Ah, hurricane season is here again. That means it’s time to check over the emergency kit and make sure I have enough water, food, and other supplies to make it through several days if we should lose power. Even if we don’t get a hurricane this year, there’s snow and ice season to look forward to. It’s always something. Almost every area of the country has some sort of natural disaster that they should prepare for, whether it’s earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, or snowstorms.
Along with all of the essentials, I add a secret ingredient to my emergency stash: Gift cards. It sounds strange, but I discovered this tip sort of by accident. A few years ago we got hit pretty hard by a hurricane and ended up without power for a week. After two days we’d cleaned out the fridge and freezer, had numerous neighborhood picnics to get rid of food before it went bad, and were starting to get a little punchy at the lack of air conditioning and hot water. By day three, we were working on the non-perishable things like tuna, soup, and canned chicken. By day four, we were tired and fed up.
Then I remembered that I had a gift card for the local pizza place that I’d won in a church raffle. Well, since the commercial areas get power back well before those of us that live in the sticks, the pizza place was up and running. (This is a universal truth. As long as they aren’t wiped off the map, the commercial districts will almost always get power before the residential areas, so if you can get out on the roads you can find places to eat and shop.) I will tell you that not much tastes better than a hot pizza in a cold restaurant after four or five days without power. And we got to wash our hands in hot water! Even better, it was food I didn’t have to pay for. Ever since then, I’ve made a point of including gift cards in our emergency stash.
Sure, we could just pay cash but rather than hit our emergency fund, I get gift cards for free or close to it and use those, instead. That keeps my emergency cash available for things like ice, gas for the generator, and more tuna.
What kinds of gift cards are useful? I’ve used almost everything. Gift cards to restaurants allow you to eat something different in a heated or air conditioned restaurant. Gift cards to places like Home Depot, WalMart or Target can be used for emergency supplies ahead of, during, or after the event (particularly if you have repairs to make or items to replace). Gas cards are great if you need to feed a hungry generator. Even if you don’t need gas, you can get ice and other supplies if the cards can be used in the convenience store. I’ve even used gift cards to hotels/rewards points when we’ve needed to evacuate. So where do I get these cards? Lots of places.
I participate few rewards/survey/shopping rebate sites also known as “Get Paid To” or GPT sites and cash out for cards I know I might need.
Some local focus groups I’ve done have paid in Target and WalMart cards.
Credit Card Rewards
One of my credit cards let you cash out rewards for gift cards. Another one is a dedicated hotel card that gives me a free night or two when I’ve earned enough points.
Health Insurance “Gifts”
My health insurer lets me earn gift cards by eating right, exercising, and recording my activities on their website. Every activity is worth points and I can trade in points for gift cards once I’ve reached the required level.
My husband’s company likes to give gift cards to Target and local restaurants for Christmas, staff appreciation day, and other occasions throughout the year.
During the holidays and on my birthday I get a lot of gift cards. Some are gifts from relatives who don’t know what else to get and some are from clients. My neighbor gives me gift cards when I dog sit for them. Some are to restaurants, others are for stores.
Raffles/Dirty Santa/Other Giveaways
Throughout the year I find myself entering raffles at church or vendor presentations. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to win. During the holidays, games of “Dirty Santa” usually yield a gift card or two.
Store “Gifts With Purchase”
Target is the master of the “Buy this item, get a $5 gift card” deal, but other stores do this, too. If I need the items and the price is otherwise a good deal, I jump on these and put the cards in my stash.
At Christmas, many restaurants run deals where, if you buy a set amount in gift cards for others, you can get $10 or $20 for yourself. If I’m buying cards for gifts anyway, these deals are a chance to pad my emergency stash. (Just know the expiration rules with these. Sometimes the cards you buy are good forever, but the ones you get for free have to be used within a couple of months. Still, if you live in snowstorm country you might find yourself using them for an emergency, anyway.)
Chances are at least a few gift cards and rewards come into your possession during the year. If you stash them away, you’ll have a nice “emergency fund” of free meals and supplies should you need it. Just make sure you know when all of the cards expire (and if they carry any fees if you don’t redeem them within a certain amount of time) and you don’t lose them. Most cards that you buy are good forever, but if you lose them it can be hard to get them replaced unless you have the receipt.
Even if we’re fortunate enough not to have any emergencies this year, I can still use the cards for my everyday life. If my stash starts getting too big, I’ll pull out the oldest ones and use them for my regular expenses or a free restaurant meal. Either way, it’s money I didn’t have to spend out of my cash reserves.
(Photo courtesy of playerx)