Be Prepared: 5 Strategies for Building a Budget-Friendly Emergency Kit


We’ve officially entered hurricane season, meaning it’s time to evaluate — or create — your emergency kit.

Are you ready for the worst if faced with a hurricane or if another disaster strikes? Preparing doesn’t have to be expensive. These five tips will help you get ready without spending a lot.

How to Build Your Emergency Kit for Less

Sure, you could plunk down more than $200 or so on a one-size-fits-all emergency kit filled with stuff you probably won’t need.

Or, try the budget-friendly option: Build your own customized, cost-effective kit. Here’s how.

1. Decide What You Need

First of all, know what you need.

The Red Cross suggests keeping bare essentials like water, non-perishable food, clothes and medicine on hand..

You definitely need a stash of those. But what other goods make sense for where you live?

In my part of Florida, I can’t think of a disaster scenario that would necessitate the hand chain saw or rope in the $200 kit I mentioned, but maybe I’d feel differently if I had to deal with tornadoes or earthquakes, or if I lived in a wooded area.

Figure out what your kit needs and prioritize those items. And don’t get carried away — you probably just need to be able to feed yourself for a week or so, not build a shelter on a desert island.

2. Prep for Free

Some of your preparation won’t cost you a dime. It’s all about gathering stuff you already have, like important documents, cell phone chargers, maps and spare emergency cash.

Instead of buying it by the flat, consider bottling your own water. Use bleach-purified, leftover two-liter bottles and treated municipal water. Just don’t use milk or juice cartons, which can harbor bacteria. Date your bottles and replace them every six months, and you’re good to go.

If you’ll need water for hygienic purposes, clean your bathtub, then fill it with cold water. It won’t be potable, but you can use it to flush toilets and keep yourself clean.

Don’t forget your protein! Beef jerky is a great survival snack — but it isn’t cheap. You could dehydrate your own and save money and sodium content. Plus, you get to make your beef jerky the way you like. Check yard sales or Craigslist to find a dehydrator on the cheap.

Whenever you’re doing your own food prep, make sure you’re meticulous. Items undergoing long-term storage can get contaminated if they’re not perfectly sanitized and sealed — and you don’t want to discover your food stash is useless when an emergency arises.

3. DIY to Save

In my area, hurricane shutters are important, but expensive.

The good news is you can make your own out of plywood or polycarbonate from Home Depot — just make sure to factor in the cost of waste when you’re doing your comparison. You may not be able to find much use for raw material scraps once you cut out shutters.

4. Collect Cost-Effective Items

When you have to buy items, use coupons and your penny-hoarding knowledge to your advantage: Shop on the right day, use cash-back sites to earn rebates and use hacks to get the best deals at stores like CVS and Walmart.

When you pick up batteries, hydrogen peroxide, bleach and bandages, make sure to buy generic — they’ll work just as well as the brand-name stuff. Check out the dollar store for these items, and while you’re there, pick up some emergency entertainment: crayons and coloring books for the kids and a pack of cards for adults.

You probably already know how much you can save by buying in bulk. Emergency rations of paper towels, toilet paper, canned goods, batteries and bottled water are a perfect opportunity to take advantage of those savings.

Finally, consider battery-free emergency additions, like wind-up flashlights and weather radios. If you’re going to be without electricity, you’ll definitely want a handheld cell phone charger, which you can keep charged and prepared beforehand.

5. Plan Ahead

One of the best ways to save money on disaster preparedness is to play the long game: Look for sales in your day-to-day life and stock up, way before your storm season approaches. Cans of tuna on BOGO? Put your “get-ones” into your stash.

The more you can avoid a last-minute disaster-prep rush, the better: Vendors do price gouge. Here in Florida, the price of canned goods and gallons of water goes up in June and falls steeply in December, after hurricane season ends.

In case you do need a last-minute item, include disaster prep in your savings budget. Set aside $20 a month or so, and consider it part of your emergency fund — because that’s exactly what it is.

Stay safe, Penny Hoarders — and don’t forget your can opener!

Jamie Cattanach is a freelance writer whose work has been featured at Ms. Magazine, BUST, Roads & Kingdoms, The Write Life, Nashville Review, Word Riot and elsewhere.

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