21 Survival Items to Find at Yard Sales and Thrift Stores

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Being prepared to survive a disaster or even just an everyday emergency doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. By planning ahead so you know what you’re looking for you can prep frugally. For example, I picked up my two best cast iron skillets secondhand. But that’s only the beginning of the survival items you can find at yard sales and thrift stores.

image:  long board on sawhorses with yard sale thrift store items

A Word to the Wise About Thrifting

If you look around you, everything you see used to be money. Whether the person wanted it, needed it, could afford it or not, they paid for it with hours of their life.

When you are out looking for secondhand items, it would be very easy to get carried away at all the cool stuff you ‘think’ you ‘might’ need or use. But that kind of strategy makes it difficult to remain budget-minded.

You must think critically, plan intentionally, and head out with a list in hand, prepared to make the best use of two precious resources: your time and your money.

To help you in this, I’ve created this list, which you can also receive by email in a handy printable.

Being prepared to survive a worst-case scenario or an everyday emergency doesn’t have to cost a lot of money! Click To Tweet

Survival Items to Look for at Yard Sales and Thrift Stores

1. Sterling silver flatware

Even if you can only afford to buy a spoon or a fork at a time, sterling silver is known to have antimicrobial properties. Some people believe that simply using silver flatware as everyday eating utensils can ward off harmful microbes. 

Typically, a single piece of silver, such as a spoon, will run about $50. Buy from reputable sellers, such as established estate sale agents and thrift stores.

Peruse Amazon lists and become familiar with titles, authors, and subject areas. Books about homesteading, gardening skills, primitive camping, wilderness survival, and so much more are very often found for just a couple of dollars or less. 

Other books to look for: Boy Scout manuals, Foxfire books, and issues of Backwoods Home magazines and anthologies.

3. Grain mill

A good mill can run upwards of $300 and more, but it’s not uncommon to find them in yard sales and thrift stores. Familiarize yourself with good brand names, and ask to test the mill with actual wheat (if possible). Otherwise, I’ve found mills in very good condition for less than $50.

One of my favorites and the #1 manual grain mill I recommend, is the Wondermill Junior. You may not find it at a yard sale, but then again, who knows?

READ MORE: When you find a grain mill, this guide to wheat will show you what you need to know in order to get the best results.

4. Camping equipment

Good quality tents, sleeping bags, camp stoves, lanterns, cots, etc. are often sold at very low prices by people who thought camping was a great idea, tried it once or twice, and decided to stick with hotels! Their loss is your gain!

5. Good quality knives

Look for brand names such as K-Bar, Cold Steel, and Gerber and know how to spot a good one. A Swiss Army Knife is also a good find and you can never go wrong with the Mora brand for a low price, all-purpose knife — if you need to buy one.

READ MORE: Finding a good knife means knowing what to look for, so learn how to spot a quality knife.

6. Homeschooling supplies

In a crisis, you may end up being your children’s teacher. Workbooks, classic literature, flashcards, math manipulatives, textbooks, and even school supplies are very often for sale by homeschoolers who are moving up a grade or have decided to liquidate their stockpile of school supplies.

READ MORE: If you are forced to homeschool because of a disaster or emergency, this quick start guide to homeschooling will help you begin.

7. Winter wear

I once picked up a super heavy-duty men’s winter coat for ten dollars. I was thrilled because it looks like it’s never been worn and came in a dry cleaner’s bag.

Look for snow boots, winter gloves, and other pieces of winter wear, and if you have kids, buy this clothing in a size or two larger for future winters.

8. Boots

Work boots, riding boots, gardening boots, mucking boots, military boots, motorcycle boots, cowboy boots, hiking boots, desert boots — who knew there were so many different kinds of boots? 

Check for quality construction and material as well as wear and tear. When it comes to taking care of your feet, always go for quality.

9. Tools

There’s just something about old tools from the ’40s and ’50s that beats the heck out of today’s “Made in China” label. Some sellers are savvy about the higher quality of their tools and may ask a bit more, but in the long run, it will be worth it.

10. Battery-operated appliances

I get a lot of questions about survival following an EMP or long-term power outage. If you find battery-powered fans, important appliances, and other tools, buy them, just to be ready for a power-down scenario. 

Be sure to stock up on the appropriate batteries as well.

Students in our Preppers University who purchased battery-powered fans for the first time, claim it’s the smartest purchase they ever made — so these, you may not find at yard sales!

11. Food dehydrator

No need to be a snob about this. I still use the inexpensive American Harvest dehydrator I bought a few years ago on Craigslist. I spent $30 and got extra trays, fruit leather trays, and even a couple of screen trays.

READ MORE: If you’re a newbie to this preservation technique, these secrets to food dehydration will help with tips, easy first foods to start with, and even a recipe!

12. Fishing equipment

I’ve seen top-quality fishing poles, nets, enormous collections of flies, rods, reels, you name it. If part of your survival plan is to go fishing for food, estate, and yard sales are prime sources of supplies.

13. Emergency supplies

I’ve picked up emergency radios, lanterns, backpacks, water purification tablets, and paracord. Most of what I have in my Vehicle Emergency Kit was found at these sales. 

By the way, here’s a tip: often the best survival-related supplies will be found out in the garage if you’re attending an estate sale.

READ MORE: If you don’t already have one, you should assemble an emergency kit for your vehicle.

14. Tough kids’ clothing

Believe it or not, when my son was quite young, I discovered that Gymboree made the toughest jeans on the market. I don’t believe he ever wore a hole through the knees of his Gymboree jeans. 

Kids are notoriously tough on clothes, so when you’re looking at second-hand clothing, go for brands and fabrics that will stand up to serious wear and tear. Buy them in larger sizes, so you’ll be ready for growth spurts.

15. Canning jars and supplies

Look for Ball brand jars in all sizes. You can always buy the lids and rims at a grocery store or on Amazon. Also look for things like a magnetic lid lifter, funnel, jar tongs, and large pots. 

It would be a good idea to know the prices of new canning supplies. Once I was at an estate sale and found a nice large water bath canning pot, but when I checked the price on Amazon, the yard sale price was higher!

16. Manual kitchen and household tools

Do you have a manual egg beater? A flour sifter? Enough manual can openers? A manual meat grinder? I’ve seen all of these and more at estate and yard sales. During a long-term power outage, you’ll be glad to have them!

READ MORE: Here is an extensive list of other survivalist kitchen items you might also want to hunt for.

17. Cast iron cookware

I already mentioned I picked up my two best cast iron skillets at garage sales! I recommend frying pans in two or three different sizes, a couple of Dutch ovens in different sizes, a griddle, and then whatever other shapes and sizes you care to add to your collection, such as this biscuit pan!

READ MORE: It’s the ultimate in prepper cookware but knowing how to use and care for cast iron cookware is imperative for enjoying it.

18. Cookbooks

Specifically look for cookbooks that provide recipes for outdoor cooking, canning, Dutch oven cooking, and cooking with basic ingredients. Be strategic, though. You don’t want to end up with a stack of paperweights. Select ones you think you’ll really use (and then make the recipes!)

READ MORE: In addition to being an enjoyable and rewarding hobby, here are some more reasons collecting cookbooks offers a ton of preparedness value.

19. Gardening tools and supplies

Often, in urban and suburban settings, gardening is a fad that comes and goes. You will likely find everything you need for your garden just by shopping yard sales and Goodwill. If you already have garden tools, consider backups for them. And make sure they’re good quality.

20. First aid and medical supplies

Boxes of surgical gloves, bandages, butterfly strips, surgical scissors, sterile gauze, and entire well-equipped first aid kits are sold at bargain prices.  Once I even saw an old Army first aid kit with a snake-bite kit and ammonia inhalants, circa 1955! 

I prefer estate sales, and very often, the owner of the home was taken care of by a visiting nurse service. I’ve found massive amounts of medical supplies in just these types of sales.

READ MORE: As you’re assembling your first aid kit, think about including some of these medical supplies that often aren’t considered.

21. Hunting supplies and firearms

In some yard/garage sales, you just might get lucky and spot hunting rifles and even handguns for sale. If you see lots of hunting-related items, quietly ask the homeowner if he/she also has firearms for sale.

Just remember to know the laws pertaining to them in any state you might purchase them in, or travel in or through. In addition, municipalities may have different rules also, so do your homework!

There are plenty of other hunting supplies out there, though, including gun cleaning kits and decoys. If you hit the right yard sale, you might feel like you’re in Cabela’s!

BONUS: Sewing, knitting, and crocheting supplies

This one was a reader comment and it was too good not to include here. Yard sales and thrift stores are great places to pick up handicraft supplies. In fact, old sweaters can be unraveled and the yarn repurposed for other projects!

An FB Live Recorded Video About Secondhand Prepping

In this video, I elaborate on some of the items in this list and also cover three important tips for successful thrifting.

I’ve started it at around the five-minute mark so you can skip the initial chit-chat and go straight to the main information.

Yard Sale Prepping with The Survival Mom

Yard Sales and Thrift Stores are Useful Resources

It doesn’t have to cost a fortune to prep. If you’re strategic and intentional in your approach, yard sales and thrift stores can be great sources of frugal survival supplies for the budget-minded.

What would you add to this list?

This article was originally published on August 28, 2017, and has been updated.

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I’m the original Survival Mom and for more than 11 years, I’ve been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more with my commonsense prepping advice.

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