I've never been a big spender. Thinking about it, I've got my parents to thank for this. They encouraged us kids to be thrifty, often using scrap around the yard for projects, or finding a "cheaper" way to accomplish a task. There were many weekends spent renovating our home, and times I wish we'd outsourced, but it did teach me some valuable skills.
As a survivalist, I am keenly aware of my spending habits. If I can scrimp or save a little on my day-to-day expenses, this leaves more money for my stockpile of food, gear and ammo. But as I start seeing an influx of newcomers to prepping, there's also an influx of cheap survival gear.
And that's a dangerous thing.
When you're relying on your preps to keep you and your family safe during a disaster, or even just a weekend camping trip, you can't go cheap. A $39 tent will not hold up to the elements the same way a true outdoor tent will, and I'd say the extra expense is justified.
Of course, you don't always need to buy the most expensive gear. That's just not realistic. But there's a balance you need to strike. I look for the sweet spot where the quality of what you're buying is the right price. That's where you need to be. Because we can't all afford the most expensive gear. If you can't buy quality, cheap is probably better than nothing. Or second hand. Often, you'll find high quality gear for rock-bottom prices in yard sales, as it's just been collecting dust in someone's basement.
But there's a few items I'd always recommend spending your money on. With these, you shouldn't go cheap, as your very survival could depend on it.
One of the most versatile tools you need for survival is your knife. From trimming branches for your shelter to cutting up a kill, you will be using your knife pretty regularly if you ever find yourself in a real survival situation. You don't want something that dulls as soon as you start splitting wood. Or takes forever to get the edge back after a day of use. You'll also find that you'll be able to bend or break the blade with very little effort, and if it doesn't break you'll struggle just getting it to hold an edge. Cheap steel just doesn't work with knives.
Ultimately it comes down to the quality of steel used in the blade. I always recommend not buying cheap knives, but you don't need to spend hundreds of dollars either. There's many good products around the $30 to $60 mark if you do your research. In general, you want to stick to a German or USA-made blade, although Sweden, Japan and England also make good knives.
Considering this is what you'll be using to carry all of your gear, it makes sense to get a decent backpack that's designed for hiking. I prefer a more tactical style, but other survivalists go for typical hiking bags, to each their own. Just don't get a cheap bag. They're uncomfortable, don't breathe, and you'll be starting a saga of torn seams, ripped straps, broken zippers and will be forever complaining about your crappy bug out bag. Just don't do it.
Look for a high-quality bag. That means durable zippers, thick and comfortable shoulder straps with enough waterproofing that the contents will stay dry if you're caught out in the rain. Triple-sewn seams. Enough pockets to keep your gear in order. Oh, and if you can find one with a padded waistband this is a big plus. It helps spread the weight from your shoulders and means you can hike further each day.
With smartphones and GPS, I'm amazed at the amount of people who aren't able to navigate with a compass and map. What will you do if you're unable to get cell service. Or your battery dies? One of my most important pieces of gear is my compass. It's probably the most important item you can invest in for survival, as it tells you which way to go. If it's slightly off, you're going to be hiking off-course, which can add days to your travel time and potentially put you in a life-threatening situation. Don't be silly. Get a good compass, and I'd also recommend buying maps of the area you'll be hiking.
Although they promise the world, a cheap flashlight just isn't worth it. They'll hook you in with promises of thousands of lumens, but if you ever get one of these tested, you'll see that's just not the case. Then they get waterlogged, and the mechanics inside fail. I've personally seen it happen, and ending up in a pitch-black camp at night because you bought a cheap flashlight is a situation I never want to be in again. It sucks. The weekend after that trip I bought a decent flashlight that has lasted me ever since with just a handful of battery changes (going on 6 years now). Buy a good flashlight. It's worth it.
As a survivalist, you can never have enough ammunition. And when you see cheap brands on sale it seems like it's too good to be true. I hate to break it to you, but it is. Cheap ammunition means they cut corners somewhere. It's either super old stock that's been sitting in a warehouse for decades, or it’s been mass produced in a cheap country, that lacks proper standards. I've gone through my fair share of cheap ammo on the range and I've noticed my guns jam much more frequently, and the accuracy, especially when I'm shooting long-range, is always lower with non-branded ammo.
When it comes to survival, it pays to know what you should be investing your money into. Cheap canned food is fine. But a cheap knife will probably break before you can get into the can. So spend your money wisely, and ensure you've got the right gear when the SHTF. It may just save your life.