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3 Financial Lessons I Learned From Surviving A Hurricane - Forbes

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Growing up in New Orleans, I grew accustomed to hurricane evacuation trips. While in grade school, I can recall countless times we evacuated for a hurricane for a few days before returning to our homes safe and sound.

Therefore as a young adult and a new homeowner, I felt prepared for a typical evacuation trip before Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in 2005. I grabbed a few items, cleaned my home, and packed three days’ worth of clothing to head east to Atlanta.

As my family and I traveled through bumper to bumper traffic as others attempted to escape the wrath of Katrina, a trip that would typically take about seven hours took more than 16. As we arrived in Atlanta, we knew this time would not be a regular evacuation trip, and we would be away from home for quite some time.

My family and I glued our eyes to the news to determine the fate of our city. We witnessed on live TV the winds, flooding, and damage to our homes.

Not long into my stay in Atlanta, I realized I lost my home, car, and all of my personal belongings to Hurricane Katrina. I quickly realized my life would no longer be the same.

I can say without a doubt this was one of those life-changing moments I don’t wish on anyone, it also taught me how to prepare for Hurricane Ida and any other storm that may 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 no one deserves your money better than you do. For this reason, you should pay yourself first. Why? Because it is not a matter of if an emergency can happen, it is when. You have to put some money aside for an emergency.

Just like any emergency, an unplanned evacuation trip is costly. From lodging, to meals, travel expenses, and other personal costs, personal expenses can pile up. During my recent evacuation trip for Hurricane Ida, I spent a good bit of cash on expenses in just a week.

And while in most cases your insurance company may pay for your additional living expenses, getting your money may take some time. Many insurance companies may require you to pay out of pocket and seek reimbursement later.

A survey conducted by YouGov for Forbes Advisor found that prior to the pandemic, 60% of Americans did not have money saved for emergencies. And while saving may be challenging, if you are in a position to put money aside, do so.

If you have trouble saving for an emergency, consider saving a small amount from each paycheck automatically. Putting your savings on autopilot 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

During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, my father suffered a major stroke. He remained in the hospital for more than 30 days with limited mobility and speech. It was a time when my family and I were still displaced from our homes But I also needed to take care of his financial responsibilities.

However, there was one problem: I had no clue where to start.

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

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

  • Dad, who holds your mortgage?
  • What bills require payment this month?
  • What is the name of your insurance company?

And while I was able to obtain the information required to assist with his financial obligations in the hospital, I realized the importance of getting this information before an emergency. Making time to have financial discussions is crucial for family members, 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 to have your financial documents in order and ready to grab and go.

After Hurricane Katrina, I created a financial disaster checklist including important passwords, financial accounts, and insurance policy numbers needed for evacuation. My “grab and go” financial system includes copies of insurance declaration pages and policies, my will, birth certificate, titles, deeds, and other pertinent documents.

As I evacuated for Hurricane Ida, having  information on hand made it relatively easy to file an insurance claim and obtain any needed resources.

Here is a listing of items you should have on hand long before disaster strikes:

  • Birth certificates
  • Passports
  • Social Security, driver’s license, and other identification cards
  • Debit and credit cards
  • Vaccination records
  • Degrees, transcripts, and resumes
  • Tax records
  • Titles and deeds
  • Insurance policies and photographs of personal property
  • Wills, power of attorney documents

Read more: Taxpayers Affected By Hurricane Ida Will Get Automatic Relief 

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