Playing the “What If?” Game

The “what if?” game is a scary game to play, but it’s an important one.

What if I lose my job?

What if I get seriously ill?

What if I pass away suddenly?

What if one of my children has a condition that requires constant care?

What if my spouse suddenly passes away?

There was a time not too long ago in my life where I dreaded the “what if?” game. I basically avoided thinking about these types of questions, choosing instead to believe that my life was completely safe and nothing like that would ever happen.

I used to think that even if something like that did happen, well, I’d figure it out when it happened. I’d cross that bridge when I got there. Everything would turn out okay.

Well, everything doesn’t turn out okay. I’ve watched loved ones slip away because of inadequate health care, simply because they couldn’t afford what they needed. I’ve watched a single parent struggle mightily after their spouse died in a car accident. I’ve watched a person’s life fall apart as they battled an illness that doctors claimed was just in their head yet rendered that formerly vibrant person incapable of getting out of bed.

Simply put, the “what if?” game is a vital one, particularly if you have anyone who is dependent on you. It’s incredibly scary to think about, especially when you don’t have answers to the questions.

When I first started playing the “what if?” game, I didn’t have answers to the questions, either. I didn’t have any sort of plan for any of these questions.

Slowly, over time, I began to answer those questions, and I began to feel a lot better about my life. I didn’t avoid the scary thoughts and, while they were unpleasant, they didn’t fill me with panic or dread any more.

What kind of answers did I find?

Term life insurance I have a very healthy term life insurance policy now. My wife has a pretty significant one, too. If either one of us died, it would not signal a financial meltdown for our family. We would continue to get along for years without a significant change in our lifestyle. There’s also money for any needed therapy that might follow such an incident.

A healthy emergency fund We have enough cash in the bank that we could live at our current standard of living for fifteen months without any additional income. This would get us through job losses, through an awful lot of unexpected illnesses, and through many other unplanned but problematic situations.

Mementos This seems like a strange thing to add here, but if you think about all of the things you’d like your loved ones to remember you with, it becomes important. The key to this, for me, is a journal I’ve written for each of my children detailing things I’d like them to know when they’re adults. I intend to give these to them as adults, but if that doesn’t work out, I’m sure they’ll receive them anyway.

The one area that I’ve not covered yet that I intend to cover soon is long term care and disability insurance. This, of course, covers a situation in which one of us requires long term care beyond what our health insurance will provide.

Obviously, no one can answer every question. What each of us can do, though, is to answer as many of them as possible, starting with the ones that are most likely and most devastating. Start with term life insurance and an emergency fund.

The “what if?” question is a powerful litmus test for your personal finances and choices. If you can’t face those questions, you might want to start re-examining the financial choices you’re making.

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