5 Ways to Avoid Spending Unnecessary Money During a Natural Disaster

natural disasterWatching Hurricane Sandy ravage East Coast the last few days has made me wonder, and hope, that the millions of residents in those areas were properly prepared as their electricity, Internet, and phone systems went down.

Although not at all comparable in terms of damage or devastation, the situation reminded me of the 2008-09 snowstorm, which hit Washington state, where I live, particularly hard. Power was knocked out, and in some communities they were not able to get electricity back for weeks. The high level of snow (at least for the area) left roads and street blocked, making it difficult or impossible for vehicles to get inside, which meant many stores were either closed or in short supply of critical goods.

Working as a helper clerk at the local grocery store during that snowstorm, I can tell you the first place people go in a natural disaster, depending on the severity, is their nearest store â“ if it’s still operating. And the shelves can cleaned out within hours.

The trouble is, most people don’t prepare for a disaster until the effects – no electricity, transportation, Internet or pluming – have already begun to occur. This ends up thinning their wallet, as they have to either make large purchases of goods they might have bought for cheaper prior, or they have to go outside the area to find necessities, which can incur even higher costs.

Fortunately, my family, always one to perk up earnestly whenever a potential storm is on the horizon, was well prepared and managed to relax somewhat during the snowstorm, rather than participate in the mad scramble to find what we needed to wait it out.

Since we are approaching the winter season, here are a few tips I’ve learned from my experiences that will help you prepare and spare you from spending unnecessary amounts of money in the process.

1. Buy what you need before you need it

The Boy Scout motto is to “Be Prepared.” Natural disasters are one of the many things the motto refers to. Whatever the type of natural disaster is most frequent in your region, the most important thing is for you be ready for it well before it comes.

This means having it planned out. It means having a well-stocked cellar, garage or pantry of emergency food; the best is nonperishable food with extra-long expiration dates that don’t require refrigeration, freezing, or cooking.

And for the majority of you, don’t forget to buy coffee you can make without electricity. Trust me. You don’t want to have to wait for four hours to get an espresso. After the storm had subsided, my grocery store had the only operating coffee store in the Lake Hills area of Bellevue. Word got around fast., By the time I showed up for work at 9 a.m., the line stretched out to the back of the parking lot. Our manager ended up taking coffee off the shelves to continue making it because it was the one item people couldn’t use at the moment.

There are also other less noticeable but equally important items people tend to overlook. For example, during the fall and summer my family would borrow a truck and pick up free wood whenever we saw it advertised outside people’s homes, usually after they had had a tree cut down and didn’t want to pay to have it taken. We would then bring it back to our house, chop it up and stack it in the backyard.

During the snowstorm, we were able to maintain a constant fire to warm our living room and cook our food on the fire stove, while other people were forced to either use expensive emergency generators to cook and heat, or they had to buy overpriced wood at stores.

2. Stock up on additional provisions when they’re on sale

When weather reports first indicated that a massive snowstorm might be headed our family, my family hurried to the grocery store and filled up a large cart full of everything we would need, in addition to what we already had in stock, in case we were stuck inside the house for a while.

In addition to food, we also bought candles and blankets and lots of batteries. You do not want to roam around a dark house in the middle of the night because you forgot to stock up on Energizer Bunnies.

The key is to buy when they’ve on sale rather than at the last minute. Shop smart by going to discount stores and thrift shops for warm clothing.

Keep an eye on sales during regular weather season. Don’t just think of what you need to buy at the moment. Think of what you may need in six months that happens to be on sale right now.

Ultimately, shopping in advance, when there are good deals, sales, or discounts, will save you money because you get it when it’s cheap, not when you absolutely have to have it and are forced to pay through the nose to get it.

Or, worse, you will end up having to drive for miles to actually find what you need and pay much higher prices when the supply is impacted.

3. Fill up on gas in anticipation of high prices

As soon as the snow started to fall my dad drove all our cars one by one to the nearest gas station and filled them up. He also brought along containers in the back of the cars, which he filled up as well. The reason for this is because the roads were blocked and gas trucks could not resupply the gas stations, which meant there was going to be a shortage within a day or two. The last thing you want during a disaster is to run out of gas at the very moment you need to get out of Dodge, so to speak, or when someone requires your help. Running out of fuel limits you to using bikes, if the terrain permits, or walking on foot. In the snow, as was in our case, this can be slow and painstaking or simply not practical.

You also save money when you buy gas before, rather than after a disaster, due to price fluctuation. In 2005, right before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, we filled up as much gas as we could, right before the oil refineries were hit and prices skyrocketed, as well as in late 2008 and early 2009, when the price of oil per barrel had dropped down to $35.

4. Have sizable cash reserve at home in lieu of credit/debit cards

During a disaster, telephone lines and connection to the Internet can get cut off, making it impossible to verify PIN numbers for debit cards or use credit cards. Having a sufficient reserve of cash helps protect you from losing access to your money at a time when you need it the most. You can also go to the bank and withdraw additional funds before the disaster hits if you feel you will need more. In the event of an extreme situation, where is no electricity, your only option may be cash when all power has been knocked out.

5. If you expect damage, prepare all necessary paperwork necessary to document it for insurance claims

If the storm appears likely to or is guaranteed to cause damage to your home or property and you have insurance, you want to ensure (I’m not sure if the pun is intended or if there’s even a pun there) that you have all your T’s crossed and your I’s dotted. Become educated about the type of natural disasters in your region and what to do if it damages your property.

Know the steps you have to take afterwards in order to submit a claim and what your insurance will actually cover in such an event. Know what number to call, who to speak to, and what information to provide.

Being aware beforehand will help make your life less stressful than it already will be, especially if the damage is catastrophic. It is also less likely the insurance provider will fight the claim if it’s done correctly, which saves you both time and money.

photo by georgiaema