How to Stock Up Wisely, Emergency or Not

While there's no need to go overboard, it's always good to keep some supplies on hand in case of emergencies.
Liz Weston, CFP®
By Liz Weston, CFP® 
Updated
Edited by Rick VanderKnyff
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Keeping a reasonable supply of shelf-stable food and other supplies on hand makes sense for all kinds of emergencies, from natural disasters to stretches of unemployment.

At the same time, it’s important for your wallet and your community not to hoard stuff you don’t need. For instance, there are companies selling emergency food kits with a decades-long shelf life, but those may include stuff you or your family just won’t eat. That’s a waste of money and food.

A better approach is to create a two-week cache of food based on the “store what you eat, eat what you store” principle. The basics:

Write down two weeks’ worth of meals

Consider what your household would eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner during that period, including mains, side dishes, beverages and desserts. Include snacks and treats that could make a potentially stressful time a little easier, as well as foods that could help someone with flu symptoms, such as broth, herbal tea, ice pops and electrolyte drinks.

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Adapt ingredients, as necessary

In a natural disaster such as a hurricane or earthquake, utilities including water, fuel and electricity could be disrupted, so it’s important to have alternative cooking sources, such as a camp stove, as well as an emergency water supply. In a disease outbreak, utilities likely won’t be interrupted, but you may not have ready access to perishables or have the energy for elaborate meals. (Restaurant and grocery delivery may be an option, but that can get expensive if used for every meal.)

Shop and store

Once you have your ingredient list, shop using coupons and sales to save on the cost of groceries. Find storage, preferably where the food won’t be forgotten.

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Use and replenish

About once a week, create a meal using your stockpile, starting with the stuff closest to its expiration date, and then replace what you’ve used. In that way, you’ll rotate through your two-week stash of 42 meals in a little under a year.

It’s smart to have a similar approach to other necessities, including hand soap, disposable facial tissues, toilet paper, diapers, pet food and litter, household surface cleaner, laundry and dish detergent, and hygiene supplies. Figure out how much your household is likely to use each week, and keep at least a two-week surplus on hand.

Likewise, the Department of Homeland Security recommends that you regularly check your prescription drug supply, and keep nonprescription drugs and medical supplies on hand. These can include pain relievers, cough and cold medicines, and vitamins.