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How to build a family first-aid kit (frugally)

I originally posted this back in July 2011, but in light of the upcoming storm about to descend on the East Coast, it's time for re-post.

Having a first-aid kit is a good idea under any circumstances, but with all of the disasters, natural and otherwise, going on lately, it's an especially good idea. I've been meaning to put one together for a long time, and last week, I finally started working on it.

Nobody like to think about these things.  Even if your neighborhood is fortunate enough to not be subject to terror attacks, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes and hurricanes, there are always blackouts, brownouts, thunderstorms, snow blizzards, drought conditions etc.  What would you do if your spouse cut him/herself deeply and you couldn't get out to an emergency room?  What would you do if you didn't have power or potable water for a week?  What would you do if your child had a fever and you didn't have access to medical or emergency services?

Every household should keep at least a few gallon jugs of drinkable water on hand for starters, and at least a week's worth of non-perishable food in storage.  A basic first-aid kit is an absolute must.  The Red Cross has a list of recommended items for a family first-aid kit, which I used as a guideline for creating ours.  Here were the items on my first-aid kit list:
  • gauze pads (large and small)
  • Band-aids
  • first aid tape
  • sterile alcohol preps
  • aspirin, regular and low-dose (and baby aspirin if you have kids)
  • heartburn/stomach meds
  • disposable instant heating pads
  • acetaminophen
  • ibuprofen
  • Benadryl
  • Neosporin
  • digital thermometer
  • antibiotic ointment
  • hydrocortisone cream
  • tweezers
  • disposable gloves
  • alcohol or Purelle
  • OTC allergy meds
(If your family members have any special medical conditions, like bee-sting or peanut allergies, high blood pressure, hypothyroidism, etc., you should definitely keep a small stash of extra emergency prescription meds in the kit as well.)

So how do we put all this together frugally?

First of all, unless you've been seriously stockpiling these sorts of things, you're probably not going to be able to assemble a first-aid kit in one day.  My approach was to make the list first, then see what I had in my medicine cabinet and what I needed to buy.  I didn't want to clean out my medicine cabinet, only take extras of what we already had.

For the items that I needed to buy, I checked my coupon stash, and compared it to what was on sale.

(Coincidentally, Target had a special last week where if you buy 3 first-aid items, you get a first aid bag or box for free, along with a $5 Target gift card.  I jumped on that.  That's my nifty-looking free bag in the picture above.)  Regarding the bag or box that you use for your first-aid kit, here are my suggestions:
  • While it doesn't have to be red with a giant white cross on it, it should be marked very clearly as a first-aid kit.  No one should mistake it for a make-up or travel bag. I do recommend using a red, clear or white bag or box, and then marking it in bold capital letters with a permanent market, or if it's clear, slipping a sheet of paper with a large Red Cross symbol on the inside, so that it's immediately apparent what it is.
  • It should be compact enough to grab-and-run, in case of a real emergency.
  • It should have a handle.  Test the zippers to make sure they open easily and don't snag.  It should be made of sturdy material, like nylon, but something that can be cut or ripped open easily if need be.
  • It should have multiple pockets on the inside so that you can organize it in a way that makes sense.
Now let's fill that bag up.

Over the last week or so, armed with my list, I made the rounds of Target, Walgreen's and Walmart (sadly, Denver has no CVS) and together with stacked coupons and sales, I've slowly filled in most of the items on the list and kept track of what I spent.  Not counting the actual bag itself, the items that I've already bought had purchase prices of about $73, and so  far, using the coupons and sales, I've been able to get them for $18.  I need about two more items to complete the kit, first-aid tape and large gauze pads.  I haven't seen any sales for these, and don't have any coupons (yet), so I'm going to wait and watch a bit.

This is also a great place to stash those free samples (i.e. the Prilosec freebie), trial/travel sizes, etc.

I know many of you have concerns about items in the kit expiring, but before you throw out your year-old Advil, please read this Harvard Medical School article on Drug Expiration Dates - Do They Mean Anything?

So Daily Cheapskate readers, it's your turn.  Do you have a family first-aid kit or have you been thinking of assembling one?  Have you been re-stocking it in light of the upcoming storm?  Do you keep a cache of emergency food and water?  Are there any items that you think should go into a kit that I've left off my list?

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