Last-Minute Emergency Supplies: What to Buy When the Shelves Are Almost Empty

By Daisy Luther

Have you ever waited too long to prepare for an emergency and then you get to the store and the supplies you need are gone? The shelves are nearly bare because a horde of other locals got there first? If you need to get some last-minute emergency supplies but your original choices are gone, here’s what to buy when the shelves are almost empty.

I wrote this a couple of days before the advent of Hurricane Florence, I drove to a nearby large city because I was curious to see whether others in the area were feverishly preparing and if so, what supplies were sold out first.  We’re pretty well-supplied so I wasn’t there to shop. I was there to see what was missing and what last-minute emergency supplies could be substituted in their place.

I stopped by a Kroger first and the line was absolute insanity. I couldn’t even push a buggy through the store because it was so crowded. A quick perusal showed that bread and water were basically gone.

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Then I went to Walmart. I didn’t go to the one in the neighborhood where there tends to be more crime. I went to the “nice” Walmart in an affluent area. There, it was busy, but there was enough room to move around and gather some information.

In this article, I’ll suggest some last-minute emergency supplies you can purchase in place of the ones you wanted if you’ve waited too late to shop. To do this, you’re going to have to cast away your plans of being organic and healthful. If you’ve waited this long, you’re stuck with what’s left. So please don’t write to me aghast that I suggested conventional crackers instead of volcanic ground chia seed ones, okay?

My suggestions assume that you may or may not have the ability to boil water and heat things up, but you probably don’t have anything more elaborate than that.

What to buy when the store is out of water

Here’s a photo of the water aisle at the local Walmart that I took two days before Hurricane Florence was due to hit.

There are lots of other options if the water aisle looks like this. They may not be as healthy but they’ll keep you from dying of dehydration.

  • Sports drinks (like Gatorade)
  • Flavored or sparkling water
  • Juice boxes or individual bottles
  • Soda pop (not too much though because that can be dehydrating instead of replenishing)
  • Vegetable juice
  • Premade iced tea

A good trick here is to go to the aisle where people get individually packaged stuff for their kids’ lunches. You’ll find all sorts of beverage pouches and plastic bottles of drinks here.

I warned you – not the healthiest, but healthy is no longer available. Trust me when I tell you it will be far better than having nothing available to drink. Oh – and don’t forget the wine. It won’t really rehydrate you, but you won’t care as much that you don’t have water.

Finally, buy containers. You still have running water, right? Buy containers, wash them, and fill them up before the storm hits. No one is going to be sold out of containers unless you specifically look for “Water Containers.” Grab mason jars, pitchers, canisters, etc. Just make sure they’re food safe and you’re good.

What to buy when the store is out of bread

Here’s the photo of the bread aisle. My friend asked what they had against Nature’s Own bread since there were a few loaves of that brand left.

So if you are insistent that you must have the makings for sandwiches, it’s pretty easy to go beyond the loaves you see here. Other options are:

  • Hamburger or hot dog buns
  • Pitas
  • Tortillas
  • Bagels
  • Muffins
  • Crackers

All of these things were still available abundantly when I was at the store today.

What to buy when the store is out of canned food

I don’t have a very good picture of the semi-empty canned food aisle because a lady (and I use that term loosely) hit me with her cart and then glared at me while I was taking photos.

The things that were gone first were items like canned pasta meals, soups, and chili. That makes sense because they’re pretty reasonable meals when heated up slightly, and can even be eaten cold out of the can in a worst-case scenario.  If your desired canned goods are not available, look to these items:

  • Canned baked beans (tasty right out of the can at room temp
  • Canned refried beans (spread them on those tortillas you got because the store was out of bread
  • Canned V-8 and a can of mixed vegetables (turn that into soup)
  • Canned potatoes (Mash them up or put them on the grill
  • Canned fish

Or move away from the regular canned goods and see what they’ve got over on the International Food aisle:

  • Noodle bowls that just need boiling water
  • Soup that may not be as familiar
  • Small cans of salsa or enchilada sauce

Look in other areas for shelf-stable food, especially the aisle I mentioned above for drinks – school lunch box food. With small servings, you don’t have to worry about leftovers spoiling.

  • Pudding
  • Applesauce
  • Pouches of precooked rice (some have beans and other vegetables mixed in)
  • Peanut butter
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Granola bars
  • Jerky
  • Candy
  • Veggie chips
  • Potato chips
  • Pre-popped popcorn
  • Fruit cups
  • That squirty yogurt you get in pouches (the shelf-stable kind, not the refrigerated kind)
  • Vienna sausages
  • Pre-cooked bacon

You get the idea. Go out there and be creative. Scan every aisle to look for things that won’t spoil that your family will eat. I know whenever I’ve grabbed this kind of stuff, my girls have been thrilled since we don’t usually keep junk food in the house.

What to buy when the store is out of batteries, flashlights, and emergency candles

I forgot to grab a photo of this, but the camping aisle was pretty barren. Here are some alternative suggestions.

Scented candles – I hate them passionately, but you can choose the most lightly scented ones there – better than sitting in the dark.

  • Tealights
  • Decorative jar candles
  • Headlamps
  • Shop lights – the LED kind will last for a long time
  • Batteries – see if there are any rechargeable ones and charge them before the storm

For supplies like this, think about non-traditional stores:

  • Hardware stores
  • Home decor stores (I’ve scored unscented candles at TJ Maxx before)
  • Toy stores
  • Automotive stores like Napa
  • Corner stores or 7-Eleven may have batteries
  • Feed stores often have lanterns and flashlights
  • The dollar store
  • Electronics stores will probably have batteries
  • Drug stores
  • Liquidation stores (I found some really bright LED lanterns for $5 each at a place called Hamricks, a Southern franchise)

Don’t forget these other last-minute necessities:

  • Heavy duty garbage bags
  • Bleach
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Paper plates
  • Plastic cutlery
  • Pet food
  • Essential medications
  • Cat litter (even if you don’t have a cat)
  • Something to do (I grabbed some yarn to start on my holiday projects)

When the store is out of last-minute emergency supplies you wanted

Don’t despair if you can’t the last-minute emergency supplies you wanted. It just means you’re going to have to be flexible and creative.

And when this disaster is over, think long and hard about the things you wished you would have had. Make yourself a list and start buying these items and by the time the next disaster rolls around, you’ll be much further ahead.

You’ve got this!

Some last-minute resources

These two books may be of help. They are PDFs so they’re instantly available for you to download.

The Prepper’s Hurricane Survival Guide contains last-minute tips to secure your home if you’ve waited too late. It also tells you what to expect before, during, and after a hurricane. Order here.

Learn More About The Hurricane Survival Guide

The Prepper’s Book of Lists provides you with checklists of the supplies you need and steps you should take for a wide variety of emergencies. Order here.

Learn More About The Prepper’s Book of Lists

The Blackout Book helps you handle a power outage like a boss. Since a power outage follows most natural disasters, this will be a helpful guide. Order here.

Learn More About The Blackout Book

You can also order my paperback book, Be Ready for Anything for this information and much more. Order here.

Learn More about Be Ready for Anything

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, gun-toting blogger who writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, voluntaryism, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper, where this article first appeared. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, Daisy is the best-selling author of 4 books and lives in the mountains of Virginia with her two daughters and an ever-growing menagerie. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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