Simple, Easy, Frugal Ideas For Emergency Preparedness

June 1st is the start of Hurricane season for the East Coast, it’s always Earthquake season on the West Coast, and it’s near peak season for Tornadoes in many states, so in general it’s a good time in general to check up on your disaster plans. While there are several places like FEMA and the Red Cross that will have extensive lists of what you should have, but really, do you keep 3 days worth of food in your house, your car, and at work? Okay, I’m sure some of you do, but I don’t.

Instead, I liked reading about simple and easy things you can do that will still make a big difference if you are out of power and other services for several days. Most of these things are free, or involve slight changes to your buying patterns on stuff you would have bought anyways.

Food: Stockpile and Rotate Your Pantry
I wonder if it is necessary to buy 20 cans of beans or military MREs and stick them in a box somewhere. Chances are that most of us could live off of what we have in our cabinets for a least a few days. To improve on that, just be aware and buy extra of certain staples when they happen to be on sale. Canned soups, vegetables, fruits, peanut butter. Cereal, crackers, pasta, rice. Don’t let them just sit there though, buy more when needed and then eat the items before they get stale. I just put an empty duffel bag in the pantry with a manual can opener inside so I could throw some stuff in there and run if really needed. If the power does go out and you stay at home, remember to eat the perishable food in the refrigerator first, followed by the food in the freezer, so that you can saved the canned goods for last.

If you buy bottled water, keep an extra case, and rotate as needed by the expiration dates so that the water stays fresh. You can also store tap water in old 2-liter soda bottles which are sanitized first with a bit of chlorine bleach. This should cost essentially nothing. During an actual emergency, another trick is to save and use the water held in the tank of your hot water heater.

Cooking and Heating: Keep Your Propane Tank Halfway Full
If you have a propane grill, you can use it for cooking when without power or natural gas. Do not use your grill indoors, though, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. If you live in an area where it gets especially cold, there are indoor propane heaters with built-in sensors that will let you heat your house safely. Propane is a lot easier to store safely than gasoline!

Transportation: Keep Your Gas Tank At Least 1/4 Full
So, where is the safest place to store large quantities of gasoline in an emergency? Your car! So stop seeing how close you can get to “E” before filling up. Besides, if you really need to go somewhere in an emergency, you need to go, not stop by at the nearest gas station first. This way you’ll be a good 50-100 miles away before having to stop. Also, having lots of gas means that you can…

Power: Use Your Car Engine For Electricity
I think a great tool to have around is a cheap power inverter (available for $30 including shipping) that will let you plug in lights for your house, a radio/TV/laptop, or just charge your cell phone using your running car. Just plug into your cigarette adapter (lower watts) or connect to your car batter (higher watts). Comes in mighty useful for road trips as well.

Everything Else: Cash
No, it won’t be able to earn any interest, but having a decent amount cash handy can be very helpful. Stores may not take credit cards when there is a blackout due to fraud, which I found when trying to buy some things at my local hardware store during a blackout. Coincidentally, there were having a special on those hand-crank radio/flashlight combos so I picked one up. 🙂 I’m not sure how much is a good amount to have in the house safebox. Between $100-$500?

This list isn’t exhaustive, just what I could think up, so please share your own ideas in the comments.


  1. Don’t forget:

    Flash Lights

  2. These are all great ideas, but beyond all the physical necessities, it’s also good to have a PLAN. Have a meeting place where family members can gather in case of an emergency.
    Several meeting places are ideal. For example, perhaps meeting at a hotel in town for a local emergency. Then have another meeting place in another part of the state in case you have to “get out of Dodge”, and maybe a relative’s house in another state in case of a statewide emergency like a dirty bomb.

    I added you to my blogroll by the way. If there’s any nutmeggers out there, check about my blog!

  3. That’s at by the way.

  4. Cash cash cash. My fiance is from New Orleans and had to evacuate from Katrina. Before fleeing, she of course needed to fill up the car with gas…stations were NOT taking credit cards…they had to have cash only. Lines at the ATM were long, and the machines ran out of cash quickly.

    Thankfully, her father had a few hundred dollars stuffed somewhere so they were able to fill up and escape.

  5. I love the duffel bag in the pantry idea. Very handy.

    Another thing to keep in mind is storing only stuff that you know how to cook/prepare without power/gas/internet recipes. I’ve known a few people who stockpiled wheat/rice/dried beans for disaster season though they had no idea what to do with it should a disaster actually strike. Not very helpful 🙂

    . o O (something wrong with the “Cooking and Heating: Keep Your Propane Tank Halfway Full” paragraph, near the link)

  6. The duffel bag is decent, but also add a backpack with lighter items. The duffel bag is perfectly fine for carrying from your house to your car, but what happens when the roads are closed, jammed or at some point impassable? The duffel loaded with canned goods would be a pain to lug 30 miles. It might even be impossible.

    The events that would cause a situation requiring or physically preventing you from driving your car seem too big and unlikely to happen, but they do.

    The most recent in the U.S. would be hurricane Katrina. If for some reason you had gotten stuck in the city and waited out the hurricane how would you have driven out after all that destruction? You couldn’t have. So, do you stay for weeks in dangerous and unhealthy area waiting on rescuers to come or do you hike out knowing that a certain area is above sea level, but the road is impassable? I’m hiking the hell out.

    Just a few more recent events that would have made roads impassable: South Pacific Tsunami, recent earthquake in China

  7. Here’s an idea that I have implemented. For each kind of cereal you eat, buy an extra box. It’s easy to rotate, so your stash doesn’t get stale, and easy to plan for. And cereals are fortified, so they can make up somewhat for off-kilter eating patterns. They don’t require power or preparation to eat.

    Being in the Midwest, winter storms are the thing to prepare for, not hurricanes. One thing that I discovered last winter when the power was out is that you really have to take care that you carry some non-preparation foods that aren’t loaded with sugar. A lot of the food that is easy to eat will leave you feeling bad from sugar highs and lows. Cracking open a can of tuna or something where the calories come from protein and fat can make a big difference in how you feel.

  8. Have a contact person in another city or state you can reach in case your family gets separated you can still have peace of mind knowing they are OK.
    If you have advance warning make sure you fill up you tank gas pumps do not work without power.
    Have your medications filled.
    Fill you bathtub with water you can use this to keep your toilet filled so you can flush after using it.
    Those soda bottles you added water to freeze them and it will help keep you freezer or fridge cooler longer.

  9. I keep looking into/putting off buying a small generator. Just something to plug my refrigerator and boiler into (and maybe a couple of lamps with an extension cord). I know with those two things working and a little light, I could stay in my house for a pretty long time. Of course, in the event of a bomb or anything that would contaminate the drinking water, I would have a problem. But (fortunately) the only “disaster” to come my way have been a few brownouts and that crazy blackout in 2003 (?) of the northeast power grid. A small generator would have allowed us to live through that with no problems at all.

  10. Greetings from Hurricane central… I just read today that FL state’s sales-tax holiday for hurricane supplies became another victim of Florida’s bad budget year and poor economy.

    House and Senate budget negotiators are doing away with the popular tax-free-shopping period launched three years ago, after four hurricanes battered the state in 2004.

    I thought the idea was great in that it got people talking about the arrival of hurricane season and also gave me the opportunity to get (tax free) the big ticket items that need replacing every year. All the D and C cell batteries add up. Torch and candle fuel and some staples.

    Erasing the weeklong holiday this year will save $12 million — small change in a $3 billion budget shortfall. Now I am sure they’ll spend 12M on preparedness commercials or Newspaper ads… ah well…

    Also, if you live in hurricane country, you can subscribe to the website and get all hurricane advisories and updates emailed and texted to you.

    Have a safe season…

  11. I remember finding my parents emergency stash of cash in an innocuous empty tub of ice cream in the garage. Obviously they thought nobody would ever look there.

  12. Here’s some food for thought (pun intended): My church encourages every family to have a years supply of food, and store as much drinking water as possible too. My wife and I don’t have the room to store an entire year’s worth in our small apartment, but we do the best we can (> 1 month worth) and buy canned and boxed food at case lot sales.

    It’s also good idea to keep cash in small denominations $1’s and $5’s as well larger bills. This is because in an emergency or disaster, if you are bartering with someone for food or something else, and they want, for example, $5, and you only have $20’s, you may feel bad giving away the larger bills. There’s no guarantee you or they will be able to make change.

  13. clean underwear. skid marks are uncool

  14. atomiclightbulb says:

    Rotating stocks of food and water are good. I think keeping $100-200 at home. That’s enough to get some food and fuel in order to escape a Katrina-like disaster, but its not so much that it would be terrible to lose due to theft or fire. Keeping $20 in small bills + assorted coins in the car for tolls and parking.

  15. I also live on the Florida West coast and have an area in my home designated for emergency hurricane supplies. Most of the items you’ve mentioned are in my “kit”, with the exception of the cash, which is an excellent idea. As a result of your post, I will keep $500, in small denominations, in my safe labeled ‘Emergency Disaster Funds Only’.

    I have been toying with the idea of installing a whole-house auxiliary generator …maybe next year. My son says that what he hated most was not being able to take a hot shower after he was hit by one of the ’05 hurricanes.

    The one useful thing I’ve learned, that I can contribute, is instead of storing bottled water, then having it get stale, I purchased about 10 collapsible water bottles that I purchased at Sports Authority. I think they are each 2 gallon capacity. The total space of the folded bottles is about one cubic foot; much less than storing 20 gallon jugs of water. We also have a filtered water tap in our house, so we don’t buy bottled water. This alone saves mucho bucks throughout the year. Buying bottled water for emergencies, humping it home, storing for a few years, dumping the water and discarding the bottles all got to be a pain and was very wasteful. Using the collapsible water bottles works well for me. I hope I never need to use them!

  16. Great post. I live in South Florida and am very familiar with getting prepared for these Hurricanes/Storms. Like you have already mentioned, we fill up jugs and jugs of our tap water with a little chlorine bleach, helps save. What I don’t have that you reminded me to get are hand crank radios and flash lights. All in all, great tips. Let’s hope Florida has a quiet season

  17. youngsterz says:

    All good stuff. Many people don’t consider emergency preparedness or food storage to be an element of their financial plan, but it MUST be. When you think about it, financial freedom is nothing more than being prepared to financially handle whatever life throws at you, and being prepared can take the form of good investments, good insurance, food storage, keeping certain liquid reserves (or a pile of cash), etc.

    We could probably keep my family of 5 pretty much fed for at least 6 months, but I really should get at least a basic backup generator. Especially since we live in the country and are on a well. No power, no water. 🙁

    I’m glad to see the discussion on keeping some cash rat-holed at home. People get focused on natural disasters, but what really scares me is a terrorist attack on information systems, including the financial markets. Can you imagine the pleasant sunny day, with nary a natural disaster to be found, but where your credit cards don’t work, and your banks can’t access their records? What if such a thing lasted for a few days? A few weeks? Heaven forbid, a few months? You would definitely want to have some supplies stashed away, and have some cash in your hand, and not just in your bank. I’m not saying gobs and wads and tens of thousands, but up to a thousand wouldn’t be a bad thing.

    One final note: I hate to break it to you, but the value of the almighty dollar is probably just going to slip over time (and maybe quite a bit in the coming future). One thing to consider with your rat-hole funds would be a little silver and/or gold. I recommend just having some 1 oz. silver rounds along with your cash stash. Not quite as liquid, but still has value as trade currency, and over time, hey, it could very well go up in value as opposed to dollars that may go down in value. Current silver is about $18/oz., so maybe just having 10 or 20 of the 1 oz. coins. And hey, they are really neat to look at as well. . . .

    Just something to consider for the diversified emergency portfolio of goods.


  18. Looks like I missed a few HTML closing tags in my original post, blah. It should make a bit more coherent sense now, as well as include a few more paragraphs about using your car as a backup generator.

  19. I live close to the border, so it makes sense to keep some Canadian bills in the emergency cash, along with my passport. If you’ve got to move fast, changing currency is only going to slow you down. There aren’t too many scenarios that require leaving the country, but it’s easy enough to leave the option open.

  20. One tip I’ve heard often from people who have been through it is to have your important documents copied and kept somewhere handy in a sealed plastic bag. This will save you having to track them down if you lose everything you have, and save you a lot of hassle.

  21. Pam and youngsterz both have great points.

    Photocopy your documents, store them in a safe deposit box. Then scan your documents and store them on an encrypted remote computer somewhere. (Mozy costs $5 / month and should likely be part of your backup plan).

    And I don’t really think that $100-$500 cash is going to cut it for most people. I keep more and I also have some silver on hand (but I like the idea of 1 oz chips). I would say $500-1000 for anyone that can afford it and keep $100 of it in small bills. Emergencies come in sizes much larger than $200 and cash speaks very loudly.

  22. As a side note, in a really true disaster cash won’t be worth anything. So remember to grab your other “valuable stuff” (like jewelry) as you can use that for trading.

  23. Bug out bag. Try to take foods that do not take water to prepare, I see so many bug out
    bags with things like, instant oatmeal, hot chocolate & soups. The water should be for
    drinking & take vitamins & protein bars. I also take a bottle of fiber, not only is
    fiber needed but it also swells for a full feeling. I came across what is called
    Lifecaps. They are a capsule that has everything needed to survive without food with
    the exception of water. It is full of vitamins & minerals plus Iodine. Anyway, you take
    three of them a day & drink water. I can actually take enough food in one backpack to
    las 6 months because of these little Lifecaps, protein bars, fiber & water. I will run
    out of water in a week so I do carry a small filter & a couple of those straw water
    filters that filter the water as you suck.
    You do not always have the ability or time to heat water to make soup or oatmeal. Anyway,
    after I bought 25 bottles I found a coupon code & bought 75 bottles more. The coupon code
    is… healthcap It will get you 33% off. There are also sites that have those filter straws
    that are cheaper than any of the stores around here. (SLC) I think they are a really good
    idea along with some purification pills. I cannot remember the sites off the top of my head
    but you can Google for aquamira filter straw. Aquamira is the manufacture but do not buy
    off there site because I have found them for almost 1/2 what they want on their own site
    on other sites. Good luck, Gods speed & get serious about your bug out bag!

  24. Thank you for the great information. Great comments as well. Everyone needs to be prepared. Now is the time, not later.


  1. Whole house generator - A personal finance blog about money, budget, investing and its effect on life says:

    […] X over at MyOpenWallet has a post running about basic emergency preparedness and mention has been made of portable generators. I have been considering for some time adding a […]

  2. » Blog Archive » The Cat’s Meow - Link Love for Thursday says:

    […] Jonathan at MyMoneyBlog gives us some tips on Emergency Preparedness. […]

Speak Your Mind