When you have a food allergies or intolerances, they can be costly to work around. I’m technically intolerant to many foods, including eggs (whites and yolks), three kinds of sugar, soy, milk, and various unusual items. In order to be able to eat well and not have every minute of my life revolve around finding food, I’ve chosen to focus only on the intolerance that makes me very ill: gluten. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Unfortunately, it is also found in the majority of packaged foods, sauces, and staple items. (I’d guess at least 50% of all foods.)

Food Allergies Could Save You Money
On the one hand, gluten intolerance automatically saves money. Eating out is risky, so I do it rarely. Most pre-packaged foods are out, including all forms of ready-made dinner. Most sauces are out, as are many convenience foods you wouldn’t expect, like some yogurts. Some brands of spices and boxed rice are out, too. Obviously, bread, cakes, cookies, and all manner of baked goods are off-limits. So, if I simply avoided everything I can’t eat and didn’t replace them with copycat foods, my grocery budget would be low because my food possibilities would be very limited.

Food Allergies More Often Result in Much Higher Food Costs
The limitations are also where the trouble lies. I don’t want to live without bread, pasta, and cookies, but that means paying more for substitutes. A 10 pound bag of wheat flour costs $3.99. The alternative flours necessary to make an equivalent amount of replacement gluten-free flour cost around $31.60 for ten pounds if you buy it pre-blended, and only slightly cheaper if you blend it yourself. (I blend my own.) If I choose to buy gluten-free bread, I can either buy a cheap one that tastes horrid, or spend around $8.00 for a small, tasty loaf.

This means that I bake most of my gluten-free foods myself to keep costs down, and I don’t do it very often. I’m very careful not to spill my flours and keep them all in the fridge to prevent spoiling. When cornstarch or arrowroot will work (for a roux or a thickener), I use that instead. Cornstarch is only .79 a box! I also use pasta sparingly, because Tinkyada pasta is $3.99 a pound at Whole Foods and $3.04 a pound from Amazon.

How to Save Money with Food Allergies and Intolerances
Overall, I’d estimate that my intolerance adds 30% to our annual food costs. So how do I save money and still eat well?

1. Make every dinner from scratch, using inexpensive base ingredients and freezing the leftovers for later.

2. Use baked goods or pastas sparingly (which also helps control my weight.). Buy them at Amazon if possible. Buy several types of flour at once to reduce shipping costs from other online sellers.

3. Replace bread with gluten-free corn tortillas and gluten-free rice cakes instead of gluten-free bread.

4. Shop at Trader Joe’s, where more foods are gluten-free and the prices are lower.

5. Bake my own cookies, freeze them, and only eat one a day.

6. Avoid pre-packaged gluten-free food, which costs more and may contain unhealthy ingredients.

Even if you don’t need to avoid certain foods for vital health reasons, these tips can still save you money because cooking from scratch and avoiding pre-packaged food is not only cheaper, it’s healthier. That said, if you can eat bread, there’s no reason to avoid it. Whole grain breads and pastas are very good for people who can eat them!

Although these tips are aimed at people with gluten intolerance, they can also be adapted for those intolerant to corn, eggs, soy, or milk. Now that people are more aware of food allergies and intolerances there are more options available. The quality is also improving, and some of the prices decreasing. I recommend joining an online support group designed for your allergy to find lists of safe foods, and then buying a cookbook focused on your allergy so you can learn how to cook with substitutes.

My intolerance is also the primary reason we eat as well as we do. Before I went gluten-free as an adult (I was diagnosed as a child, but the foods crept back into my diet), I ate the typical assortment of pastas and packaged foods. Once I couldn’t eat those, I was forced to start cooking, and cooking well. Now I wouldn’t eat any other way (the cooking-well part. I’d kill for a flaky, buttery, gluten-filled croissant.)

As I said on Money, clipping grocery coupons is one of my frugal tricks for saving money on groceries. I used to save a lot more with coupons, but Ralph’s has recently cut their coupon policy and I’ve found that even with coupons and sales, Trader Joe’s is usually cheaper. I used to save at least $10.00 a week between clipping coupons, shopping at Trader Joe’s, and buying the sale brands at Ralph’s. Once I added the farmer’s market, I save less with coupons, but I save more through strategic shopping.

My Shopping Method Saves $20 a Week
My new farmer’s market, Trader Joe’s, Ralph’s route has cut our food costs by about $20 a week and the food is better. If you have one near you, Trader Joe’s is the easiest way to save money. Unfortunately, they’re not in every state yet. If you’re a hardcore couponer, you won’t like them, because they don’t take coupons. Why don’t they take coupons?

1. They carry mostly their own label or other labels that aren’t major brands and are unlikely to discount.

2. If you can buy a product cheaper somewhere else, TJ doesn’t carry it.
3. If they can’t get a good, volume deal, or their tasters don’t like it, they won’t carry it.

You can save at least $1 on eggs, a few dollars on meats, a few dollars on breads, and anywhere from 20 cents to a few dollars on everything else they carry that you can find at your regular grocery store. My preferred brand of oatmeal is $2 more at Ralph’s than it is at Trader Joe’s. Guess where I buy it?

The Grocery Game – Yes or No?
Some people go a bit further in their strategic shopping. They play the Grocery Game buy grocery coupons online. I don’t do that for four reasons:

1. Clipping my own coupons really doesn’t take much time, maybe five minutes on a Sunday morning because there are so few coupons I can actually use. It seems like ordering coupons online would take longer and require more effort.

2. I don’t have much storage space. If the Grocery Game finds that there’s a huge sale on toilet paper and recommends buying a lot of it, where am I going to put it?

3. There are only two of us, so we just don’t go through food fast enough to make either of those tactics work.

4. I can’t or don’t buy most of the products that are available with coupons.

Using Coupons Without the Grocery Game
That said, I do still save money with coupons. Each week after I make my menu, I go through my coupon stack and choose the few that match up to my list. Then I look at the database at HotCouponWorld to check store circulars for fantastic sales and find additional coupons.

When I get to the store, I compare the sale and/or coupon price to the store brand (if the quality is equivalent.) I calculate whether my coupon item will be cheaper, the sale item will be cheaper, or a sale and a coupon can be combined. If an item I use is on store sale, I stock up, but only as much as I can reasonably store and use.

I’ve generally found that the coupons worth a quarter or less, even when doubled, aren’t a good deal. I can usually find a lower-priced product on store special or with a higher-value coupon. I mostly look for coupons worth more than 35 cents.

The Potential Downside of Coupons
Here’s where coupons get people into trouble: they buy something because they have a coupon for it. I saw a woman on TV who used coupons to get $400 worth of food for $40. The problem was that she bought tons of the same foods. So much that she had to give it to friends, family members, and keep it in deep freeze freezers and on shelves in her garage. She had more than she could ever use. So how was that saving money? She probably could have gotten $100 worth of healthy products she could actually use for $40 and not have to pay for extra electricity. She was also overweight, probably from eating all the pre-packaged meals she bought with her coupons, which will cost her a lot more in the long run.

Yes, I could spend more time being strategic, clipping coupons, organizing coupons, and searching for sales, but I’m satisfied with saving a few dollars a week on groceries with my quick and easy coupon methods. Given that I only buy 5-6 things at Ralph’s every week, that’s not a bad savings.

My series on eating well for less continues today. About a year ago, I read an article in MSN Health that said that the 5 for $5 deals you see at the grocery store won’t save you money. From their point of view, you’ll buy 30% more than you intended to. That may be true, but that means you’ll have them on hand for later when you do need to buy them. If you use a grocery price book, you can tell how often the item goes on sale and whether it will go lower than that X for $ deal.

How X for $ Deal Work
If you have room to store them, then buying when they offer bulk deals is a great way to save money. In most stores, the price at the register isn’t 10 for $10. Each item is individually discounted, so they’re really $1 each. The store hopes you’ll buy more because they want to move stock.

Smart shoppers, buy what they need now plus a couple extra. For example, if the store is selling 10 cans of refried beans for $10, and I need one can, I might buy three. I know I’ll use them and I like to have them on hand anyway. I could buy ten, but I don’t have room to store them. I still get the savings and now they’ll be on hand for a spur-of-the-moment meal. I’ve also found that items with super deals like this always tend to be on sale. If they’re not, wait a week.

How to Make a Grocery Price Book
I’ll admit that I’m not a big user of the price book. I have one, but I used it to compare the savings of Trader Joe’s over Ralph’s for a while, which is how I determined that TJ is nearly always cheaper.

There are several ways to make a price book:

1. Use a spiral notebook. Make a page for each item you often buy. Record the date, store, brand, price, size, and unit price each week for several weeks.

2. Use excel to list all the items alphabetically, including all of the above information. You can also do this in several worksheets in the same workbook. Just add the new items at the bottom of the list every week, then use the sort feature to alphabetize them.

3. Use a binder. It’s the same as the spiral notebook, but with tear out pages.

You can find a free, downloadable price book at No Credit Needed.

How to Use a Price Book
I started my price book by listing everything I bought on the last few receipts. That gave me the date, store, brand, and price. I then went online or to the pantry to find the sizes.

Over the next few weeks, I wrote the prices, brands, and sizes of several items on the back of my grocery list and then entered it into Excel when I got home. I stuck to items I frequently buy, not special items I buy a few times a year.

If you keep a price book, you can use it a few ways:

1. Use it to determine if the price advertised in your circular is the best ever price.

2. Determine the frequency of sales on the item.

3. Take it the store with you to see if unadvertised specials are the best deal they offer.

4. Determine if one store is cheaper than another.

As I said, I found that Trader Joe’s is nearly always the cheapest for the items I buy. I can’t track prices at the farmer’s market because they vary between sellers and from week to week, but even if something is cheaper in the Ralph’s circular than the typical farmer’s market price, I go with the market. It’s fresher and tastier there. It’s also rare for Ralph’s to be cheaper than my farmer’s market.

If you stop at major grocery stores, then a price book can help you score great deals. If you tend to shop farmer’s markets and alternative stores, it might help some but not as much.

I’m on vacation this week, so I’m posting a series about frugal grocery shopping with a twist. Many of the grocery-saving tips I see rely on heavy coupon use and packaged foods. My husband and I could never eat that way. Instead, this series will focus on incorporating all the standard tips into a frugal grocery shopping strategy that allows you to eat well for less.

Several years ago I read an article in Money magazine that discussed how people often waste money by grocery shopping several times a week. The writer described how her child’s friend was amazed the amount of food the writer bought on her weekly grocery trip. The friend’s mom shopped every night and bought little at one time. This is a strategy for eating well, but not for saving money.

People in other countries shop daily, but American don’t do it the way the French do. The French go to the market, buy what’s fresh, and then decide what to make. Or they decide what to make, then go to market. Either way, they are able to buy much smaller portions and don’t have much left over. Americans who shop daily usually decide what to make on the way home and don’t check their fridges and freezers to see what’s they already have. Thus they end up with multiple half-full tubs of everything and freezer-burned meat.

Menu Planning: Good Meals, Affordable Ingredients
There are two keys to eating well and saving money on groceries: home-cooking and menu planning. Instead of showing up at the store hungry every night or opening the freezer and staring into its depths before ordering out, set aside an hour or so at the end of the week to plan the next week’s menu. Here’s how I do it:

1. Keep a magnetic grocery list pad on the fridge so we can note things as we run out. This is especially important because I don’t look inside the opaque containers of foods only my husband eats, therefore I don’t know if something is low.

2. Each Friday night I sit down with my cookbooks, grocery pad, and mini menu book. This is a little notebook where I write the week’s dinner menus. I can usually fit four weeks per page and each notebook holds about 80 week’s worth of menus (I write small). I get the notebooks free at conferences, but you can use hotel notepads, Realtor notepads, or even buy a notebook. For each night I list the main course, the side dish, and the type of salad. For example, “Tue: Chix marsala, red pot, wal gorg.” That means chicken marsala with roasted red potatoes and a walnut gorgonzola salad.

menu book

By planning ahead, I can be sure we eat fish at least twice, chicken three times, and beef no more than once. I can also avoid serving potatoes too often. If one of us will be out one night, I can plan to make extra the night before or plan an easy one person dish. I also make sure to use things that are already in the fridge or freezer. For example, if I made crème fraiche for a dish last week, I plan a dish that will use it up this week.

3. I list everything I need that I might not have already on the grocery list. I ask my husband if there’s anything he needs or any cleaning supplies we’re low on. Then I check my cabinets for supplies, frozen foods, and raw ingredients. I either add or delete items as I go. I also check our breakfast, lunch, and snack foods to make sure we have enough.

4. I check my list against my coupons and store circulars, and then set aside any coupons I can use. If something we usually buy is on special, I consider stocking up. Some people look at the circular first and plan meals around what’s on sale, but I don’t buy most of my groceries from stores with circulars or specials.

5. Sunday morning I head to the farmer’s market for produce, bagels, beef, and pork (both naturally fed). From there, I proceed to Trader Joe’s for eggs, dairy, chicken, cheese, fish, wine, and most canned/boxed goods. Finally, I head to Ralph’s to pick up the last of the items I need, usually deli meat, bread, rice, dried beans, some household goods, and anything the market or TK didn’t have.

6. After each stop, my husband takes the groceries inside and puts them away. When I get home from the last trip, I divide and freeze anything that won’t keep in the fridge.

7. Each night before bed I check the menu book and put whatever needs to defrost into the fridge.

Planning Saves Time, Money, and Hassle
First, I’m not buying duplicate items because I check what I have against my list before I go to the store. Second, I can use coupons, which I wouldn’t have with me if I stopped every night. Third, I can shop wisely.

Time: Menu planning and grocery list prep takes me 30 minutes and I usually do it while watching TV. Shopping takes me about two hours, depending on how much I need to buy and how long it takes to find it at the farmer’s market. So that’s 2 ½ hours a week (max, sometimes less). If I shopped daily, I would need to spend at least 15 minutes wandering the aisles, then another 10-15 minutes in the checkout line, plus daily travel time to and from the store. That’s also three hours a week, assuming shopping only six days.

Hassle: I don’t like grocery shopping. I especially don’t like grocery shopping when there are tons of people there and the lines are long and slow. I don’t like arriving at the store only to discover the produce is sold out or the deli is closed. Plus, once I get home, then I’ve still got to start cooking. I know none of those things will happen on Sunday morning when I can get my errands out of the way and then have the rest of my day to enjoy.

Menu planning also has a health bonus. Prepackaged food is often high in calories and sodium, even if it’s supposedly healthy. By planning my menu and cooking from scratch, I can ensure that we eat a healthy, balanced diet.

The rest of the series continues with these posts:

This week, I have only one carnival to share: the Carnival of Personal Finance #162, hosted by Taking Charge of Credit Cards. In addition to my post on storing your vital records, you might also enjoy My Dollar Plans 12 tips for preparing your finances for vacation.

delicious ice cream and fruit

I love ice cream in the summer. It’s one of my top summer foods. Unfortunately, I don’t eat it often. Between lactose intolerance and the need to lose weight, I’ve got to control my cravings. When I do want ice cream, I plan ahead and use my ice cream machine to make a fancy zabaglione version (courtesy of the Williams Sonoma Ice Cream cookbook). But you can make it anytime with just a few ingredients you have on hand.

Advantages of Homemade Ice Cream
Although it does take more work than opening a carton of storebought ice cream, it’s worth it to make your own.

Homemade Ice Cream Is Cheaper
To make ice cream at home, you’ll need milk, cream, eggs, sugar, and flavorings. You probably have three of those on hand already. For lighter ice creams, you can skip the cream. Here are my recent costs to make zabaglione gelato:
Sugar – $0 (had it on hand)
Milk – $1.69 for the quart. I used half in the ice cream and more in other recipes throughout the week, so let’s call it 83 cents
Eggs – $1.99 for a dozen. I used half for the ice cream, so $1
Vanilla – already had it
Marsala – already had it
Cream – $1.69 for a pint. I used half for the ice cream, so 83 cents.
Ice cream attachment for Kitchenaid Mixer – free (Christmas gift).

If you don’t have an ice cream machine, the Kitchenaid stand mixer attachment is about $70. You can also buy standalone machines for $20-$60. Or you can use a bag or a jar for free.

The total cost for 1.5 quarts of my ice cream: $2.66.
1.5 quarts of Dreyers ice cream: $6.49
1.75 quarts of Breyers ice cream: $4.99
1 pint of Ben & Jerry’s: $3.00
You can buy a 1.5 quarts of store branded ice cream for just over the cost of my ice cream, but the taste leaves a lot to be desired.

If you opt to buy a machine, you will have the initial expense, but it will pay for itself in 2-3 years if you typically buy 5 containers of Dreyers ice cream a year.

Homemade Ice Cream is More Nutritious
Okay, there’s nothing “nutritious” about ice cream. It’s got fat and sugar in it. That’s why it’s a treat. But, you control the quality of the ingredients that go into your homemade ice cream. That means no chemicals, no preservatives, no ingredients you can’t pronounce.

You Have More Ice Cream Flavor Options
Your store might be out of your favorite flavor, but you can make just about any flavor you want depending on what you have on hand. If you’ve got fruit that’s about to go bad, or an overabundant tree, chop it up and stir it into the ice cream. Got leftover chocolate chips – add them to your ice cream. You might even combine the two. Making it yourself lets you create your perfect flavor combination.

I made mint chocolate chip once using real mint infused into the milk. I found it to be a bit woody, so I went back to peppermint extract, but I still enjoyed the ice cream I made, and the process of experimenting.

How to Make Ice Cream
If you have a machine, follow the instructions that came with it or use a recipe for machine ice cream. If you don’t have a machine, these two instructables show you how to do it step-by-step.

Homemade ice cream in a bag or jar
Homemade vanilla or chocolate ice cream in a bag

Custard or Non-Custard Ice Cream?
I prefer to make custard-based ice creams because they’re richer and creamier. They also take longer to make because you have to cook the eggs. If you don’t want to deal with eggs, then look for a non-custard based ice cream recipe. It won’t be as creamy, but it’s quicker, cheaper, lower in fat, and still yummy. If you’re ready for a real treat, my friend recommends Alton Brown’s Serious Vanilla Ice Cream

Once you get used to making ice cream at home, you’ll never want to go back to the storebought stuff. And why should you when making it at home is simple and cheap? If you’ve got a big freezer, you can keep your freeze bowl in the freezer at all times so you can make ice cream in a flash.

iced tea 2

Most first-time brides look forward to the bridal shower, but the person charged with hosting it probably isn’t looking forward to the costs it entails. I’ve been to big showers, and small showers, and come up with a few ideas for hosting a bridal shower on a budget. Rest assured, these bridal shower tips won’t look cheap, but they’ll save you a pretty penny on the bride’s celebration.

Choose a Free Location
I’ve been to a bridal shower held in a restaurant, and it seemed like a lot of expense and hassle. I much prefer showers held in homes. I hosted my sister’s shower at my mom’s house, which allowed us to do all the cooking and set-up in advance. We also didn’t have to bring multiple cars to get the gifts home from the party. If you don’t have access to a home, consider a park or low-cost community center with a kitchen. Avoid restaurants if you can – not only are they expensive, but they limit the amount of time for the party.

Recruit a Co-Host
My aunt offered to host the bridal shower with me, so we split the minimal costs. We were also able to use items and ingredients we, or my mom, already had on hand.

Keep the Guest List Reasonable
Unless the bride or groom has a huge family, invite less than 20 people to each shower. That’s a manageable size for talking and gift opening. More than that stretches your ability to serve the guests good food and keep the gift-opening portion to a reasonable amount of time. If the bride has numerous friends and relatives, she should have several showers, only one of which need be hosted by you.

Keep the Menu Simple
It’s easy to find simple, affordable recipes that look fantastic and expensive. My aunt and I started off with grand ideas for multiple dishes, but we settled on serving everyone the same thing. This was our menu:

  • Goat cheese mousse with crispy polenta and parmesan crisps
  • Blue-cornmeal chicken on a bed of lettuce with black beans, kernel corn, bell pepper slices, and a buttermilk dressing
  • Ginger-berry lemonade
  • Ice cream cake

While this menu looks expensive, we bought the lemons, ginger, and peppers at a farmer’s market and the raw chicken came in a value pack. All the other ingredients were cheap or something we already had on hand. We even made the ice cream cake ourselves.

Limit the Beverage Options
To keep the costs down, we served champagne with the appetizers, wine and water with lunch, lemonade while opening presents, and water and iced tea with dessert (it was hot, no one wanted coffee.) No one expects full cocktails at a bridal shower, so choose a few affordable options.

Borrow Dishes from Friends and Family
My aunt has gorgeous glassware, platters, and linens. My mom had the china and more glassware. If you don’t already own these things, ask your friends and relatives what they have. Odds are you know people who will lend you everything you need for a bridal shower. You don’t need everything to match. Mixing dish sets is trendy now.

Skip the Theme
As far as I’m concerned, “bridal shower” is the theme. Plan the décor around the bride’s colors and skip everything else. Use your favors as the centerpieces at the table, if you feel you need to have centerpieces at all.

Choose Simple, Cheap Shower Favors
At my shower, the guests received small votives and candles and in my wedding colors. They probably cost about $1 each. At my sister’s shower, we filled small flower pots with flower foam and fresh herbs from my mom’s and aunt’s gardens. The pots cost less than $1 and I already had the foam.

Skip the Games
I took a quick poll of a few women and determined that none of us like bridal shower games. Maybe we’re all spoilsports, but I find the games to be expensive and a waste of time. Just let your guests enjoy each other’s company.

Everyone enjoyed my sister’s shower, and neither my aunt or I spent a fortune on it. If you’ve got a shower to host, use these bridal shower tips to keep the costs in check. You can also use them for a baby shower or even an adult birthday party. If you don’t have to host the shower, but have a wedding to attend, use my previous advice for saving money during wedding season.

This morning Good Morning America did a segment about using food diaries to lose weight. I’ve found them to be an important tool in my battle to get (and stay) in shape, mainly because they make me accountable for my food choices. I can’t “forget” about that small bag of Cheetos, and I can see that it added 20 grams of fat to my day. That’s hard to ignore, and makes me not want to eat them so I don’t have to record them again, or forces me to adjust the rest of my food for the day so that I avoid going over my fat gram goal.I’ve used a PDA-based diet diary in the past, and happily paid $20 for the privilege. Now I prefer to use a free online food diary, which is frugal and easier to use. To help you decide between the free online versions, I’m comparing the two free sites: FitDay and The Daily Plate

Both food diary tools track the foods you eat, your daily exercise, and your weight. They calculate the number of calories you’re allowed per day to reach your stated goal. They also show you how many calories, fat, carbohydrates, and protein are in those foods so you can better fine-tune your diet.

Main Food Diary Interfaces
FitDay, which is the tool I use, has a barebones interface that shows you the basic details in an easy-to-read format and pie chart. It shows your total calories, protein, fat, and carbs. Your total permitted calories for the day are on the exercise interface screen. The diary interface also takes you to the options for adding foods.

Fitday Main Interface

The Daily Plate’s interface is more attractive and shows you more information up front, like how many calories you have left and how your were feeling that day. If you tend to be an emotional eater, this could help you discover your triggers.

MyPlate Interface

Adding Foods to Your Log
FitDay’s food database is large, but not complete. Adding foods to your diary requires either searching for them and then scrolling through a list, or using a series of menus. You can also see the total nutrition information for each food if you continue to click through to the individual item.

Fitday food selector

The Daily Plate’s database is much larger and has more name-brand foods. It has pictures of the logos and offers the ability to search by brand or a number of other factors. Once you select the food, you’re taken to another screen to review the nutrition data and add it to your food diary.

myplate food selection

daily plate food selector

Both sites also use their interfaces to add exercise, but The Daily Plate has more options in the database.

Which Food Diary Should You Choose?
Personally, I prefer FitDay because it allows me to add foods to my personal database. Since I have to eat a special diet and therefore have a lot of my own recipes, I calculate the information for the whole batch, divide that by a single serving, and then add it to my database.

The Daily Plate instead requires you to build meals using its built-in database. Some of the foods I eat aren’t in the database, and can’t be added because everyone shares the same database. Creating a meal for a single homemade cookie would be difficult.

However, if you’re not on a restricted diet, The Daily Plate seems like a winner. My friend’s personal trainer recommended it to him, which is a pretty strong endorsement.

If you have a different food diary that you like, recommend it in the comments!

Now that your emergency preparedness documents are in order, you need to create an emergency kit to ensure that you can survive a disaster for a few days. I first learned about these when my elementary school teacher sent us all home with gallon-size Ziploc bags and instructions to fill them with non-perishable foods, and then bring them back. Since then, I’ve made sure to keep a kit in my home. If you’re at risk for an earthquake, hurricane, flood, or tornado, you need to have one, too. Don’t waste money buying a kit for your home. You can make one yourself for much less.

Emergency Kit Contents
Your emergency kit should contain enough supplies to last three days. You may not have power or fresh water, prepare for that possibility, too. Your kit should contain a minimum of the following:

  • Enough food for each person or pet for three days
  • 1 gallon of water per person or pet per day
  • Toilet paper
  • Matches
  • Candles
  • Plastic plates, cups, utensils
  • Hand-crank or battery-powered radio
  • Hand-crank or battery-powered flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • Small first aid kit
  • Necessary medications for three days (like insulin or heart medication)
  • Wrench or pliers
  • Can opener
  • $100+ in cash ($20s or smaller)
  • Bleach
  • Moist towelettes
  • Red file

    Depending on your family circumstances, you may need additional items like eyeglasses or diapers. You could keep shoes, socks, and warm clothes for everyone in the kit. We keep our shoes and a pair of socks under the bed so we can put them on if the earthquake strikes while we’re in bed.

    Storing the Kit
    Keep your kit somewhere easy to access during an emergency. It shouldn’t be inside a cabinet with a door that can jam. If you have a tornado or hurricane shelter, keep it in there. If you live in earthquake country, keep it in a backpack or duffle bag so you can grab it and go. Our food and other supplies are in a low cabinet with a swing door. We also have a camp stove and propane in the apartment in case we can stay there until the power returns. Our pet carriers are on top of the kit so we can attempt to stuff our cats into them.

    Tape a list of other things to grab and the person assigned to gather them to the top of the bag, even if they seem obvious. That includes:

    • Pets (list them all)
    • Children
    • Emergency box (if you may not be able to return to your home)
    • Wallet and keys
    • Eyeglasses

    Replenishing the Kit
    If you keep medications in the emergency kit, replace them with a fresh set each time you get a refill. The food and water should be replaced at least every year. I keep powdered soups, chili, peanut butter, protein drinks, canned cold food, and protein bars in ours. When choosing food, look for options that are high in protein, but that shouldn’t be your only criteria. If you wouldn’t eat it under normal circumstances, you won’t want to eat it during a disaster. If you have the ability to heat water and a small pan, then chili and stews are a great choice. Pack a small bottle of dish soap, a sponge, and a towel for quick washes.

    Although it might seem silly to do all of this in case of a “what if,” all you have to do is turn on the news to see the value. If you live in a disaster zone, it’s not an if, it’s a when. Be prepared now for that eventuality.

    The last item in the documents you need for an emergency series is the Red File. Now that you’ve compiled and stored all of your important documents, it’s time to take the last step of compiling the Red File and sending it to someone you trust. With that done, you can be confident that you’ve done everything you can to prepare for an emergency, a disaster, or your death.

    What is a Red File?
    Depending on your needs, it can be a box or an envelope. I recommend an envelope. Your friends or relatives might not want to store a whole box for you. It should be sealed and put away until you request it. In it, you’ll find your most important documents. Traditionally, it’s a red envelope, but it doesn’t have to be.

    What Goes In It?
    Your Red File should contain the following items, at a minimum:

    • List of accounts
    • Will/Trust
    • Advance directive
    • Color copies of your ID card, passport, green card, or other citizenship documents
    • Health insurance cards
    • Home inventory and backup photo CD
    • List of emergency contacts
    • Birth certificates

    Where to Keep Your Red File?
    You’ve already stored all of your personal copies of the documents you need for an emergency. This abbreviated file should be sent to a distant friend of relative. By distant I mean someone you’re emotionally close to, but physically distant from. For example, a trusted sibling who lives out of state. My parents live 400 miles away, so they have mine. My sister lives further away, but she already has enough trouble finding places to keep stuff in her teeny apartment.

    Seal the envelope, then tape a letter of instruction on top. If you plan to mail it, place it inside another envelope so they don’t have to open it. Send them an updated file once a year, or sooner if your circumstances change. If not much changes in your life, then every two years might be sufficient.

    And that’s it. All your documents are ready for an emergency. Tomorrow you’ll finish your emergency preparations with your disaster kit.

    Source: The Red File

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