Preparing for Disaster on a Budget: Part 1

By Carol Church

Recently, natural disasters across the nation have thrown routines into chaos and put lives and belongings at risk. When Mother Nature is bearing down on us, it can feel very scary. We all want to be ready, but unfortunately, obtaining supplies and preparing can be costly.

Costs to Prepare

The range of expenses involved in readying a home and family for a disaster is wide. According to various estimates, the basic emergency preparedness kit recommended by FEMA and other agencies may cost anywhere from $75 to $400+, depending on how much food you purchase, what you already own, and how elaborate you get. Then there’s the cost of preparing your home—for instance, trimming trees and branches, earthquake-proofing, boarding up windows, or clearing flammable brush from around the periphery. Don’t forget costs that can mount when disaster seems close– filling up the car with gas, pulling out cash from an ATM (obviously, this can be used even if no emergency occurs, but for some this unexpected withdrawal is tough), and refilling prescriptions. If an evacuation occurs, the expense of food, gas, and shelter may be very high.

When taken all together, the potential cost to prepare easily starts at $100+ and could even head up into the thousands for those doing major home preparations or making purchases like generators. These costs can seem discouragingly high, especially when we consider the great degree of uncertainty involved in many natural disasters—that is, will they even happen? For this reason, some do not prepare at all, or only when “crunch time” arrives. Unfortunately, according to FEMA, only 39% of Americans currently have developed an emergency plan.

Photospin/Tom Griger

Preppers: When Getting Ready Gets Really Expensive

On the flip side, there are “preppers,” who take preparing for a severe disaster extremely seriously. Those with this frame of mind believe it is important to prepare for weeks, months, or even years without basic services, with some imagining a potential “end of life as we know it” scenario. Do you know anyone like this? It’s actually a relatively common interest among military and ex-military families.

While this spending choice may seem reasonable to some, it can quickly spiral, with families spending many hundreds to thousands on vast stockpiles of food, water, medical supplies, ammunition, and more. Some go as far as to spend $50,000 or more on a “bunker.” However, experts agree that once a basic emergency kit such as that described at Ready.gov is prepared (if feeling concerned, or living in a disaster-prone area, stock up for 7 days, not 3) and reasonable precautions to prepare one’s house have been taken, it’s not necessary to invest in “extreme prepping.”

In fact, it’s very possible to find a balance between hiding our heads in the sand and hoping for the best and buying hundreds of pounds of powdered milk. With some time and forethought, we can prepare frugally while still meeting safety goals. In part 2, we’ll go over some tips to keep your wallet happy and your home ready.

References:

FEMA. (2015). Sixty Percent of Americans Not Practicing for Disaster: FEMA urges everyone to prepare by participating in National PrepareAthon! Day on April 30. Retrieved from https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2015/04/28/sixty-percent-americans-not-practicing-disaster-fema-urges-everyone-prepare

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