Author of The Blackout Book and the online course Bloom Where You’re Planted
Do you have the horrible feeling you may have waited too long to purchase supplies for the possibility of quarantine due to the Covid-19 outbreak sweeping the United States? While it’s true that shelves across the nation are bare in some departments, there are still options.
In this article, I’ll suggest some last-minute emergency supplies you can purchase in place of the ones you wanted if you’ve waited too late to shop. To do this, you may have to cast away your plans of being organic and healthful, and you may not get the exact household products you want. You’re stuck with what’s left at this point. So please don’t write to me, angry and horrified because I suggested conventional crackers instead of chia seed ones that were ground by the hardened lava of a Chilean volcano, okay?
Don’t panic – you can still do this. Remember that those of us who are well-prepared all started somewhere – and most likely the place we started was where you are right now: realizing at the last minute we didn’t have what we needed.
These are the suggestions I would use myself to put together last-minute emergency supplies.
Some general advice
Don’t be married to the idea of getting everything at one store. Most folks are flocking to Walmart but there are so many other stores out there where you can purchase what you need. Consider the following for some of your supplies.
- Office supply stores
- Dollar stores
- Discount stores
- Large pharmacies
- Grocery stores (for things other than groceries)
- Big Lots
- Hardware stores
Think outside the Walmart box when prepping for an emergency.
What to buy when the store is out of water
Here’s a photo of the water aisle at a Walmart near where my daughter lives.
There are lots of other options if the water aisle looks like this. They may not be as healthy but they’ll keep you from dying of dehydration.
- Sports drinks (like Gatorade)
- Flavored or sparkling water
- Juice boxes or individual bottles
- Soda pop (not too much though because that can be dehydrating instead of replenishing)
- Vegetable juice
- Premade iced tea
A good trick here is to go to the aisle where people get individually packaged stuff for their kids’ lunches. You’ll find all sorts of beverage pouches and plastic bottles of drinks here.
I warned you – not the healthiest, but healthy is no longer available. Trust me when I tell you it will be far better than having nothing available to drink. Oh – and don’t forget the wine. It won’t really rehydrate you, but you won’t care as much that you don’t have water.
Finally, use containers. You still have running water, right? Use vessels you already have and/or buy containers, wash them, and fill them up. No one is going to be sold out of containers unless you specifically look for “Water Containers.” Grab mason jars, pitchers, canisters, etc. Just make sure they’re food-safe and you’re good.
What to buy when the store is out of those meals in a box
Everyone seems to be looking for things like macaroni and cheese, hamburger helper, and ramen noodles. If this is something you desire for your stockpile, here are some options. (Some of these are healthier than the original.)
- Get plain pasta and cheese powder to DIY your mac and cheese
- Get powdered milk to use for when you run out of regular refrigerator milk
- Instead of ramen, get angel hair pasta, cook as directed, and add some soy sauce, garlic powder, and onion powder
- In place of Hamburger Helper and that type of thing, use regular pasta or rice, a few spices (like an Italian spice blend) and a half a jar of marinara sauce. For a creamy version, go with garlic powder, onion powder, and cream of mushroom soup concentrate.
All of these options are very simple to make.
What to buy when the store is out of rice
Rice seems to be a big seller and for good reason. It’s cheap and it can really extend a meal. When I stopped by Walmart to look at what was low, they were down to only the teeny tiny bags of rice.
- Buy the teeny tiny bags – yes, they’re much more expensive but better than no rice at all.
- Order large bags from Amazon – there’s still plenty of rice there. This page is all bags of rice that are 15 pounds or greater in size. If you choose a product that is part of Amazon Prime, you’ll probably have it faster. Before ordering, look at the estimated date of arrival and try to find one that will be to you in less than a week.
- Get a different grain like pasta, quinoa, amaranth, or barley.
What to buy when the store is out of canned food
The things that tend to be gone first are items like canned pasta meals, soups, and chili. That makes sense because they’re pretty reasonable meals when heated up slightly, and can even be eaten cold out of the can in a worst-case scenario. If your desired canned goods are not available, look to these items:
- Canned baked beans (tasty right out of the can at room temp
- Canned refried beans
- Canned V-8 and a can of mixed vegetables (turn that into soup)
- Canned potatoes (Mash them up or put them on the grill)
- Canned fish
Try a different store – Walmart isn’t the only game in town. I had fantastic luck at Aldi getting my kids well-supplied. I was able to get them entire cases of canned fruits and veggies.
Or move away from the regular canned goods and see what they’ve got over on the International Food aisle:
- Noodle bowls that just need boiling water
- Soup that may not be as familiar
- Small cans of salsa or enchilada sauce
Look in other areas for shelf-stable food.
- Pouches of precooked rice (some have beans and other vegetables mixed in)
- Peanut butter
- Breakfast cereal
- Granola bars
- Veggie chips
- Potato chips
- Pre-popped popcorn
- Fruit cups
- That squirty yogurt you get in pouches (the shelf-stable kind, not the refrigerated kind)
- Vienna sausages
- Pre-cooked bacon
You get the idea. Go out there and be creative. Scan every aisle to look for things that won’t spoil that your family will eat. I know whenever I’ve grabbed this kind of stuff, my girls have been thrilled since we don’t usually keep junk food in the house.
What to buy when the store is out of toilet paper
Toilet paper has been a biggie. There are videos online of people literally coming to blows over TP to wipe their behinds. If your store is out of toilet paper, check out the following options.
- Baby wipes or “flushable” wipes (regardless of what the package says, do not flush these – you won’t be able to get a plumber to your house if you’re quarantined.)
- Paper towels – not soft but it will get your heinie clean – also do not flush
- Kleenex – pro-tip – do not get the ones infused with Vicks. Even the cheapest facial tissues out there will be a lot more expensive than toilet paper but it’s better than nothing.
- Order from Amazon. They still have tons and tons of TP. I just ordered this which will arrive on Monday.
- Go to an office supply store or a janitorial warehouse
- If you simply cannot manage to acquire toilet paper, you’re going to have to use cloth. Treat it like you would a cloth diaper and have a bucket by the toilet for soaking so that your homemade wipes come clean easily. Here’s an article about it.
Think creatively for bum-wiping. Toilet paper is a relatively new, albeit wonderful, invention.
What to get when the store is out of bleach and cleaning supplies
Lots of stores seem to be running low on bleach, Lysol, and cleaning wipes.
- You can make bleach from pool shock (calcium hypochlorite). Get pool shock at your local swimming pool and jacuzzi store and be sure to select one that doesn’t have additions like algaecide, or here on Amazon. Here are instructions on how to make bleach from pool shock.
- Hit up your local office supply store like Staples or Business Depot for cleaning supplies. They’ll be more expensive than Walmart but you may be able to find what you need.
- Try the hardware store, grocery store, or dollar store for cleaning supplies.
- Again, Amazon may have what you need for cleaners and wipes.
Think creatively – all sorts of stores sell cleaning products.
What to get when the store is out of over-the-counter medications
If the first store you visit is out of OTC meds that you want to have on hand, you still have some options.
- Visit pharmacies.
- Most grocery stores have a pharmacy section.
- You can order them on Amazon for both adults and children.
- The dollar store carries some OTC meds in smaller packages. You might also find them at places like Dollar General and Family Dollar.
If you are really, truly desperate, truck stops and gas stations have small, expensive single packs of a lot of different medications.
Don’t forget something to do
If your family is cooped up in quarantine for weeks, you’re going to need something to do. Grab some stuff that the kids haven’t seen before, like new toys, games, or puzzles. Craft supplies might be fun – you may have time to learn that new skill you’ve been thinking about. Also, hit up the used book store or Goodwill and grab yourself a quarantine library. Get reading material for the whole family.
Remember that even in the house, you’ll want to stay active. It isn’t healthy physically or mentally to sit there watching Netflix 20 hours a day. Run up and down your stairs, work on a home project (you can finally declutter that storage room), or do some exercise videos with the family.
When the store is out of last-minute emergency supplies you wanted
Don’t despair if you can’t the last-minute emergency supplies you wanted. It just means you’re going to have to be flexible and creative. And don’t let people who accuse you of panic-buying or being “selfish” get you down. Sure, you waited later than is ideal but you are doing the best you can, and I commend you for doing so. Ignore the jerks – most of us are really glad you’re here and you’re trying.
And when this crisis is over, think long and hard about the things you wished you would have had. Make yourself a list and start buying these items and by the time the next disaster rolls around, you’ll be much further ahead.