Thursday, October 13, 2011

Prepare For Emergencies - Part 2

Tip #294 - Prepare for Emergencies - Part 2. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, nowadays we hear over and over about saving for an emergency fund. But without defining what an emergency is, it's hard to know when you are "allowed" to spend that fund. I define an emergency as something that is unexpected, sudden, and catastrophic in at least one way (financially, emotionally, or physically). When an emergency strikes, it's best to have plans. But of course, we cannot prepare for every type of emergency there is. But we can do some sort of planning for typical emergencies. What are typical emergencies? I can think of some common ones:

1. Loss of a Job
2. Serious Illness Diagnosis
3. Mother Nature Strikes
4. Death of a Family Member
5. Unexpected Big Expense (Need new car, new roof, etc.)

Most emergencies fall into one of these categories. So before any of these types of emergencies happen, make a plan with how you would deal with them if one of them does. Part of this would be having the ever-so-talked-about emergency fund. This emergency fund will help out in all five of these scenarios. Clearly for number 1 and 5, the emergency is that you need money to pay for either a big expense or to cover your everyday living expenses. For scenario 2, 3, and 4, the financial emergency may be secondary to other pressing emotional and physical needs, but would clearly be needed in most cases.

So in order to plan for an emergency, you should start an emergency fund. There are articles and blog posts galore dedicated to this topic, so I won't get into them here. But you should decide on an amount you want to save - 3 months' - 12 months' salary is typical and plan a way to save up for that money either all at once or little by little. While you are working on that, come up with other plans to deal with your 5 emergency scenarios.

1. Loss of a Job. Before you lose a job is the best time to plan for the time that you might lose one. In addition to having an emergency fund, you can do other things in advance of losing a job. Keep your resume updated at all times. Why wait until you've lost a job to update it. It's harder to think back on all that you've accomplished and it takes time away from job hunting. As you accomplish things at work, add it into your resume, revise it, keep up on current style and have it at the ready.

Secondly, network now. Again, don't wait until you are without a job to contact your old fraternity brother from college. Then it will seem like you are using him. Keep up your contacts continuously. Belong to organizations that you enjoy and make contacts with. Join occupational groups. then when a job is lost, your contacts are already in place.

Third, have a plan b for a second source of income. Perhaps you are a 9-5 accountant at a big firm. If you lose your job, you want to get another similar job, but have a plan b for a second source of income. Perhaps you can do taxes on the side while job hunting. Or you can teach accounting at a community college. Before you lose your job, think about what other jobs you can do as a side income. It doesn't have to be related to your field. If you are an accountant who loves to knit, you might want think about (in advance of losing a job) where you can sell your products while you are looking for a full-time accounting job.

Fourth, prepare for any emotional stress you will be going through. Think about a counselor you might need to turn to during this time or whether you have a friend who is a good listener who can help you.

In this economy, loss of a job is not an unlikely scenario for many people. Be prepared for this possible event. So if the unfortunate happens, you have a plan in place to cover your expenses and find a new job as quickly as possible.

If you want to be super organized, keep a list of your emergency preparedness plans (not unlike what to do in a fire drill). Then when the unthinkable happens, and you may not be thinking straight, you can go to your list and follow it. So as to not make this post too long, we will discuss preparing for the other scenarios in future posts.

IRL (In Real Life) - While dishing out this advice, I don't necessarily practice what I preach. Sometimes I fly by the seat of my pants. Job loss has been an emergency that we've been dealing with over the past few months. And, honestly, I wasn't prepared for some of it. While not exactly "job loss" I had planned to go back to work part-time when my son started preschool at age 3. Fortunately, we weren't counting on my income because it turned out my company did not need me back. When I left in 2007, the economy was still in pretty good shape. By 2010 when I wanted to return - not so much. Honestly, I never considered this possibility because times were good when I left. Fortunately, we had adapted to just living on my husband's income so it wasn't a total emergency, but I did plan on using my part-time income for future expected expenses.

I came up with a plan b which was to just take any part-time job I could. And this past spring I did. It was a not-much-above minimum wage job, but it was near my house and fit my schedule. Imagine my surprise when after the summer, they let me go (supposedly temporarily until the retail season kicks back up again).

I would have come up with a plan c, except in that time period, my husband found out they were closing his office. Again, while this wasn't exactly job loss, since they offered him a job in a new location, it had many of the same qualities of it. Picking up and moving to a new locale is not an easy or cheap endeavor. So much of what I suggested above came into play as my husband considered finding a new job so we didn't have to move. Unfortunately, we weren't fully prepared. His resume was sorely out of date. And while I helped him polish it, I don't feel it was the best because it was done hastily. And while he didn't specifically network in advance in order to find a job, he did have a lot of contacts from some volunteer work he does as well as professional organizations he belongs to. And while they got him some interviews, nothing really panned out.

So we are not only dealing with sudden expenses of selling a house, moving, storing, and fixing things around the house. We are dealing with high emotions on both our parts and our kids' parts. This "job loss" has become a major life change for our family that will take months, if not years, to adjust to. We could have had better plans in place for this emergency. As going through it has made me realize that having an emergency fund is not enough to get you through when an emergency strikes.