It’s hurricane season, so hopefully you have sufficient batteries, bottled water and canned food.
If not, it’s time to stock up. Sure, you could plunk down more than $200 or so on a one-size-fits-all emergency kit filled with stuff you probably won’t need. But preparing for a natural disaster doesn’t have to be expensive. These five tips will help you build an emergency kit without spending a lot.
How to Build an Emergency Kit for Less
1. Decide What You Need
The Red Cross suggests keeping bare essentials like water, non-perishable food, clothes and medicine on hand.
If you live in an apartment, fallen trees won’t be your responsibility to clean up. But if you’re a homeowner, you could have some major yard work on your hands after a storm. Think about what tools and supplies you may need — or what you could borrow. Check with neighbors to see what everybody has, then pool together for the cleanup.
Figure out what your kit needs and prioritize those items. And don’t get carried away — you probably just need to be able to feed yourself for a week or so, not build a shelter on a desert island.
2. Prep for Free
Some of your preparation won’t cost you a dime. It’s all about gathering stuff you already have, like important documents, cell phone chargers, maps and emergency cash.
Instead of buying it by the flat, consider bottling your own water. Use bleach-purified, leftover two-liter bottles and treated municipal water. Just don’t use milk or juice cartons, which can harbor bacteria. Date your bottles and replace them every six months, and you’re good to go.
If you’ll need water for hygienic purposes, clean your bathtub, then fill it with cold water. It won’t be potable, but you can use it to flush toilets and keep yourself clean.
3. DIY to Save
Hurricane shutters are important, but expensive.
The good news is you can make your own out of plywood or polycarbonate from Home Depot — just make sure to factor in the cost of waste when you’re doing your comparison. You may not be able to find much use for raw material scraps once you cut out shutters.
4. Collect Cost-Effective Items
When you have to buy items, use coupons and your penny-hoarding knowledge to your advantage: Use cash back sites to earn rebates and use hacks to get the best deals at stores like CVS and Walmart.
When you pick up batteries, hydrogen peroxide, bleach and bandages, make sure to buy generic — they’ll work just as well as the brand name stuff. Check out the dollar store for these items, and while you’re there, pick up some emergency entertainment: crayons and coloring books for the kids and a pack of cards for adults.
You probably already know how much you can save by buying in bulk. Emergency rations of paper towels, toilet paper, canned goods, batteries and bottled water are a perfect opportunity to take advantage of those savings.
Finally, consider battery-free emergency additions, like wind-up flashlights and weather radios. If you’re going to be without electricity, you’ll definitely want a handheld cell phone charger, which you can keep charged and prepared beforehand.
5. Plan Ahead
One of the best ways to save money on disaster preparedness is to play the long game: Look for sales in your day-to-day life and stock up, way before a storm starts brewing. Cans of tuna on BOGO? Put your “get-ones” into your stash.
The more you can avoid a last-minute disaster-prep rush, the better: Vendors do price gouge. Here in Florida, the price of canned goods and gallons of water goes up in June and falls steeply in December, after hurricane season ends.
In case you do need a last-minute item, include disaster prep in your savings budget. Set aside $20 a month or so, and consider it part of your emergency fund — because that’s exactly what it is.
Jamie Cattanach is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.