Panic-Buying Isn't Prepping for COVID-19

Drop the toilet paper! There is a better way.


Unless they have top-notch recipes for butt-wipe casserole or plan on building papier-mâché bunkers to outlast the viral apocalypse, most of the people who recently stocked up on toilet paper probably misdirected their dollars and their efforts. All too often, that's what happens when people are unprepared and find themselves scrambling to respond to a crisis without a plan. But no matter what the headline writers say, panic-buying isn't prepping. Let's talk about the best way to weather the current COVID-19 situation and make sure you're set up for the inevitable next wave of suckage.

Preparing for bad times depends an awful lot on what kind of bad times are most likely to come your way. Is it an extinction-inducing meteor-strike? You just need a good supply of your favorite intoxicants for that. But something more survivable, like an earthquake, power outage, or, perhaps, a global pandemic, requires plans, supplies, and effort.

As it happens, the American Red Cross maintains a whole section of its website devoted to emergency preparedness. Among other suggestions, it recommends that everybody keep a two-week supply of food and water at all times. That means you're already supposed to have those goodies tucked away.

Two weeks worth of food and water isn't enough to see you through what epidemiologists say could be "a matter of months rather than weeks"with an optimistic estimate of two monthsbut it would see you through the initial panic so that you could wait until grocery store shelves are restocked and you've thought through your needs so that you can shop accordingly.

I think two weeks is a good starting point, but not nearly enough. What defines "enough" depends on your tolerance for risk, your resources, and the situation to which you're responding. If quarantines, curfews, and social distancing really do last a few months, and your business or employer folds during that time, you will wish that you had supplies for "a matter of months rather than weeks." To that point, the website The Prepared recommends that during the COVID-19 pandemic you should "be able to shelter in your home for at least two weeks—90 days is even better—without leaving for supplies or outside help."

But that sounds expensiveand it really will be, if you try to do it all in one Saturday shopping trip (although probably not as pricey as surviving on take-out, as some people suggest). It won't be so noticeable if you space out your purchases, and less painful still if you can draw on a vegetable and herb garden for fresh, dried, or canned additions. Pick up a little on each shopping trip in terms of extra storable foods that you like to eat (don't buy Spam if you hate Spam) so that your stock increases over time. Then use the goods that you purchased first while continuing to add to the pantry to build and then maintain your supply.

My family uses Julie Languille's Prepper's Food Storage: 101 Easy Steps to Affordably Stock a Life-Saving Supply of Food as a guide. Languille prioritizes the foods you should purchase, so that you don't end up with hundreds of boxes of pasta but no protein or ingredients for sauce or side dishes; the goal is a balanced diet. The book features charts detailing how much of any given food you should purchase given the size of your household and your target prep time. The author also points out that you should adjust her recommendations according to your preferences and any dietary restrictions: Three gallons of olive oil for three people to eat over a year sounds light to me, but we practically swim in the stuff.

Languille's book also helpfully includes cost estimates, canning techniques, and dehydration tips for turning garden produce into something you can eat years later.

Of course, there are things outside food and water to consider, too. Such as…

Don't forget your meds! This is personal for me, since I had an eye stroke a few years ago. I recovered remarkably well, but add-on complications mean that I have to use daily eyedrops or else I'll eventually go blind. Do I stockpile my eyedrops in case there is an interruption in the supply? You better frigging believe it. I even keep a supply of a med that I stopped using because of the side effects, but which still works.

If you're in a similar situation, make sure you have a supply of meds to last through a shortageor just to help you avoid extra trips to a pharmacy full of sick people during a pandemic. The American Red Cross suggests that "at a minimum" you should have a seven-day supply; I keep several months' worth at any time and recommend that, if possible, you do the same.

Basic first-aid supplies are also a must, along with the skills to use them. You don't want to have to run out for band-aids and antibiotic ointment if your kid takes a tumble. An expanded list of potentially helpful medical supplieseverything from steri-strips to burn gel to chest sealsis offered by The Prepared. Keep in mind that more advanced tools won't do you much good if you don't learn to use them.

Network with neighbors, friends, and family! Yes, even in a pandemic (although you should exercise caution). Do this because it's a good thing to check on people, make sure they're OK, and help them along through what is a tough time for everybody. If you need to make a grocery run anyway, picking up some extras for the elderly folks next door isn't a hardship.

Work with others, too, because you may have complementary resources and skill sets. If you're an EMT with kids, and your accident-prone friend has a supply of homeschooling materials, you can make life a lot easier for each other.

Now that we've gone through all of that, here's the bad news: It's a little late to get started on pandemic prepping. "Prepping," after all, means preparation, and we're tits-deep in the crisis. My local market featured lots of bare shelves yesterday, and the daily delivery didn't arrive as expected. Companies that sell emergency food supplies warn of months-long delaysif they're taking orders at all.

To get through the COVID-19 lockdown, you're going to have to scrimp, buy what's available, and make do.

Yeah, that's gonna suck a bit. But you will make it through. That's especially true if you follow the above advice and work with others for mutual assistance. Don't wait for guidance or mandates from authorities who may lack your values, important information, or simple decencytake responsibility for yourself and cooperate with others who have done the same.

And next time, you'll be better prepared.

NEXT: If 18 Months of Extreme Social Distancing Is What It Takes To Stop Coronavirus, We're Doomed

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  2. My question is why is it impossible to find Chicken, but the stores are drowning in Ham, Bacon, and even Beef?

    As an aside, having steak for dinner tonight.

    1. Chicken is cheap, beef is not.

      1. Spoils much faster though, and freezer space is at a premium so being able to balance between the two makes much more sense.

        1. These shoppers are not necessarily shopping using their heads.

          If food becomes scarce, you want fatty foods, like red meat. Everyone’s caloric intake will drop and have health problems with lean meats not giving them the dietary fat their bodies need.

          It’s fine to eat lean meats when your not starving but people who survived POW camps and ghettos ate rats and other fatty animals to keep their fat intake up.

          Additionally, chickens are easy to raise, keep fed, and slaughter. Cows and hogs require some more advanced ranching and butchering skills.

          1. If food becomes scarce you want rabbits.

            1. Rabbits kept Europe from starving during WWII!

    2. the delivery company is now not delivering meats and dairy to some local stores. Is it because the big city stores have more pull and getting served first or are they just not delivering due to shelter in place rules. the whole thing is an un needed cluster f created by the powers that be

    3. Chicken freezes better than beef.

      Some people consider beef and pork “worse” for you.

      Some people avoid pork for religious and how hogs live reasons.

  3. Good reminder about prescriptions. I too have some eyedrops to take several times a week. Always keep one ahead; as soon as I open one, I order the next. People with more and more complicated and more important prescriptions should be much more concerned.

    Also, a portable generator is handy; make sure you have plenty of a mixed set of extension cords, make sure to start it once a month just to keep it viable when you need it, and propane keeps better than gasoline if you don’t use it for anything else but may be harder to refill.

    1. And go long Kimberly-Clark.

  4. Glad you wrote this Tucille. Didn’t understand why so many people gravitated to hoarding TP for – a respiratory virus. That’s almost a too much information moment about the American private life. Or maybe it’s a teaching moment – that the invisible hand is far too valuable to substitute for TP in a crisis. Or something.

    In other news – oil prices could drop below zero. Now that’s a shoe I didn’t even think about.

    1. It’s a psychological thing. All those years of the cuddly Charmin Bear commercials have caused Americans to subconsciously associate TP with motherly safe comfort.

      1. Also once the run starts people make sure they’re prepped further out than they need to be. No one wants to have to wipe their asses without it.

        1. Yeah I also noticed that a few days after the TP run, there was a run on fresh produce.

          Maybe people looked at all the TP surrounding them on their run and realized — Hmm maybe I need fiber

  5. butt-wipe casserole

    Nice band name.

    1. The lead singer is such an asshole.

      1. Their music sounds like shit.

    2. It’s the Democrat version of the “basket of deplorables.”

  6. Teher is no place to panic go and visit sex Noord-Brabant to relax yourself

  7. So what is the going barter exchange rate for a case of Costco TP vs .45acp ammo?

    1. All TP I can carry in 1 arm for zero bullets or all the TP I can carry in two arms for 1 bullet.

    2. the guy w/the ammo wins.

    3. I am not trading TP for ammo.

      I will trade ammo for gold, silver, or something interesting.

  8. considering the shelter in place laws now enacted its a good thing people stocked up. In S.F. it will be a misdemeanor for being out do you want a misdemeanor just for getting tp. meanwhile the homeless can shit all over the place.

    1. Makes you wonder why there was a run on TP in the Bay Area . . .

  9. It is funny how self proclaimed libertarians and believers in the market so often have no fucking clue how markets really work. The run on toilet paper is just a micro example of how bubbles work. Once a critical mass of people start buying something, it becomes irrational for everyone else not to join in and away goes the bubble. To put it in these circumstances, if everyone is hoarding toilet paper, I am forced to do the same or face the prospect of not having any. This is how bubbles work. In commodities or real estate once the price starts going up everyone is incentivized to get in on the boom or see their competitors get an advantage over them. It is why bubbles happen. And lecturing people to “act rationally” isn’t going to change that.

    1. “it becomes irrational for everyone else not to join in and away goes the bubble.”

      Most Joe-on-the-Street Libertarians that I’ve come across have a greater understanding of market fundamentals than the other Joe’s-on-the Street that I’ve come across.

      You’ve just described a condition in which most Libertarians contemplated, grasped, understand, and we’ve moved on…but once in a while, for the Joe-on-the-Street…we do take time to describe the water while the market drowns.

      Here, the market may be irrational..but eventually, if left to its own devices, will self correct. It’s when the market is not left to fundamentals that we worry about….you might never see another roll of TP for the rest of your life. /s

  10. Panic-Buying Isn’t Prepping for COVID-19

    Says the man who’ll be running out of toilet paper next week.

    Stocking up on supplies isn’t always about prepping for the disaster, it’s about being proactive because you understand how other people will probably react to the disaster so you’re minimizing the consequences to yourself. I bought twice the amount of toilet paper I normally do because in every crisis toilet paper is usually one of the first things to fly off the shelf and I made a reasonable projection of what I’d need until supply normalized.

    The people who didn’t are now sitting around whining and sniffing about the “panic buyers” probably haven’t thought through that the work shutdowns going on across the country are likely going to affect toilet paper production and delivery of said supply to stores too.

    1. What gives you the absurd idea that production and distribution are being affected? The work shutdowns don’t affect them.

      If you had to go out and buy toilet paper within the last couple of weeks, you were already behind the knowledge curve.

  11. My wife does the shopping list, I do the shopping. (Seems like a fair, non-sexist management of labor….She’s management, I’m labor)

    If she puts 1 can of beans on the list, I be damn if I pick up just 1 can of beans. 1 can is not worth my time to turn down the bean isle. So minimum, I buy 2.

    She may chastise me for waisting the extra $.88 but in the end, it’s something that we clearly eat and we always have a stocked pantry.

  12. On another note,

    We recently did need a few things to round out our pantry so while running other errands I decided to give the grocery….just a look-see…if it’s bad, I’d try another time…if it looks civil, I’ll give it a try.

    Absolutely no eggs, milk, TP or fresh meat. No white loafa bread, but plenty of wheat bread to go around. All other items were clearly being picked through; instead of a shelf filled back-to-front with canned vegetables…the first 3 or 4 spots in the front were empty..plenty more on the rest of the shelf. In other worlds, plenty of rice, beans and vegetables to go ‘round.

    One lady, whilst standing in front of this 90% full larder..was lamenting about “how she didn’t want to starve”…..WTF I thought. As she stands in front of a near full shelf of vegetables, she thinks she’s going to starve. She has no clue of what empty shelves looks like.

  13. Whatever man don’t come knocking on my door asking for one of the 10,000 rolls of toilet paper that fill every square inch of my house.

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  15. I’ve been LOLing. I am a mild prepper, and already had everything I could need for a LONG time. I probably have 6 months of food, if I had to stretch it. A water filter that can literally filter infected pond water. TP/TP substitute for like a year or so IIRC. Not to mention “protection” sufficient to arm an infantry squad, and keep them in the field for an entire tour.

    I think I’m good 🙂

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