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Whether the events of the previous two years or the last two months have spurred your preparedness journey, getting started may feel overwhelming. Where exactly should you start with your emergency preparedness efforts? In this article, I share my best tips, tricks, and ideas for getting started with emergency preparedness.
I started writing this preparedness series when the troubles in Europe were only rumblings. In the last few weeks, the situation has changed. While I still stand by these steps for getting started with preparedness, I’ve added an addendum at the bottom on things we’re doing during this time. No matter where you are in your preparedness efforts, I believe these are a benefit to all.
Emergency Preparedness: Water
In my first article of this series, “Why Preparedness Matters & Why You Should Start Today,” I shared how we started our emergency preparedness journey after a windstorm took out our power for a week. That same windstorm left a neighboring town without water. When we started our preparedness efforts, that town without water was fresh on my mind.
Water is an excellent place to start. The recommendation of one gallon of water per person, per day for three days was common. Now the websites, like ready.gov and FEMA, which used to have the three-day recommendation, are changing their tunes.
Ready.gov now says one gallon per person for “several days” and FEMA (in this PDF) says “consider” one gallon per person, per day for two weeks.
Let’s Break This Down
One gallon per day is truly the bare minimum each person needs when accounting for not only drinking but also hygiene.
But what about cooking? What if it’s hot and you’re sweating?
For three years we lived off the grid without running water. All of our water was brought in by using a handpump or being taken from our rain barrels. We were frugal with our water.
Even with being frugal, we used more than one gallon per day. And that was on days when we didn’t do any laundry or take baths! It was simply water for drinking, cooking, dishes, and flushing the toilet. It really adds up.
Try it for a day or two. Commit to using only water you have stored. You may be surprised how much you use.
You have to start someplace, and one gallon per person, per day, makes the math easy! How many people are in your home? That’s how many gallons you need for each day. My family of three (living at home) needs three gallons. Easy-peasy.
How Many Days?
“Several” is a very vague amount, and I’m not sure why ready.gov changed to that. Maybe they realized three days isn’t enough but they didn’t want to commit to an exact number. Two weeks, FEMA’s number, makes sense. Using that number of two weeks continues to make our math easy. By multiplying 3 people x 14 days, I know my family needs 42 gallons of water.
Forty-two gallons is nothing to sneeze at. And water is… well, wet. And heavy. Each gallon weighs just over eight pounds. Each gallon also occupies a specific amount of space.
An easy way to store those 42 gallons would be in a large rain barrel. With one 55-gallon barrel we have more than enough. The trouble with the large rain barrels is they are heavy! At 8.34 pounds per gallon, a full barrel comes in at just under 460 pounds! It needs to be kept someplace sturdy, and it’s certainly not portable.
While we do have 55-gallon and larger barrels for our water harvesting system, our ready-use water is kept in smaller containers. We use a combination of five-gallon jugs, recycled juice containers, and purchased gallon water jugs.
You can get stackable five-gallon jugs. These are great for space issues but have tremendously increased in price over the last couple of years. We found Coleman containers locally at a reasonable price that were marketed for camping. And Igloo has a six-gallon container on Amazon that is an okay price (at the time of writing this). The camping ones aren’t designed to stack, but they don’t have a terribly large footprint.
Cheaper Options for Water Storage
Family-sized juice containers or two-liter soda bottles make decent water storage containers. The plastic is a nice thickness. When we first started our water storage, I let just about everyone I knew know that I was collecting these bottles. I even put out a notice on Freecycle. (Remember Freecycle? Is it still around?)
The bottles should be well cleaned and sanitized (more information can be found in this PDF from FEMA). While these small jugs are easy to accumulate and easy to fill, plus very portable, they do take up space. I’ve found very creative places to store my bottles. Every closet, nook, and cranny gives an opportunity to snuggle in a jug.
I write the date I’m putting the water into storage and rotate the water at six-ish month intervals, keeping the containers for no longer than 18 months. That is the amount of time I’m comfortable with because of concerns the plastic will break down.
What About Store-Bought Water?
The thin one-gallon jugs that water is usually purchased in are not suitable for long-term storage. The plastic will degrade. Milk jugs are not suitable for that same reason and because of the milk proteins—it’s nearly impossible to get those jugs clean.
I do still buy jugs of water, especially if they are thicker jugs similar to the juice containers, as well as individual water bottles. I know to use the thin jugs first, and instead of adding them to long-term storage, they’re kept for times we need a jug of water in the car.
Cases of water are often on sale in my area. The cases are handy and stack nicely. They’re easy to rotate by keeping a date on them. And while we prefer reusable water bottles, there are many times we’ll grab from an open case while running out the door.
Non-food-grade containers should not be used to store drinking or cooking water. You may wish to use these for toilet flushing water and other things.
Keep in mind, you may need more water than one gallon per person for 14 days. Know your options for additional water sources. Many people have a WaterBOB that they plan to put into action at the first indication there may be a pending water issue.
Or just plan to fill the tub. While the WaterBOB is a good option, provided you have the notice needed, a regular bathtub might not be suitable for drinking water without treatment. How clean is your tub?
Other Water Sources to Keep in Mind
Your hot water heater. Unless it’s an on-demand one, it likely stores thirty or more gallons.
Can you set up rain gutters and harvest water? We get a surprisingly large amount of water collection with even a small amount of rain.
Where are your nearby natural water sources? Do you have the supplies needed to purify the water? Read more about purifying water in this post.
Emergency Preparedness: Finances
You may not think about finances as part of preparedness. In my opinion, it’s an essential component. I’m a fan of Dave Ramsey. His Financial Peace and Total Money Makeover books were very eye-opening and are available at most libraries. And many churches hold Financial Peace Seminars.
Setting up a budget is the first step to controlling your finances. A budget gives you a plan for how your money will be spent. When starting a budget, it’s important to plan the most essential items first. Ramsey calls this the Four Walls:
He also recommends creating a zero-based budget each month, accounting for each dollar coming in and going out. It can take a few months to get the budget sorted out, but once you do, you’ll love the feeling of creating—and sticking to—a monthly budget.
Once the budget is written, Dave Ramsey uses the Baby Step concept. Baby Step #1 is to establish an emergency fund. This emergency fund is used only for…yep. Emergencies.
Washing machine breaks? The emergency fund is activated. When the water pump went out on our truck a few weeks ago, our emergency fund covered the repair bill. We use the emergency fund instead of credit cards. There is a whole lot of comfort in knowing that money’s available.
After the emergency fund, the plan is to get out of debt. And stay out! Being debt-free buys a lot of choices. The way to become debt-free is different for everyone. Some people sell all their excess stuff and get rid of their car and buy a beater. Others work second jobs. There are a lot of options, but the bottom line is you must be committed to it.
Cash on Hand
With everything happening right now, I believe at least a portion of your emergency fund should be in cash. Let’s face it, we’re not earning enough in interest to warrant leaving it in the bank anyway! Combine this with using the envelope method for your day-to-day expenses. The envelope system is withdrawing cash from the bank each pay period for your purchases. Groceries, gas, restaurants…each goes into it’s own envelope and you use cash to purchase these items. Read more about the envelope system here. With the way things are, having cash on hand is a good idea.
How to Afford Emergency Preparedness
This is a good place to add, you should not go into debt for preparedness. I know it may be tempting to purchase a pallet of freeze-dried food and have it delivered to your doorstep and paid via your Master Blaster. But there are much better ways!
When we started preparing, we put $10 a week toward extra purchases. It was slow going, but it was all we could do then. Over time, I used other methods to trim our budget and any savings were put in the prepper fund.
One of my favorite books for saving money is The Complete Tightwad Gazette: Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle. If you can, get the book! You will learn so many tips and tricks. Also, this blog contains many articles on saving money on food. Check out my archives for ideas.
Emergency Preparedness: Fitness
Fitness as part of emergency preparedness wasn’t something I thought much about—not until my health took a terrible turn. For a much too long stretch, I was miserable. I was tired all the time, to the point I could barely get off the couch. I thought I had a long-lingering flu.
Turns out it was menopause. It was also a wake-up call. It took some time to get myself well enough to move from that couch, but once I did, I made fitness a priority.
Physical fitness is a widely overlooked aspect of emergency preparedness. It’s so much easier to buy some supplies and gear and call it good. Ten years ago, there is no way I could’ve hauled any of that gear more than a block or two. And that might be stretching it!
I’m still not in the shape I’d like to be in, but I can now carry a fully loaded backpack for five miles…uphill. Increasing my physical health also had a positive effect on my mental health. With daily movement, I’m better equipped to handle life. When I shirk on my movement quota, I decline in many ways.
How is Fitness Part of Emergency Preparedness?
In my previous article, I shared that most of our preparedness efforts are concentrated on localized events. But if there was a widespread, life-altering scenario, we may find ourselves needing a drastic increase in the things we do daily. Gardening, hauling water, splitting wood…these things require physical stamina.
The better condition I am in today, the better I’d be in those circumstances. Not perfect, nowhere near perfect, but better.
My fitness routine isn’t fancy. I use an online class called Healthy Moving, which encourages daily movement and shows ways to work this into my life, as well as longer mat classes.
My goal is bending, stretching, and moving several times throughout the day. I even set alarms on my phone to remind me to get up and stretch! I also shoot for two 15- to 30-minute mat classes per week.
Other Fitness Ideas
My family also does martial arts two times per week. (I’ve had to take a few weeks off of this due to dental work, but I’m going back soon!) And we hike at least one time per week.
Sometimes those hikes are on snowshoes. What a workout that is! Two miles often feels like five, especially if we’re breaking trail. Cross-country skiing is another winter sport we love. During the summer, we hike or backpack regularly.
For your fitness efforts, you might want to join a gym, do DVDs or online streaming classes, or just start walking. Walking while carrying a backpack with a little weight in it is a surprisingly good workout. Depending on your health and fitness level today, your changes may be slow. That’s okay! Anything you can do to improve is beneficial.
If you have mobility issues, think about alternatives and ways to make things easier. My mom uses a walker. She is not likely to ever go backpacking with me, but she can do chair yoga and other movements to improve her health. That’s just one example, but over the past year, she’s lost sixty pounds! Way to go, Mom!
This is also a good time to mention, if you have medication you rely on each day, do what you can to keep a supply of these on reserve. It’s also a good time to mention you should always consult your physician before embarking on a new fitness routine.
Emergency Preparedness: Food
I bet you thought I’d never get to this! While getting your water together, putting your finances in order, and walking around the block, you should start on your food storage. Nothing fancy or elaborate is needed. Remember, we don’t want to go into debt for this!
The easiest and least expensive way to begin building your food storage is by purchasing extra things you already buy. Instead of one jar of peanut butter, buy two. Instead of two packages of pasta, buy three.
Mark the purchase date on the extra purchases and stash them in your cupboard. Next time you need to buy peanut butter, buy two and use the one with the date on it first, then move the two new ones to your stash—be sure to date them first.
By buying items you already eat and rotating your stock, you’ll help reduce waste. We like to use the popular motto of eat what you store, store what you eat. And combine that with the first in, first out (FIFO) method.
Building Your Supply Quicker
While buying extra will help build your stores, it is a slow process. Combine this with stocking up whenever there’s a sale. It’s no secret food prices have been drastically increasing over the past months. Even so, sales can still be found. Rice, beans, pasta, canned tomatoes, and other canned vegetables tend to be a good buy.
One great way to keep track of grocery prices is a price book. This book can help you become aware of prices in your area and which stores have the best prices. It also lets you easily see when there’s a sale. You can make a price book, a simple record of items you regularly buy with the prices you find, out of a notebook. Or you can buy a premade book to help you get started and format your own for future.
How Much Food Should You Store?
Normally, I’d suggest you start building your pantry to have enough food on hand for three days, then move to three weeks. Keep adding to your stores, using the FIFO method to rotate until you have an amount you are comfortable with.
Now with the cost of everything going up and shortages on certain things combined with the troubles worldwide, I’d work to get 30 days of food as quickly as possible. Increase from there.
If you can buy certain things in bulk, such as beans and rice, that’s usually the most economical option. We order big bags of beans, lentils, wheat, and corn from Azure Standard. I buy 20-pound bags of white rice from Walmart.
When properly stored, these dry goods can last a decade or longer. We’re currently eating wheat we put up in 2012. It was stored in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers, nestled in a five-gallon bucket. The wheat is still perfect! I even sprouted a batch a few days ago with excellent results.
If wheat (in it’s natural, raw form) is not a current part of your diet, you should learn how to use it before buying in massive bulk.
While many food calculators suggest storing 400 pounds of grain per person for one year of food storage, this grain should be in a variety you are comfortable using or are willing to become comfortable using. You shouldn’t stockpile 400 pounds of wheat kernels if you have zero idea how to turn those into something edible.
Those 400 pounds of grain can (and should) include a variety such as wheat, rice, oats, pasta, barley, corn, and more.
Food Storage Takes Time
Please don’t get discouraged thinking you’ll never have all the food storage you should. It takes time to build it up. Make the effort to put as much aside as you can. Don’t go into debt to do it, but consider making other sacrifices. Instead of going out for a burger and fries, can you eat at home and buy the difference in rice and beans?
I also don’t suggest buying all of one food category at one time. It might be tempting to buy 400 pounds of wheat and be done with the grain category, but what will you eat with that wheat?
Theoretically, you may be able to have wheat at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but should you? Would you get all the nutrients you’d need? And how long would it take before you couldn’t stand the sight of another bowl of wheat porridge?
We need variety in our diet. And we need spice! Salt, too, for that matter. Buying extras of things you normally buy, while adding in select bulk items, will give you a well-rounded variety.
If you need a little more guidance, you could consider making a three-day menu plan of easy-to-cook items (spaghetti and sauce, rice and beans, oatmeal, etc). Use this menu plan to stock up your three days of goods.
And make sure you have a manual can opener and at least one alternative-cooking method. Also, keep in mind that a stove that runs on gas or propane may have safety features that prevent the oven from working if the power is out.
While the situation on the world stage is concerning, this is not the time to panic. It is a time to be prudent. Water storage is still an excellent item to focus on, as is health, fitness, and working on shelf-stable foods you already enjoy getting to the 30-day supply as quickly as possible.
From a financial standpoint, continue with a budget and focus on your Four Walls (food, utilities, shelter, transportation) while leaving your emergency fund in place and continuing to pay your bills.
If you are a Dave Ramsey fan, you may be familiar with his advice of “pausing” excess debt payments during big life events (such as expecting a baby). Depending on where you are with paying off debt, you may wish to pay only the minimums until things even out.
For us, we are not paying any additional toward debt during this time. Instead, we are making only minimum payments and putting as much into savings as we can. With interest rates what they are, we are not choosing to keep all of the savings in the bank but rather as cash on hand. We’re not taking money from our retirement or changing those accounts.
Living rurally, we’ve always been good about filling up the car when we go into town. We’re continuing to do this, and we did purchase a couple of extra gas cans for the generator. A local store is having their twice-yearly “stock up” sale this month, so we’re making a special trip to take advantage of this.
While I suspect we’ll know more about what is happening within the coming days or weeks, this is what we feel comfortable doing right now. We’re not panicking; we’re being prudent and practicing discernment.
More Articles to Help With Your Emergency Preparedness Journey:
- Why Preparedness Matters & Why You Should Start Today
- The BEST Preparedness Resources
- Let’s Celebrate National Canned Food Month!
- Easy No-Cook Meals & Food Storage Items
- 10 Simple Ways to Purify Water
- 5 Things You Can Do Today to Start Prepping
- 5 Survival Foods for Everyday Meals