We don’t have to worry about snow storms out here in CA but there are definitely things like earthquakes to consider. Today, PF Pro contributor Kali Hawlk takes a look at emergency preparedness. This is probably something that a lot of us put off or don’t like to think about but just like with finances, those who take a proactive approach will always be rewarded.
It’s one of the basic principles of sound personal finance: have an emergency fund. This specially earmarked savings should be set aside in cash (so that it’s liquid and easily accessible) and there to cover you should an unexpected expense arise that you can’t afford within the confines of your monthly budget.
Emergency funds protect you in case of a financial emergency. Makes sense, right? Should anything happen, you can fall back on your stash of cash and use it to avoid falling into further trouble.
Prepare for Emergencies Beyond the Expense
Your rainy day fund may be one way to prepare for an emergency, but not all emergencies are financial.
What would you do if a natural disaster were to strike your area? Or just really, really crummy weather that left roads inaccessible or the power out? Are you prepared to unexpectedly get stuck for a night away from your home with nothing more but what’s in your car?
Before you start getting weirded out, no: this is not an argument for us all to become crazy doomsday preppers. I bring this up because I’m from Atlanta, site of the great Snowpocalypse 2014.
A 3 inch snowstorm shut down the entire metro area. Which, when you’re talking about Atlanta, is a massive area in and around the city; technically, I live in “metro Atlanta” although my home sits nearly 40 miles from Midtown.
To understand how this could have possibly happened, you need to know the city and its (lack of) infrastructure well.
Explaining that could be a post by itself, so suffice to understand that it took me 3 hours to go 8 miles home from work that day, and I live in the suburbs and didn’t drive on a major highway. As I understand, I had one of the fastest drives home that day.
Others took 10 and 12 hours to make it home. Many people abandoned their cars and hoofed when they got close enough to their homes (or tired enough of creeping forward in bumper-to-bumper traffic on ice-coated roads). Countless others were stranded on the highways in their cars overnight.
Not kidding: one friend was in her car for 22 hours before she made it home.
Think about what you keep in your car now. Would you have been prepared to get stuck on a highway for nearly 24 hours in below-freezing temperatures and snowy, icy weather conditions?
I’m not saying we need to go nuts and prepare for the end of the world. But it is smart to prepare for emergencies — without becoming a hoarder of food and supplies and leading others to question your sanity. You can do so in these ways:
1. Pack a “Go Bag”
A go bag, or a bug out bag, is a bag that contains 72 hours worth of food, water, and whatever else you need to survive in a variety of situations that are likely to occur.
You don’t need to purchase an expensive, over-the-top, pre-packed bag from a survival store. Consider weather conditions and likely events in your area, and pack your bag according to those situations.
You can’t prepare for everything, so be realistic: do you regularly experience earthquakes? Tornadoes? Mandatory evacuations due to wildfires? Pack your bag in accordance to your situation and needs.
For example, living in Georgia my only real concerns are with the occasional tornado and of course, bad winter storms the state is unprepared to handle. So my own bag contains just basic items including:
- First aid kit
- Extra shoes and 1 full change of clothes
- Toiletry bag
- Waterproof jacket
- Multitool and knife
Make sure your car has a go bag, too. Because I now work at home and don’t often drive the car more than a few miles from the hosue, I keep that bag minimal: food, water, a very heavy jacket, extra shoes (plus jumper cables and a jack). If anything were to happen, I could easily walk home — and this winter, for extended trips away from the house, I’m planning on throwing my backpack in the car too.
2. Store Water
You should have, at a minimum, 3 days’ worth of stored water for every person in your home (and that includes pets!). The general rule of thumb is 1 gallon per person per day, but if you have the space, I’d store more than that.
Extra water means enough water to bathe, wash dishes, flush toilets, and clean in addition to just having water for drinking.
Storing water comes in handy should you city or county water supply ever become contaminated for a period of time. (This has happened more than once for my parents, who live in a rural area.) Obviously, it’s also going to be necessary if the water is ever shut off, for whatever reason.
Water is also important should it ever become unsafe or just inconvenient to leave your home. No, I don’t mean in the event of a zombie outbreak. I mean in periods of very bad weather or any kind of disturbance outside your home where it may be possible to leave, but you’d rather stay put.
3. Store Food
For most people, the idea of storing food means we’ve edged into “weird” territory. But remember, this is preparing for emergencies without becoming a crazy hoarder — so I don’t advise that you run out and buy one of those 20 gallon tubs of freeze-dried tuna casserole.
FEMA advises that we keep at least three days’ worth of non-perishable food stored, and if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of preserving and storing food I suggest at least having this minimum recommended amount taken care of. Be sure you stored food you’ll actually eat and not just canned beans.
You can create a small store of food by simply buying a few extras of items with long shelf lives on your next few trips to the grocery store. Keep them on the bottom shelf of your pantry, in a little-used closet, or in a out-of-the-way kitchen cabinet — just somewhere cool and dry.
And again, remember that you should count your pets, too! Make sure they have a small store of non-perishable (read: canned) food in your home.
4. Create a Small Stockpile of Essentials
If you’re shopping at Costco, you probably already have a nice little stockpile of essentials that you pull from in your everyday life. It’s a good practice, because you’re prepared for a number of emergencies this way.
To me, the biggest emergency that we should all prepare for is a loss of income. While your emergency fund can help you while you’re unemployed, a stockpile of essential items (along with some stored food) can help stretch that money farther. Your money will last longer if you don’t have to buy toilet paper, toothpaste, and laundry detergent for the three months you’re out of a job.
(And of course, these items will also come in handy during bad weather or other times it’s better to stay home than venture out — even if it’s just to avoid the holiday shopping crowds!)
Consider what household items you use regularly and think about buying one extra of each when you go shopping.
Preparing for emergencies doesn’t have to mean installing a bunker in your backyard and hoarding food and supplies. It means thinking about likely situations your area is likely to encounter, and preparing to deal with those.
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How do you prepare for emergencies, beyond having your emergency fund?