It pays to be prepared. I first learned about the Be Prepared motto way back when I was a Girl Guide playing with basic survival techniques and understanding the dangers in nature. Back in those days I earned pretty badges for knowing not to wipe my butt with poison ivy, for demonstrating how to safely put out a camp fire, and for showing the younger girls how to float in turbulent water.
As a top-ranked Girl Guide with all the badges I knew that being prepared for a myriad of emergency events was money (or badges) in the bank. But later in life I never thought that being prepared could save me both from nature and from financial ruin — until now.
View of the BC Terrace Mountain Fire from Okanagan Lake
Over the last month my home has been under a blanket of smoke due to blazing forest fires around British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. The skies have been dark and the air has been impossible to breathe. Because I live in the middle of a forest I’ve had to be prepared on a moment’s notice for an evacuation order and face losing my home and everything in it.
A water bomber helicopter works to contain the BC forest fires.
I’m lucky though. Many people live in areas where natural disasters can strike without the slightest warning. It only takes minutes or seconds for a hurricane, tornado, wildfire, tsunami, flood, earthquake, or other deadly disaster to blow your house down, taking your finances with it.
After taking the time to reflect, I’d like to share what I did to be financially prepared for a natural disaster. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather some emergency preparedness (and common sense) steps you can take today to help ease your financial losses if a natural disaster happens to you.
1. Do a Home Inventory
You count your money, right? Well it’s time to count all those pairs of shoes you own. Creating a home inventory is free and can help you strengthen an insurance claim in case of fire, robbery, or a natural disaster. It just makes good financial sense to have a record of your stuff so it can be replaced after the dust has settled. Download these free Home Inventory Worksheets to get you started.
15 Free Home Inventory Worksheets
I’ve kept a home inventory ever since being robbed decades ago. So when the fires in BC sparked, I was relieved to know that all of my belongings were cataloged on a CD and stored in a safe deposit box far away from my home. If you need some help putting together a home inventory, check out How to Make a Home Inventory to get started. It’s kinda fun, promise.
2. Update Your Homeowner’s or Renter’s Insurance Policy
Now that you’ve created a home inventory, it’s easy to call up your insurer and update your policy to reflect the value of your belongings. Besides, reviewing your policy every year is an excellent way to make changes to your coverage if you buy or sell some big ticket items. Be sure to get insurance for those natural disaster dangers in your area too. If you live in a hurricane, earthquake, or wildfire zone then get some level of coverage to protect yourself from a catastrophic loss.
If you’re currently without homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, consider getting yourself insured. Spending a few hundred bucks a year is well worth the expense if it means protecting yourself against losing everything. Here are 5 ways to cut your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance costs:
- Raise your deductible. A deductible is the amount of money you pay before the insurance company pays up. If you increase your deductible from a standard $250 to $500 or even $1,000, you could save up to 15% on your insurance premium.
- Get group coverage. If you work at a large company, have an alumni association through college or university, or are a member of a business association, then there are discounts to be had through group insurance plans. Just call up your group to discover your preferred rate and get a quote.
- Get a senior’s discount. Going gray has it’s privileges, and a discounted insurance premium is one of them. If you’re at least 55 years young or retired, you may qualify for an easy 10% discount.
- Get home and auto insurance from the same company. Depending on your country, state, or province of residence, many insurance companies offer a discount if you get both home and auto insurance with them. I’ve saved hundreds of bucks by bundling my policies while living in Ontario — but living in BC with public insurance I’m outta luck.
- Ask for a discount. Asking for a better deal is free. Just open your mouth and say, “Is this is the best rate you can offer me?” Be polite and you just may be surprised to save a few bucks on coverage.
3. Get a Safe Deposit Box
Opening a safe deposit box at your local bank is an inexpensive way to protect valuable documents (like stock or bond certificates), jewelry, your home inventory, and other non-replaceable items threatened by fire, water, or theft in your home. Smaller safe deposit boxes can cost around $50 per year while larger ones can set you back hundreds. Regardless of this fee, keeping certain items off-site and out of your home can prove to be priceless if you’re struck by a natural disaster. I’ve kept an updated home inventory CD in a safe deposit box for the last few years just in case.
If you live in the USA or Canada, you may be able to claim your safe deposit box fee as a tax deduction. Check out Overlooked Tax Credits for US Residents and Tips on Safe Deposit Boxes for Canadians to get all the details.
4. Check Emergency Preparedness Checklists
The type of natural disaster you should be prepared for depends on where you live. Those who live along the Cascadia Subduction Zone are more prone to earthquakes and tsunamis while those living in forested areas should be aware of wildfires or forest fires. If you live in a region prone to flash floods, hurricanes, or tornadoes, then you have concerns and emergency preparedness procedures unlike those who live in the Arctic.
To help you prepare for a natural disaster, it’s best to find an emergency supply or preparedness checklist specific to your region. These lists are also valuable to help your family plan an evacuation if required. Saving your finances is one thing, but saving lives and being in the know is golden. I’ve listed a few general emergency preparedness checklists and online sources to find one close to your home below.
- FEMA | Emergency Preparedness Checklist
- California Emergency Services | Emergency Supplies Checklist
- Government of Canada | Emergency Preparedness at Home (for all provinces and territories)
- Emergency Management B.C. | Family Emergency Supplies Detailed Checklist
- Google Listing | Emergency Preparedness Global Search
Not every area will face a Hurricane Katrina, California wildfires, or BC forest fires so get to know your region and find an emergency preparedness checklist that’s right for you. Just download and print.
5. Pack a Ready Bag
A Ready Bag is a fancy name for a knapsack or bag that contains your essential emergency items. It can be kept in a designated public shelter or taken along during an emergency evacuation. It sounds dire, but it’s a good idea to pack a Ready Bag during the high season for natural disasters in your area.
During the months of July and August I prepared my own Ready Bag and filled it with non-perishable food, warm clothing, toiletries, a blanket, and a few valuables. It’s doesn’t cost a cent to prepare a Ready Bag and it could help protect you from the weather elements if you’re stuck outside or waiting to find shelter. I also packed my pocket-sized SAS Survival Guide since it’s small and contains A LOT of handy and practical tips.
Ready Bag Essentials
- Phone Numbers: emergency and personal contacts
- Spare batteries
- Copies of important documents (passport, driver’s license)
- Essential medications or prescriptions
- First-aid kit
- Child care items
- Bottled water
- Energy bars or non-perishable foods
- Sleeping bag
- A set of spare clothing
- Favorite survival gear
- Small valuables (engagement ring)
- SAS Survival Guide Handbook (pocket Gem format)
Most of the items listed are compact and easy to carry. While it is tempting to pack cherished items like Grandma’s antique china, it’s probably a good idea to leave bulky things behind. Stuff that slows you down won’t keep you safe in times of danger. So stick to the essentials in your Ready Bag and keep yourself safe.
Bonus: Keep Your Car Fueled
Depending on where you live, it’s a good idea to keep your car fueled and ready to flee. I must admit that my dear hubby Carl was a little obsessive about checking the car over and keeping the tank full. Since we live on the outskirts of nowhere, it was imperative for us to get to a safe zone out of harm’s way if or when the forest fire blew our way. Knowing that our tires were pumped, the engine was checked, and our tank was full kept us a little bit safer.
It’s been a few weeks since the BC forest fires were contained in our area keeping us safe in our home. It’s a scary situation to face losing everything you own due to a natural disaster — but planning ahead and being prepared is sometimes the most sane thing to do to keep yourself and your finances as safe as possible. Scout’s honor!
Are you prepared if a disaster strikes your area? Been through an evacuation? Got something to add?