As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its fifth month with little end in sight, it can be tough to know how to plan for the future.

Whether it’s stocking up on home supplies, building an emergency fund or getting financial paperwork in order, there’s still plenty that people can do now to make future emergencies easier to manage.

Financial planning

Regardless of what the future might bring, the good news is that preparing for a financial emergency is a habit people can start right away with very little money.

For those struggling to make ends meet, “it’s difficult to save in the short term,” said Karen Poff, a family and consumer sciences agent with the Virginia Cooperative Extension's Warren County office.

Long term, however, people can see a lot of growth by saving little by little, she said.

“People think, ‘I don’t have enough money to save,’” she said.

But any savings is better than no savings.

“It doesn’t matter how small, get started,” she said.

Offering the example of a penny-saving challenge, she said someone who saves only pennies for a year, with one penny on the first day, two pennies on the second day and so on, would have $667 in savings by the end of the year.

“And all you saved was pennies,” she said.

When it comes to building an emergency savings, Poff said the idea is to be able to cover necessary expenses in case of a job loss or medical emergency.

“We definitely encourage people to have three to six months of their living expenses in savings,” Poff said.

“[A] fire in your home or an illness that prevents you from working, those are emergencies for that family, that household,” she said. “Of course the pandemic definitely qualifies for that.”

A web page at the Virginia Cooperative Extension website, pubs.ext.vt.edu/tags.resource.html/pubs_ext_vt_edu:emergency-preparedness, offers resources to use in various types of emergencies, such as making a family emergency kit, dealing with financial stress and making a checklist of important documents.

Poff said many people don’t concern themselves with what-if scenarios until an emergency happens, but by then it can be too late. She encourages people to provide information to a trusted friend or family member who can take over paying bills and handling important documents and passwords in the case of a medical emergency or a death.

“None of us knows if we might be the one who is affected by COVID-19,” Poff said.

“If [documents aren’t] organized and they don't have the information that they need or the authority that they need, it’s a burden that you’re not intending to place on them but it’s a burden that falls on them.”

Emergency planning

Though the pandemic caught people unawares in March, prompting them to race to area stores and strip the shelves bare of supplies in a matter of days, stocking up for an emergency doesn’t have to be the panicked act of hoarding we often see right before a storm.

“Try to prepare yourself the best you can,” said Corey Childs, an agricultural and natural resources extension agent in the Warren County office. “Don’t let anything catch you off guard.”

Though the type of emergency will determine the level of planning, he said having at least 60 days of household and nonperishable items on hand will help people plan for times when they can’t get to the store or can’t find what they need at area stores.

That also includes having a stock of pet food and medication, he said, and having a full tank of gas in case of the need to quickly leave the area.

By planning ahead, he said, “They’re going to be able to weather that type of a storm.”

Find tips on emergency planning and checklists of supplies from the Virginia Cooperative Extension at pubs.ext.vt.edu/354/354-141/354-141.html or through local government websites:

Clarke County

Winchester/Frederick

Shenandoah County

Warren County

The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers emergency preparedness tips at its site, fema.gov, under the Emergency Management tab.

The websites epa.gov and ocha.gov also have information on who to contact in the case of a community or national emergency.

Advice at the Department of Homeland Security’s website, ready.gov, under the Make a Plan tab, includes items people might consider buying in bulk or little by little to build an emergency stockpile at home.

The Warren County office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension is offering a free webinar, “Coping with a Money Crunch” on several dates this month:

  • 10 a.m. to noon Thursday
  • Noon to 2 p.m. Aug. 12
  • 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 18
  • 10 a.m. to noon Aug. 24
  • 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Aug. 29

“The webinar focus is really about the pandemic and actions people can take to cope with the money crunch that occurred, but it’s also forward thinking,” Poff said.

With planning, she said, people can reduce the impact an emergency will have on their households.

“You can more effectively cope as well,” she said.

The webinar is available by Zoom or phone but registration is required. For more information, visit https://tinyurl.com/WarrenResourceList2020 or contact Karen Poff at kpoff@vt.edu or at 540-635-4549.

Contact Josette Keelor at jkeelor@nvdaily.com