Last year, I received alerts that a hurricane was on its way to Florida. It was recommended to prepare my home for the hurricane and store essentials like water and nonperishable food for at least three days. As I was preparing for the hurricane, It reminded me of the importance of being financially prepared for disasters or pandemics.
Note: Today, what we’re experiencing is a pandemic that’s leading to a great deal of uncertainty about our health and finances. Whether it’s a natural disaster or pandemic, financial preparation can help us, to some degree, lessen the impact and lower the stress level. Learn more about how to financially protect yourself during the coronavirus pandemic.
I can no longer count the number of natural disasters I’ve witnessed. Year after year, it seems to grow in intensity and frequency. Or maybe it’s just me paying a bit more attention to the news or my inability to disconnect from social media. One thing is for sure, being financially prepared for any disaster can help once the winds calm, the snow has stopped falling, the fires die, and the earth has stopped shaking.
Here are my 10 ways you can financially prepare yourself for natural disasters and pandemics.
Complete a personal financial analysis
Before taking any type of action, it’s essential to do an inventory of your assets and complete analysis of your finances. Doing so will help you gain confidence and enable you to see gaps in your financial preparedness. You don’t have to do a separate personal financial analysis if you complete one every year.
A personal financial analysis will include calculating your net worth, income, debt, cash flow, and credit health. It also identifies your access to cash referred to as liquidity and prioritizes your liabilities for debt repayment. Learn the steps to complete a personal financial analysis.
Have an emergency savings strategy
We’ve heard about the importance of emergency funds and having access to money when it’s most needed. It’s a financial stress reliever helping you focus on picking up the pieces. You’ll want to save 6-9 months of basic living expenses in an emergency fund. Personal financial analysis will show you how much money is needed per month to cover basic living expenses.
Consider having an emergency with an alternate financial institution or an online bank. In the event, your primary bank is inaccessible for a couple of days, you’ll still have access to money within a few days. Learn more about having an emergency savings strategy.
Access to cash
The chances of having no power or limited cell phone use is a reality after a natural disaster. So having a small amount of cash in the house is advisable. Anywhere from $200-400 in small bills locked away for moments when you cannot access an ATM or when technology fails.
It sounds old school to have cash in the house but time and time again there have been moments I wish I had cash with me. For instance, the time before the hurricane at the gas station with nonworking credit and debit card readers.
Access to credit
Some disagree with my stance on credit. But credit is a tool and can help you in times of need. Whether your stocking essentials in preparation or dealing with the aftermath, you’ll have a way to pay for things. Ideally, you’ll have an emergency fund or money in your checking account, but that’s not the reality for many. Access to credit can help you when your paycheck doesn’t hit your account on time or when the disaster happens before payday.
Additionally, in cases where you can’t access cash from an ATM, your debit card just stops working, or it’s taking a few days to transfer money from your online savings account into your checking, a credit card can be very helpful.
So if you need a reason to have a credit card or line of credit, think of it as your emergency credit lifeline. Contact your bank or search our financial marketplace for options.
List of financial accounts and contacts
Chances are you have financial relationships with multiple companies. Do you keep track of them in your head? Can a trusted person help you sort through your accounts if you’re impaired? Having your financial accounts and advisor contacts listed on one form can simplify your life after a disaster. You’ll know exactly whom to contact to file insurance claims, warranties or cash out investments.
Create your list of all your financial accounts and contacts and store them in a safe place.
Protect your important documents
Where are all your important documents? Are they in one centralized location? Could they survive a fire or flood? You can consider having an in-home safe to store the most important documents like passports, birth certificates, insurance policies, warranties, deeds, and financial account information.
And you can also open a safe deposit box with a local financial institution. This could increase the likelihood they’ll remain safe. Bank vaults are made to be impenetrable and indestructible. Keep the originals in your safe deposit box and have copies with you at home.
Enroll and access accounts online and mobile
During natural disasters, customer support may be inundated with calls. It may be difficult for you to reach a customer service rep. Enroll to access financial accounts online and on mobile apps. Doing so can mean reducing the need to go into a physical bank location or speak to representatives to perform account maintenance, transfers, payments, and requests.
Automate your finances
During or after a natural disaster, you’ll benefit from having most of your finances automated. In general, this is a practice I recommend everyone do. It simplifies your life and in times of emergencies can help you focus on what’s immediately important. This includes choosing a paycheck direct deposit for immediate availability and automating bill payments. It’ll save you the headache of trying to get internet access or a good signal after a disaster.
In fact, the last thing you’ll think about is paying your mortgage, utilities, credit cards or insurance premiums. And the reality is that bills still need to get paid. By having payments automated, you’ll save time and energy while lessening the frustration from explaining why you need fees refunded, penalty rates rolled back or charges returned.
Forgetting to add beneficiaries on financial accounts happens quite often. It’s imperative that you add beneficiaries. We may not want to think about our demise but during a natural disaster or health pandemic, it can happen. Being prepared will help your loved ones navigate a financial system more easily.
When you listed all your financial accounts, ask the providers if you can add beneficiaries to your accounts. Typically, you can add a beneficiary to checking and savings accounts, certificates, money market savings, insurance plans, deeds, brokerage accounts, retirement accounts and more.
Don’t forget to add beneficiaries with any employer benefits you have. Most employees forget to designate a beneficiary on their company group life insurance or 401k plan.
Draft legal documents
Power of Attorney – consider having a Power of Attorney document with a trusted person that can take over your finances in the event you’re incapacitated after a natural disaster or health emergency. Speak with an attorney to draft the correct POA and answer questions on your rights and its limitations.
Healthcare Directive – a legal form that describes the kind of medical care you want to be performed in the event you’re badly injured and unable to speak for yourself. It guides your loved ones and doctor about your wishes in life or death situations. There are two types of directives to consider: a living will and a medical power of attorney.
- A living will tells your family and doctor what kinds of treatments you want to receive when you can no longer speak for yourself.
- With a medical power of attorney, it assigns a person to make treatment decisions for you when you can’t speak for yourself.
- In the event, you can still make decisions for yourself, a living will or medical POA will not be in effect.
Wills and Trusts – it’s wise to consider what might happen to you during a natural disaster or health pandemic. It may feel morbid but it’s part of being financially prepared. With a will, you dictate who receives your property upon death and appoints a legal rep to carry out your wishes. A revocable living trust, on the other hand, can prepare your estate in the event you become mentally incapacitated, not just upon death.
Again, speak with an attorney to help guide you on this legal process.
It’s easy to think our homeowner’s insurance will cover everything or auto insurance will cover the cost of a new car after a tree falls on top of it. That may not be the case so you want to understand your insurance policies. We often misremember what our policies cover so it’s wise to review your policies and outline the basic coverages. This can help you determine what additional insurances you’ll need.
I suggest you write down all your insurance policies from home, auto, life, and work-related insurance such as group-term life and disability insurance. Read your policies and highlight what’s covered and if you have any questions contact your insurance agent or human resource rep. In the event you see a gap, look at additional insurance to supplement what you currently have. Remember, when it comes to insurance, you don’t need the largest plan just the right coverage.
We don’t think about these situations because they are rare occurrences. But part of your financial wellness journey is to be financially prepared for unexpected disasters and emergencies. Having a plan can help alleviate stressful situations. So take the time to prepare when the sun is shining, not when the storm is approaching.