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Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

4 Ways to Get Through a Power Outage on a Budget

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

You don’t realize how ill-prepared you are for a power outage until the lights go out. I found that out the hard way a few days ago when a microburst tore through my small town and laid waste to the city’s power grid. We sat in the dark for nine hours that night—a small power outage compared to some major disasters, but still a painful one when it’s hot, humid, and you haven’t eaten anything. 

Whenever we write up those long lists of emergency supplies you need to survive a disaster—whether it’s a storm, earthquake, or fire—the common denominator is that each requires a decent monetary investment, often totaling hundreds of dollars.

But that's just not feasible if you’re living paycheck to paycheck. So how do you prepare for a power outage when you’re short on cash? Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to prepare for a power outage on a budget if you don’t have any serious medical issues that require electricity to manage.

1. LET THERE BE LIGHT—OLD SCHOOL AND NEW SCHOOL.

If a storm knocks you off the grid at night, that’s some of the darkest dark you’ll ever experience. Your cell phone’s flashlight app isn’t going to cut it in a situation like this. A small stockpile of flashlights and candles is vital to helping you navigate the advanced darkness of a nighttime power failure.

Most dollar stores sell matches, lighters, and decently sized jar candles that aren’t too cacodorous, allowing you to stock up on these illuminating necessities without spending more than you would on a modest trip for fast food. Choosing jar candles over stick candles is your best bet—a stick candle is prone to tipping over, and the last thing you need in an emergency situation is a house fire.

If you’re more comfortable going the artificial route, cheap flashlights are available at just about every store. Before our power outage, I bought a tiny LED headlamp from Walmart; it was the best dollar I’ve ever spent. Despite its low cost, the device and its batteries held through the night. (Other varieties are available here.) If you want something more reliable than a one-dollar contraption, you can get a decent flashlight (batteries sometimes included!) for a few bucks. A flashlight with a crank is even better as they don’t require expensive batteries.

2. PLAN AHEAD FOR YOUR CELL PHONE.

Your cell phone’s flashlight feature is useful, but it can quickly drain your battery if you use it for more than a few seconds. When you have no electricity, conserving battery power on your cell phone is crucial. The best way you can keep your cell phone charged when the lights are out is to look for a relatively cheap USB backup charger. I recently found one on sale online for only $20, and it kept my phone charged all nine hours with regular use. You can also charge your phone in your vehicle if you need to—just be careful not to wear down the battery or consume too much fuel in the process.

If you have no way to charge your phone during an outage, you can conserve power by shutting it off or switching to airplane mode when you’re not using it. The latter option cuts down your phone’s energy use while also allowing you to quickly switch its connection back on if you need it in a hurry.

3. HAVE FOOD AND WATER: FRESH, CANNED, AND BOTTLED.

You don’t realize how much of your food requires cooking until you can’t cook it. If your power is out, forget anything frozen, and most stuff in your pantry is also out of the question. Make sure you always have some cheap food on hand that you can eat without cooking and without having to open your fridge, letting out precious cold air in the process. Canned ravioli, fruit bars, toaster pastries, fresh fruit … anything you can eat safely without cooking is a welcome relief when you’re without power and your stomach is growling.

Having some water on hand is a must. If you have municipal tap water, it’s usually fine during a power outage, but sometimes the water plant also loses power or the storm may have damaged the infrastructure that pipes it to your home. In this instance, not only is it unsafe to drink, but you can’t use it for common tasks you don’t give much thought, like washing your hands or brushing your teeth. So keep a gallon or two of drinkable, usable water on hand.  

4. BUY A CHEAP BATTERY-POWERED RADIO.

Remember radios? I can't recall the last time I had a radio that wasn’t powered by the internet or didn’t require a plug for use. If you can’t use your cell phone and you have no access to the internet or television, your only other connection to the outside world is a battery-powered or hand-crank radio. Most of them are pretty cheap. Your best bet is to find an AM/FM radio, but if you can spring for a radio that lets you pick up the weather band as well, that’ll do you one better so you can follow the progress of bad storms in your area. 

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Don't Pour Alcohol on Your Bed Bugs—Try These Tips Instead
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Getting bed bugs is a nightmare experience, one that’s sure to cost you oodles of time, money, and emotional distress. The bugs are painfully hard to purge from your household, and it’s getting even harder as they become more resistant to common insecticides. Unfortunately, home remedies are often no match for these parasitic insects. Dousing them with rubbing alcohol (a tip you'll often hear) won’t kill them; in fact, it might just burn your house down, as a woman trying to rid her Cincinnati apartment of bed bugs found out recently. As The Washington Post reported, the alcohol in that case was too close to the flame of a candle or some type of incense, and ignited. It wasn't an isolated incident.

In the last 10 years or so, people trying to kill bed bugs with alcohol have started several house fires across the U.S., including a different incident in Cincinnati just two weeks ago. So short of burning down your entire house and starting over, how do you get rid of them?

The short answer is: Give up on the idea of saving money and call an exterminator. According to 2014 research, plenty of DIY bed bug-killing remedies are woefully ineffective. Rubbing alcohol, in fact, only killed half of the insects sprayed by the Rutgers University researchers in that study. Researchers have found that other recommended home remedies, like moth balls, foggers, or ultrasonic bug repellers, are even less effective. And don’t even think about using “natural” type products that use essential oils as the main ingredient. They might smell nice, but they won’t help your bug problem.

But before you call in the big guns, there are a few effective, concrete steps you can take to reduce your infestation. As Rutgers bedbug specialists Changlu Wang and Richard Cooper wrote in their bed bug fact sheet, putting your belongings in plastic storage bins or garbage bags is a good place to start. Since the bugs don’t like to climb on smooth plastic, this can help contain the infestation. Just make sure to treat whatever you’re putting inside the bags or bins first by putting them through the hot laundry, steaming, heating, or freezing them.

You’ll need a mattress encasement, too. This will keep the bugs that have already infested your mattress from escaping, meaning they won’t be able to feast on you anymore and will die of starvation. Nor will any new bugs be able to get inside to nest. You’ll want to make sure it’s a scientifically tested brand, though, since not all mattress encasements are bite-proof or escape-proof for bed bugs. (Most experts recommend the Protect-a-Bed BugLock encasement, which costs about $81 for the queen-sized version.)

Next, pick up some bed bug traps. Set them up under the legs of your furniture and around the perimeter of rooms to help detect new infestations and reduce existing ones. According to Wang and Cooper, a one-bedroom apartment might need eight to 12 of these traps, while bigger apartments will require more.

You’ll want to expose all your belongings to extreme temperatures before you even think about touching them again. Putting them through the washer/dryer on its hottest setting will do the trick to kill both bugs and their eggs, but if you need to eradicate bugs lurking in items you can’t wash, you can freeze them in plastic bags (as long as your freezer gets down to 0°F). You can also kill them with a steam cleaner, especially if you need to purge them from your couch or other upholstered furniture.

If you’ve still got a large number of bugs lurking in your house, you can tackle them with a vacuum cleaner, sucking them out of seams, zippers, trim, and other furniture crevices. But you’ll want to use a stocking or some other method of protecting your vacuum from being infested itself. (See Figure 6 here.)

Some research has also found that desiccant dusts that dehydrate bugs to death, like diatomaceous earth and silica gel, can be effective at controlling bed bug infestations (silica gel in particular) when spread around the perimeters of rooms, on bed frames and couches, and on furniture legs.

As we mentioned before, you’ll probably want to consult a professional even if you do all of the above, because if you miss even one bug or egg, you'll be back to where you started. The cost of an exterminator pales in comparison to the cost of throwing out everything you own, moving homes, and then realizing you’ve brought the bed bugs with you anyway.

The bad news for anyone who’s already infested is that prevention really is key when it comes to bed bugs. So brush up on what the pests look like, make sure to check your hotel room for them when you travel, and if you spot them in your apartment, make sure to warn your neighbors.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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Want Priority Boarding On Your Alaska Airlines Flight This Holiday Season? Wear an Ugly Christmas Sweater
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Between steep fares and crowded terminals, flying during the holidays isn’t fun. But on Friday, December 15, a special Alaska Airlines promotion will ease boarding stress and transform packed planes into mile-high ugly sweater parties, in honor of National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the airline will offer free early boarding to travelers willing to don their holiday worst at the airport.

The promotion is good for all Alaska Airlines flights in the airline’s 115-city network, and for flights offered by Virgin America and Horizon Air (both of which are operated by Alaska Airlines). In addition to escaping the waiting crowds, passengers who share the most festive knitted looks will be featured on Alaska Air's social media pages if they tag their photos and videos using the hashtags #UglySweaterDay and #MostWestCoast. And since no plane aisle-turned-catwalk is complete without a soundtrack, “festive holiday-themed boarding music will play all month long to help get guests into the holiday spirit,” according to a press release.

Worried you’ll be the only person on the plane wearing a sequined Rudolph cardigan? Even if other passengers don’t get the memo, airline crew will also be wearing ugly sweaters—so feel free to unleash your inner Chevy Chase from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

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