An emergency fund is not an emergency plan. The old adage is to have six months of expenses in savings for an emergency. Have you ever considered what emergencies this actually prepares you for? It's only financial emergencies, and most of those are not emergencies but hardships. Needing a new water heater is not an emergency. Needing a new transmission in your car is not an emergency. Even losing your job, while terrible, should not constitute an emergency. Take your severance (for those that get one), your unemployment, tighten your belt at home, and go looking for work. It can become an emergency but it shouldn't be one at the start.
But what about real emergencies? What about a natural disaster that has you stuck at home for an extended period without your typical amenities. Are you prepared? We are not talking about the zombie apocalypse. This isn't a doomsday prepper article and this won't tell you what to keep in a bug out bag. This is preparation for practical and likely events that we might live through. We are talking about a hurricane knocking out your power grid and road access for a week or two. A major snow storm that does the same. Are you prepared for those emergencies? There are 8 categories that need attention for you to be truly prepared for an emergency.
- Food - While we can likely live for up to 30 days or more without food, would you want to? Do you really want to be left staring at last summer's ketchup bottle as a means of breakfast? Having 30 days or more of food supply on hand would protect you against all but the worst disasters. If we are faced with nuclear winter or Bruce Willis can't blow up the asteroid before it hits earth...don't worry about the food.
Staples like flour, sugar, honey, dried beans, rice, other grains, etc can have LONG shelf lives. Canned goods are frequently usable long beyond the dates on the jars. Use common sense...if the jar is damaged or bulging out, toss it. Otherwise, your nose is the best judge. We are still eating our kids' Halloween candy from 8 months ago. Just be smart.
- Water - While we can go 30 days without food, we can't go more than about 3 days without water. Having a supply of bottled water on hand can relieve the stress of survival. Ideally you would have enough to drink a few liters per day for each member of your household. Don't forget the furry members of the house! And that doesn't consider cooking needs. The purchase of a water filter and/or boiling water before use are options. But please be careful when using any "natural" source of water!
And having a larger supply of water is important. If water service is disrupted to your house, how will you flush toilets? How will you clean yourself? This doesn't need to be potable water. We can wash in water from a stream that we shouldn't drink. You can flush the toilet with water that you boiled your Ramen Noodles in. That package that's been in the cabinet since the OJ trial is probably just as gross as it was then. Where permitted, a few rain barrels would store enough water to get through a few weeks.
- Medications & Personal Care - Do you have enough of a supply of any medications that you require? Having everything else prepared but running out of insulin could literally be a matter of life and death. Stay stocked up. Do you have a first aid kit that is stocked? Trips to urgent care likely are not possible in a real emergency.
You also don't want to be out of toothpaste and other personal care items. While more of an inconvenience, going without can have a lingering impact. We won't soon forget the great toilet paper shortage of 2020! Keep enough paper goods on hand to get through.
- Electricity - Do you have a back up power supply? Having a generator that actually works can be tremendously valuable. The food in your fridge/freezer won't last long without this. Those with a well lose their plumbing without electricity. Cooking is limited to your grill or a camp fire if you don't have electricity. What can you run off of your generator? How much gas/propane do you need to get through a week or two? What can you/should you live without to conserve during that time?
Do you have a supply of batteries for lighting? Candles and oil lanterns can provide light without electricity and should be kept on hand. Have back up chargers that are charged for cell phones so as not to use your electricity supply unnecessarily.
One other note semi related...always have a full or close to full tank of gas in your car. Obviously you can do the job of siphoning to fill the gas generator if necessary. But even in shorter power outages, powering portable devices or recharging batteries can be done through your vehicle.
- Heat - Without electricity, heating the house can be a challenge if the emergency occurs in winter. The generator can provide enough power to get the message from a thermostat to most heating systems and for those systems to fire up...but what if your house is electric heat? Please DON'T heat your house with your gas stove. That is not safe.
- Tools - If the storm causes damage to your house or blocks access on a road back to town, do you have the tools to remove a tree. What if that is against your house? Do you have a ladder to work on to remove it? Do you have a tarp to keep the elements out if your house is damaged? It might be many days before repair crews can make it out if there has been a major event.
Another set of tools overlooked is in the kitchen. Is your can opener electric? How will you open the can of Campbell's Chunky Soup that Donovan McNabb sold you 15 years ago? Do you have good old fashioned tools that do NOT require the electricity to be fired up?
- Protection- You may or may not be comfortable with firearms but that is not all that is intended here. If there is no water service in your area, how long before desperate neighbors come asking? How long before they come demanding? For this reason, I would not advertise that you are well prepared. You can share, but you don't want your supplies taken from you. Having properly owned protection - whether in the form of firearms, knives, pepper spray or just the good old fashioned house dog can be a sufficient deterrent from all but the most determined intruders. When vital resources are scarce, you don't know what folks are capable of trying. Is your family able to stay safe?
- Cash - It's just as good as money. What would it hurt you to keep $1,000 or more of cash on hand? Losing out on .3% interest? But what value would it have if you could buy/sell from your neighbors in the event of an emergency? Maybe they have some extra gas for their generator that you can buy from them. Or some bottled water if you are running low. Don't rely on Venmo if the grid is down for any length of time. People move to scarcity mindset and won't trust that you will pay them later.
How would you grade your preparedness? Don't be overwhelmed. If you buy 10% more food each week, in less than a year, you would have an extra month's supply. It wouldn't take much money to store some water. I've tried to balance what is practical for most families considering time, space and cost to prepare. By preparing you won't be the one panicking at the grocery store. You won't be the one desperately contacting neighbors for your survival. In fact, your preparedness will mean more resources available to others in your neighborhood because you won't need them. What can you do this week to be more prepared? For additional reading, check out our government resource page on emergency planning here.