Watch out! There's a giant asteroid coming your way!
Just kidding. Maybe.
According to some interpretations of the Mayan calendar, today is supposedly the end of the world. But even if you believe that you'll live to toast a new year, you may be eyeing another apocalyptic scenario on the horizon:
- Economic collapse
- Environmental disaster brought on by global warming (you know, freak snowstorms, hurricanes and flooding)
- Third World War and/or nuclear holocaust
- Rogue meteor
- The Rapture
- Zombie apocalypse
- We are definitely missing something here ...
Welcome to the apocalypse economy, which can equip you with everything that you could possibly need to survive in the event that any of the above scenarios happen.
And as with any growing trend, there are entrepreneurs ready to help. What used to be canned food and the occasional Cold War disaster bunker has grown into a multimillion-dollar-a-year disaster economy that can supply you with a year's worth of organic, freeze-dried food in your luxury bunker.
Seem far-fetched? Not to the people selling and buying these products.
The disaster market is hard to define, since many products needed for emergencies are normal things like flashlights and duct tape. But the owner of the Ready Store, which sells everything from backpacks stuffed with emergency supplies to portable toilets, estimates that this consumer market makes around $500 million annually.
That said, there are essentially two different types of disaster economies: the End-of-the-World sort and the Natural Disaster sort. Let us explain.
What You'll Need to Buy for the Apocalypse
Thinking something serious will happen in the next century or decade is no longer a sign of being a fringe lunatic. If you think our economic system is far too fragile to last, and the swamped nuclear reactor in Japan just drew your attention to our own aging reactors in the U.S., then put these things on your shopping list:
A 30-Year Supply of Food: $1,000 +
A robust subset of the disaster economy is emergency food or M.R.E.'s (Meals Ready to Eat) that are packaged to last for 30 years. Since 2008, manufacturers say that they've seen an annual growth rate of 20% to 100%. The number of online mail-order suppliers has increased from just a handful to more than 20 in the last five years. Industry insiders say that demand for their products goes up not only during weather-related disasters, but also during stock market turbulence and presidential campaigns.
Food designed for disasters is benefiting from two forces: Members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, the fastest growing religious denomination in the U.S., are encouraged to have at least three months of food stockpiled in case of emergency or the "End Times," a religious time preceded by increasing manmade and natural disasters.
And then there's conservative hosts Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, who foresee political and economic doom--and encourage their fans to stock up just in case. (The Glenn Beck Ultimate 80-day emergency pack, which includes two cases of ice cream sandwiches, is only $989.99!)
You can pick up 120 gallons of food for $1,499.999 at Costco, and Sears has emergency food for dogs. You can even read reviews of emergency food at Food Storage Reviewer before you drop a few thousand on your order. "This is really the Cadillac of food storage, and you won’t be disappointed with entrees such as lasagna and fettucini alfredo," it says of favorite brand, Food Insurance.
Fallout Bunkers: $25,000 to $20 Million
If you fear nuclear or chemical warfare, you'll need a place to hide until the air clears. On the low end, you can reserve a spot for $25,000 in a sprawling community bunker located in an undisclosed location in Nevada, complete with a wine cellar. A mere $20 million will nab you a personal luxury bunker. If this all seems out of reach, you could just settle for a $9,500 chemical-proof tent. According to Time, manufacturers of bunkers reported a 20% to $1,000% increase in inquiries following the tsunami that swamped the Fukushima nuclear reactor last year.
Survival Training Class: $100 +
You can find classes in wilderness training across the country. And while many offer traditional classes in Native American skills and wilderness appreciation, they have also expanded to include more pointed classes on urban survival. "Recent events and natural disasters reveal our vulnerability when the comforts of home are removed," says the website of the Mountain Scout Survival School, which caters to nervous Manhattanites.
Cody Lundin, founder of Aboriginal Living School, has also published a book, "When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need to Survive When Disaster Strikes." It includes instructions for disposing of bodies--and how to prepare and eat rats.
Guns: $100 +
If you believe the end lies in a collapsed economy, you'll need to defend yourself against panicked humans. A spike in gun sales this year has been attributed to a zombie apocalypse, economic doom and the fear that Obama will institute tighter gun control laws. In the last year, the gun manufacturer Sturm, Ruger has seen about a 40% increase in its stock price, while Smith and Wesson has seen its stock more than double.
What You'll Need to Buy for a Natural Disaster
If you're an environmentalist, Hurricanes Katrina, Irene and Sandy solidified your worst fears. And you've got good company in New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg--not to mention scientists--who says that these sorts of floods and disasters will only become more frequent.
A believer in calamitous climate change? Stock up on these essentials:
Demand for gasoline cans has spiked so much that manufacturers can't keep up. They were certainly front of mind in November, when reports of near-riots over gasoline shortages came out of New Jersey and Long Island in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Not only is it nice to have a supply for your car, but generators also run on gasoline. Speaking of ...
Manufacturers of generators see a spike during natural disasters, but they've also watched their baseline sales grow in recent years. Generac, a manufacturer located in Wisconsin, has seen 15% compound annual growth since 2000. They're now building out the "standby" generator portion of their business--generators (from $4,500) for homes that automatically kick in when the power goes out.
Sales of storm shelters (the nuclear bunker's little cousin), which run around $5,000, have also increased. The owner of Vaughn Concrete Products, which makes tornado shelters--and whose owner is the president of the National Storm Shelter Association (yup, that's a thing)--says that he's seen his business grow by 30% in the past few years.
Emergency Radios and Flashlights
Eton Corporation, which manufacturers a variety of solar-powered "home preparedness" items, saw sales of emergency radios and flashlights rise 220% the week of Hurricane Sandy ... across the U.S. That goes to show that just looking at pictures of a flooded Wall Street was enough to convince people they needed to stockpile.
Your Best Action Plan
So is a stockpile of freeze-dried food the new emergency fund? It's true that, in an economic collapse, dollars in the bank won't be of much use. But, for now, we think that it's much more likely that you'll suffer a financial emergency than a world-wide one--which is why we suggest having six to nine months of take-home pay stashed in your savings account.
RELATED: 7 Reasons You Need an Emergency Fund
After all, although there weren't any zombies roaming the streets during Hurricane Sandy, these women learned the hard way just how necessary extra money is during a natural disaster.
You've been warned.