Beyond the Emergency Fund: The Frugal Pantry Project

By Staff

This is the second article in a five-part series on preparing your household, “Beyond the Emergency Fund.” For five consecutive Mondays, we’ll look at a variety of preparedness methods such as food and water storage, alternative power sources and ways to prepare for specific types of household emergencies.

Last week we discussed the importance of having enough potable water storage on hand for each person in your family in the event an emergency disrupts the flow of public water systems. Moving right up the order of importance, next we’ll discuss food storage – something that can be costly in terms of dollars and storage space.

The 72-Hour Emergency Food Pantry

The initial phase of any good emergency plan is one that covers your family in the event you are cut off from facilities and rescue for 72 hours. In most localized, regional emergencies (floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.) help should arrive within three days. That is not always the case, but in terms of survival preparations, you can usually count on some relief within 72 hours of a disaster.

So first things first. Most people should have enough food on hand to survive three days without a trip to the store. However, if you are the type that shops every evening on the way home from work, you might want to put a little money aside and start your own food pantry at home.

When preparing a 72-hour emergency cache of food, the easiest thing to do is pick up a few extra non-perishables on your next grocery trip. Canned vegetables, dried beans, rice, peanut butter, and canned tuna are a good start. You can add in other snacks to build complete meals if you wish, but remember, chances are you’ll be operating without power and could be heating foods and water on a grill or over an outdoor flame.

Don’t forget to toss in a manual can opener to easily open canned goods. We picked up an extra one and tossed in our pantry next to our emergency food storage because in an emergency we didn’t want to have to be digging through the kitchen drawers looking for our can opener.

The Two Week Plan and Beyond

Scaling up a bit in scope of disaster scenarios, now imagine a regional disaster has occurred and basic services have been disrupted. Foods disappear from grocers’ shelves within three days, and resupply is impossible thanks to impassable roads. Now what?

The answer is a larger, two-week emergency supply of foods. Planning two weeks of meals for each person in your household seems daunting. Remember, when calculating water needs we used the rule of thumb one gallon of water per person per day. Similarly, you might estimate each family member’s basic caloric requirement, and then multiply by 1.5, considering in a survival situation you may be moving, rebuilding, scavenging, etc. and burning more calories than usual.

In our case, I’ve planned using 2,000 calories per person per day. That number is probably a little high, but accounts for tougher conditions than we are used to living with, when we might be able to lounge around and get by on 1,200 – 1,500 calories.

All Calories Are Not Created Equal

It might seem easy to come up with 1,500 calories worth of food by eating rice, pancakes and canned veggies and fruit. The problem is, that type of diet is severely lacking in two main types of foods essential to survival: fats and protein.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, I’d suggest checking out The 5-Gallon Bucket Food Storage Project created by Jack Spirko (creator of one of my favorite sites/podcasts, The Survival Podcast). Even if you don’t follow his storage methods, his ideas on planning for proper carbohydrates, fats and proteins in survival food stockpiles are important.

Prepackaged Long-Term Storage Food

If you aren’t up for creating your own food buckets you might want to check out long-term food storage vendors. I have personally tasted (and stocked) Mountain House foods. In fact, our pantry now includes a number of #10 cans from Mountain House, including foods like rice, green beans, beef stroganoff, spaghetti, chili mac with beef, granola cereal, etc.

The #10 cans have a 25-year shelf life if stored according to the directions (basically kept in a cool, dry location). I’ve also heard good things about companies such as Food Insurance and Shelf Reliance, but I have yet to try their products.

Here’s a look at our emergency food pantry – still in the early stages:

The Frugal Pantry Project (long-term storage) – a few #10 food cans, a lantern, flashlights, spare batteries and a few packs of beans and rice

Buying foods in this form is expensive, but the nice thing about such a long shelf-life is that you don’t have to focus on expiration dates and rotating stock as much. With a 25-year shelf life, we can basically buy a few #10 cans each paycheck, store them and forget about them until we need them. I suppose in 15 years or so I might crack one open and make sure it is still edible.

The bottom line when it comes to food storage is to start small. Consider the various disaster scenarios for which you’d like to be prepared, and their likelihood of occurring. For instance, a local natural disaster such as a tornado or a flood is more likely than a large scale, apocalyptic nuclear attack. Not saying we shouldn’t be prepared for both. However, I like to prioritize emergencies and plan accordingly.

With monetary emergency funds we try to get that first $1,000 stashed in case of a car repair, or busted pipe in our home. Will this prepare us for unemployment or a serious medical event? No, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get started. Similarly, I think it is prudent to have a few backup food and water supplies at home to get you through that likeliest, 72-hour emergency.

Once that first-level emergency food plan is in place, build from there until you have a level of emergency stockpile that makes you feel comfortable. How will you know when that point has arrived? When you can envision practically any type of emergency and sleep comfortably knowing you have done all you can do to prepare.