How to Build a 72 Hour Emergency Kit on a Budget

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When you’re preparing for an emergency, one of the first things you’ll likely do is reach for your emergency kit. You do have one, don’t you? Emergency Preparedness is something that not even family does, but every family should do. Why? Because the first 72 hours of any disaster, be it earthquake, tornado, hurricane, flooding, fire, etc. are the most critical. It’s this time period that determines how much you can salvage, how much damage is done, and how comfortable you will be during the event. Some might affect you only your household (fire) while some will be a bit more widespread (tornado, earthquake). Some will completely disrupt everything (blizzard, hurricane, flooding, and forest fires). Either way, knowing how to create a 72 hour emergency kit and know which items to store for an emergency is so important that it may just save your life one day.

Building a 72 hour emergency kit is the the first step in emergency preparedness. Learn the steps you need to take, what items to include and more!

When you’re looking at building your 72 hour kit the first thing you need to do is make an emergency preparedness plan. Not only will this help you figure out why you’re preparing in the first place, but it is also the the first thing that will go into your emergency kit. To make your plan, ask yourself things like: What will my family do if the smoke alarm goes off at 2 am? If the water goes out because the main froze up and broke the pipe how will we deal with it? What if my home is flooded or destroyed by a tornado? Take a good hard look at this stuff and figure out where everyone will meet, how you will contact everyone, where you will stay and so on. Not knowing the answer to these questions could really cause major issues for your family.

How to build a 72 hour emergency kit

Once you have the planning part of things taken care of, you’ll want to get started making your 72 hour emergency kit. Despite common thoughts, a true 72 hour emergency kit is just that. It isn’t something you’re going to live out of for weeks, it isn’t something that you’re going to take on a cross country tour. It is, pure and simple, something to help you live life for 3 days. Nothing more and nothing less. To start though, you’ll want to pick up a quality backpack to store yours in. Yes, you absolutely could use a $9.99 backpack that you picked up on clearance at Walmart but the truth is? That bag is so cheaply made that chances are really good that it won’t hold up at a moment in time when you need to. For this one thing, take the time to pick your bag carefully and don’t be afraid to spend a little bit more than you normally would. Quality matters significantly over quantity in this one.

With that being said, if all you can afford is that $9.99 bag? By all means use it. It is better to have something than nothing.

When you start to build your emergency kit, you’ll need to look at what you’re going to include in it. You need to think about two things when filling yours.

  • Who are you going to be with?
  • What needs will you/they have?


Keep these two questions in mind when you’re adding things to your own kit but also remember that what someone else recommends isn’t always what you or your family might need. When you go to answer who you will be with, make the decision if you’ll use one kit for everyone or if each person, including children will have their own. We personally each have a bag since each of us has different skills and needs. If that works for your family, go for it. If a single community style bag works, use that instead.

Filling your bag will take some time if you’re going to build a 72 hour kit on a budget. That’s okay. There’s absolutely nothing that says it has to be done overnight and in fact, I highly recommend that you take your time. Doing so allows you to stay within budget, but also gives you the time to try out and test the items that you’re including to find your favorite manufacturers and brands. When you’re considering which items to include, you might want to consider these items:

  • Hand Crank AM/FM Radio
  • Batteries in AA, AAA, C and D sizes
  • Flashlight
  • Small Pocket Knife or Multi-Tool
  • At least $250 cash
  • 3 days worth of clothing for the current weather season
  • Extra socks
  • Walking shoes that have already been broken in. New shoes will hurt your feet and leave blisters.
  • 3 days worth of bottled water or a reusable and filtered water bottle
  • 3 days worth of food – Try to do a mix of freeze dried backpacking food, regular snacks like granola bars, and regular foods that don’t need to be heated.
  • Disposable poncho or a 30 gallon trash bag with head and arm holes cut out.
  • Trash bag for waste
  • Lighter and/or waterproofed strike anywhere matches
  • Mylar Emergency Blankets to use for heat and to line your shelter with to help hold in even more heat
  • 3 days worth of any prescription medications you currently take
  • Fully stocked small first aid kit
  • Paracord 
  • Notebook and Pens
  • Copies of all of your identifying documents such as your birth certificate, passport, drivers license, etc
  • Wool Blanket
  • Pre-paid cell phone with basic calling service or a phone card at the very least
  • Travel size personal care items – shampoo, soap, lotion, Chapstick, toothpaste, toothbrush, mouthwash, etc.
  • Toilet Paper
  • Baby Wipes
  • Hand Sanitizer

This list is by far all inclusive. There will be more that you will want to include and there may be less. As I said earlier, you’ll want to build your kits in a way that fits your family. No matter what you include in it though, make sure that you have it ready to go should you need it. Once it is built, keep your bag in a place that it will be easy to reach if you have to leave your home in a hurry. If your home is on fire, you need to be able to just grab it and go.




Stacy Ott
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Stacy Ott

Stacy Ott is the face and brain behind the frugal living and lifestyle blog Six Dollar Family.By the age of 30, Stacy had overcome an alcohol addiction, a drug addiction, divorce, survived domestic violence and had built a life for herself and her daughter after spending 10 months in a homeless shelter. Stacy is passionate about homeless advocacy and addiction education.  Her first book, also called Six Dollar Family is available on Amazon.

I earned over $100,000 blogging last year! Click here to learn how to start a blog and make money blogging!
Stacy Ott
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