Year of the (Pack) Rat: 13 Vital Items to Keep in a Fireproof Safe

For some people, it’s tough letting go. Of anything.

Take my wife, for instance; she saves everything.

The other day the Honeybee showed me her baseball ticket from our very first date way back on September 24, 1995.

And if I ever feel oddly compelled to scrutinize the birthday card I received from my mother-in-law in 1998, I can rest easy knowing that the Honeybee has it dutifully stored upstairs in our bedroom closet.

What’s that? You say you’re looking for the operating instructions to a vintage Easy Bake oven, circa 1986? I think she can probably whip those up in a jif. If I’m not mistaken, they’re in the closet too, not far from the rest of those 643 old birthday, Christmas, Easter, and Mother’s Day cards she’s been saving that nobody will ever look at again.

If you’re really interested, I’m pretty sure I can also regale you with every spelling, math, and geography test my kids have ever taken since first grade. (I didn’t think so.)

Protecting the Important Stuff

Unlike my wife, I’m a bit more judicious when it comes to saving things. And like most people, I use a fireproof safe for the most important stuff.

Of course, no strongbox can hold everything — and so that demands a bit of discretion when deciding what to put in them. Here are some of the more important items you should consider protecting:

Birth certificates. Your birth certificate is proof that you are a citizen of the country you live in. Lose it, and you’ll have a difficult time getting a passport, or landing a job that requires proof of citizenship.

Property titles. Yes, home deeds and car titles are replaceable, but why go through the hassle if you don’t have to?

Insurance policies. Home, life and auto insurance policies are a key part of any financial back-up plan. If your house burns down or has been burgled, the first thing you’ll want to get your hands on is a copy of your home insurance policy and your agent’s phone number.

Home photos. Speaking of insurance, photos of the interior and exterior of your home are invaluable for reporting losses due to fire or theft to your insurance company. If possible, keep them on electronic media like a CD or thumb drive.

Safety deposit box keys. Not having access to your safety deposit box during an emergency is not only inconvenient, it can be costly, as the boxes will have to be forced open and replaced at your expense.

Social security cards. Your social security number is required to get a job, collect social security benefits and receive certain other government services. That’s why the US Social Security Administration strongly advises people to not carry the cards on their person.

Passports. Getting a new passport on short notice, while not impossible, is still a tough order. Even expedited passports can take as long three weeks to process.

Financial account info. To ensure you’ll be able to access funds on short notice, be sure to keep a list of contact and account information related to any retirement plans and other financial accounts. You’ll also want to have a contact list of all your creditors; you’ll need to let them know if a particular emergency may result in delayed payments.

Spare car keys. For those who aren’t comfortable using hide-a-keys.

Wills and living trusts. Not only yours, but also any others in which you are the designated executor.

Health care proxies. In addition to your own, you’ll want copies for anyone who has designated you as a health care surrogate.

Medical information. In addition to the phone numbers of your family doctors, you’ll want copies of your medical prescriptions in order to ensure you can rapidly resupply needed medications.

Emergency Cash. Keep a quick-access stash of small bills in case an emergency occurs that catches you with little or no money in your wallet. I accumulated $200 in five- and one-dollar bills over a relatively short period of time by occasionally dropping them in my change jar.

A Few Closing Thoughts

Most fireproof safes are not waterproof. So make sure you protect the contents by wrapping them in a plastic bag.

That being said, assuming the fire gets hot enough, most fireproof boxes cannot prevent any plastic stored within them from melting. That’s why, in the event of a fire, you should take the box with you — but only if it’s safe to do so.

Finally, if you’re worried about having your strongbox stolen by thieves, keep it in an inconspicuous location or — better yet — place it in a locked file cabinet. That’s where we keep ours: in the bottom drawer — right next to several old Pee Chee folders containing coursework from the Honeybee’s freshman year of high school.

After all, you never know when that might come in handy.

Photo Credit: Mykl Roventine

16 comments to Year of the (Pack) Rat: 13 Vital Items to Keep in a Fireproof Safe

  • Olivia

    ARGH! You just told everybody where your safe is.
    Well, I’m sure you’ll think of an alternative.

    You are absolutely right about documentation. My Alzheimers afflicted mom got it into her head to cut up and throw away her social security card, bank card, credit card, non driver’s liscence, and check book. She remembered to tell us when we had to make a change in her bank account. I had to go through the entire process of obtaining her birth certificate, marriage liscence, social security card and drag her wheel chair dependant self off to DOMV for the necessary photo ID. It’s almost funny now.

    • Len Penzo

      What a nightmare, Olivia! I can only imagine the hassles of having to renew or replace all those personal documents and papers. Yikes!

      As for me revealing where my safe is … I’m really not concerned about it. Considering the contents of my strongbox, the time and effort it would take to get past the security lock and bar (never mind my big dog) isn’t worth the effort, considering all the other unsecured — and much more valuable — things around the house a petty thief could take with no effort. :-)

  • I have let my parents hold onto my SS card in their fireproof safe, and my citizenship certificate (although I think you’re *supposed* to carry that on you at all times, I’m certainly not carrying such an important piece of paper around in my jeans pocket all day…)

    Keeping photos of your house in there is a good tip!

    • Len Penzo

      The photos are important, Kellen. We’ve actually gone so far as to make a video of the inside of our home.

    • DC

      Kellen,

      If you are concerned about keeping proof of citizenship on your person, you may want to consider getting a US passport card. It’s the size of a driver’s license and will fit in your wallet. It is proof of both identity AND citizenship, so it can be used when applying for a job. It also covers travel to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. (For any other destination, you need a full passport.)

      Yes, it is expensive, but like a passport it is good for 10 years. If you are someone who, shall we say, looks “foreign” to most cops (Profile? WE don’t profile.), a passport card can save some hassle.

      http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html

  • Your wife sounds like me. I just refuses to get rid of anything. My husband ends up throwing things away and pissing me off but I understand where hes coming from though it doesnt make it any easier. Those are important items but I guess I really need to get a safe before worrying about what to put in one. Still a work in progress.

    • Len Penzo

      The Honeybee keeps lots of stuff — a lot of it is sentimental, so I have a hard time pushing her to get rid of it. Things like all of my kids’ baby teeth, and their Halloween costumes. But then there is the stuff like her school work — and the kids’ school work — that really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Then again, I tend to find myself on the other side of the spectrum sometimes, Tiffany — I toss a lot of stuff I figure I’ll never use again — which gets me into trouble sometimes when I figured wrong! :-)

  • Kathleen

    Hi, Len! What a useful list for those of us who are organizationally-challenged and trying to clean up our act! I tend to follow the Honeybee’s rules about keeping things, so I have a lot of cleaning up to do. Would you think it wise to include a home inventory with the photos of your house? I have known people who have had a really hard time remembering the items in their house when working with insurance following a fire, etc.

    • Len Penzo

      I think the home inventory list is a great idea. The photos (or in my case, video) is the lazy man’s way of doing things, but it does provide incontrovertible proof to support your claims. I reckon I’d probably overlook a few key items if our home was totally consumed by fire, for example. It would be a real challenge to remember everything.

  • I have been thinking about getting a fireproof safe. I haven’t made the plunge. I know the small price is worth it for piece of mind, I just haven’t done it yet. Thanks for the tips. I would hate to have the plastic melt on the documents inside.

    • Len Penzo

      They’re definitely worth the price – much cheaper and more convenient than renting a safe deposit box year after year. And they hold more stuff too.

  • m

    Any thoughts on fireproof safes vs safe deposit boxes?

  • I keep my important papers and some precious jewelry in a safe deposit box. I am starting to think about transferring pictures to disk and keep that off site too.

  • I’m beginning to think the Honeybee was separated from my wife at birth….

    She still puts up the kids Christmas drawings in season, even though some of the drawings are 20-25 years old and falling apart….

  • There is no way I can lug the little safe out when the house is burning down around me. That thing is heavy! It’ll be tough enough to grab the kid and 3 cats. Good list though.

  • I recently spent 8+ weeks helping my husband & his sister clean my mother-in-law’s Independent Unit in a Retirement Home Complex, so she could go into an assisted living unit. My mother-in-law is almost 100 years old. We had to deal with storage of items that were up to 70 or more years of saving. I might add that she was NOT into getting rid of any of this – mostly paper – letters, cards (for everything!) & photos (even of people she didn’t know!). It was very difficult & would have been easier just to keep her in independent living & hire someone to care for her – then at least we could have gotten rid of everything, but we had to “store” much of it – you know what that means.

    If for no other reason, please people, get rid of your own collections, don’t rely on others to do it for you! We are now starting on our own – my husband is just like his mother! :(

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