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The Economics of Doomsday Preparations

Don’t let the rainbow fool you. This picture was taken after the apocalypse. But these people apparently had all the necessary provisions and survived. You can too for the bargain price of $137,000. That’s how much it will cost you to properly prepare for the end of days including where you will live and how you will feed your family. So you may want to add an apocalypse fund to your list of financial goals. 

Find out now: How much house can I afford?

Whether your beliefs are guided by politics, religion, learned paranoia, or popular media, chances are you think the world is about to end. Just over the past 20 years, there have been plenty of apocalypse scares worthy of note. In 1997 the appearance of the comet Hale-Bop led to rumors of an imminent alien spaceship arrival followed by the end of the world. Many people believed Nostradamus predicted the end of the world would come in 1999. The Mayan calendar ended in 2012 and some thought the world would end with it. It didn’t, but that doesn’t mean you’re safe. In fact, according to Norse mythology the Vikings predicted the world will end very soon… on February 22, 2014!

While some of us continue life unaffected as these dreaded days float by, groups of real (yes, real) people become very convinced that the world is coming to an end, and react accordingly. They think, plan and obsess. But how do you really prepare for the apocalypse?

The worldlier of doomsayers (and readers of TS Eliot) know that the end of days will come, not with a “bang,” but with a proverbial “whimper.” They have decided to forego assigning the end of days a specific date. Instead, they are disconnecting, dropping off the “grid,” and hunkering down for the end of civilized society. Nowadays this is a difficult proposition, since updating our iPads and sending Snapchats require an internet connection, a very much on the grid invention. Still, we like being in the know so SmartAsset is taking the coming apocalypse head on by exploring the cost of various doomsday preparations.

Homesteaders: Modern Day Pioneers or Paranoid Hermits? You decide.

Realistically, there are more reasons than the apocalypse to move off the grid. People have been doing it since there were grids to move off of. It’s called “homesteading.” It is characterized by a life of self-sufficiency and total non-reliance on the government or other members of society for survival. Despite their reclusive and independent nature, there is a pretty robust community of homesteaders on the internet who provide tips and tricks to those looking to separate themselves from the rest of humanity (and presumably the rest of the homesteaders).

There are different ways to move off the grid. Several communities around the country err towards modernity by generating their own electricity and relying on their small group of settlers for support. Other individuals choose the more rustic approach and hole up in the woods by themselves to live directly from the land. For the purposes of this article, we are going to assume you don’t have any other crazy, I mean homesteader, friends and explore feasible options for living in isolation. Just because you’ve grown up coddled by technology doesn’t mean you can’t make it on your own!

*Writer’s note: it might still actually mean that. Don’t try this at home. Unless you want to. And you are old enough. And you won’t blame me if it goes wrong.*

How Do You Really Get Off the Grid?

There are a few factors to consider when choosing your off-the-grid location. You’ll be looking for that bucolic paradise where distance from society is balanced nicely with sustainable land and cheap prices. You’ll also, of course, want a climate that is well suited to growing your own food, finding fuel, and not freezing to death in the winter (unless you’re into that sort of thing).

Here are the basics you’ll need to survive:

  • A Shelter
  • Food; land with which to grow it, weapons with which to hunt it.
  • A water source/purification system.
  • Waste management system
  • Energy (most likely solar panels)
  • Heating
  • And weapons with which to defend your house from the monsters that come out at night (see below)

The Economics of Doomsday Preparations

How Much Land Do I Need, and What Does it Cost?

You’d find it hard to believe if you live in a relatively populated area (cough, New York City), but there are still places in the country that allow you to buy large quantities of land for very little money. Some communities even give land away for free, since they have so much of it.

Generally speaking, $20,000 dollars can buy you anywhere from 7 acres of farmland in the Catskills to 40 acres of land in Wyoming. A good rule of thumb is to assume roughly $2,000-$5,000 dollars per acre if you are looking in an unpopulated area. Land in the northeast will cost you more, and harsher terrain will run cheaper (obviously).

There is some speculation out there, but if you are looking to sustain yourself on a single piece of land you will need at least 2 acres. This should provide you with enough space to grow crops for you and your family as well as keep some livestock. You’ll want to pay a bit more for land that has a ready source of running water, as well as lax hunting/firearm laws. You’ll also want to research your area to be sure you aren’t setting up in an area known for meth and other illegal substance production. And yes, this is a real concern. Still sure you want to move off the grid?

The Economics of Doomsday Preparations

“So, would you like all of this or half a square foot on the Lower East Side?”


All that land is no good if you have nothing to live in. For your off-the-grid purposes, there are infinite possibilities for your shelter. A basic cabin will cost you roughly $100 per square foot, a mobile home will cost you $30,000-$70,000, and a straight doomsday bunker will cost you $60,000. EarthShips are Gaudi-esque houses built directly into the land from natural materials that are totally self-sustaining. They cost you about $250 per square foot, plus $10,000 or more to draw up plans. The extra cost might be worth it, since the end product would be designed for self-preservation from the ground up by people whose sole purpose in life is to ensure you are equipped for anything you might need.


As far as expenses go, food is probably the cheapest thing to produce while living in your doomsday paradise—although certainly not the easiest. A relatively small supply of seeds (which cost a couple of dollars a pack) can sustain a family under good circumstances, and, luckily for us, plants tend to create more seeds as they grow so you won’t have to buy more. Thanks, nature!

This is a comprehensive guide to growing your own crops during an emergency situation.

Unfortunately growing your own things is not always enough to survive. Crops fail, weather conditions change and you’ll need to have alternative methods for feeding yourself and your family. Preservation methods like canning and pickling are important (cost-effective) survival tactics, as well as hunting to supplement your food supply.

It is also possible to keep a small contingency of livestock available for your eating pleasure. Chickens, for example, are extremely cheap, relatively easy to maintain, and a few hens can produce more eggs than you can eat. A chicken coop is relatively easy to maintain and will cost you about $200 (or less) to make.


There are many, many ways you can collect water, most of which require ingenuity and a proximity to a fresh water supply. Luckily for us technology-hoarders, nearly 15% of homes in America are already off the grid in terms of their water supplies. But if you aren’t preparing for doomsday in one of them, you will need to pony up some money.

The easiest (and most expensive) way to get access to water is to dig a private well. The cost of a full setup should run you between $6,000-$10,000, but will save you the trouble of redirecting a stream or building some sort of strange aqueduct contraption. You can also collect excess rainwater using cisterns, which is a fancy word for giant tubs that collect rain water.


Powering your off-the-grid spot will be one of your greatest upfront costs—with the greatest value over time. In order to understand what you are paying for, it is important to know what exactly you need to achieve.

When you pay for electricity, you do so in Kilowatt-hours. The average cost of a kw/h in the US is 12 cents. The average American household uses roughly 908 kilowatt-hours a month (~30 a day). This amounts to $1,307 dollars in electricity per year. It is pretty much impossible to recreate the same amount of electricity using renewable sources—a typical solar power setup on a house produces 3-7 kw/h a day, while the average family pulls about 20-30 kw/h from the power grid. It will certainly call for a change in lifestyle, but that’s to be expected when preparing for doomsday.

Even with a plan to lower your usage, setting up a house for sustainable electricity is a costly endeavor. A standard solar panel setup will cost between $18,000 and $40,000 depending on the size of house, equipment used, power generated, etc. You can receive 30% of your solar costs back as a federal tax credit. So, if you spend $20,000 dollars on solar panels for your modest doomsday farm, you’ll be looking at breaking even in about 15 years, since your cost of electricity per year becomes $0.

It’s also a good idea to keep a backup generator around in case something goes wrong. These run upwards of $2,000, not counting the fuel you’ll have to purchase to run it. All in all not a terrible deal, considering your lights will still be on once institutionalized power shuts down. Though, we’d recommend leaving them off so as not to alert the hordes of desperate scavengers to your location.

Solar panels tend to last for about 30 years before needing to be replaced. But let’s face it, 30 years after the apocalypse electricity will probably be the least of your worries.

Waste Management

Whether you like it or not, you will have to create waste while living off the land. It’s just a natural part of life (darn you, nature!). It’s also an inexpensive thing to deal with.

Many modern houses stay off of the sewer grid by using septic tanks, but these require periodic professional maintenance. Since we want to cut costs (and the septic tank maintenance guy is probably a zombie by now, anyways) we are going to go with tradition here and rely on good old-fashioned outhouses and composting for our waste-management needs.

An outhouse is practically free, unless you count labor and smell as cost, and easy to maintain. It just requires you digging a new 6 foot hole every few weeks and moving the shell on top of it. Composting toilets are also available for $450-$4500 if you want to live the fancy life.

The Economics of Doomsday Preparations


Heating Your House

Heating your apocalypse hideaway is a tricky endeavor. Your solar panels can be used to power outdoor heating pumps , or you can go the traditional route with propane heating or furnaces.

Chances are you will need a mix–passive solar windows can heat your house during the day ($100 a pop), while wood-burning stoves ($150) and other small heaters powered by your solar electricity can keep you warm at night.

House design is also important here, with proper insulation necessary to hold in as much heat as possible. You’ll have to learn how to be flexible with your indoor temperature, and when all else fails in the winter, the best option might just be to bundle up.

The Economics of Doomsday Preparations;

After all, who needs indoor heating? The apocalypse looks so warm!

Our Beautiful Doomsday Farm

At the end of the day, there are literally endless ways you can go about building yourself an off-the-grid doomsday farm. From ridiculously simple to luxurious, the amount you’re willing to spend as well as your desired lifestyle are the key factors.

We added up the numbers for one scenario. Here are rough estimates of what it would cost you for a functioning doomsday farm (minus food, guns, tools, and all that fun stuff):

2 acres of beautiful farmland: ~$10,000

A rustic 1,000 sq/ft cabin: ~$100,000

Solar Panels for Electricity: ~$18,000

Private well for water: ~$8,000

Heating: ~$650 (plus a lot of hours of wood chopping)

Fancy composting toilet: ~$500

Total: ~$137,150

Survive the Apocalypse for $137,000

It’s a small price to pay for survival, and the upshot is once you’re off the grid, you’re off and money no longer becomes an object. But if the world is really going to end, will it even matter? Good luck out there!

Chris Gray Chris Gray covers a variety of personal finance topics for SmartAsset. His expertise includes home buying, saving money and student loans. Chris is a graduate of the University of Delaware with a degree in Creative Writing. While there, he worked as an editor for the school literary publication and wrote for a national humor magazine. After graduation, he attended the NYU Summer Publishing Institute to study the finer points of digital publishing.
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