19 July 2011

Five tips on putting together an inexpensive emergency kit

Discussing emergency kits seems especially relevant after yesterday's post on indefinite power outages. If you don't already have an emergency kit, you'll probably want to put one together as one of the first steps in your preparedness plans. You can easily accumulate the items you need without breaking your budget.

Here are five tips to get you started in making an inexpensive emergency kit:
  1. Bargain/dollar stores are your friend. You can find many of the items recommended by Ready.gov right in your local dollar store. In fact, Dollar Tree even goes so far as to offer their own online Emergency Supply Checklist, with links to related products on their website. If you're not looking to buy in the quantities they sell online, Dollar Tree offer a printable Emergency Supply Checklist that you can take to a local store (Ready.gov also offers a printable checklist).

  2. Gradually acquire your emergency kit items over time. You don't have to buy everything all at once. Sure, it's important to have all of your items at hand when an emergency strikes. But, if you steadily buy a few items at a time off your to-buy list, you'll find that you'll quickly build up your kit.

  3. Check out travel or camping supplies to find items for your kit. For example, if you're building a "grab-and-go" kit to use when evacuating the area, you can find useful and items in the camping or backpacking supplies, or in the travel section. Most of the goods in these areas are designed to be small, compact, and lightweight, which makes them ideal for this use too. While specialty travel or camping products can be expensive, they don't automatically have to be. For instance, you can look at Dollar Tree's online camping section to see where you can pick up some good deals. (By the way, I use Dollar Tree as an example because they illustrate what I'm saying, but most bargain/dollar stores that I've seen offer similar products).

  4. Wander around your local flea market with your checklist. You'll be surprised at how you can find decent deals on some of the things you need. In our local markets, there are some people who are essentially running a bargain/dollar store out of one of the stalls, so you can get equally good deals. One tip: be sure to check the expiration date on perishable items! This is the biggest problem I've encountered in buying things at flea markets, since the vendors are getting their deals because they're getting deals on goods that will expire soon.

  5. Tailor your kit to your specific needs. You can save some money over prepackaged emergency kits by only buying the materials you needs. Another benefit of customizing is that you are able to make individual trade-offs for each item's cost, storage space, quality, etc. For example, you might decide whether a small dollar bottle of generic aspirin is appropriate, or if you'll need to spend more because you're allergic to aspirin. (Note: if you're truly interested in building a really tailored kit, or you'd like to have multiple tailored kits for your car, for work, for home, etc., you'll want to pick up a copy of Build the Perfect Survival Kit by John D. McCann. It's well worth the $10 investment.)
So now you have no excuse to not start building your emergency kit. Some people might argue that buying products as described above will result in cheap goods that don't work when you really need them. Certainly, that is possible. I'm not advocating anyone buy things that clearly look inferior. However, most of the items I've found at these bargain stores are perfectly serviceable, especially for short-term use.

More importantly, having them available when you need them is the critical point. The kit you spent $25 or $30 putting together is infinitely better than the $150 prepackaged emergency kit that you never got around to buying. (Of course, if you do want to buy a prepackaged emergency kit, there are many available, from small ones with basic contents at around $30, to larger, more comprehensive ones at almost $200.)

It's your turn to share... where have you gotten good deals on your emergency supplies? What kind of experiences have you had with them, good or bad?


  1. I use http://www.galls.com/home as an ex-medic I am picky about quality, but I am also poor. I find their prices to bee good and quality high. i have used them for over a decade with no complaints.

    1. Sorry for the delayed response, but thanks very much for the tip! I'll check them out.