Food Storage on a Budget

One of my favorite Stoic Philosophers once said: “Everyone faces up more bravely to a thing for which he has long prepared himself, sufferings, even, being withstood if they have been trained for in advance. Those who are unprepared, on the other hand, are panic-stricken by the most insignificant happenings.” - Seneca, Letters from a Stoic.


I joined the military when I was 17 years old. A couple years into the program I realized the seriousness of my endeavor and began to see that the stakes were very high in the profession of arms. I began to focus on preparedness on many different levels, from physical fitness and mindset to practical preparations for my family while I was traveling. One thing I realized was that preparedness can first appear to be overwhelming and super expensive! The reality of the matter is that basic preparedness can actually be very inexpensive and affordable on as little as $20 every two weeks and it is best accomplished the same way you eat an elephant, one bite at a time! Something I noticed traveling throughout the United States and all over the world is that immediately after a disaster or emergency, services and utilities are often disconnected. The more I traveled overseas in the military, it was heart wrenching for me to watch families, especially children go without necessities caused by armed conflict and natural calamities. If you’re not prepared, you may not have access to water, refrigeration, or communication to stay updated on the situation. It often takes a day or longer for first responders to reach you (in a small, localized disaster and much longer in a large scale disaster), which means you will need to take care of yourself and neighbors/friends for an unknown duration. If the disaster is not happening in your immediate area, you may still be negatively affected with stores selling out, empty shelves, to include fuel. Most important, you must keep in mind that a natural disaster or emergency can happen to you. You will be personally responsible for your family and friends…the government may be slow to respond based on availability of resources and scale of the disaster.


Basic food storage is a great idea for many reasons. For me personally, it functions in a couple different ways: First it can supplement lean times and provide options if my finances are stretched; second, it gives me a safety net if stores are closed for any reason such as a natural or man-made disaster. I paid very close attention to the fast-moving wildfires this year as they swept close to Helper City. I hoped that the people of Helper had 72-hour kits with a couple cases of water gathered, and were ready to evacuate. Food storage is also a hedge against vastly increasing cost of food due to inflation or shortages.


With $20 a paycheck it is very possible to establish a well-stocked pantry that would carry you a long way in an emergency or natural disaster. When establishing an emergency food supply, it is a good idea to work within a couple of assumptions. First, it needs to be shelf stable (meaning it needs to have an expiration date of at least two years). Second, you will most likely need to boil water to prepare it (if the power is out a simple propane powered camping stove will do). Third, the food you store needs to be something that is fairly nutritious and what you and your family will actually eat.


I suggest starting with a three-day supply of food. FEMA recommends a three-day supply of food, water, and prescriptions at a minimum at all times. This supply should include three days’ worth of non-perishable, shelf-stable and ready to eat food, three gallons of water per person per day, instant food or formula for infants, three days’ worth of medications or medical supplies, and finally additional food and water for your pet. Most Americans have this in their pantry today. Again, when talking about non-perishable foods, it should primarily be easily made canned foods that are simple to make and taste good! It is a good idea to separate this food from your regular food so that you don’t use it routinely.


The next step is to work towards a three-week to a three-month supply of food. This food storage would be very beneficial in case of transportation disruption or an earthquake. During this pandemic for example, it has been very nice to be able to actually quarantine for 2-3 weeks and not need to go to the store for anything. The best idea here is to buy a little more of what you currently eat, shopping to fill your pantry and freezer first. It is a good practice to keep this food separated and solid practice to keep an actual inventory listing the expiration dates. The best way to do this is to buy your food storage a little at a time, putting that $20 each paycheck towards additional food that you actually eat or would eat in an emergency.


I don’t buy all of my food storage at one time. I look closely at my current finances (spending and income) to figure out how much I spend each month on groceries and if I am careful, I can eliminate wasteful spending and put some towards food storage. Once I have figured out my budget, I purchase a little extra for food storage each trip to the store. Food prices are extremely high right now, so another strategy we have developed is shopping the sales, looking for the best deal. It is important to not change your diet significantly or purchase weird foods that your family might not want to eat. As you expand your food storage, you may look at longer-term options including dried foods that store longer. These are often cost saving options that have a later expiration date. This will require you to learn a few more cooking skills. A fantastic list and method of storage can be found here: Food and Water (fema.gov).


Having a little bit of food storage has given me and my family significant peace of mind and gives us the option of not going to grocery store as often. We are living in uncertain and sometimes unstable times; food storage helps stabilize our families and allows us to focus on helping ourselves and others in times of need. My personal feeling is that the more me and my family are prepared, the more I will be able to help my neighbors, friends, and family.

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