Personal Finance 

Building Your Financial Bug Out Bag

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Rusted SafeIt’s the middle of the night and you’re dreaming of a weekend in Paris when your peaceful dream is abruptly interrupted by the screech of a fire alarm. It takes you a second to smell it in the air but it’s unmistakable, something is burning. Now. You drop the floor and crawl to the door, as you were taught in elementary school, and slowly make your way down the stairs and out of your house.

That’s what you imagine you’d do in the event of a house fire (adjust for checking on family members) but chances are, in a minor fire, you’d probably try to save something and, while that would be a mistake, wouldn’t be unreasonable. You’d grab your cell phone, probably your wallet if it was nearby, and then run out the door. If you had more time, next on the list would probably be important financial documents like your birth certificates, social security cards, passports, etc.

That package is your financial bug out bag. A year ago, I called it a financial snatch file but the idea is the same. If you experience an emergency that gives you a few extra minutes to escape, such as your neighbor’s house being on fire (if it’s yours, just get out… you can replace those documents, you can’t replace your life), you want to be able to get out with important documents. This is what you need to do.

A typical bug-out bag is a kit you can grab that has all the items you’d need to survive for 72 hours. It’s sometimes called a GO Bag or a 72-hour kit but the idea is that when you really really really need to go, you don’t have time to pack what you need. Well, we’re here to extend that idea to your finances because second to actual survival is financial survival.

Your bug-out bag should have two major types of items:

  • Financial supplies – These are items that you’ll need in the next 72 hours such as emergency cash, paper currency and coins, as well as spare credit cards and other financial instruments.
  • Financial and identity records – These are items that you will want to keep because leaving them behind may leave you financial vulnerable. These would include your passports, your birth certificates, car and home deeds, etc.

Off-Site Storage

The first step in constructing your financial bug-out bag has nothing to do with the bag itself. You should always store a copy of your important documents outside your home. The common scenario of a house file illustrates the importance of off-site storage. If your house is on fire and you have a copy of your documents somewhere else, you won’t be tempted to risk your life to get to your bug out bag. If you didn’t have a copy stored elsewhere, you might be tempted, which is dangerous enough.

I electronically scan all important documents and store them in several locations, one of which is outside my home. You can get USB flash drives that have way more storage than you’ll need to hold PDFs of important documents. You can encrypt it and leave it with a trusted friend, as you would with house keys, or stick it in a safe deposit box at your bank.

Building Your Financial Bug Out Bag

Once you’ve setup off-site storage, here’s what you should put in your physical financial bug out bag:

  • Cash – Whatever you feel comfortable with, you’ll want it to cover 72 hours of expenses.
  • Expired/Active Passports – In the event you need identification, a passport is accepted almost everywhere as a form of ID.
  • Social Security Card, Birth Certificate – Don’t keep this in your wallet or on your person unless you know you need it.
  • Loan Documents – You will probably have electronic versions of this already but it’s nice to have the paper versions, especially if you can’t get access to the electronic version.
  • Insurance Documents: In the event of a house fire, you’ll want to have this information handy so you can call your agent immediately.
  • Deeds – The title to your car, house, and any other major assets.
  • Account Listing – A list of all of your credit card, brokerage, deposit, and other financial accounts along with customer service numbers. This will give you a way to keep track of all your financial accounts in case you lose other documentation.

Alternatively, you can purchase a safe with fire resistance to hold your documents so you don’t need to grab them in the event of a fire. Safes are rated by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the National Fire Protection Association to withstand fire four different ways – fire endurance, fire and impact, explosion, and combined explosion and impact. The rating is a measure of how long the safe can maintain a safe temperature over the time period, so a one-hour rated product for paper means it won’t exceed 350°F within an hour of testing (in a 1700°F furnace). If you do store documents in a fire safe, be sure not to wrap them in plastic or something that can melt easily.

This kit won’t save you from a zombie apocalypse, but it should come in handy should you find yourself in a less fantastic predicament.

Did I miss anything?

(Photo: paulk)

{ 17 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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17 Responses to “Building Your Financial Bug Out Bag”

  1. cubiclegeoff says:

    I’ve never really thought of a “bug out bag”, although it’s a good idea. We keep all of our important papers in a fire-proof lockbox. However, I do need to gather more of the important information and digitally collect it and store it.

  2. I’ve been meaning to get a flash drive and save everything important on it. Account numbers, life insurance, etc. Keeping it in a safe deposit box is good advice.

  3. cdiver says:

    I never though of the potential plastic issue. Could make it quite messy.

  4. I’ve really been meaning to do that with all of my online passwords as well. I want to consolidate them in a list, and encrypt it. I have looked at several options, but just haven’t settled on anything yet. Once I do that, I think making the digital copies of things should be a great second step. Thanks for the suggestion.

  5. billsnider says:

    Good idea.

    I also have all key documents on a flash drive in a nice secuure place.

    The flash drive is also pass word protected.

    Bill Snider

  6. dePriest says:

    Thanks, Jim! I’d never thought beyond getting my loved ones (even the four- and eight-legged ones) out of the house in event of an emergency. Thanks, also, to those of you who suggest info on a flash drive. You all could save someone a lot of heartache.

  7. Shirley says:

    I thought that I was well covered until I read this article. I never thought about birth certificates and deeds. I’m on it, right now, and thanks again.

  8. Buzz says:

    While the thought is great, shouldn’t all of these things already be in a safe deposit box off site? If we’re talking about a fire at your home, the ACTUAL DOCUMENTS should all be safely stored in that box, with the key someplace safe. Throw a couple hundred in cash in there as well and you’ll have that if you need it. If anything bigger than a fire comes along (economic collapse, bomb strike, rapture, you know, that kind of stuff) no one is going to accept scanned versions of your documents as ‘proof’ of anything anyway, so cash someplace other than the safe deposit box might be a good idea if you believe any of these things are realistic (I don’t, so the safe deposit box is good for me). Possibly storing the key to the box with this emergency cash wouldn’t be a bad idea. The only big problem with this is if there is a fire at the bank. In that case, copies might speed up the re-issuance of those lost documents. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of having this stuff copied and safe, i just don’t think it should be at your home in any way shape or form. If it is currently, spring for the 100 bucks a year and get a safe deposit box for the real stuff – not the copies. Sooner the better.

  9. Injured Cop says:

    Like everyone else, I too had thought I was pretty well prepared. We have everything in a fireproof safe, but we don’t have everything scanned, and saved on a flash drive. That is a fantastic idea! Plus, although we have our ’emergency cash & coins’, we don’t have them where we could just ‘grab & go’. That is also another adjustment we need to make. Thanks for the very sound advice!

  10. Adrian Gordon says:

    EXCELLENT…while I have a spreadsheet with policy/account numbers stored offsite. These tips will prompt me to refine further.


  11. Dolla Thug says:

    Interesting concept – I’ve never thought of such a thing! I live in an NYC apartment on the 3rd floor of a building, so my first concern would be wondering if the fire escape won’t crumble beneath my feet in a pile of rust as I tried to use it…but I’ll try to work on my Bug Out Bag in the meantime!

  12. Terryn says:

    Think about what you would need to hit the ground right after disaster strikes.

    Get an additional credit card and keep it in the safe deposit box. In case of a catastrophic fire, for $50 the bank will drill the box, and you’ll have a cc (for hotel rental, car rental & quick expenses), some cash, and copies of all insurance records, drivers licenses, etc.

    We keep copies of all credit cards, front and back, so the day something happens, we take our extra cc to the mall, buy new phones and start making calls to handle stuff.

    If you live in an area with lots of family & support, maybe you don’t need all this, but we never seem to live near anyone. 🙂

  13. Angie says:

    I just got a fireproof safe but before I had that, I stored my documents in a flat waterproof container in my freezer. A fire would have to get awfully hot to burn the fridge.

  14. Scott says:

    My 2 cents.
    I would put the following ideas as the best I’ve read:

    Contents in the freezer – great for money, not so much for paper doc’s.

    Lock box (fire rated) – great (I have one & cost is minimal $50)

    Electronic backup documents / acct #’s – Send email to a secure email only for this or use an online service for data backup.

    Safety deposit box – pretty good and economical; just don’t lose your key!

    Flash drive idea; seems like I’d be afraid of losing or not encrypting properly; not sure I’d go that route.

  15. Jonimak says:

    Suggest you NOT label the bug-out bag as such. A burglar would love to grab all the Financial/identity info neatly stashed in an easy carry container!

  16. William says:

    You should actually have multiple bugout bags. The primary, which we are discussing here, is a means of rebuilding your life should your house burn to ashes. As for contents, I see some great ideas here and I have taken copious notes for future use. One rule of thumb I am looking into is “The 3 B’s” Bullets, beans and bandages.
    Bullets = anything that can be used for self protection. If you are not a marksman, get a shotgun.
    Beans = Food and water. MRE’s or dried food you can get from COSTCO or any camping store
    Bandages = First aid. By the way, tampons make great bandages.

    • William says:

      I forgot to explain my idea of “multiple bugout bags”
      The primary is mentioned already.
      The secondary is everything needed to survive away from your house for a period of time. For me, I am looking into a 3 day bag. Food/clothes/shelter

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