Many people in the preparedness community have been cultivating a self-sufficient lifestyle for some time. Others, however, are new to the idea -- and feeling panicked because of the rapid way in which our world is apparently unraveling. There's so much to do, and so little time.
There's no need for panic. The bottom line is that there's no way anyone will ever be completely prepared. A prepper will most likely not be completely unaffected by a crisis, sipping a latte and enjoying the air-conditioned comfort of his survival retreat, while the rest of us attempt to eke out a meager living. I don't say this to discourage anyone, but merely to point out that we're all in the same boat, and that even small preparations can make a big difference.
Here's my suggested list for those just getting started.
1. Get out of debt. Debt is a millstone around your neck that limits your options. If inflation becomes a problem, as seems likely in the future given the present trends in government spending, your wages will not keep pace and the debt will become an increasingly harder obligation to meet. At the very least, pay off your credit cards. Other, long-term forms of debt, such as student loans or mortgages, are more difficult to pay off. Just do the best you can and begin a cash-basis lifestyle starting today. Dave Ramsey has a very valuable program to help people pay off debt quickly.
2. Do not defer maintenance -- on your home, your car, or yourself. When the SHTF it will be difficult to make repairs on anything. Doctors will likely be in very short supply. Therefore, if you need a new roof, replace it. If your car needs a tune-up, get it. And if you need medical care, dental fillings, or even to lose twenty pounds and get in better shape -- then take care of that too.
3. Store food and water. There are tons of resources on the internet and in printed form that help you figure out how to do this. Crisis Preparedness by Jack Spigarelli is one good book, as is Just in Case by Kathy Harrison. You can simply buy some extra canned food and bottled water every time you go to the grocery store; you can buy MREs or emergency rations; or you can look at the dehydrated survival food suppliers like Sam Andy or Mountain House for a one-stop solution. Set easily achievable goals -- first, aim for a two-week supply, then one month, then three months, then a year. It's easier than you think.
4. Get an evacuation pack. I will likely post in greater depth on this topic soon, but for now, suffice it to say that you need to carry with you or near you at all times a "bug out bag" that will keep you alive for 72 hours in the event that you are stranded in a crisis or need to evacuate an urban area. You can either create your own, or you can purchase one that has already been assembled for you. Options for purchasing a pre-assembled pack can be found here and here.
5. Take a First-Aid course. Your local chapter of the Red Cross offers first-aid classes for a nominal fee. One Saturday spent in a class that will teach you CPR, first aid, and the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED) for adults, children, and infants can save lives in the event of an emergency.