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You should have about three years worth of food stored. How much does that cost? Not much.

Posted by John Reed on

Copyright 2012 by John T. Reed

Because of possible imminent hyperinflation, and the usual assortment of emergencies like unemployment, flood, earthquake, wild fire, war, you should have about three years of food stored. The Mormons used to say one year. Now they say three months. You can pick whatever time period you want. I think more than three years is not a good idea because it is hard to find emergencies, including hyperinflation, that last that long.

If you cannot afford to do three years all at once, build it up gradually over time. Two months is better than no months and one year is better than two months and so on. Shelf Reliance offers a sort of long-shelf-life food of the month club. They send you whatever you want monthly so you can build up your food storage supply to the level you want gradually. This is like the old time Christmas clubs at banks where they help you make a monthly commitment and stick to it. It eliminates the need to do this all at once and the chance that you will forget or slack off in your march to the ultimate amount you want.

The cost can be rather low. I will analyze it here with one-item diets which are not practical or advisable. You need a variety of foods to be healthy and avoid menu fatigue—getting sick of eating the same thing every meal.

But this is just a mathematical cost exercise. Generally, the variety you need and want would not cost much more if at all. It would just take longer to calculate.

The first three are the Costco cost of 730,000 calories which is 2,000 calories per day per adult. The rest are the same number of calories but other vendors.

Ramen Noodles 106 cases of 24 per year =$5.02 x 106 = $532.12

Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup 365 cases of 12 cans per year @$9.59 = $3,500

Mormon #10 cans of macaroni 135 cans per year @$4.30= $580.50

Shelf-reliance Thrive freeze-dried chicken 1,152 servings 2 packs of 576 servings @$399.99 = $799.98

Legal Seafood New England clam chowder (heat and eat—short shelf life) 296 gallons per year @$55.95 = $16,561.

Mountain House freeze-dried Seafood Chowder 317 # 10 cans @$40.39 = $12,804

Pretty small dollar investment

Anyway, you get the idea. My main point here is to show you that a year’s worth of a Spartan diet like Mormon dry-pack canned macaroni for one person does not cost that much: $580.50 and it lasts 30 years on the pantry shelf. Most of my readers think of my hyperinflation recommendations in terms of an investment. $580.50 ain’t much of an investment. You could do a quick purchase of a greater variety of dry pack number 10 cans for three people about $2,000. That would cover you for about a year with not much variety. Then you could expand on that to add variety and extend the amount to more years.

Generally, I think you should have lots of good, tasty stuff for the first six to 18 months—supermarket pantry stuff like cereal, UHT milk, Campbell’s soup, Hormel’s Compleats, and freezer stuff like ice cream and steaks, then as you get out to18 months or more, you rely on the dry pack and freeze-dried stuff.

So don’t spend months agonizing over a couple of thousand-dollar investment in stored food if you would make a financial decision on where to invest $2,000 in securities or commodities in a matter of minutes. Make a relatively fast investment in about a year’s worth of food then fiddle around with enlarging and improving it to a larger investment, better variety, and a greater source of peace of mind.


Shelf Reliance offers a series of foods they call the basics. I am no cook but according to them you can’t do much with the standard ingredients like flour and so on unless you also have these:

  • baking powder
  • banking soda
  • beef bouillon
  • brown sugar
  • butter powder
  • chicken bouillon
  • iodized salt
  • powdered sugar
  • shortening powder
  • white sugar 

Here is an email from a reader about the basics:

A few comments about the basic list of ingredients. My wife and I are avid cooks and my brother is a chef who owns his own deli and catering company…. I've spoken with him several times about what would be nice to have in a pantry. He was saying you want to have food items that can be transformed into something else.

One glaring necessity not on the list is vinegar. Almost every condiment contains vinegar. Its usually the first or second largest ingredient in salad dressings, ketchup, bbq sauce, asian sauces, mustard, etc. Its very cheap now- about $2 a gallon up here in Alaska at Costco. I don't believe it has an expiration date. I have no idea how one could make it. It can be used for many other purposes besides cooking such as cleaning. I have about 12 gallons of plain white vinegar stored. I have several other types as well. I enjoy making my own salad dressings, mustards, ketchups, hot sauces and many other condiments. Its very easy and tasty. It is also extremely cheap- probably 10% of the cost of store bought condiments. Preparing your own condiments is an easily acquired skill that can really help prevent food fatigue and trade possibilities.

Some other spices that store well are any whole seed spice. Whole seeds last for years. I have several Costco containers of whole black pepper. Put the whole pepper in a pepper mill and you have fresh ground pepper. Whole mustard seeds I order from an online spice company. Plus you can grow your own mustard plants with the seeds. The leaves can be used as a spicy lettuce and the pods produce more seeds.

Other items I have for variety: seeds and beans for growing sprouts (easy, cheap and delicious), seeds for growing herbs, mustard powder, sweetened condensed milk, soy sauce (lots), canned green chiles, smoked paprika, regular paprika, whole fennel seed, whole cumin seed, whole cardamon seeds (which can be used to grow cilantro), whole dried chiles, lots of jarred olives, jarred sundried tomatoes, anchovies and many different varieties of dried pasta. I use a dedicated coffee bean grinder to grind whole spices. I also have a grow light to grow in the winter.

My brother was telling me that when dried spices get old- just use more. They don't spoil, they just lose some of their strength. Use taste as a guide. Consequently we have lots of dried spices.

One other glaring necessity is yeast. I love bread. I've learned how to make my own bread using a no-knead recipe that takes me 7 minutes to combine ingredients, 14 hours of unattended rising, another couple minutes to prepare the bread for proofing, bake for an hour in a covered dutch oven and I have a 2 kg loaf of bread for about 75 cents. I can make several different types of loaves. For measurement I use a kitchen scale in metric- its faster. I can't stand store bought bread anymore.

Active dry yeast keeps for years and costs about $4 for 2 pounds- (900 grams). I use 2-4 grams per loaf. I use the yeast to make great pizza also. One could make their own wild yeast which is sourdough but it is time consuming and temperamental. I've done it several times with good success but commercial yeast is easy and predictable. If I run out of commercial yeast I can use sourdough.

The long term storage of flour is a problem. I'm buying food grade 5 gallon containers to fill with wheat berries. Ground wheat berries makes whole wheat flour. I'm buying a flour mill also. As I said, I like bread. I read if you put fill a container with wheat berries, put some dry ice on top of the container the CO2 is heavier than air so it displaces air in the container with CO2 which kills any bugs in the berries. Seal top and it should store for years.

Costco had a sale on canned diced tomatoes that ended up about 45 cents per can. I bought a bunch. With canned tomatoes, spices and a blender you can make any kind of tomato sauce, dozens of condiments, or a tomato based meal.

One other grain we have a bunch of is quinoa. I have 40 pounds. It is a seed which has a complete protein and a low glycemic index. Cooks in about 15 minutes. Tastes similar to rice.

Personally, I can't stand the taste of powdered fats. I have shelf stable lard, crisco, frozen butter and a bunch of oil. The oil does not have a long shelf life however. I also save bacon fat when I cook bacon and freeze it. Its a great trick for browning onions in meat recipes.

I looked up how to make vinegar. Looks like a real pain in the ass. It has no expiration date. I'll buy it.

Few things I looked up:
Shelf life of Crisco is about 10 years.
Frozen active dry yeast should keep for 8 years or more.
Unopened jarred olives should last 2 years past expiration date.
Dry and cool wheat berries keep indefinitely.

Good for barter, too

Also, remember that barter becomes big during hyperinflation. You could create variety after the initial purchase by bartering some of your food that others do not have for stuff that they do like fresh eggs or milk or chocolates or whatever.

In the land of the starving, gold is not a great barter item. You can’t eat it or wash your hair with it. Even just a small piece of it is too valuable for acquiring daily needs (one-ounce coin =$1,700!). Better you have a can of tuna fish or a #10 can of rice to trade. In other words, you don’t have to eat each and every item of stored food. As a practical matter, you will probably find it also useful for bartering for other food, fuel, or hygiene necessities.

Not really an extra expense or investment

Also, this is not even an investment. You have to eat. You are not buying more food than you are going to eat anyway. You are just buying it sooner. In my book How to Protect Yourself from Hyperinflation & Depression, the chapter on this is called “Advance purchase and sale.” In other words, what I am trying to say here is— “Just do it.”

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