A Harrowing Escape Inspires The Personal Finance Community – Beyond The Emergency Fund

Hi all! Today I had originally planned to publish a post all about the new Nobel Prize winner in economic theory, and how he showed that behavioral economics was predictably irrational. But that all changed on Saturday when I read the post from my fellow personal finance blogger, Dad, Dollars, Debts, about the tragic loss of his home in the California wildfires.

You’ve probably seen the news about the terrible wildfires going on over in CA. Well DDD and his family moved from New Orleans to California back in June 2016-only a little more than a year ago. Unfortunately, last Tuesday he lost his home in the Tubbs fire. He was awakened suddenly by a knock on the door at 2 AM and had only minutes to evacuate with his wife and son. You can read the entire harrowing escape here.  Their home and everything in it was totally destroyed.

Like many people, when faced with a tragedy, I want to help. But I was struggling to think how I could help DDD? He doesn’t need financial help – he and his family have plenty of money and proper insurance. I live halfway across the country in CT, so it’s not like I can invite them over, or bring them dinner. I did let him know that I was thinking about him & his family and how sorry I was for the loss of his home, but I wanted to do something more. So I came up with an idea.

Emergency Preparation – It’s Not All About The Money

There have been a few “personal finance blog chains” the last few months, where folks coordinate with one another and write on a subject. It shows various perspectives on a single issue or topic, and it’s a way to bring a particular subject to a very broad and diverse readership. After all, our various website have some overlap in audience but ultimately we all reach different people. Why not use this concept to spread the word on real emergency preparation? So after reading his story I decided to start a blog chain in his honor, so we can all help spread the message of the importance of preparing for emergencies. 


Before long, others were chiming in to lend their support. Already, in under two days, five bloggers have published posts on emergency preparation in honor of DDD. And there are more coming. You can find them all at the bottom of this article. The personal finance community really is a tight knit one, and we’re all here to support and help each other. Since we’re a virtual rather than a physical community, the best way we can help is to focus on making sure our families and ourselves are prepared, and then by helping to spread the word to impact the lives of others.

Too often, when the financial media or personal finance bloggers discuss emergencies, they focus solely on job loss. Well, job loss is but unfortunately one of a variety of different disasters or crises you may undergo in your life. You could be like my family, and be faced with a medical crisis. Maybe it’s not a fire, but perhaps it’s a hurricane, a tornado, an earthquake, a flood, or a huge snowstorm that knocks out power to your state/brings down trees everywhere (like the one we had in CT a few years ago). Honestly there are a lot of different things that can happen, and although we can never be truly prepared, we can do what we can in advance.

How Can You Prepare?

DDD included some great tips in his article (which you need to read now if you haven’t already) on preparing for an emergency, so I won’t rehash those here. There are a few more things that I would add to his list:

  • Check and understand your insurance: Understand what is and is not covered and how it’s defined. For example, flooding is never covered by your homeowners insurance-you’ll need a separate flood policy for that. In some states, things like hurricanes or earthquakes will trigger a special clause in your policy that means you need to pay more than you would normally for another claim. Things like jewelry, art, collectibles, and other things are only covered at very low amounts and need to be scheduled in order to be fully covered. Be sure to read through your “excluded perils” and understand what they are. Might you need sewer back-up and sump pump coverage? If you own a condo, are you crystal clear on exactly what the condo association master policy will cover and what it won’t? If you rent, make sure you have renters insurance to cover your belongings. And if you have flood insurance, make sure you are very familiar with all the many, many limitations.  Learn more about insurance here.
  • Consider a safe deposit box: DDD talked about a fireproof safe, which is a great idea, but you might also want to think about using a safety deposit box at the bank. They are essentially disaster proof, and have the bonus of keeping things offsite away from your home in the event of a disaster. You can, for example, store a thumb drive of important documents/photos that you don’t want to upload into the cloud
  • Do a disaster dry run: I talked about this a bit in my emergency plan article, but I’ll do it again. If you haven’t done this before, I’m serious that it’s something I want you to commit to doing.
    • Set aside some time on your calendar in the next two weeks to come up with your plan.
    • Use this time to think about and research how you can prepare for different kinds of disasters – fires, job loss, medical crisis, hurricanes, etc.
    • Ask yourself for each one – What can you do to prepare? What should you have on-hand in the house? What should you have as a quick “leave now” list in case of sudden evacuation? Are there documents or photos that you would be unable to replace, and you should store them in the cloud or in a fire-proof safe? Do you have all the right insurance in place to deal with the disaster, like life insurance and disability? Do you need to research what your homeowners insurance covers? Do you have a first aid kit in your house?
    • Based on your assessment, develop your personal disaster preparedness list. Commit to closing any gaps you’ve found in your emergency preparations over the next few weeks or months.
    • Revisit the plan every year so you can make sure you stay up to date.
This is our first aid kit. My older sons are both boy scouts, so the motto in our house is “be prepared”. This kit is from the 1980’s, originally belonged to my grandparents, and is hanging on the wall of our kitchen

Sometimes It Is About The Money

When disaster strikes, the last thing you want to have to worry about is money. I talked about this in my article about my husbands illness, but the fact that we had an emergency fund and health insurance is what made the difference. It meant that in the midst of the crisis, and the months (ok, years) spent recovering were focused solely on the physical issues and not stressing about money.

So as part of your emergency planning, make sure you have the right protections and insurance in place. Are you carrying disability insurance, in case you’re disabled in a crisis? Do you have life insurance to protect your family if you were to pass away? Do you have home insurance, and flood insurance if needed?

And of course, do you have that 3-6 month emergency fund? Remember that it’s not just for job losses, but also to cover things like large deductibles, out of pocket costs not covered by insurance, and helping you get through other unforeseen disasters. If you don’t have your emergency fund yet, or if you have one but it’s a bit lighter than it should be, be sure to use this as a reminder to go ahead and beef that up.

Sorry To Say – It Can Happen To You

These are the kinds of events we think only happen to “other” people – people we read about in the newspaper or in books. It’s so sad, but it could never happen to us because (reasons). We like to pretend that bad things only happen to those “other” people who deserve it in some way, shape, or form.

But sometimes bad things happen to people through no fault of their own. It’s sad but true. Those of us who have been through bad things, or know people who have gone through bad things, know this to be true. Natural disasters are random – they’re called “acts of God” for a reason. People get sick. People die. Bad things happen, and many times it’s out of our control.

The only thing we can do is prepare for what we can, and let go of the rest.

Don’t be kicking yourself in the future for not preparing now.

Are you committing to visiting your emergency and crisis plan in the next two weeks? Is yours already pretty solid and you just need some tweaks around the edges, or are you starting from scratch? What’s your evacuation strategy? Let me know in the comments.

Here are all the bloggers participating so far – be sure to check back here often for others joining in.

Be sure to follow my blog for more great posts via e-mail or WordPress, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter and say hello! You can also check out what I’m buying or baking on Instagram,  what I’m pinning on Pinterest, or the latest books I’m reading (or want to read) over on Goodreads.

13 thoughts on “A Harrowing Escape Inspires The Personal Finance Community – Beyond The Emergency Fund”

  1. In 2013 there was a fire in my apartment building, while I was at work. They didn’t contact the residents until the fire department had things under control. I only had water damage, and thanks to their recovery company putting plastic over things, a lot of my stuff came through just fine.
    Some of the ideas I’ve seen are in the line of ‘what would you grab as you exit?’ Be mindful of: What is your plan if you aren’t at home?
    I now have a fireproof safe for important documents. That first night I went to target and bought clothes for the next few days, pj’s , etc. Having enough money, or space on your credit card to not worry if you have to buy a new small wardrobe is important. Because I wore my glasses to work, but had contacts with me to go to yoga, I didn’t have to worry about that. I also had medicine in my purse so that took another worry off the list. I use cvs because as a national chain they can call your ‘home’ store and have the prescription transferred. I know my dad and step mom prefer their local pharmacy, but they don’t travel far often. I live far from them (4 hours & visit ~1x every month or two), & my mom spends the winters in Florida and I visit once a year. Do you know the name of your medicine if you had to request it?
    All of the pets were recovered safely in my story. One cat was found later, because firemen breaking in scared it to hide. Are your pets microchipped if they escape on their own so you can reconnect with them at the shelter? Is your contact info with the vet up to date? Cell phone vs land line? Have an out of town relative to serve as an emergency back up if you can’t be reached?

    1. These are some great tips Jacq. It’s so important to think about the scenario when you’re not home-how will you ensure the safety of your things? And I’m glad to hear you and your animals got out safely. Fire is so destructive so quickly.

      1. I agree!
        It also happened before kids came home from school. Parents/ care givers were able to meet the buses. Having a designated meeting spot if you can’t all get home is another planning tip.
        The apartment complex put us up in an extended stay for 3 nights, and then my insurance took over. Having an idea of where your local hotels are and which you’d consider staying in is another idea if you don’t have local family, or friends are also affected.

        About things being ‘safe’, that apt building was constructed before mandatory sprinklers were required. Because the fire wasn’t -in- my unit, sprinklers would have done more damage, than water seeping through from the roof/ upper floors.

  2. I was so, so sad to hear about the DDD tragedy. 🙁 Disasters like these can happen anywhere. I remember our city was in an all-out panic right before Hurricane Harvey because it was supposed to flood us in two feet of water (Houston got the brunt instead). But it just goes to show how little we really are prepared for an emergency–and that’s just having basics like food and water and maybe energy.

    It was a sobering moment to realize we were not prepared at all.

    1. It’s one of those things that most people don’t think about until they or a close friend/relative face a crisis. Just like you don’t usually consider what your insurance covers until you have a loss. This is a wake up call for all of us to take a closer look and shore up our preparations.

  3. Thanks for starting this chain. I am finally getting around to reading them. It has been a week and today I will be going back to work for a few hours (the clinics reopened) and moving into our 2br 1 ba apartment. Talk soon and thanks again.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to stop by, DDD, I’m sure life must be pretty crazy for you right now. I’m hopeful that we can reach a lot of different people with this message & they’ll use this as a reminder to stop and check their disaster preparations. Heck I just bought an external hard drive on Amazon and am planning to put my photos on it and put it in the safe deposit box, specifically because of this. It’s one of those things that’s been on my “want to do” list for a while.

  4. After that god-foresaken October snowstorm I got an alcohol burner so at the very least we could heat water for pasta and coffee. I’ve been wanting a wood-burning inset for our fireplace ever since–we had to leave and hole up with friends for the nine days the power was out here (our lines were torn off the house–our neighbors were back on in three days, but we were not).

    1. Our power line was on fire (literal fire) for two days afterwards! We burned wood in the fireplace to stay warm. Luckily we camp, so we have a propane stove. But we also have a well, so no power for a week meant no water either. I reaaaaly hope that never happens again! And then of course we had the blizzard the same year. Ugh.

      1. Good lord. We have had abundant firewood for our fireplace since that storm–but not then! We lost parts of five trees. I grew up with a well–I know what you mean, and I don’t miss that problem at all. “Storm’s coming–fill the tub!”

  5. We can take it for granted sometimes that a disaster like what DDD went through with the wildfire can happen to us. And unfortunately the results can be devastating. The best that we can do is prepare for it. Hopefully with this chain of posts, it will spread awareness of more people to know that preparing any type of disaster is the great way to get ready for it.

    1. That’s exactly what I’m hoping for Kris-to help use the power of our community to spread the word. If we can help even a few people be better prepared for a disaster then we’ll have made a real difference.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.