Remember the tale of the ant and the grasshopper from Aesop's Fables? The wise ant stored up food during the warmer months in preparation for winter, while the lazy grasshopper would only sing in the summer and found himself starving and begging for food come winter. Although the predictable change of seasons may not cause you personally to break the bank -- unless it's the holiday season -- unexpected and severe weather emergencies can quickly leave you in a financial rut.
This week happens to be National Severe Weather Preparedness Week. Although severe winter storms and extreme cold may be what readily comes to mind near the end of a long winter, other hazardous weather such as thunderstorms, lightning, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, extreme heat and drought are also included.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency stress the importance of preparing for severe weather before it strikes. As a frugal shopper, the same strategy applies. Since controlling the weather isn't possible, focus on what you can control: your preparation and finances.
Here are some simple tips to help you save money:
1. Look into tax-free incentives.
Find out if your state has any tax-free holidays for emergency supplies and equipment.
States such as Alabama, Louisiana, and Virginia have severe weather, hurricane or emergency preparedness tax-free weekends. Visit your state's tax department website to see if there are any tax incentives offered in your area, as well as eligible items, which may include portable generators, batteries, cell phone batteries, fire extinguishers, flashlights, duct tape, first aid kits and more. Be aware that qualifying items vary by state and there may be price limits in place.
2. Stockpile non-perishables.
Be sure to stock up your pantry with non-perishables by taking advantage of coupons and store promotions. Make sure you buy enough extra items to avoid the need to buy that item at full price before the next sale comes around. Using this strategy can help you gradually grow your emergency stockpile.
3. Save on water.
Don't want to spend an arm and a leg on bottled water? Simply drink tap water. Studies have shown that tap water may actually have more health benefits than bottled water, contrary to public opinion. To store tap water in preparation for an emergency, use plastic juice containers after cleaning them.
If you still prefer to buy bottled water at the store, wait for sales and promotions on the big name brands and use manufacturer coupons. A different strategy is to simply go for the generic, store-brand water, which can save you a bundle compared to the expensive name-brand at full price. Be sure to compare the unit price among the different water products and packaging. You'll typically save more by buying a gallon of water than a pack of bottled waters.
4. Beat the mad dash to the store.
Be sure to hit the grocery store before the masses. Once you catch wind about even the possibility of severe weather in the news, I recommend getting to the store quickly to grab any supplies that you direly need. You'll have more selection and a better chance of purchasing the least expensive option or brand before the shelves are bare. Do this as early as possible. If you find yourself without much lead time, only go out to the store if you have adequate time and there is not an immediate threat. In other words, don't drive out in the middle of a bad storm or leave your house during a tornado to grab a loaf of bread.
5. Build an emergency kit.
Instead of buying an expensive, pre-assembled emergency kit, create your own by shopping for supplies you'd need in the event of a disaster. At the top of your list is water, at least one gallon of water per person per day, for both drinking and sanitation, as well as a minimum three-day supply of non-perishable food, including canned goods and shelf stable foods.
Make sure you have a flashlight, extra batteries, a first aid kit, moist towelettes, garbage bags, battery-powered or a hand crank radio and other essential items your family will need in the case of an emergency. You can find a complete list of recommended supplies that should be included in a basic disaster supplies kit on ready.gov.
As one of my friends likes to say, "Proper planning prevents poor performance." This applies so well to emergencies and severe weather. To summarize: Have a plan, be the "ant" that stores up for the winter and unexpected storms and save money along the way.
Laura Harders is the founder of Beltway Bargain Mom, one of Washington DC's most popular sites for money-saving tips, finding the best deals and living a frugal lifestyle.