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How to Prepare for an Emergency Without Spending a Fortune

March 3, 2020

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How much money do you need to spend to prepare for coronavirus or another emergency?

The answer is: probably not as much you might fear. 

If you’re reading headlines, watching the news, and talking to friends, you know that people are starting to ask themselves what they need to prepare for the potential spread of Covid-19 in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best thing you can do is prevent exposure to the virus—please take a moment to review the CDC recommendations.

Before your wallet takes a beating in a shopping spree, here is a roundup of some of the expert guidelines.

What to spend money on to prepare for coronavirus

  • Yes on extra groceries and supplies. If you don’t already have some emergency household supplies, you might consider having extra food and other goods in your home in the event you can’t get to the store—or you cannot leave your home for a period of time. This a good measure to take for any type of potential disruption, whether it’s a public health issue or natural disaster. Food could include frozen food, pasta and other dried foods, canned soups and tuna, and other things you like to eat. This also goes for the things that you need like cleaning supplies, diapers, toilet paper, tampons, hand soap, etc. (Here's a checklist of essential items you might buy to stock your pantry.)

  • Yes on any medications you need. First take a look in your own medicine cabinet and consolidate what you already have. Medication is not cheap so you’ll want to be sure you’re not over-stocking only to have expired medication in your cabinet at a later date. If you do decide to buy some basic cold and flu medications, generic brands can save you money—and often have the same ingredients and dosages as name brands. For example, at compare a Box of DayQuil-24 count box ($8.59) to Generic daytime cold and flu ($4.29). Also make sure your supply of any must-have prescriptions are filled. You might also consider things that you can take now to keep your immune system as strong as possible (Zinc, Vitamin C, for example.)

  •  No on face masks, according to the Washington Post. Right now experts are recommending that people who are not sick hold back on buying surgical face masks. According to experts, these are better used by people who are currently sick so they are not spreading sickness through sneezing and coughing (and if you are coughing, experts say just stay home). If you do feel the need to buy a mask, keep in mind some brands have already seen a massive pricing bump.

How to make your own hand sanitizer for $7

If you’ve already gone to the store and seen the empty shelves where hand sanitizer is usually sold, there is a cheap-and-easy solution: Make your own. 

You can do this with aloe vera gel and rubbing alcohol, according to this formula on WikiHow. A 32-ounce bottle of generic Isopropyl rubbing alcohol is $1.99 ( and a generic clear bottle of aloe vera gel is $4.99 (

Washing your hands costs $0

The number one action experts are recommending as of early March is practicing good hygiene in the form of regular hand-washing. Here are guidelines from the CDC on handwashing technique.

What to do with your money?

Stay the course. Fears around Covid-19 rattled markets at the end of February (along with other factors according to analysts)—but experts generally recommend staying the course with your investments even when markets get bumpy. 

However, this is a good time to shore up your household finances and make plans for any potential income disruption or future bills. This could be where your emergency fund will need to come in handy.

If you’re planning to travel, consider travel insurance though read the fine print as exclusions could apply. Short-term disability insurance might be another type of insurance to consider, but again there could be exclusions.

Health insurance—and medical bills generally—will likely be a growing issue as the impact on public health becomes more clear. According to the New York Times, a day-long stay in a hospital costs $4,293 on average. 

Also take a moment to consolidate money that your various accounts into one pot (such as a high-yield savings account), or reviewing with friends and family your plan if someone does get sick. 

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