Preparing on a Budget

Preparing on a Budget

When you're pinching pennies, emergency kits aren't exactly a priority. Rent, mortgage, food and transportation are clearly front-runners, but (and you knew there was a "but") there are ways to do it without breaking the bank. You don't need high-end survival gear and you don't need to tackle the whole she-bang in one weekend.

To prove the point, I recently challenged myself to build a basic kit for $150 using PreparedBC's emergency kit card as a guide. Here's what happened when I put my money where my mouth is.

Seasonal Clothing ($0): No fashion statement necessary. That old coat and pair of sneakers will do the trick. If you absolutely don't have anything suitable, hit the local thrift store.

Water ($12): You can get flats of 24, 500ml bottles for just $3 at Wal-Mart. Four flats gets you 48 litres of water. That meets the minimum requirement of four litres of water per person per day, for three days, for a family of four. Not too shabby.

  • Options: While commercially bottled water is recommended, I recognize it's not always feasible on a budget. If you choose the DIY option, make sure to properly sterilize your storage containers and follow Ministry of Health guidelines for safe consumption.
  • Think long term: If you're a planner, canned water is pretty cool. A flat of 24 cans will run you a bit over $40, but it has a 50-year shelf-life. That's not a bad deal over time and it cuts down on schlepping and plastic.

Non-Perishable Food ($50): This one is tougher to ballpark since it depends on the size of your family. I set a budget of $50 to start and was able pull together a decent amount of canned goods, pasta and granola bars for a family of three by watching flyers and clipping coupons.

  • Options: Find out if your friends are preparing too. Harmonize your lists and buy bulk.
  • Super Savers: Sock away salt, pepper and ketchup packets from fast food dinners, along with extra cutlery and napkins.

Dust Masks: ($2 to $4): A package of two basic painter masks will run you $2 at the Dollar Store. Make sure you have one for every member of the family.

First Aid Kit ($15 to $25): These will cost you a bit more, especially if you need to customize them for unique family needs, such as prescription medication. You can get a good basic starter kit for between $15 and $25 at stores like Wal-Mart and London Drugs.

  • Option: You can DIY a first aid kit by adding a bit at a time or building on what you already have hanging around home.

Garbage Bags & Wipes ($5): Hello Dollar Store. Two bucks will get you a box of 10 garbage bags. Three bucks will get you a container of wet wipes.

Whistle ($0): My daughter is a trinket magnet, so I just snagged a free plastic whistle out of her room. You can also hit the usual suspects like the Dollar Store, Canadian Tire and Wal-Mart.

Radio ($10-$30): It's not so easy to find a low-tech, battery-powered radio anymore. We've become pretty reliant on high-tech gadgets. That said, this radio doesn't need to be new. Garage sales, online sale boards or grandpa's basement are other possible sources. Just make sure it works and has good reception. Some people I know have also had success on eBay.

Flashlight ($5): Don't get too chintzy here. You want a reliable flashlight that's going to work.

Batteries ($10 to $15): My vote is to steer clear of the Dollar Store on this one. You want batteries with greater energy storage so they last longer in emergency situations.

Cash in small bills ($50): If money's tight, you probably don't have a lot of extra cash lying about. Best advice here is to squirrel away a couple bucks a week.

Cell phone charger ($0): Don't buy a new one. If your house is anything like mine, you're swimming in extra cords.

The result?

So when I added everything up using the highest amounts shown, I came in at $196. I blew my budget, yes, but figure closer to $200 is about right. This is also still a guesstimate for most households, since some categories will be higher and some lower depending on family size, need and whether you're starting from scratch.

While $200 isn't cheap, it's a worthwhile family investment, and if approached over time, it's definitely doable. If you have cost-cutting ideas you think would help families on a budget, I'd love to hear them. Tweet them to @PreparedBC using the hashtag #EmergencyMommy. And don't forget to check out the sidebar to the right, or below if you're on a mobile device, for additional cost-cutting tips.