If you live in California, then you probably know all too well what a Public Safety Power Shutoff is. Maybe you’re among the millions that have already experienced one or more power shutoffs in October alone.
It’s no secret that these planned power outages are annoying and inconvenient, but if you’re not super careful they can be quite costly, too! Between eating out, losing food in your fridge and freezer, missing work, running generators (with gas at $4/gallon), and buying extra data for phones (because there’s no wifi), it’s easy to see how budgets are busted.
For those who are still in the dark (pun intended) about what a Public Safety Power Shutoff is (PSPS for short), it’s when the electric company (in our case PG&E) turns the power off because the weather threatens to be windy and dry. The goal is to prevent PG&E’s outdated infrasctructure from causing yet another outrageously destructive and deadly wildfire.
Today I want to share some things you can do to prepare for these power outages so that they don’t ruin your budget. I welcome your ideas and suggestions in the comments, so please share your great ideas so we can all learn!
Often power outages go hand-in-hand with disasters like fires and hurricanes, but in this post I’ll primarily focus on preparing for the outage itself, not everything else that comes with major disasters.
Save Money by Preparing for Power Shutoffs
If a power outage hits without warning and you’re not prepared, you’ll most likely incur some (or lots of) unplanned spending. On top of the unplanned spending, you may also end up wasting money you’ve already spent.
Here are some simple tips to help you save money by planning ahead for Public Safety Power Shutoffs or other power outages.
Using your deep freezer can save lots of money because you can stock up on great deals when you find them, but without electricity you risk losing all that money you’ve saved. Here are some ways to save money by storing food so that it doesn’t go bad during power outages.
- Plan what you will need from your fridge and freezer and put it in an ice chest. You don’t want to open the fridge or freezer at all, if possible.
- Put anything from the fridge that can be frozen (cheese, milk, spinach, fruit, etc) into the freezer.
- Eat any leftovers, produce, or other foods that won’t last in the fridge.
- Fill ziplock bags or ice cream buckets of water and put them in your freezer as soon as you are notified of a potential outage. The ziplock bags of water form nicely around whatever is already in your freezer. The buckets of water fill any large open spaces with ice which will help to keep frozen things frozen longer. Having a full freezer also makes it run more efficiently when you do have power.
- When the power is off, lock your fridge and freezer. Every time you open your fridge or freezer, cool air is replaced by warm air that won’t be cooled off again. It’s best to just leave it closed.
A little planning goes a long way. Planning some easy meals to eat during a power outage will save you lots of money, as eating out (at restaurants and take out places with their own generators) can get really expensive really quickly.
Plan for food that does not need any preparation and is shelf stable. Think foods like fruit, tuna, chicken, crackers, and peanut butter.
Since we had some warning before each of our outages, I was able to do some baking or cooking ahead of time. It wasn’t what I had planned on doing on those days, but it was nice to have a little more variety than just what was on the pantry shelves.
If you have a camp stove or grill, you can cook simple things outside. We used a little Sterno stove to boil some water for pasta one night, which was a nice change from sandwiches.
My biggest tip for preparing food in an outage is to get started well before dark. When you’re used to a well-lit kitchen, having to work in the relative dark can be ultra frustrating.
Probably the first thing most people think of when it comes to losing power is light. Do you have batteries and flashlights or lanterns? How about candles or kerosene lamps?
Getting stocked up ahead of time on light sources will mean you’ll have the largest selection and get better prices than you would if you were to wait for the disaster (or simple power outage) to happen. We found these great lanterns that are nice and bright and even come with batteries.
Running generators just for lights is expensive and depending on how long you’re out of power, fuel may become scarce. Having sufficient light especially helps helps kids confidently handle the scary and uncomfortable feelings that can come with power outages.
If your water comes from a well, your tap stops working as soon as the power goes out at your electric well pump. But it’s not just well users at risk. We have city water but it still uses electric pumps to get the water out to customers! In our recent PSPS outages, our water has never gone dry, but only because everyone cut non-essential use. The water company simply doesn’t have enough backup power to get the normal volume of water out to everyone for more than two days.
Buying water gets expensive fast and isn’t necessary if you’re well-prepared.
No matter your water source, it’s always a smart idea to have water stored. We wash and refill juice bottles and store them in a closet at home. We have about 20 gallons of water there, easy to grab and pour. You can do this with soda bottles as well (but not milk jugs as they will degrade and water will leak). For a more robust water storage plan, look into easy-to-use water storage containers or 55 gallon drums, but definitely start by filling up juice bottles! It’s so easy and so worth it!
If you know you’ll be losing water, it’s a good idea to fill up pitchers of water for drinking and buckets for flushing the toilet. You can fill up your bath tub to have water for washing or flushing too, but please don’t do this if you have a toddler in the house!
I’ve talked to people who have really run up the data charges on their cell phones because of the power outages. Many of us spend a lot of time connected to wifi, so when the wifi is no longer there, cell data gets used up fast.
Here’s the thing though. You probably don’t need to be using all that data. I would be willing to bet that only a fraction of that data is being spent on safety or communication or power outage related things. The majority is spent on unnecessary (but habitual) entertainment. We spend so much of our time in front of screens that we really don’t know what to do when they’re gone.
So don’t unnecessarily rack up data charges on your phone. Put your phone down and go grab a book or a board game or get down on the floor with the kids.
Keep your phone charged so you can use it for important communications. If you have a backup battery like this, be sure to charge it before the power goes out. You can also charge your phone in your car or another location that has power (or generated power).
A good rule for general preparedness is to never let your tank go below half. I’ll admit that I break this rule regularly, but in fire season I’m more careful to keep sufficient gas in our vehicles. I just think about the people evacuating Paradise in the Camp Fire last year who had to abandon their cars because they ran out of gas in a enormous traffic jam to get out of town.
If you’re going to be running a generator, you’re going to want to fill up while gas stations still have power. The longer you wait, the longer you will wait as lines get long when there are only a few stations open and everyone is filling up every gas can they own.
If you’re running a generator for your fridge, you don’t need to run it constantly. A fridge can maintain its temperature safely for at least four hours (and often more) if you keep it closed. Your freezer is good for at least 48 hours (longer if it’s a chest freezer).
Thankfully in the season that we’re likely to encounter Public Safety Power Shutoffs here in California, weather is typically pretty mild. We can handle the temperatures well just by adjusting what we’re wearing. If you live somewhere that has regular power outages in the winter, then it’s important to have an alternate source of heat that doesn’t require electricity.
Full Disclosure– We Spent $1,000 during the Power Shutoff
Although we used the tips I shared above, you will see in our October Budget report that comes out next week (assuming we have power 😂), that we still had about $1,000 of unplanned spending related to these Public Safety Power Shutoffs.
While it wasn’t planned spending, it wasn’t consumed spending either. We’re now set for the foreseeable future of power outages. PG&E estimates it will keep up the outages whenever it gets dry and windy for the next ten years (yes, 10 years!) until they can update their infrastructure to handle the fall winds without creating wildfire disasters.
In the last three weeks of October we have had our power cut during 3 separate power shutoff “events” (it cracks me up that they are called events, like it’s a party or something) making more than 7 days without power. The past two shutoffs have come pretty much back to back. We got notification that power would be going off again before it had been restored from the last shutoff.
The 12-24 hours of having electricity between outages consisted of constant laundry, running the dishwasher, taking warm showers, and doing any powered activities to recover from the last outage and prepare for the next one. It kind of takes over your life.
When we don’t have power, we don’t have internet or phone either since we don’t have cell phone reception where we live (normally our phones run off wifi when we’re at home). We’re pretty disconnected which is a little nerve-wracking when you’ve got a houseful of kids and a baby due in three weeks.
So we made some big purchases. We bought an inverter generator and a backup battery to run our electronics. The generator can keep the refrigerator going in our house and in the Airbnb apartment, as well as our chest freezer, computer, and some lights and other appliances. The backup battery can sit plugged into the wall with our cable modem and wireless router plugged into it. When the power goes out, the battery kicks in and our phones and internet keep working. They’ll go for several days using just the battery, but we can also recharge the battery using the generator.
I also bought 8 of these small, yet bright LED lanterns to use at night. I bought a 4-pack during the first outage and they were so great (and affordable– they even include batteries) that I bought another set during the second outage. We put some of them up in our Airbnb rental for our guests to use.
Speaking of Airbnb, we’ve forewarned all of our guests of potential outages and surprisingly everyone has been totally cool with it. (There probably aren’t many better options when the whole county is out of power). It helps that some of them have been out-of-state electric workers who are here doing temporary work for PG&E. Those workers are now on their third stay at our place. They’re pretty much ideal guests for this situation. We’re grateful not to have lost any bookings on Airbnb this month, but I can see how these outages could cause some serious problems for small business owners.
It’s easy to get cynical and complainy in this sort of situation. It’s easy to point the finger of blame and get political.
But the fact is that having a bad attitude has never made a bad situation better.
Gratitude, on the other hand, can work wonders.
Even without power, we have so much to be grateful for.
I can’t even imagine what it is like to lose my home or loved ones. My heart goes out to those who are going through much, much worse than I can even fathom.
How about you?
What would you do to prepare if you knew in the next day or two you would be without power for several days?