If 2020 has taught us anything, it's to be prepared — because the unexpected will happen. With raging wildfires and earthquakes in the West, hurricanes in the Gulf Coast, and tornadoes in the Midwest, you just never know when Mother Nature will strike with unyielding, destructive force.
And should you be short on cash or loss of income in your household, what can you do to create an emergency kit for your home? After all, it might be hard enough to cover your basic bills and day-to-day living expenses, let alone non-essentials.
No need to shake the proverbial money trees. Look no further than your Flexible Savings Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA). Let's examine the finer points of what your at-home emergency kit should contain, including both FSA eligible and ineligible items to explore how your FSA can help supplement your emergency prep.
Your At-Home Emergency Kit
When there's a hurricane coming your way at 200 miles per hour, you'll want to be well prepared. Here's what you'll need in your DIY emergency kit with help from the Red Cross:
Water. If you're evacuating, a three-day supply is recommended. If you're staying in your home but might lack resources or access to the outside world, then a two-week supply per person is recommended.
Food. Non-perishable items such as canned foods, energy bars, trail mix, and dried fruit are recommended. And these food items should not only be relatively healthy, but be easy to prepare. So no 20-ingredient gourmand dishes.
Feminine hygiene items. The 3/day or 2/week rule applies: If you're evacuating, have enough stocked up for three days. If you're going to be at home, then have at least a 2-week supply of sanitation and feminine hygiene items. Because of the CARES Act, starting in 2020 feminine hygiene items are HSA and FSA eligible.
Personal hygiene items. Unless you're evacuating to an island in isolation, you'll want to include some supplies to get your grooming and hygiene in. Toothpaste, mouthwash, toothbrushes, and facial cleanser should be included in your kit. These items are not FSA and HSA eligible.
First aid kits. First aid kits, which typically include bandages, antiseptics, gauze pads, tweezers, scissors, and an ice pack are eligible products.
Heating pad. Along with blankets, which can prevent shock and protect you from harsh elements, a heating pad can also alleviate any pain you might endure from injury. Heating pads are HSA and FSA eligible.
Eyeglasses. Without your eyesight, emergency scenarios would be far more challenging. It couldn't hurt to have an extra set of prescription eyeglasses should your go-to pair break during a hurricane. The funds in your FSA or HSA can cover the cost of prescription eyeglasses.
Prescription medications. It couldn't hurt to have at least a two-week supply of any prescription medications during a natural disaster. When preparing your emergency kit, note the expiration date, and rotate out your prescription drugs on the regular. You can cover the cost with your FSA/HSA.
Vitamins and supplements. While these aren't as imperative as, say, your eyeglasses and prescription medications, continuing to take your, say, Vitamin D3s and prenatal supplements no matter what the situation will keep you strong and your immune system healthy.
Hearing aids. The cost of hearing aids is no joke. According to Consumer Affairs, the average cost of a hearing aid can range from $1,000 to $4,000 per piece (and yes, hearing aids come in a pair).
If you'd ideally want a backup pair for your emergency kit, funds from your HSA or FSA could potentially cover the cost. If that's not something that you can reasonably afford, toss in some extra batteries for your hearing aids. And yes, those are eligible products, too.
Flashlights. A heavy-duty flashlight with a spare set of batteries are both mandatory items in your survival kit.
Equipment and supplies that are specific to your medical condition. You might want to take advantage of the money in your FSA or HSA to double-up on essential supplies for your survival and general well-being. For instance, if you have diabetes, stash away a box of glucose test strips. Struggle with high blood pressure? Toss in an extra blood pressure monitor. You get the picture.
Important Documents. Scan copies of any essential documents that you'll want to take along with you — this includes drug prescriptions, medical records, passports, Social Security cards, and the deed to your house.
Add-Ons for Your Wildfire Home Emergency Kit
A home emergency kit to prepare for a blazing wildfire includes pretty much everything that's included in a kit for hurricanes. However, you'll want to toss in the following essentials:
Respirator masks: As you'll be dealing with hazardous air quality during a wildfire, having the right mask is important. While respirator masks are currently ineligible under FSA rules, they are a smart buy if you live in an area that's prone to wildfires.
Inhaler. If you have asthma, stow away at least an extra inhaler. Your asthma might be triggered by poor air quality during a wildfire (Red Cross).
Add-Ons for Your Earthquake Home Emergency Kit
Fire extinguisher. As electrical wiring might go awry during an earthquake, a fire extinguisher can put out a small fire in your home.
Tap Into the Benefits of Your FSA or HSA
Whether it's a Flexible Savings Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA), that's money you already have stashed away. But budgeting wisely is a good bet so you can use your excess funds to build your emergency kit.
With that said, it's easy to get carried away when cobbling together supplies to assemble your emergency kit. First, check to see what supplies you might already have. Then, make a list of everything you need. Last, make a list of what you'd like to have, but aren't as essential. Do a quick search on our Eligibility List to see which items are qualified.
Ultimately, we get it. You'd much rather be reveling in whatever joy and pleasure you might be able to find in the current moment than getting wrapped into pouring resources to prepare for a what-if scenario. But as natural disasters could potentially strike at any time of the year, it's better to safe than sorry! Let this serve as a kick in the pants to put together your at-home emergency kit. Godspeed!
Jackie Lam is a personal finance writer and is based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, Salon, Mental Floss, and GOOD. She is a candidate for the ACFPE® financial coaching certification.
Jackie is passionate about helping artists, freelancers, and gig economy workers with their finances. She has in-depth experience writing about budgeting, investing, frugality, money, and relationships, and loves finding interesting stories that revolve around money.