It seems like the world is becoming less safe every day. Meteors crashing into Russia, armed conflicts all over the world, and natural disasters are all over the news. Flooding, tsunamis, blizzards, earthquakes, solar flares that knock out electronic communication have all shared the headlines that warn us to prepare for the next major disaster.

Disasters are serious and preparing for them shouldn’t be taken lightly. But with television shows now touting the benefits of extreme disaster prepping, it can be easy to become drawn into the paranoia. It helps to take a step back, breathe, and look at the big picture before getting out your credit card to buy some more disaster prep items.

5 Tips to Avoid Financial Ruin While Preparing for Disasters

Before you go crazy with your disaster prep spending on a credit card (such as buying items online or at military surplus stores), remember these cardinal rules.

Never Buy More Disaster Prep Items Than You Can Afford

This rule applies to just about anything in life: a place to live, your hobby, eating out, and yes doing disaster prep buying. You should never spend more than you can afford on anything. Taking on debt is not going to make your situation better.

Some argue that if the end of civilization is around the corner then things like money and bank account will be useless. They will be replaced by hardware, tools, food, and weaponry.

While this may be true you must also remember that disaster prepping is kind of like buying an insurance policy. You are hoping to never have to use it, and for most people you will rarely if ever use it. You don’t want to go into bankruptcy preparing for the end of the world only to find out that you were just without power for 36 hours. That would be a big financial mistake.

Instead, buy what you can afford. Set up a long term plan and buy over time. Don’t use your fear and paranoia as an excuse to swipe your credit card past your financial limits.

Cover Your Basic Needs

When you are first starting out with preparing for a disaster remember to provide for your basic needs first. We all need: water, food, and shelter. Having a hand crank cell phone charger would be nice, but in comparison to those three items in a disaster it is the ultimate luxury. (And you would gladly trade the charger for a loaf of bread if you had no food.)

For most disasters you need to be able to survive without assistance for about 72 hours. By that time aid from local, state, and federal agencies should be close to reaching you or have already reached you. If you need to stretch your supplies longer you always can, but 3 days is a good start for preparing. You don’t need 3 weeks of military meals ready to eat (MREs) or 900 gallons of water buried in your backyard. Those things aren’t necessarily bad, but if you spend your entire life savings prepping for the end of civilization you won’t have much to survive on when the end of the world doesn’t come.

Start Small and Remember Moderation

As you expand into other areas of need besides your basic needs, take care to grow your collection slowly. Start small and see if you think you would actually use an item before plopping your card down for the top of the line item.

Just because you can get a name brand version of an item doesn’t mean a generic brand won’t do just as well. There will be specific items that are critical to you depending on where you live and what disaster is most likely to happen in your area. For those items it may make sense to get the best version available, but on other items you can go generic and save big money.

What often happens with disaster prepping is it feels like an all or nothing decision. Once you decide you want to prep, you’re all in, and you buy everything on the planet. In return you get some cool gear and a big credit card bill that you have to pay. Remember there is a middle ground where you can get the items you need without going overboard.

Be Wary of Companies That Market to Your Fears

Marketers of all types want to appeal to your emotions. Life insurance companies appeal to the idea of your family being financially ruined without you around. Car companies tell you their car will make the opposite sex drool for you.

The same is especially true when it comes to disaster prep items. We are literally talking about life and death situations. We’ve seen the disasters on TV and can imagine them happening in our backyard. What price wouldn’t we pay to protect, feed, and shelter our family? Aren’t you a bad person if you don’t spend a lot of money today — Call right now! All phone lines are open! —  to do whatever it takes to provide?

The companies appeal to your emotions and fears about the future. The only problem is a vast majority of the things you worry over and prepare for never happen. By the time you realize that it is too late, and the companies have made their profit and moved on to the next sucker.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t some value in preparing for disaster. Just like there is value in buying a term life insurance policy to protect your family or a disability policy to protect your income, there is some value in thinking about what might happen. But just as with the insurance products you need to be wary of scams or expensive products that could be replaced with a simple or generic version that covers the same need.

Never Ignore Your Finances, Even During Disaster

The worst disaster the average person reading this article will run into is a lack of power or potentially flooding due to a natural disaster. It is key to remember that even when something terrible happens in your area that you shouldn’t abandon your finances completely. Most companies are reasonable and will work with you to extend your payment due date if a natural disaster hits your area. Never use a disaster as an excuse to default on all of your bills; at some point the power will come back on and your finances will be worse off than your physical surroundings.

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