Dollars and Sense When Life Hits You Hard

Temporary like sadness by Dominic on Flickr!Not too long ago, a friend of mine lost one of his parents very suddenly. It just came out of nowhere and it felt like a punch in the gut to him. He spent a few weeks almost in a daze, lamenting the loss of his father, who he was very close to, and when he finally came out of that daze, he discovered a few things. He’d racked up quite a bit of credit card debt. He was deeply behind on his work. He had let some important personal things slide. In short, he now had some serious catching up to do in his day to day life.

The closest experience I had to this was during the first week of January 1996, when over a three day period the son of a family friend killed himself, an uncle I was very close to passed away from cancer, and a cousin of mine that I had practically grown up with hung himself. I don’t remember much of that period – it was kind of a haze – but I do remember going back to school and just withdrawing from things for a week or two.

Thankfully, my life was easy in those days. I went to school. I participated in some extracurricular activities. I went home. That was pretty much the cycle of my life, so there wasn’t anything too bad going on if I didn’t quite live up to my responsibilities.

Now, as an adult, things are much different. If something devastating hit my life, I’d have to rebound quickly for the sake of my family – and for the sake of my career. Plus, when those extra expenses that happen during a personal crisis hit, I’d be much happier in the long run if they didn’t have to go onto plastic.

Here are some basic steps you can follow to keep yourself always ready for the unexpected but inevitable bad hands that life deals to us.

Keep an emergency fund.
More than anything else, an emergency fund can help you through tough times in the future. Keep a savings or a checking account somewhere stocked with a few months’ worth of living expenses, and keep a little bit of cash at hand for more specific emergencies.

Having easy access to cash without putting yourself in debt means that you don’t have to worry about the bills later on from the actions you need to take right now. You’ve got the cash to handle most issues, like sudden travel, meal expenses, and other short-term costs that are often related to sudden emergencies.

I usually recommend keeping some cash nearby, too, in an intelligent hiding place in your home. I have $300 in $20 bills hidden in my home, waiting for the right opportunity to be used. When I need it, I can just grab it and go.

Keep a “work buffer.”
Keeping a “work buffer” can be vitally important for enabling you to deal with day to day life. It allows you to walk away from your work for a short while with minimal stress, and the less stress you have during an already-stressful situation, the less likely you are to spend money needlessly and make rash decisions. Here are some great methods of giving yourself a work buffer.

Get ahead – and stay ahead – on basic work tasks. For me, this takes the form of having several days’ worth of articles written in advance, so if the vagaries of day to day life catch me off guard, I can just walk away and know that the basics of my job are taken care of.

Have a well-trained backup. Make sure that there’s a person who can handle the mission-critical aspects of your job, or at least knows how to assemble the pieces so that these tasks get done.

Prepare solid documentation of your daily routine. This way, a person can fill your shoes with minimal training in a pinch, making it possible for you to back away with minimal stress at important moments.

Have a list of key contacts ready to go.
If you’re suddenly pulled away because of a personal emergency, there are likely several people you’ll need to contact to make them aware of the situation. Have these people already entered in your cell phone and listed somewhere where you can easily find them.

Contacting all the right people when an emergency happens can be the difference between an easy exit from your responsibilities and a disastrous one. Make sure you’ve covered your job responsibilities thoroughly, as well as the most challenging of your personal responsibilities.

Don’t run yourself out of leave at work.
Many people have a tendency to use their work leave as soon as they get it and fail to accumulate a buffer of leave for later on in the year, then when an emergency strikes, they’ve got to juggle a lot of things in their life and likely alienate their boss in order to be able to handle life’s emergencies.

A better tactic is to hold on to at least a week of your leave and use it only when you have to use it. This way, if a personal crisis strikes, you can quickly tap into that leave and utilize it for something truly important. Coupled with a strong work buffer, adequate spare leave can often make a quick job sabbatical go by with nary a worry.

Develop a strong social and professional network.
If you invest time and energy into consistently helping out others without anything in return, most of those people will be there for you when you really need it. Don’t hesitate to help out people when they ask and never ask for a thing in return unless you truly have a need.

Then, when you’re in a situation where you need help, these people will almost always step forward and give you the help you need, stepping up to the plate for you in pinches and taking some of the workload off your backs. They may also be a personal help, lending you emotional support or other specific things that you may need.

The time spent building up relationships with others pays dividends when you’re in a pinch, so spend some time now building up those relationships before you ever have to call things in.

Keep your master information document (and related documents) up to date – and help others prepare theirs.
There may even be some situations where you have to delve into your own personal finances or into the personal finances of others. For example, if you’re facing a major liability situation, you’ve been critically injured yourself, or a close family member is critically injured or has passed on, it may be important to know what wishes are in place and how people want their assets to be handled.

You can make this easier right now by preparing your own master information document which contains all of this information about you, so if someone needs to access it to help you out in a major emergency, you’re ready to go. Similarly, you should encourage the people you’re closest to to prepare similar documents – your parents, your spouse, your children, and perhaps your siblings or closest friends – so that you can step up to the plate for them in a pinch without having to waste a lot of time or use an attorney and incur a bunch of unnecessary fees.

A little preparation now can make a huge difference when you need it later on. Take some time to get a few things in order and when something disastrous happens, you can focus on the things that are really important and not worry so much about your personal, professional, and financial obligations.

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