The National Emergency Personal Finance Checklist
Financial Checklist: National Emergency
Crisis comes without warning. There’s always time to prepare your finances. Here is a financial checklist article as well as a financial checklist workshop.
Your Personal Finance Checklist during National Emergencies
When national emergencies strike, whether in the form of unforeseen natural disasters or approaching pandemics, preparation is critical for weathering the storm, so to speak, and emerging on the other side in the best possible financial position. What should be on a Personal Finance Checklist for National Emergencies? A personal finance checklist ahead of and during national emergencies should include steps to take that protects your household finances, minimizes the emergency’s negative effects on your money, and provides guidance for you and your loved ones in both best-case and worst-case scenarios.
The National Emergency Personal Finance Checklist
Money and Accounts
Make a list of all financial accounts, including their type, location, account number, and approximate balance. Keep the list in a secure place (safe)
Set up savings accounts for specific purposes, from emergencies to vehicle repair/replacement, etc.
Have a reasonable amount of cash in your home in case of extended loss of electricity. Keep it in secure location.
Prioritize your spending for the duration of the emergency.
Consider taking on a side hustle when available.
Ensure scam and fraud awareness in your household.
Save a portion of EVERY source of income
Build a two- to three-week stockpile of food (most households already have much of this in their fridge and pantry) and important supplies
Avoid the hoarding and herding mentalities
Continue to pay down debts.
Contact creditors as soon as you foresee the possibility of missing future payments
Make a list of physical and mental health care providers (physician, counselor, veterinarian, pharmacy, etc.)
Make a list of immediate family members
Make a list of important contacts (daycare, school, employer, etc.)
Make a list of all insurance contacts (medical, dental, vision, life, vehicle, homeowner, renter, etc.)
Documents and Documentation
Do a photo or video inventory of each room in your home. Store online.
Prepare or update your will and store online or with your attorney.
Make a list of current prescriptions (who takes them, Rx number, pharmacy, strength, daily dosage, prescribing doctor).
Assemble and protect ownership and obligation documents, such as mortgages, deeds, titles, and lease agreements.
Managing Your Money before and during Emergencies
Having a list of your accounts at hand and online will help you in case of natural disasters or national emergencies requiring evacuations, quarantines, and other extreme protective measures. This list should include every financial account you have, by category, such as checking, savings, retirement (401K/403B, IRA), securities, bonds, credit cards, store cards, and loans (mortgage, vehicle, school, personal).
Keep a hard and/or virtual copy of your most recent statement from each account. Review the statement to ensure there are no fraudulent or mistaken charges.
As long as you have income, commit to saving some amount of it for future, even during national crises. The only time you should not feel compelled to save each month is when you are not receiving any income whatsoever. Even when unemployed and receiving weekly unemployment checks, you should continue to save some small amount, even if it is a few dollars, for potentially more severe future situations.
Next, set up a separate savings account for emergencies and for your short-term goals (vehicle repair/replacement, travel, gift giving) to avoid mixing the two and inadvertently spending your emergency funds. Name the accounts online to minimize mistakes.
Withdraw enough cash to have on hand to cover food, gasoline, and emergency supplies for two to three weeks in case a natural disaster knocks out power to your community (including ATMs). Keep it in a safe or a secure place in your home.
Prioritize your spending. Ahead of emergencies, spending may include a few nonessential discretionary purchases. However, immediately preceding and during emergencies, especially if they are expected to last more than a month or two, you should consider eliminating all trivial and unimportant expenses from household budget. Use this guide for prioritizing your expenses, and, when pressed, eliminate expenses starting with lowest priorities (4s), then moving up until, in the direst circumstances, you are only taking care of your survival expenses (1s).
Absolute physical survival needs Examples include as housing, food, protective clothing (warm coat/jacket, not a hazmat suit), some prescriptions, some savings for future survival needs, and familial obligations (child support and alimony)
Extremely important wants Examples include expenses whose absence would produce immediate or long-term discomfort or inconvenience, such as communications (phones, Internet), transportation (vehicle payment, gasoline, insurance), medical insurance, certain household supplies (cleaning and hygiene), and legal financial obligations
General wants Examples include conveniences such as cable or satellite TV, dining out, recreation, healthy-lifestyle equipment, and many subscription services
Trivial wants Examples include all purchases that would have minimal effect on your physical, mental or emotional well-being, including travel, gym membership (use in-home alternatives), gift giving, home improvements, updates to yard, car washing and detailing, etc.
Spending and Shopping
During times of crises, we can easily fall victim to two types of irrational spending behaviors: Hoarding and Herding. Both actions are motivated by fear, which tends to cloud judgement and reason.
What is Hoarding?
With emerging or prevalent emergencies, you will most certainly be tempted to stock up extraordinary amounts of supplies and food. While hoarding can be defined as accumulating a supply of provisions for the future, it also carries the suggestion that the hoarder is acting excessively and purchasing more than their fair share of provisions. Hoarders do not usually consider their own actions as hoarding, but if you witness someone taking a large portion of a certain product from the shelf, it can most certainly be considered hoarding. Most hoarding occurs at the onset of the emergency, when fear drives many poor decisions.
What is Herding?
Herding refers to actions humans take, usually under stress and fear, on the almost-exclusive justification that everyone else is doing it. When fear is present, it doesn’t take much to set off a herding stampede. Imagine being extremely worried about a pending or current emergency when you see someone emptying the shelf of some unrelated product. Your immediate thought leads you to assume that person knows something you don’t, and you had better jump in line so you don’t miss out. This is herding. Making purchases during crises, based on the fear of missing out, of products that are irrelevant or only tangentially related to the emergency.
The Answer to Hoarding and Herding
In the overwhelming majority of cases, you will not need more than two to three weeks’ worth of food and supplies to get through the emergency. In natural disasters, outside aid will become available within that period. During nationwide crises, most danger will have passed by then, or you will still be able to secure necessary items each week or two. Items to have such a supply of include:
Personal hygiene supplies
Enough safely-stored gasoline to get you to your nearest relative or friend in case of evacuation (usually 5- to 10-gallons)
When the emergency passes or the threat subsides, then is a good time to start building your supply slowly and steadily for future needs.
Debts during Emergencies
Making payments as agreed and when due will continue to be critical during times of crises and disasters. When the threat or danger is such that creditors feel collecting payments is an undue burden, you will be notified by the creditor. In the meantime, continue to make payments per your current agreement. Coming out of a crisis with more debt than when you went it may not be the end of the world, but it makes your financial recovery that much more difficult.
If you foresee trouble making a payment soon, contact your creditor and work in good faith to establish a hardship program that works for you and that is acceptable to your lender. Before making contact, make sure you understand your budget and you have a good idea of what you can and cannot afford to pay now and in the future.
If you struggle with your debts, reach out to a nationwide nonprofit credit counseling agency. Check with the Financial Counseling Association of America or the National Credit Counseling Foundation for services available online or by phone in your area.
Making a list of important contacts may not seem like it is related to your finances, but it can minimize financial stressors during the current or future emergencies.
Start with making a list of your immediate family members in case you become separated or you are unable to communicate with the authorities. Include your family members’ names, dates of birth, physical descriptions, addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers. Keep one copy of the list in a secure place in your home (such as a safe) and another copy on your phone. Include your spouse or partner, your children, siblings, and parents.
Make a list of your physicians, counselors and psychologists, pharmacists, physical therapists, dentists, and even your pet’s veterinarian. Include their name, address, phone number and email address. For physicians, include a brief description of his or her specialty (e.g. family medicine, gastroenterology, psychiatry, etc.)
Other Important Contacts
Additionally, you should have a list that includes the name and contact information of your employer and supervisor, your child’s daycare provider and school, and your financial advisors (planner, banker, and accountant). Finally, make a list of all your insurance policy contacts. Include the type of insurance (health, dental, vision, life, disability, etc.), the name of the insurance company, your insurance representative’s name and phone number, your policy numbers, and, in the case of life insurance, the names of your beneficiaries.
Documents and Documentation
Keeping important documents and documentation safe and handy is important in crises. Documents you should keep in a safe or in a secure location in your home include original or copies of identification (passports, social security cards, driver’s licenses, etc.), proofs of ownership (property deeds, vehicle titles, receipts for major purchases, etc.), and education and training records (diplomas and certificates). If you do not have a will or have not updated it in the past year or two, now is a better time than later to revisit everything from your financial assets to your plans for your dependents should anything happen to you.
Income Options during an Emergency
Without breaking local or federal laws, you can consider opportunities to earn income even during national emergencies. A neighbor’s dog may still need walking. Community children may still need a caregiver. Neighbors may even be willing to pay for help with extra yard work. This is not to say you shouldn’t pitch in and be neighborly without expectation of compensation. For most communities, emergencies tend to bring neighbors together. Still, many food delivery services may remain open, though not likely during and immediately following natural disasters.
Prepare Yourself and Your Loved Ones against Scams and Fraud
It is an unfortunate and disturbing fact that during times of disasters and crises, opportunists, profiteers, and, worst of all, fraudsters and scammers seem to crawl out of their holes to lay traps for unsuspecting consumers around the world. Make sure you are prepared to protect your cash and property, and that of your loved ones, by preventing, recognizing, and immediately ending encounters with such individuals intent on heaping additional financial harm on you and your household.
Preventing Fraud and Scams
Discuss the likelihood with your loved ones that you will see scams and frauds appear online, in your inbox, in your community and even at your doorstep. Prevention is always better than a cure, so be aware. Scammers know that consumers make terrible decisions during emergencies because they are driven by fear. Focus on minimizing your fear by being aware of facts from trustworthy sources rather than talking heads on the radio, TV and Facebook. If ever there were a time to give up political opinion and conspiracy-based talk shows, even temporarily, emergencies and crises would be it.
Recognizing Fraud and Scams
Among the top warning sings of a scam or fraud are the following:
Request for donation for relief in your email inbox or by phone. Whether the email looks like it comes from a reputable nonprofit or the caller ID lists a recognizable charity, NEVER give your account information or payment card information in response to such requests. ALWAYS go directly to the charity’s website or call them directly before donating.
Claims to have a stash of products in short supply. Whether online, via email, or by phone, anyone claiming to have a stash of highly in-demand supplies, from food to hygiene, will likely be either a scammer or, at the very least, a profiteer. Check with your local businesses or with your local authorities to confirm the authenticity of the offer.
Scammers and fraudsters prey on your fear. They will usually try to make you worry about missing out on an opportunity to care for yourself or your family.
NEVER give your social security number, date of birth, bank account information, or payment card number to someone who reaches out to you. ALWAYS reach back out to them through the company’s main website or phone number. Legitimate companies will always encourage you to be cautious against scams.
Government officials will not call you personally to arrange financial assistance. When government programs or relief agencies offer payments to affected citizens, expect scammers to call asking for your bank account so they can “deposit” the money directly. If you give them your information, the scammer will instead drain your money from your account.
No legitimate company or government agency will EVER ask you to pay them with gift cards or pre-paid debit cards.
Ending Encounters with Fraudsters and Scammers
If you are contacted by email by a scammer, do NOT click on the “unsubscribe” button. Instead, use your email service’s “Spam” button to identify and prevent delivery of emails from that scammer in the future. If you are contacted by phone by a fraudster, do NOT feel any pity or compassion for them when you hang up. Hang up immediately. Do not wait until their pitch is done. Do not wonder if it is legitimate. If you have to wonder, you can bet it is a scam. If someone comes to the door soliciting money, do not answer. Certainly, do not open the door. If you truly think the person is a scammer, consider calling your local law enforcement to file a report. You will probably not need to call 9-1-1 unless you feel the individual is a physical threat to you or to others. Instead, call the agency’s main number.
How much cash should you keep in your home in case of national emergencies or natural disasters? While $200 to $300 is often recommended, consider that amount a minimum. Keep in mind that during disasters that cause shortages of food and supplies, prices may naturally rise due to a decreased supply in the face of increased demand.
Should you keep your emergency cash in a bank or in cash at home? Keep the bulk of your emergency funds in a savings account or certificates of deposits through your financial institution. Having a reasonable amount of cash on hand in your home is advisable in case of electric outages in your area, meaning ATMs will not be functioning. Such outages are usually rectified within a few hours or days to, in extraordinary times, a few weeks. Plan your cash accordingly, and keep it in a safe or other secure place.
Written by Author and speaker Todd Christensen, AFC, MIM, MA, of Money Fit by DRS. Todd promotes individual financial responsibility and household financial stability in his writings and conference presentations. He has been interviewed by and featured on NBCNews.com, Fox Business News, Forbes, HuffPost, and Mint.com and many more quality news media organizations.