Emergency Preparedness for the Budget Minded

I live in hurricane country and it’s the season for misery and anxiety for us. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve had two near misses with tropical systems. Others have had it far worse than us. When you live in an area that’s prone to natural disaster, whether it’s hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, floods, fires, or ice storms, you know that you need to be prepared to take care of yourself, your family, and your property, at least for a while.

You can’t rely on business being “as usual” in the wake of a natural disaster. You need to have your own food and water, plywood, tarps, batteries, generators, ice, coolers, and first aid supplies. In the event of a disaster, those things will be difficult to find, if you can even get out to get them.

The problem is that all of this preparation can get expensive and take a big bite out of your budget. So how do you prepare for an emergency and keep your budget intact? Read on.

Know what disasters are likely to happen in your area and when, and then plan for them

Simply knowing what sorts of disasters your area is likely to experience is the easiest thing to do. I’m always amazed at how many people move to my area and are surprised by hurricane season. When the first warnings go out they say, “You mean those storms come here?” They have no clue what they’re up against and, as such, are completely unprepared. They go running to the stores far too late to get anything they need and end up paying premium prices for what they can get their hands on. If they bothered to learn about the area, they would be better prepared to plan and deal with these things.

If you live in hurricane country, start making your preparations and plans in the spring. If you live in tornado country, start making your plans in the winter. If ice is your problem, start planning in the fall. If you live in earthquake country, stay prepared at all times. Planning ahead gives you time to make wise financial and planning decisions.

Save for emergency preparation

You should already have an emergency fund designated for unexpected events, but I would suggest keeping a separate fund for “emergency preparation.” Unlike job losses, medical emergencies, and car accidents which are unexpected and difficult to plan for, many natural disasters can be expected and planned for. You might not know the exact date and time, but you know if you live in a vulnerable area that you should be prepared.

Put aside a little each month so that, when your disaster season rolls around, you can draw on it to fund your preparations. This is particularly important if you might have to evacuate, as the costs of gas, hotels, and food can quickly add up to levels that can really strain your budget. It’s like having an extra vacation in the budget, only you didn’t plan for that one. If you don’t have to use the money one year, keep it until the next.

Make a list

Once you know what sort of disasters you’re facing, make a master list of supplies you need. If you’re not sure what you need, your neighbors can probably give you some suggestions or many states/municipalities keep some sort of “most commonly recommended supplies” list. This makes it easy to know what you need and check it against what you already have. Then you can watch for the items you need to go on sale (see below).

Shop the sales

Planning ahead gives you plenty of time to find items on sale. This includes things like bottled water and shelf stable foods, but also more expensive items like chainsaws and generators. The stores often have good sales on items outside of disaster season, but once the season starts, the deals tend to disappear.

Use coupons

You’d be surprised how many emergency items can be bought with coupons. Bottled water, many shelf stable foods, first aid items, pet food, and batteries all issue coupons. If you plan ahead, you can watch for the coupons for these items and then score some deals, especially if you can combine the coupons with a sale. However, if you wait until the last minute, coupons will be hard to find and, even if you find them, you probably won’t be able to find the items you have coupons for in the stores.

Don’t duplicate items in your panic

Use your list to avoid duplicating items in a panic. When disaster threatens, many people fly off to the stores half cocked, having no idea what they need or already have. As a result, they buy tons of stuff that they already had at home. Nothing stinks more than buying a bunch of batteries or several tarps, only to discover that you already had those items at home. Buying duplicates wastes money. Keep your list up to date and you’ll always know what you have and what you need.

Look for used items

No, you won’t be able to find used food, but you can find used generators, chainsaws, snow shovels, gas cans, and other tools in great, barely used condition. Sometimes people move away from a disaster-prone area and look to sell their supplies cheap just to have to keep from moving them. You can score some good deals this way. Keep an eye on your local classifieds, yard sales, or Craigslist to see what’s being offered.

Don’t throw away stuff every year, only to buy new the next

Nothing wastes money more than throwing things away that you’re going to need again. I don’t know how many people buy a generator every time a hurricane threatens and then sell it after the season, only to buy a new one the next year. It’s the same with snow shovels, chainsaws, plywood, and other supplies. If you are going to live in the same area for a while, you’ll probably need those supplies again so don’t throw them away.

Review and change your insurance policies as needed before the season starts

If you need to make changes in your insurance, you need to do so before disasters threaten. For example, most insurance companies “freeze” policy changes once a hurricane has formed. If you want to add coverage you have to wait until it passes, meaning that anything not already covered will be lost in the event of a storm. Make changes before the season starts so all of your belongings are covered.

Don’t procrastinate

I know many people who wait until the storm is practically upon them before they make any preparations. Their mantra is, “It won’t come here.” They always end up paying top dollar for supplies, food, and gas and are always amazed at how much their budget suffers. As soon as you think a storm may be heading your way, head to the stores to get the items you need. The longer you wait, less will be available and the prices will be higher. If you even think you might have to evacuate, go ahead and make hotel reservations in a safe location. Most chain hotels will refund deposits if you cancel 24 hours in advance. Booking early gives you a chance at discounts or reduced rates which will be long gone by the time the disaster is on top of you. There is always a chance that the storm will pass you by, but it’s far better to plan and act as though it won’t.

Emergency preparation can be costly, but there are many ways to reduce those costs to manageable levels. Simply planning and shopping ahead gives you a big advantage over those who wait until the last minute. You’ll have the best choice of items and the best chance at securing those items at reduced rates.

Even though preparation costs you money, not being prepared to protect yourself and your property can cost even more in the long run, so emergency preparation is not something that should be neglected. It’s never money wasted to prepare. Any food or water you don’t use can be consumed after the season. First aid items are always good to have around. Stockpiled gas can be put into your car after the season. Expensive items such as generators should be viewed as an investment in your future protection. It’s far better to be prepared than to be without vital items in the event of an emergency. So plan ahead, budget for your preparations, and rest (somewhat) comfortably knowing that you’ve done all you can to secure yourself and your property. The rest is up to mother nature

Image courtesy of mudfan

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2 Responses to Emergency Preparedness for the Budget Minded

  1. VIJAI says:

    Hi Jenniefer,

    I am totally with you. I also leave in hurricane zone and we even just got recently hit by Hurricane IKE and it was devestating to many people. We practically survived without much damage. But it would have hit us hard, surely I don’t know where I would dug in for money.

    Good and informative points.


  2. Gail says:

    After our first power outage after moving into this house we got a small generator that would handle the bare essentials. We have had to use it twice now. We also store water in galloon jugs as a just in case item, which came in handy when something broke in our water lines (we are on a well) and the part wouldn’t be in stock for 4 days. With the bottled water we were still able to flush. We also had a storm come through and we lost electric for 48 hours. I have discovered the one thing we really need for electric outages and that is a cooking method as the generator can’t handle the electric stove so that is something we need to find and problem solve, although we hand plenty of food on hand that didn’t need cooked.

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