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What Goes in Your Financial Go-Bag in Case of Emergency?

Financial emergency preparedness is important when the unexpected happens, but being prepared goes beyond simply having emergency funds saved.

December 13, 2021

In the event of a natural disaster, experts recommend keeping an emergency go-bag.

An emergency go-bag checklist might include: 

  • Fresh drinking water

  • Food 

  • Flashlights

  • First-aid supplies

  • Batteries

  • And more 

But, what about a person’s finances and important documents?

While they won’t keep you warm or out of immediate danger, having important information on hand can help you navigate the next steps after an emergency occurs. 

Financial emergency preparedness looks a little different than just packing an extra jar of peanut butter. Here’s a guide you can follow to build your financial go-bag. 

Financial emergency preparedness

What does financial emergency preparedness mean? 

For one, it means having the financial resources to get through an emergency. That likely requires having some actual hard cash on hand, but it also means having substantial emergency funds in the bank to fall back on.

Financial emergency preparedness also means having important documents ready to go at a moment’s notice. You’ll want to have your social security card, tax information, passport, etc. somewhere that’s easy to access if you need to leave your home in an emergency situation. 

Build your financial go-bag

Start making a list of important documents that you keep at home. There are two categories of documents to consider:

  • Emergency documents that you’ll need in an immediate situation

  • Documents that you won’t need immediately but that you don’t want to be damaged or lost in an emergency

For the first category, keep these documents in your standard go-bag, or at least in a place where you can quickly grab them on the way out the door. 

For the second category, the best option is to store them somewhere safe that’s not your home, like a bank’s safe deposit box (more on this below). 

Documents to keep in your emergency bag

In an emergency situation, here are the documents that you may need immediately:

  • ID cards/driver’s licenses

  • Passports

  • Key medical records/vaccination certifications

  • Birth certificates for children who don’t have ID cards/passports

Other financial resources for your emergency bag

Beyond key documents, you’ll also want to pack some other important resources, including: 

  • Cash — at least a few hundred dollars, ideally in smaller bills ($20's are perfect)

  • Checkbook 

  • Credit card (check the expiration date)

  • Small physical valuables from your home (wedding rings, gold bullion, etc.)

  • A list of emergency contacts (in case you lose your phone or its battery dies)

Ultimately, cash is king here — in a major emergency, we could experience temporary blackouts or issues with payment technology, making credit cards ineffective.

In addition to cash, some people prefer to have small valuables that could be used to barter in a prolonged emergency or collapse. Examples include silver or gold bullion, gemstones or jewelry. You can decide whether this seems appropriate for your situation and beliefs. 

Emergency go-bag checklist

In addition to the financial items described above, you should also include standard emergency supplies. This could include:

  • Canned or freeze-dried food

  • Drinking water 

  • Flashlight

  • First-aid kit

  • Pocket knife

  • Tent or plastic sheeting and duct tape

  • Personal sanitation supplies

  • Local maps maintains a detailed checklist with all the recommended items for an emergency go-bag. You can also buy pre-made emergency bags online. 

Consider a safe deposit box for important documents 

You likely have a lot of financial records and documents at home, which would be impractical to bring with you in an emergency situation. In this case, one alternative to consider is to rent a small safe deposit box from your local bank or credit union. 

Small safe deposit boxes are relatively inexpensive and can be rented for under $100 per year in many areas. 

This would allow you to keep important documents safe. Some examples of good items to store in safe deposit boxes include:

  • Tax records

  • Medical records

  • Property records (deeds, leases, etc.)

  • Finance records (pay stubs, investment statements, etc.)

  • Personal records (adoption papers, birth certificates, etc.)

Basically, any records or items that you want to be kept safe but won’t immediately need in an emergency situation. 

Safe deposit boxes are literally stored in bank vaults, so they’re about as safe as you can get. The vaults are built to withstand fire, floods and even hurricanes — so even in the event of a major natural disaster, your documents should be safe.

However, there’s one big catch to consider: In the event of a major emergency, the bank will be closed. That means you won’t be able to access these documents until the emergency subsides and the bank re-opens. 

Keeping this in mind, it’s wise to take both approaches: Keep some cash and key documents in your go-bag at home and the rest in a safe deposit box. 

Make backups of what you can

Finally, if you have very important documents that you only have one copy of, it’s a good idea to make copies to store elsewhere. 

You could keep copies of key documents in a safe deposit box, at a family member’s house or hidden away somewhere safe. 

Alternatively, you can keep digital copies of documents stored on a hard drive or in the cloud. If you do opt to store documents online, just be sure to secure them as best as possible

Be prepared — not fearful

The purpose of this article is to help readers be prepared for an emergency — not to inspire fear or paranoia. 

We believe it’s important to be prepared for the curveballs that life sometimes throws our way. With natural disasters on the rise, it’s beneficial to be prepared — and that means preparing your financial life for emergencies.

One other important thing you can do to prepare for emergencies is to improve your financial situation overall. By paying off debt and building your emergency fund, you’ll be more prepared for whatever comes your way. 

Tally† is a powerful personal finance tool helping qualifying Americans pay off their credit card debt. Tour the app today to see how Tally could potentially help optimize your debt payoff strategy. 

†To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. Based on your credit history, the APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% - 29.99% per year. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.