Frugal Disaster Preparedness for Chill People

Frugal Disaster Preparedness for Chill People

Disaster preparedness for chill people doesn’t really seem to exist. Like many personal finance nerds, I am a resource hoarder to my squirrelly little core. I finish every video game with a massive pile of money and top-tier supplies I worked feverishly to acquire, but never actually used.

It’s not a virtue… it’s an -itis. Don’t be like me, kids! Use those megalixers!

Given this facet of my personality, you’d think I’d be drawn to the survivalism (aka “prepping”) community. And I am—but I’ve never really gotten into it. Because most survivalist literature is too extreme for me. Exxxtreme, you could say. I swear I’ve read more than one “beginner’s guide” suggesting tools for your inevitable DIY dentistry. There is no Hint of Sea Salt prepping! FLAVOR-BLASTED ONLY!

But the coronavirus pandemic gave everyone fresh, realistic insights into what a modern large-scale disaster really looks like. Additionally, mine and Piggy’s homes have recently taken a pounding from unusual weather events caused by climate change (floods and storms for me, wildfires and droughts for Piggy). So I spent a lot of time this year thinking about this question:

What have I done—or owned—that made me actually safer or happier during a disaster?

It was hard to articulate… but it definitely wasn’t iodine tablets and camp stoves! See? I was right! As usual, I always find retrospective validation for my laziness, unpreparedness, and/or procrastination.

After a lot of deep thinking, I finally feel prepared (PREPPED?!) to define my own brand of survivalism. This is disaster preparedness for chill people!

☑ Let go of zany survivalist fantasies

There’s a certain breed of people who are ready for the world to become Fallout: New Vegas at a moment’s notice. They’ve got gas masks and assault rifles and enough MREs to feed everyone in their neighborhood for years. (Not that they’ll open their reinforced vault doors to the neighbors. They may be infected.)

And you know what? Good for them! We’ve actually written about our longstanding obsession with zombie survival guides and the valuable lessons it’s taught us about minimalism. No shame in having fun!

Personally, I’m ready for the world to become FallOut: New Vegas too… but only in the “incredibly buggy overworld” sense. I’m not interested in preparing for doomsdays, nuclear winters, abrupt land wars, the total collapse of society, or anything of the sort. I am a busy woman. I have a blogging empire to run and fifty-seven seasons of 90 Day Fiancé spinoffs to sift through. How am I to add “prepare for jetpack warfare with Nazis freshly emerged from their secret moon base” to that list?!

Disaster preparedness for chill people, AKA I ain't got time for fucking iodine tablets.

If that means I’m destined to be cannibalized by my countrymen when our world becomes The Road, then so be it. I hope I’m juicy and succulent.

☑ Identify which disasters are worth the prep

So we’ve formally relegated far-fetched disasters like asteroid impacts, robot uprisings, and Galick Gun attacks to the likes of Bruce Willis, Keanu Reeves, and Goku. What’s left for normal people?As a certified Chill Person, I have three criteria…

  • Is this disaster very likely to happen?
  • Is this disaster fairly easy to prepare for?
  • Can I prepare for it without harming others?

If the answer is “yes” to all three, I’m prepping for it! Which for me means:

  • Global pandemics
  • Temporary civil unrest
  • Weather-related disasters endemic to my area

A notable omission from this list is supply chain disruptions. We’re going to see a LOT of those in our lifetime, again due to climate change. Wildfires will burn our timber; weird funguses will kill our coffee crops; droughts will drive up the price of almond butter to the point where—gasp!—you may have to eat regular old peanuts. It’s gonna happen!

But it’s not on my prep list, because it fails that last key criteria: there isn’t a way to prepare for those disasters without making them worse. I refuse to encourage hoarding and panic-buying. It’s selfish and short-sighted, and it’s not how we roll here.

Bitches Get Riches advice to live by: “Stop harming others and eat your goddamn peanut butter.”


☑ Define how long you’re trying to last

Our modern world is complex and interconnected in a way that makes disasters painful and scary. But humans are crafty apes, and the society we’ve built is endlessly adaptable. When things break, we repair them. When systems fail, we devise new ones.

That’s why I set my goal for disaster preparedness for 2-4 weeks at the most. Because the goal isn’t to outlast the disaster, but to remove yourself from its first, most painful impact.

The coronavirus pandemic showed us the critical impact of “waves.” This principal applies to all disasters. We have the ability to essentially fix everything and save everyone; the challenge is that we cannot fix everything and save everyone all at the same time. Socially responsible citizens (like YOU!) create stability in times of crisis by being independent and reducing unnecessary stress on critical systems.

The goal for disaster preparedness for chill people isn’t “get SO FUCKING PREPARED that you will never be inconvenienced or forced to change any aspect of your life.” It’s more like “don’t make EMS detour from evacuating the old folks’ home because you wrecked your car trying to drive to Taco Bell in a hurricane.” 

What follows is my personal disaster preparedness for chill people checklist. It’s roughly ordered from most critical to least critical. Obviously, everyone’s location, lifestyle, needs, and challenges are different. To each their own! Use this as a sensible blueprint to get yourself ready for whatever happens next.

☑ Get access to clean air

Clean air is the most important thing on this list. If you don’t have it, you’re gonna notice pretty fast.

☑ Own 1-2 cloth face masks

These are useful during pandemics, extreme weather events like wildfires, and stress-induced battles with jawline acne.

☑ Own a working smoke and carbon monoxide detector and extra batteries

Tragically, one of the most common causes of death during modern disasters is suffocation. People run portable generators and other equipment indoors without adequate ventilation. I’m sure these people thought they were being smart and prepared. It’s a sobering thought that will inform a lot of my advice throughout this guide.

☑ Store a little clean water, with ways to get more

Water is the second-most important survival asset. We need about 3-4 liters of it every day, though we get a lot of what we need through food.

☑ Get two jugs of clean water, stick ’em somewhere, and never think of them again

I have the square-ish 2.5 gallon jugs. They’re sealed, in my basement, with a thick layer of dust I pray remains intact until I croak. Why two, you ask? Because I have two hands, and I’m not making more than one trip down to the basement! That’s where the Legendary Deathclaws live!

Technically, bottled water has an expiration date because plastic containers can start leeching their plastickyness into the water. Personally, I super don’t care! If I’m reaching for my Basement Water, I have bigger things to worry about than swallowing a little BPA. If you wanna be all responsible and replace it every six months, go for it—but that’s a mountain my ADHD ass ain’t climbing.

☑ Have some kind of large, water-tight container

If you have a bathtub, great! You’re done. If not, anything watertight will work: a rain barrel, a garden pot, the giant plastic tub you keep your kid’s Legos in. Just don’t cause a deadly medical emergency by stepping on one of them after you dump out the Lego tub for water retention purposes.

If extreme weather is coming, fill that container with water. If your plumbing gets knocked out, you can drink that water and use it to flush toilets. Standing waste is very unhygienic—get it gone!

☑ Eat food that doesn’t suck

Food is the next most important. And it’s a tricky one for me.

I love to cook, and I do it almost every day, but you wouldn’t know it by looking into my fridge. I’ve been told it looks quite empty. That’s my preference, because I grew up with a hoarder. Finding perfectly good food that’s spoiled because it was hiding behind aspirationally retained leftovers is my one-way ticket to Unresolved Childhood Trauma Town! Wasted food just sets me off.

So I shop like an American expat living in Southern France: wandering daily down to the market to see what’s fresh and in-season, annoying everyone by walking very slowly while doing so. Which is tough to square with disaster preparedness. Here’s the system I landed on for being prepared without the waste.

☑ Build an emergency meal plan

Make a two-week list of meals you’d happily eat that utilize only shelf-stable ingredients. Obviously it’s different for everyone, but for my household our list includes: black bean quesadillas, fried rice, tuna noodle casserole, pasta, oatmeal, homemade bread, and (depending on how badly the world feels like it’s ending) 2-17 boxes of Ghirardelli brownie mix.

Now, list out the ingredients you need for these meals. Get enough that you could make each one twice, which will stretch your food security out to a month. Now go out and shop for those ingredients! And feel free to do it slowly, so you don’t have one giant, painful grocery bill.

☑ Build a “just in case” shelf

Once you’ve collected these items, set them physically or visually apart from the rest of your food. This is your “just in case” shelf.

Now, continue living your life exactly as you normally would! But every time you get to the bottom of one of those key ingredients in your normal pantry, take your surplus item from the “just in case” shelf, and replenish it on your next shopping trip.

Doing it that way has several benefits:

  • You’re setting yourself up to only eat foods you like. Real talk: if I’m in a dang crisis, I want comfort food, not some dusty ass meal replacement bars! If there’s no boxed mac and cheese left, throw me to the irradiated cannibals!
  • You’re not disrupting the supply chain. Crises get much worse when people buy things they don’t need in ridiculous quantities. See: toilet paper in 2020.
  • You’re minimizing potential food waste. Because you’re rotating the items on that “just in case” shelf into normal use, they won’t sit there slowly going bad.

☑ Include your normal household goods

Speaking of the goddamn toilet paper…

Here’s my list of essential household goods to keep on hand. I rotate these items with the rest of my “just in case” supplies. Again, they’re all things you will use regardless! It’s not stockpiling, just creating a single layer of cushion that can keep you out of the busiest aisles in the grocery store.

  • Laundry detergent
  • Dish detergent
  • Trash bags
  • Hand soap
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Toilet paper
  • Menstrual products
  • Toothpaste, shampoo, and other mainstay grooming products
  • Flashlight independent of your phone, with an extra set of batteries

☑ Keep medical supplies on hand… that you know how to use

I’m sorry, but there’s some TRULY ridiculous shit listed on many suggested home first aid kits! Like this one, from the highly reputable Mayo Clinic:

  • “Eyewash solution”? Sure, Jan. If I have an eye injury, I’m definitely gonna grope my way down to the basement in total darkness like Clarice Starling, hunting for my canister of emergency eye wash solution, ripping off its plastic safety packaging with my teeth, praying I haven’t accidentally picked up the extra toilet bowl cleaner I keep on the same shelf.
  • “Aluminum finger splint”? I’m sorry, did you mean “two popsicle sticks I taped together”?
  • “A rubber tourniquet or 16 French catheter”?! First of all, why are these two things together?! Second of all, I don’t care what the state of the world is—I will wrestle a shark before I spread my legs for a DIY home catheterizing.
  • Other lists mentioned things like “antibiotics” and “Tamiflu” and I would love to get name of the pharmacist willing to fill orders based on (checks notes) apocalyptic fantasies.

Here’s my hot take (which is lukewarm at best, as I am not a doctor or medical professional of any kind):

Don’t bother getting specialty medical equipment if you don’t know how to use it. Remember what I said about carbon monoxide poisoning? If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re just gonna hurt yourself or someone else.

And don’t waste time, money, and space collecting things that you could easily craft out of everyday household items. If you need bandages or tourniquets in your home, things aren’t going great.If the Super Mutants are already at the door, cut-up t-shirts and belts are handier anyway.

☑ Build a common sense first aid kit

In my mind, a good first aid kit needs the following seven things. Everything else is a cherry on top, by which I mean both “a nice extra thing to have” and “a choking hazard” if you don’t know how to use it properly.

  • You should have a thermometer. Doesn’t matter if it goes in your mouth, your ear, your armpit, or your Special Mystery Zone, it just needs to work. If you have a fever that climbs above 103°F, you need immediate medical attention.
  • You should have something that reduces pain and fever. Acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin (Bayer), and naproxen (Aleve) all do this. And the much cheaper generics do the exact same thing, so save your money for black market French catheters.
  • You should have something that helps controls coughs. Coughs really inhibit your ability to rest and recover. I own generic versions of DayQuil for business, NyQuil for parties, Delsym for her pleasure, and mentholated lozenges for the come-down.
  • You should have some diphenhydramine, AKA Benadryl. Lots of people have allergies, so it’s good to have some antihistamines around in case they’re needed. But I like Benadryl in particular because it can be used in a pinch to help bring sleep to stressed-out humans and animals alike. It’s an off-label use, but potentially helpful in a short-term emergency with no better options.
  • You should own a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution. It’s a solid multipurpose antiseptic that’s hard to dangerously misuse.
  • You should own petroleum jelly, aka Vaseline. Because my vast life experience has taught me that rubbing a lil’ Vaseline on it never hurts and often helps.
  • You should have band-aids. What are you, a robot? Own band-aids!

☑ Get more of whatever YOU need

If you take regular medication, you should ask your doctor or pharmacist if you can order in bulk. It saves you time, lessens the potential impact of any disaster-induced disruptions, and usually saves you money as well.

Not everyone can! Sadly, my one and only prescription is a “controlled substance,” which means I must tug on the sleeve of an apoplectic pharmacist and say “please, sir, I want some more” like Oliver fucking Twist. It’s a great system! We have fun!

Luckily, this isn’t too hard to get around. There are many days I forget to take my medication, or choose not to take it. From that, I’ve grown a respectable surplus for emergencies. My doctor doesn’t need to know about it—and neither does anyone else. I hate to say it, but medicine cabinet thefts are common, so store it somewhere more discrete.

The same goes for any medications needed by your children, dependents, and pets. Think of the needs of everyone in your household, and plan ahead accordingly.

☑ Have a solid transportation plan

Know your area’s evacuation procedures. This is especially true for people who live in the path of frequent storms or fires. If you rely on public transportation, research an alternate transportation opportunity in case of emergencies. Talk to your neighbors—more on this later!

Know how to reach the closest hospital without a GPS. It’s the one place you should know how to reach without the aid or internet or electricity; everything else could wait. If you use Google Maps, use their “download local maps” feature to help you navigate unconnected.

If you own a car, don’t drive around on an empty tank. Fellow Old Millennials will remember that after 9/11, the price of a gallon of gasoline shot from $2 to $5. People lined up around the block to fill up, and many stations ran out altogether. Why? There was no reason, it was pure panic. Gas is one of the first commodities that people rush to buy. So in uncertain times, keep your tank at least half full.

If you have access to a garage, keeping an extra gas canister ain’t a bad idea either. It will keep for 3-6 months. I personally know I would forget to refresh it, though, so… one of you Responsible Ravenclaws wanna text me a reminder??

☑ Identify critical morale boosters and boredom alleviators

A lot of people will remember the coronavirus pandemic as a time of intense sadness, isolation, and boredom. People who couldn’t leave their homes needed recreation. And the essential workers who toiled under incredible mental strain needed it even more. Mental health is physical health. Stress kills.

Set aside a few fun things to do in case of emergencies. Everyone likes different things, so I can’t tell you what to get to make the time pass. But hopefully this gives you a few ideas:

  • Video games
  • Board and card games
  • Digital or disc copies of your favorite movies
  • TV shows you’ve always meant to watch
  • Books you’ve never read before (or favorites you want to reread)
  • Coloring books
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Supplies for crafts like painting, knitting, sewing, or woodworking
  • Cookbooks with recipes you’ve never tried before
  • Self-directed fitness hobbies
  • Journaling or blogging

Don’t put pressure on yourself to learn something “useful” or “productive.” That’s some capitalist brainwashing bullshit.

☑ Include plans that work without electricity or internet

If you have forewarning for a disaster, keep your phones fully charged. It’s the greatest survival multitool mankind has ever built, but only if it will turn on. If you own a battery bank, even better!

Make sure you have a few things to do if your electricity and/or internet goes down. Recently a storm knocked our internet out for several days. What would we have done if I hadn’t owned all three Lord of the Rings: Extended Editions on physical discs?! Talk to each other?!

☑ Step up your self care

Don’t procrastinate on medical care. Schedule your annual physical checkups, dental cleanings, eye exams, and other routine procedures early and often. If you think there’s something wrong, physically or mentally, don’t make an appointment someday. Make it now. You never know when a crisis might prevent you from following through.

Indulge your vanity. I know it’s a cliche, but the whole “bubble bath” thing really does work for me. During the pandemic, I impulse-purchased a lot of cheap face masks and hair masks. I tried new makeup techniques and hairstyles. I painted my nails more in one month than I did in past years. When I started to feel really grubby, I bought myself a few nicenew pieces of loungewear. It felt grounding and affirming to invest time and attention in myself.

Follow a routine that works for you. Don’t pressure yourself to carry on like nothing is happening. But also, don’t let yourself wallow in inactivity. Find things to do that are meaningful to you, and work on developing ways to stay focused on them.

☑ Keep a few “someday projects” lying around

Is there some project you’ve always meant to get around to? Organizing your photographs into albums? Deep-cleaning your home from top to bottom? Planting a garden?

Write those ideas down, and save them for “the next lockdown.”I always feel better if my hands and mind are busy.

Just know that you won’t be the only one with your idea! As someone who baked, crafted, and built before the pandemic, let me tell you… it was frustrating to LOSE some of my favorite hobbies because the supplies became so scarce! So set aside enough materials now to at least get yourself started.

☑ Make nice with your neighbors

Ya’ll, we’ve been sleeping on neighbors.

I think that neighbors are some of the best people you can know. (I dedicate this post to Bob, the hero next door who loans me lots of yard tools, brings my trash out if I forget, and gives me all the good town gossip.) But that’s especially true during troubling times!

When horrible ice storms shut down Texas, people invited their neighbors into their homes to warm up and charge phones. During the coronavirus pandemic, neighbors came together to help each other stay safe and sane. After hurricanes and wildfires, neighbors are the first ones to show up, ready to help.

Make friends with your neighbors. In particular, check in on your elderly or disabled neighbors before and after a crisis. We’re all in this shitstorm together.

☑ Stabilize your finances, job, and healthcare

Finally, I want to acknowledge that the best way to insulate yourself from any crisis is to have money, a steady job, and reliable healthcare.

The main reason I can afford to be somewhat flippant about my disaster preparedness? Privilege. I am a relatively wealthy person, living in a relatively prosperous time, in a relatively wealthy nation. Americans have access to COVID-19 booster shots while other nations struggle to procure first doses; that’s the kind of privilege only money can buy. It’s not fair, and it’s not right, but at least for now, it is the truth of how out world works.

If you’re fretting about how to become more prepared in case of an emergency, I think it’s a very good idea to focus that energy on securing greater levels of financial security for yourself. If you have the energy to learn a new skill, in-demand jobs skills will bring greater stability than doomsday fantasy skills like hunting and fire-starting ever could. Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

☑ Build an emergency fund to help in any disaster

☑ Land a job you like that pays you well

☑ Get your healthcare on lock

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Readers, what are your favorite survival tips? Did we leave anything good off this list? If so, please tell us in the comments below!

19 thoughts to “Frugal Disaster Preparedness for Chill People”

  1. I have needed this article for so long! I want to be prepared for things that are likely to happen but one step into a “prepper” website has my semi-minimalist heart pounding like I’m being chased by Bear Grills/

    1. LMAOOOOOOO it really do be like that!!

      As Prepper Lite™ as this advice is, it still wouldn’t really be possible when I lived in a one-bedroom apartment. “You want me to buy what, now? And put it… Where?!” Boiling it down to a single layer of redundant purchases you were already going to make is sooooo much more managable.

      1. I live in a dorm room right now and don’t speak the language that would be used at my nearest hospital so I feel like reading this just made me more aware of how unprepared my life is for emergencies – I do own lots of anti-allergy medication and two thermometers though, and patching up my constantly getting destroyed wardrobe is a constant someday project

    1. Yes! My bin of backpacking food doubles as a last layer of emergency food supplies. Plus having a water filter for backpacking and living in walking distance of one of the Great Lakes should take care of all my water needs.

  2. I feel this in my soul. Wanting desperately not be left hanging dry when disasters inevitably come but also not wanting to fill up 2/3 of my apartment with ‘survival’ weapons, MREs, and three years of i don’t know, oats?

    I’m aiming for that “prepared solarpunk” aesthetic instead of “doomsday prepper”. Green suits me better

  3. Perfect timing. I went on vacation and came back to a completely destroyed apartment due to IDA. Get renters insurance. It’s cheap and is literally saving my ass right now as they are paying for my hotel and will pay to replace all my lost material goods. I think I paid 20 bucks? Best money I ever spent.

  4. I feel like one thing that’s missing here is appropriate insurance coverage. Most people don’t realize flood damage is not covered by homeowners or renters insurance policies. Same for earthquakes and sinkholes. And those are just the natural disaster types of claims. People definitely need to have adequate health insurance lest they go into ridiculous amounts of medical debt.

    1. I considered adding an insurance section! But very quickly realized it was wayyyyy too complex. I would love to know your take on what’s happening in the California insurance market right now. If the private insurance sector starts to point-blank refuse coverage in highest-risk areas (especially in these places that are otherwise incredibly desirable), I’m very curious to see what solutions will shake out of the market.

  5. This is great, but believe it or not I use the eye wash stuff all the time. A nurse friend told me to buy the single serve eye wash. I use it after windy days, camping, fire season, etc.. maybe I just get a lot of crap in my eyes..

  6. I’m pretty much a minimalist prepper by default. I always have enough food on hand to last a month or more. It’s a curse and benefit from my family with hoarder tendencies too. And I own a house so I have the space to do so as well.

    Because I’m the same way–if society collapses enough that we would no longer have access to any services ever again (electricity, water, etc)…count me out!

  7. Fantastic list! The only thing I would add is, save all your important docs online (social security card, passport, deed to your car and/or house, covid vaccination card, school diplomas, tax records, etc)

  8. Gauze! A couple of rolls of gauze will help you control bleeding from bigger wounds. No fancy medical training needed. Just use direct pressure.

    I would also recommend adding a couple of real N95 masks or similar now that we can get them again, preferably one that goes over the head rather than having ear loops. They fit better and are more comfortable. Dust from an earthquake, smoke from a fire, or mold from flooding will make your lungs very sad very fast, and a cloth mask isn’t enough filtration.

  9. I can’t imagine there’s a house in this rural county that doesn’t have a couple of months of food on hand. And they aren’t preppers, they are just country folk. We don’t want to drive to town to shop every day, that’s a silly waste of time for us. We have deep freezers, and shelves of canned goods and veggies we put up ourselves from our gardens. Plus most of us have the three g’s of survival, generators, guns and gasoline. Well be fine out here, plus we also will care for our neighbors because they are like family to us. I think urban people are the ones at the most risk if the supply chain breaks. But I agree, prepping for more than a few weeks is likely a waste of time. That’s why we don’t prep at all, it’s just normal inventory levels for us.

  10. My solution to meal preparedness is to have backpacking MREs ready from mountain house. I love their foods when I’m in the backcountry and buying them in the container format makes them more affordable. It also doesn’t hurt they have a shelf life measured in decades! I usually have 2 weeks on hand. Tip on water: If there is a disaster event, one solution is to turn off the water input and gas to your hot water heater; you then have a 50 gallon supply of water, which you can drain as needed and isn’t prone to sewer line backup.

  11. Ugh this is a really smart article in a very empty niche. Last year I was living in California in fire season (my first and last, to be honest) and had to pack an honest-to-G-d go-bag because there were major fires close enough. It was scary as hell to really think about it getting that real even though I’m not someone who *worries* about this stuff, for better or worse. Now I’m in my new place in NYC and we’ve already had two significant floods (tho thankfully I haven’t been directly impacted). This is a genuinely helpful list that really brought home how ill prepared my just-moved-in apartment is for any kind of disruption.

  12. I’m so grateful that there are others on the “if there’s a Zombie apocalypse, count me out” team. Like watching Bird Box my only thought was “nope, don’t need to survive that one. I’m good.”

  13. Hydrogen peroxide isn’t a good antiseptic. It causes too much tissue damage, increasing risk of infection instead of decreasing. Use rubbing alcohol instead, or just soap and water.
    One of my favorite pieces of disaster prep equipment is the propane torch I also use for soldering copper plumbing pipes. It lights wet wood and damp charcoal really, really well and it’s self-lighting. So my neighbors and I will have cooking options when our propane grills run out of gas.

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