Hurricane preparedness can be stressful and expensive. These tips and your cards can help you be ready in case disaster hits close to home.
Hurricane season officially kicks off June 1 of each year, so planning early can help you avoid last-minute scrambles to get storm-ready.
The first step is stocking up on essential hurricane supplies; the second is making sure you’re protected financially in case a hurricane hits close to home.
“Being financially prepared for a hurricane is just as important as preparing your property,” says Melissa Mickle, executive vice president of retail banking at PNC Bank Florida. “Taking the time now to do a few easy things can make the potential process of recovery much easier for you or your family.”
Social distancing requirements can complicate hurricane preparedness if a pending storm triggers evacuations. This hurricane prep checklist can make weathering a storm less stressful when you’re trying to stay financially and physically healthy.
See related: How much emergency fund should I have?
Shop strategically for hurricane preparedness supplies
There are certain things that are helpful to have on-hand for hurricane season if you anticipate sheltering at home during and after a storm. Charging those items to your rewards credit card is a smart way to pick up points, miles or cash back.
The key is using the right card. This table highlights some of the most important things to add to your hurricane shopping list, with card recommendations for maximizing rewards.
Hurricane preparedness shopping list
Supplies you can buy at a grocery store:
- Bottled water (at least 1 gallon per person, for three days, plus additional water for pets).
- A three-day supply of non-perishable food per person.
- Diapers, wipes and formula.
- Pet food and cat litter.
- Paper plates, paper towels, trash bags, disposable utensils.
Possible cards to use:
- Pick a card that gives you extra bonuses on grocery shopping. Options include:
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, up to $6,000 per year; 1% thereafter.
- Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card: Earn 3% on the category of your choice and 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs on the first $2,500 in combined grocery and choice category purchases quarterly, then 1% on all other purchases.
Supplies you can buy at a warehouse store:
- Battery-powered radio.
- Flashlights and extra batteries.
- First-aid kit.
- Fire extinguisher.
- Power and hand tools.
- Generator and gas cans.
- Plywood and hurricane shutters.
Possible cards to use:
- Pick a card with a generous flat rate that gives you bonuses regardless of where you shop. Options include:
- Citi® Double Cash Card: Earn 1% cash back when you make a purchase and 1% cash back when you pay off your purchases.
- Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card and Chase Freedom Unlimited both earn at least 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
Travel-related expenses in case of evacuation:
- Flights, hotel stays and car rentals.
- Meals away from home.
Possible cards to use:
- Pick a card that gives you bonuses on gas, restaurant or travel purchases. Options include:
- Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi: Earn 4% cash back on eligible gas (up to $7,000 annually; 1% thereafter); 3% unlimited cash back on restaurants and eligible travel.
- Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express: Earn unlimited 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card*: Earn unlimited 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining purchases.
See related: Unexpected hurricane victim: your credit score
Stack savings on hurricane preparedness shopping
Remember to check out your card’s online shopping portal, which may yield additional benefits for hurricane purchases.
If you’re using the Citi Double Cash card, for example, Citi’s Bonus Cash Center features opportunities to earn 2% cash back at Home Depot and 1% cash back at Lowe’s.
Combining your credit card purchases with an online shopping app is another way to increase hurricane spending rewards.
- Rakuten offers cash back at more than 2,500 stores, with deals including 2.5% cash back at Ace Hardware, and up to 5% cash back on travel booked through Travelocity.
- With Ibotta, you can earn additional cash back at grocery stores, pet supply stores, home improvement stores and gas stations.
- RetailMeNot and Coupons.com feature coupons and promo codes you can use in-store and online for hurricane spending.
Take advantage of storm season tax-free holidays
If you live in a hurricane zone, check to see if your state offers a tax-free weekend for hurricane shopping to save a few extra dollars.
The table below lists the states that offer tax-free weekends for storm season, usually known as disaster preparedness sales tax holiday.
If you missed the following dates for this year, mark your calendar so you can plan for next year. The Federation of Administrators has a list of states’ tax-free holidays, along with applicable items.
2020 disaster preparedness tax-free holidays
Alabama (Feb. 21-23)
- Generators (up to $1,000).
- General hurricane supplies (up to $60).
Florida (May 29-June 4)
- Generators ($750 or less).
- Other supplies ($50 or less).
Texas (April 25-27)
- Generators (up to $3,000).
- Ladders and hurricane shutters (up to $300).
- First-aid kits, batteries, flashlights and other supplies (up to $75).
Virginia (Aug. 7-9)
- Generators (up to $1,000).
- Other hurricane prep items (up to $60).
Finalize your financial emergency plan
A hurricane can throw a wrench in your financial life. As you complete your emergency preparedness kit, remember to check off these money to-dos.
- Have cash at the ready. “It provides an added level of flexibility, allowing you to purchase items you need in the event of a power outage,” says Gary LoDuca, a financial planner with Thoughtful Advisors in Tampa, Florida. He recommends having a few hundred dollars in your wallet at a minimum, but says a few thousand in cash may be safer in case of a major disaster. “You can always redeposit the cash after hurricane season if you don’t like keeping it at your home.”
- Enrolling in online and mobile banking can make it easier to keep tabs on your money if a hurricane means a temporary evacuation and you need to review your accounts. “You can potentially pay your bills and see important account numbers from any location,” says Mickle. You can also use your bank’s mobile app to transfer money between accounts, send or receive money and deposit checks with mobile deposit.
- Protect your most important documents. Flooding is a major threat associated with hurricanes and backing up key documents – such as birth certificates, passports, wills, bank statements, mortgages, titles and insurance policies – is a must.“It’s prudent to keep your most important personal and financial documents in a securely protected, dry and fire-resistant location, like a high-quality safe or safety deposit box at the bank,” says Robert Grand, regional vice president, risk management at CBIZ Insurance Services in West Palm Beach, Florida. For extra reassurance, “scan or take photos of each document and save them to cloud storage,” says Peter Duncanson, director of commercial operations at ServiceMaster Restore, a disaster restoration company. “Keep a USB flash drive in your emergency response bag that’s easy to grab during an urgent evacuation.”
- Create an inventory of your possessions. It can make filing a homeowner’s insurance claim easier. “Having a digital home inventory is almost imperative for people who live in hurricane areas,” says Jon Bodrozic, co-founder of HomeZada, a digital home management software app. Take photos of all your personal property, such as furniture, electronics and appliances, as well as your HVAC system and hot water heater.
- Check your flood insurance coverage. “Until it happens to you, the majority of Americans don’t understand the insurance limitations of covering losses in a flood,” says Tami Kurtz, an agent with New York City-based real estate brokerage Triplemint who experienced flooding after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. “Homeowner’s policies that would typically cover personal property don’t cover anything in the event of a flood.”If you’re not sure what your flood insurance covers, don’t put off reviewing it, says John Dickson, CEO and president of NFS Edge, a private flood insurance provider. “Be aware of certain limitations in your policy, such as coverage for basements and enclosures.” Grand says you should be checking your coverage at least a month before hurricane season begins so you have time to purchase flood insurance if you need it, since there may be up to a 30-day waiting period before your policy takes effect.
COVID-19 can complicate hurricane preparedness plans
Hurricane preparation during a global pandemic adds a couple of new concerns into the mix.
First, you’ll need to think about what to do if an approaching storm means evacuating your home. You may have one of three options to choose from: staying at an approved shelter, booking a hotel room or staying with friends and family.
Staying with friends and family isn’t always possible if they live far away or they’re also evacuating, which leaves public shelters or hotels. Staying at a shelter means taking certain precautions, such as:
- Including face masks and hand sanitizer in your emergency personal hygiene kit
- Observing social distancing rules when inside the shelter
- Avoiding sharing food or drinks with other evacuees
- Practicing basic health guidelines, such as covering your mouth when sneezing and washing your hands frequently
- Routinely disinfecting any frequently touched items, such as electronics or kids’ toys if you’re evacuating as a family
- Avoiding touching high traffic areas, such as doorknobs or light switches
- Reporting any symptoms of illness to shelter staff if you start to feel sick
Booking a hotel: What you should know
The upside of staying in a shelter is that it’s free, but there are some health risks if you’re staying in relatively close quarters with other people. Booking a hotel room can help with avoiding crowds and potentially minimize the chances of getting sick if you’re following CDC guidelines for mask-wearing, hand-washing and other activities.
Factoring in the cost of a hotel stay is something to include in your hurricane prep plan, especially if you don’t have a solid emergency fund in place. You could charge the room to a hotel or travel rewards credit card to avoid out-of-pocket expenses, and this could also help you earn rewards toward a future stay.
Before you book a hotel room, check with local emergency management services to see if any financial assistance is available. For instance, officials in Texas offered hotel vouchers to people who left their homes under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders prior to Hurricane Laura.
If you have to charge a hotel room to your card, keep these tips in mind:
- Start looking for rooms as soon as you think evacuating might be a possibility since they could fill up quickly if hotels are limiting space because of COVID-19.
- Check to see if you have any banked rewards you could use toward free nights.
- Consider pooling rewards if possible. For example, if you have the Chase Freedom* and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you could combine rewards and use them to book a room through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
- Book directly with the hotel or your card’s travel portal if possible and ask about discounts or special promotions upfront.
- Remember that if you’re booking through a third-party site like Hotels.com, you may not earn rewards with your card.
Bring your own food and water if that’s allowed to avoid having to charge meals. Also, check the hotel’s pet policy if you’re evacuating with your pets.
Many hotels are flexible on pets for hurricane evacuations, but they aren’t required to accept them. If you book a room that doesn’t allow pets, you may have to factor additional costs for boarding into your hurricane budget.
See related: Can we safely return to sleeping in hotels?
Remember to put safety first
Protecting your bottom line is a big part of prepping for hurricane season, but personal safety is your top priority.
- Check out local hurricane evacuation routes and make a list of emergency shelter locations nearby.
- Keep your gas tank full in case you need to make a quick getaway.
- Don’t wait until the last minute, especially if you think you’ll need to leave to escape a dangerous storm.
- Above all, avoid taking unnecessary risks when a storm approaches.
*All information about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Chase Freedom Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuers. These cards are no longer available on our site.