31 August 2012

How to build up an emergency supply

You're trying to live within a budget, and you're a little strapped for cash, so how do you fill your pantry with enough food, and your closets with enough other household essentials, to last for even two weeks?

Sit down with pen and paper, and make a list of what your household consumes in two weeks. That's 42 meals plus snacks and beverages. Per person, it's a dozen-plus showers, three dozen goes at dental hygiene (tooth brushing and flossing), perhaps three loads of laundry. There will be housecleaning that uses some quantity of cleanser products. If it's, you know, that time of the month, you need sanitary supplies (disasters are notoriously indelicate in their timing). And of course all these numbers will vary according to your lifestyle: if you work out at home, you likely shower more and do more laundry, for instance.

Make your list, but most particularly for food, list only foods that you'll really, actually eat. That is, don't fill your pantry with two weeks' worth of granola bars, beef ravioli, and canned green beans if your household hates these foods. Start with a complement of ready-to-eat convenience foods (yes, the stuff that's not really good for you as a dietary staple, but will provide calories and won't take water or energy to prepare in an emergency).

Then make a commitment to yourself to learn how to cook foods from shelf-stable items, which will make your two-week supply part of your ordinary pantry. But that's a topic for another day.

There are two ways to build up a two-week supply: either all at once, or piece by piece. Once you've compiled your list of items you consume, you can head to the grocery store and buy it all now, or you can add a handful of things -- a flat of canned soup on sale this week for $0.69/can, an extra canister of oatmeal, and ooh, look, coffee's on sale two for one today -- to the grocery cart at every trip. Add $10.00 to your weekly or monthly food budget and build up your supply as you can. You don't have to do it all at once.

And once you have your two-week supply completed, why stop there? Aim for a three-month supply or even a year's. Keep in mind that whatever you store, rotation and storage is an issue.

Work out a system in your fridge, freezer, cabinets, shelves, and pantry that will allow you to rotate foods out and use them up before they spoil. If you're not sure how long it takes you to use up an item -- a dozen cans of soup, a canister of oatmeal, a can of coffee -- then write on the package the date you open it (or use the first of the dozen), and then note how long it takes you to use it up. Not just foods: do the same for shampoo, toilet paper, housecleaning products, medicines, etc. Keep a paper notebook or an electronic spreadsheet, whatever works for you.

Here's your takeaway from this blog entry. You can prepare your pantry for an emergency. Break the project down into small steps and get cracking! Think about the next time you're stuck at home alone with the flu or a sprained ankle. You can't make it to the supermarket or the drugstore (even though, as an urban home economist, you live just a few blocks away from these amenities), but you can make it to the kitchen and the bathroom. You've got some good, healthful food ready to go or with minimal preparation, and you have remedies for pain or flu symptoms on the shelf. And because you took some small steps and made a plan, you're set and you'll be fine until someone can come over to help out or you can get out of the house again and run around.

Happy prepping!

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