Walmart: Basic Mess Kit
$3.00Walmart: Bath Towel
$1.00G.I. Can Opener (Army Surplus Stores)
$8.0055 Gallon Trash Bags
$1.00Classic Pocket Lighter
$0.00Matches (get free books of matches at local bars)
$2.00Ramen 6-pack
$1.50Two, 32 oz Generic Electrolyte Drink
$2.00Generic Electrolyte Drink Mixes (box of 8-10 packets)

A Few Words About Pre-Assembled Survival Kits

I’d like to finish this article by mentioning pre-assembled survival kits. Yes, you could buy such a kit for about $100, but they’re designed to help you survive a few days (not a lifetime). They’re convenient and handy to have for most natural disasters, so buy one if that’s your preference.

After all, a little preparation is better than no preparation.

[1] Basic First Aid Kit: I don’t get paid for product endorsements, but I’m really impressed with the value of Life Gear Quick Grab 88-Piece First Aid Survival Kit. It’s only $10 and has a cheap compass, paracord, poncho, AND an emergency blanket. (I already have a first aid kit, but I’d buy this as a cheap backup.)

[2] Shipping & Handling: Most online stores charge a fee for shipping, but that’s not the only thing you need to watch out for. You need to be on the lookout for misleading prices. An item may be listed as $6.00, but the shipping and handling costs could be $30!

I’ve seen this happen even at big box stores, like Walmart and Best Buy, who let private vendors use their website to sell unique or hard-to-get items. The store gets a cut of all sales and has no incentive to police the, arguably fraudulent, listings.

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