Over the past week, I spent some time talking with a coworker about disaster preparation. We got on the topic while discussing rising food costs. He commented that he and his wife have around a 3 month supply of food and water stocked up in their basement because they’re a little bit afraid of living in D.C.
At first, I laughed. And then I started thinking. Growing up, my friends joked that my parents’ basement was like a bomb shelter. No, not because of excessively thick walls, but because my mom kept a huge amount of food in the basement. I don’t think it was a security thing – it was more a practicality thing. We had one decent grocery store in town, and she bought a lot of things in bulk from Sam’s Club. She also was great at stocking up. If something was on sale and she used it regularly, she might buy 20 when she only needed 1. They had an extra fridge and freezer down there as well, so there was always room for an extra gallon of milk or two as well as produce. In grad school, it was a great deal as she encouraged me to “shop” in the basement for anything I might need, from canned soups to paper products.
When I first moved out, I started doing similar things. I wasn’t used to running out of something, so I always tried to have two of everything on hand. While this worked well, it meant that I was forgetting what I had, partially due to a very poorly shaped pantry.
I was lucky enough to find a place in D.C. with a grocery store within easy walking distance, so just popping by the store to pick something up is incredibly easy. Because of this, my stocking up has stopped quite a bit. I still stock up on items from Trader Joe’s, as it’s more of a trek, but it’s not uncommon for me to run out of everyday items. I don’t worry about it.
After talking to my coworker, however, I realized that this trend has led to me being woefully unprepared for any sort of a disaster. While I choose to live my life not worried about disaster around every corner (otherwise, I’d be living in a bunker in South Dakota), it’s not a good idea to be prepared, just in case. And in the case of food, it’s never bad to have extra supplies around, especially if I rotate things in and out. I spent some time perusing ready.gov and decided that I should try to put together some sort of a disaster kit. I’m putting it together in bits and pieces, and I’m not going to just put together one big box of everything, but rather two or three containers located sporadically throughout the apartment.
What kinds of things am I stocking up on? Well, I’ve decided to pick up a few gallons of drinking water. It’s about $1 a gallon (ironic, since a 12 ounce bottle of water runs around $1.50). I don’t know why I didn’t think about it before. I grew up in an area where boil orders weren’t uncommon. For those of you who don’t know, a boil order is when residents of an area are told to boil their water before drinking it due to possible contamination. Not a huge deal. But what happens if there’s a bad storm that leads to a boil order and a power outage? Makes it a bit harder to boil the water, doesn’t it.
I don’t own a radio. That’s a problem. I’m looking into getting a NOAA Weather radio, perhaps one of those all-in-one emergency kits that you plug in and it lights up when the power goes out so you can find it, and it’s got a radio and a flashlight right there ready to go.
I’m working on redoing my First Aid kit as well. I have a basic first aid kit, plus products I use more often (extra bandaids, Advil, Neosporin, etc). But when I opened up the kit, I realized a number of things inside were expired. Great. I stopped by the store to pick up a new pre-created kit, and discovered that the expiration dates on the kits at the store were 12/2008! So I’m slowly adding to the kit I have with full sized products rather than single use.
I always keep an extra month of my prescriptions on hand, so I will simply start putting the most recently purchased container into my emergency box, and I’ll also throw a spare pair of contacts in the box.
In the kitchen, I’ve decided to put together a box in a cabinet with “extras.” An extra bag of cat food (what, you think I wasn’t including them in my emergency plan?) and extra canned goods, preferably the sort with pull tabs. I keep a stash of Clif bars at all times, so I think I’ll just start keeping that stash in the emergency box. Same goes with the extra box of cereal I like to have on hand as well. This way, I can be prepared without too much extra work or extra expense. I’m just slowly buying more of what I have.
The one thing I know that I need to do is put together an envelope of cash. I have all my important documents in an easily carried fire safe, and I should add at least $100 in cash to that box as well. In an emergency, the spare $20 I always keep in my wallet isn’t going to get me far.
I think this is where a chunk of my economic stimulus is going to go. To preparations for the unknown. Maybe it seems silly, but I figure that it can’t hurt to be prepared.
Are you prepared for the unknown?
Megan is a 40-something government employee in the Washington, DC area. She got interested in Personal Finance when she got out of college and realized that her paycheck wasn’t going to go as far as she had hoped. Since starting this blog, she has managed to buy a house and make a solid start on her retirement goals, and hopes to help others do the same. Here is her story:
In 2007, I was a gainfully employed 20-something with no debt but not a lot of knowledge about personal finance. It was a co-worker’s comment about Roth IRAs that sent me to the internet, searching for information. It was then that I realized that I really didn’t know a whole lot about personal finance and that my current financial situation was due a lot to inherent frugal tendencies, generous family members, a fear of debt, and good luck. While that was working for me, clearly I needed a better plan.
While I had no debt, I was also pretty much living paycheck to paycheck and not worrying about going over budget (I say this as if I had a real budget) because I had an emergency fund set aside to cover any overages.
Except that’s not what an emergency fund is for.
So I did a lot of research, read a lot of blogs, and decided that I needed a plan. I needed to budget. I needed to know what I was spending my money on. I needed to prepare for the future.
I decided to create a blog not only to make myself accountable to others but also to share the knowledge that I gained along the way. I’ve learned so much from my fellow bloggers, and I hope that my readers can find something useful in what I have to share as well.