Preparing for Disaster on a Budget: Part 2

By Carol Church

In part 1 of this series, we talked about the cost of getting ready for a disaster, and how some people don’t—or how they go too far. Here we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of what you can do to prepare your household and family for a disaster while not completely breaking your budget.

Photospin/Alexander Matvienko
  • Prepare early.

The key to emergency preparedness on a budget is giving yourself plenty of time to get ready. As we’ve seen time and time again, when disaster is bearing down, people panic, and prices go up. To avoid this last-minute hysteria, purchase a set of basic supplies and have them on hand year-round so you don’t end up in a pickle using Perrier to brush your teeth. If you have limited space and are unable to store water, we have some solutions for that further down.

Having a long timeline will also permit those on tight budgets to put away “a little bit” every week or month to prepare. If taking out a large amount of cash all at once (since cash may be needed in any emergency) will be a problem, start saving change and small bills. Ditto for building up a simple emergency pantry: one extra can of tuna a week won’t add much to your grocery bill.

  • Think reusable instead of short-term

In the panic before a blizzard or hurricane, people often buy up a lot of bottled water and cheap flashlights. This is only natural, but especially if you live in an area where this kind of emergency happens with some regularity, it may be time to rethink. Solar or crank lanterns and flashlights do not need batteries; once bought, you will not have make that purchase again. As far as water goes (FEMA recommends having enough for 3 days, at a gallon per person a day), consider purchasing refillable containers like an Aquatainer, or a water filter like a LifeStraw (technology here has really advanced). These items will not need to be dumped and then rebought time after time. Remember, too, that there are other ways to store water in the short term for drinking and washing, including:

–In large pots, canning jars, water coolers, food-grade buckets, or 2-liter soda bottles

–In the bathtub or washing machine (for washing only)

  • Watch for sales and bulk deals

Bottled water, first aid supplies, batteries, and other emergency needs all go on sale regularly, so if you’re watching, you’ll be able to stock up when the price is low. In addition, certain items go on sale at predictable times—for instance, camping gear is often cheap at the end of the summer, so this is a great time to buy flashlights and sleeping bags.

  • Protect your food and know how to shop smart for emergency food

Losing a full fridge and freezer’s worth of food can be very expensive, not to mention unpleasant. Average estimated costs for having to ditch the contents of your refrigerator are about $150. To avoid this possibility, first, make an effort to “cook through” some of your frozen items if the disaster is one that gives some warning, such as a blizzard or hurricane. In addition, before the storm arrives, freeze water in Ziploc bags or plastic containers to take up room in your freezer and help keep things cool. If loss of power appears imminent and you are staying in your home, move the food you plan to eat to a smaller cooler with ice, then keep the fridge and freezer closed! Once power is lost, you can even place a heavy blanket or comforter around it and tape it if you want to get serious. An undisturbed freezer will keep food frozen for 1-2 days, depending on how much is in it. To ensure that your food is still safe to eat, visit How to Keep Food Safe in a Power Outage from Foodsafety.gov.

As far as what food to purchase, the frugal approach is to buy or prepare food you’ll still want to eat even if the threat never comes to pass. That way, it won’t feel like money down the drain. Remember, although shelf stable food can be kept for some time, it still should be eaten every year or two, depending on the type of food.

Some suggestions for food you can store longer-term include:

–Granola bars

–Dried fruit and nuts

–Cereal or granola (eat with dried, reconstituted milk or shelf stable milk)

–Canned or vacuum-packed soups, pastas, fruit, beans, and fish or meat

–Jerky

–Crackers, rice cakes

–Nut butters

For a disaster you can anticipate, such as a hurricane or snowstorm, it’s possible to cook a day or two ahead or purchase food that will last for a short time at room temps. For instance, try:

–Homemade or bakery-made baked goods

–Carrots, apples, and citrus fruit

–Hard cheeses

–Homemade air-popped popcorn

–Tomatoes (for sandwiches, or mixed with beans or canned meats)

–Dry-cured sausages

Don’t have a gas or camping stove? An inexpensive can of Sterno can heat a can of soup or beans in a pinch.

  • Avoid ready-made “disaster preparedness” kits

Though it may seem tempting and convenient to purchase a pre-made disaster preparedness kit, the quality of the items is likely to be very low for the price paid. It will be a better bargain to buy items separately and assemble your own kit. Sites like The Sweethome carry reviews for common emergency supplies like lanterns and weather radios.

Hopefully, these tips will help families prepare for a disaster without these needed preparations being an excess financial burden. Although getting ready for a potential disaster can be expensive, don’t ever forget that not preparing for a disaster can be far more so. Without light, basic medical supplies, water, or food, you may have no choice but to leave. Once a disaster is in progress, this can be not just costly, but dangerous. Stay safe out there.

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