As much as I wish there was a way to become truly prepared for free, or no money, I haven't found one. But I can be BETTER prepared for little to no expense.
1. Store Tap Water in juice containers
It's awesome to store water in 55 gallon barrels, treated with Aquamira. But some of us aren't able to make that investment today. So as you buy juice at the grocery store and drink it up, wash out those containers (rinse thoroughly after washing so you don't leave any soap) and fill them up with water from the tap. This water should be replaced more often than treated water but having any water is better than none. A friend recently experienced having the water shut off to her entire neighborhood unexpectedly and she doesn't have any water stored (but maybe that will be changing after their experience). I'm not good about rotating my water so it probably wouldn't be good for drinking without treating it first, but it's just fine for flushing toilets, washing hands and washing dishes.
2. Clean your house and keep it organized
This has been on my mind more and more, for more and more reasons. My brain functions better when I'm not living in chaos, but I'm also realizing how much easier an emergency would be to face if my home is in order. If I have to leave quickly because of a family emergency out of town, it would be so much easier to pack our gear up if I've kept up on the laundry. Or what if family or friends have an emergency and take refuge in our home (house fire, power outage, etc.)? It would be easier to provide meals for them if I don't have a stack of dirty dishes piled on the kitchen counter. And where would they sleep if all our bedrooms are trashed?
3. Get Healthy
We never know what kind of emergency we're going to face, but in general, if we're in good shape physically and doing what we can to stay healthy, we're going to be better off. If our car breaks down and we have to hike for help, we need to be able to walk for several miles in a variety of terrain (my luck we'd break down at the bottom of a steep hill). And for those everyday situations (like your car is in the shop or high gas prices), you can walk or bike places instead of driving. Being healthy also means you're able to physically do the tasks you need to do in an emergency. If a tornado struck, would I have the strength to help clean up or move debris to help reach someone trapped? There are so many ways I can exercise with little expense, and I can choose to eat healthier (better food choices and appropriate portions) rather than loads of junk. A family member has diabetes and is working to be healthier. Maybe with her diet and exercise, she won't need to rely on her medicine. In an emergency, we don't know what access we'll have to healthcare, including prescriptions.
4. Stockpile small amounts of food
You've probably heard this idea before, but it does work. When you're grocery shopping, add an extra can or two of what you're buying into your cart; and definitely stock up on shelf-stable foods when they go on sale. For years, I never paid more than 30 cents for a can of green beans (sadly that's not been true for the past year due to rising prices) and friends would ask how - simply by combining a sale with coupons, and stocking up at that time.
Of course, I have to mention my favorite way to stockpile is through my Q from Shelf Reliance. It's an inexpensive as I want it to be since I set my monthly Q budget to match my family's budget. And like I mentioned above about taking advantage of sales, I make sure to edit my monthly shipment of THRIVE Foods to take advantage of the monthly specials on foods that are in my customizable food plan. I have been focused a lot lately on more everyday preparedness (like these tips today) than on emergency preparedness. I am so grateful that as my energies are focused elsewhere, having our family's Q helps us to keep making progress on emergency preparedness through our home store/food storage. It only takes a few minutes each month to edit my Q; and if I don't edit it, I'll simply receive what's next in the shipment plan. Hooray for progress!
5. Keep up on prescriptions
I have recently taken over the management of my grandmother's medications so this is one of my areas of focus right now. One of my top goals was to get ahead of her refills. I'm not waiting until we only have 2 pills left to order the refill. I fill her weekly pill box on Sunday and then if I don't have enough in the pill bottle to fill the next week's pill box, I order the refill on Monday. I'd love to eventually get where I always have 2 weeks of all her meds on hand - the current week's pills plus the next week's ready to go. This would help if we face a winter storm that prevents/limits travel (or closes the pharmacy), I'd know we're good for a week. This doesn't cost us anymore money - it just takes a little planning and time (since there are limits on how soon you can refill a prescription).
As for my family's medicines, we don't take prescriptions on a regular basis but we do use several OTCs (over the counter medications) daily. For these, we try to buy in bulk or stockpile during sales so that we generally have several months on hand.
6. Build relationships
Most emergencies are difficult to face on your own. You need help. If you build good relationships with those around you - neighbors, friends, church family, family - you have a pool of resources for help. Odds are not everyone will be facing the same emergency at the same time (there are those instances though). When the Ice Storm of January 2007 hit, those of us with power immediately opened our homes to those without power. For some that meant extended overnight guests and for others, it was simply a quick stop to take a hot shower or do a load of laundry. I remember one summer storm that knocked out power and our Ward (church congregation) immediately was calling around finding out those who had power and those who didn't and then began the shuffle to move freezer and refrigerator contents to those with power and space.
7. Make freezer meals
This tip is similar to stockpiling, but instead of stockpiling individual items, you're preparing extra meals and putting them in your freezer. This is great for those everyday emergencies that come from a busy schedule but also for unexpected emergencies that make everyday tasks difficult (being sick, mourning the loss of a loved one, etc.). Having a few freezer meals can also be helpful if the stores become closed due to a disaster, or you have an unexpected financial setback. A side benefit is that when someone else is facing an emergency, you can pull one of those frozen meals out to share with them. An easy way to build up these meals is to make a double recipe of your dinner and freeze one. I also do this with our leftovers when there's enough for a meal. I'd be smart to do it before we start eating to help us watch our portions.
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