3 Financial Lessons I Learned From Surviving a Hurricane – Forbes Advisor

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Growing up in New Orleans, I got used to evacuation trips after hurricanes. In elementary school, I can remember countless times being evacuated from a hurricane for a few days before returning to our homes safe and sound.

Hence, as a young adult and new homeowner, I felt prepared for a typical evacuation trip before Hurricane Katrina landed in 2005. I packed a few things, cleaned my house, and packed clothes for three days on the way east to Atlanta.

When my family and I drove through bumper-to-bumper traffic while others tried to escape the wrath of Katrina, a drive that typically lasted about seven hours took over 16 hours. When we got to Atlanta, we knew that this time would not be a regular evacuation trip, and we would be away from home for some time.

My family and I have our eyes fixed on the news to determine the fate of our city. We saw the winds, floods and damage to our homes on live television.

Shortly after my stay in Atlanta, I realized that I had lost my home, my car, and all of my personal belongings in Hurricane Katrina. I quickly realized that my life wasn’t going to be the same anymore.

I can say without a doubt that this was one of those life changing moments that I didn’t wish for anyone, it also taught me to prepare for Hurricane Ida and any other storm that might come my way.

Here are a few financial lessons I learned from surviving a hurricane (or two).

Pay yourself first

I often like to say that no one makes your money better than you. This is why you should pay yourself first. Why? Because it doesn’t matter whether an emergency can occur, but when. You have to set aside some money for emergencies.

Like any emergency, an unplanned evacuation trip is expensive. Personal expenses can pile up from accommodation to meals, travel expenses and other personal expenses. During my last hurricane Ida evacuation trip, I spent a fair bit of money on expenses in just a week.

And while in most cases your insurance company will cover your additional living expenses, it can take time to get your money. Many insurance companies may require you to pay out of pocket and request a refund later.

A survey conducted by YouGov for Forbes Advisor found that 60% of Americans hadn’t saved money on emergencies before the pandemic. While saving can be a challenge, if you are able to put money aside, this is what you should do.

If you’re having trouble saving for an emergency, consider automatically saving a small amount from each paycheck. When you put your savings on autopilot, you can increase your emergency fund with little to no effort on your part.

Read more: How to Prepare for the Next Hurricane

Have the “financial talk” with family and friends

After Hurricane Katrina, my father suffered a severe stroke. He stayed in the hospital with limited mobility and speech for more than 30 days. It was a time when my family and I were still being driven from home. But I also had to take on his financial obligations.

There was one problem, however: I had no idea where to start.

Since my father lived independently, there was never any need to discuss his financial activities. While I knew about my father’s will, his life insurance, and some of his final wishes, I had no idea about his daily finances, such as his current mortgage, bills, and active health insurance policies.

So there I was in the hospital and asked some of the following questions:

  • Dad, who’s holding your mortgage?
  • What bills have to be paid this month?
  • What is the name of your insurance company?

And while I was able to get the information I needed to meet my hospital financial obligations, I realized the importance of having that information in advance of an emergency. It is crucial for family members to make time for financial conversation, especially for those who live independently.

Read more: How To Prepare Your Personal Finances For A Hurricane

Create a “grab and go” financial system

The most valuable financial lesson I learned is that you have your financial documents in order and close at hand.

After Hurricane Katrina, I created a financial disaster checklist that includes important passwords, financial accounts, and insurance numbers for evacuation. My grab and go financial system includes copies of insurance statement pages and policies, my will, birth certificate, title, deeds, and other relevant documents.

When I was evacuated because of Hurricane Ida, it was relatively easy to file an insurance claim and get all the resources I needed.

Here is a list of items to have on hand long before the disaster struck:

  • Birth certificates
  • Passports
  • Social security, driver’s license and other IDs
  • Debit and credit cards
  • Vaccination protocols
  • Degrees, certificates and résumés
  • Tax documents
  • Title and certificates
  • Insurance policies and photos of personal property
  • Wills, powers of attorney

Read more: Taxpayers affected by Hurricane Ida are automatically relieved

More importantly, assess your financial situation and determine what is best for you and your family. I’ve learned that keeping your finances in order, saving as much as possible, and having a chat with family members are just a few practical ways to help you navigate a storm.

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