Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Avoiding Budget Busters During a Crisis

No matter how diligent you are in searching for deals and saving money during ordinary times, once a family crisis strikes, all thoughts of frugality go right out the window.

Just this past weekend, I made a spur-of-the-moment trip out of state to gather with family for our father’s heart surgery. With only a few days advanced notice, I quickly packed up the essentials and headed for the interstate without even knowing for certain how long I would be gone. Fortunately, by giving some forethought to the likely expenses to be incurred during the trip, I was able to pack wisely and avoid busting the budget.

Here are some tips to help keep your expenses on-track during a crisis:

Use Gift Cards: Remember those gift cards collecting dust in the back of your kitchen drawers? Often, we forget to use these because we either don’t keep them handy or the stores are not conveniently located in our hometown.

On my road trip this weekend, I used up both of my $75 Shell gas cards, which covered the gas for the entire trip. I hadn’t used them yet in my hometown because there isn’t a Shell gas station anywhere along my normal routes, but I knew that the interstate would be dotted with them.

Use Catalinas: When heading out of town unexpectedly, make sure to take a quick inventory of any unused Catalinas and their expiration dates. I used $11 in grocery store Catalinas to stock up on nutritious granola bars and fruit to pack in the car for the trip. These would have expired while I was gone, and I would have been out $11. By using them up in advance, I prevented them from expiring, and saved additional money on costly, unhealthy fast food stops along the way.

If you have Catalinas for stores that are located near your destination, take them along to offset unexpected expenses during your stay. Catalinas from Walgreens and CVS work great for picking up necessities while away from home.

Choose Your Hotel Wisely: If time allows, do a bit of research beforehand, and select a hotel with good reviews, nice amenities, and reasonable rates. During a stressful event, it may be worth a few extra dollars to stay in a hotel with positive reviews and creature comforts. Amenities such as free breakfast and free wireless internet access are great ways to save money. Also, if you are visiting a loved one in the hospital, ask whether the hotel has a discounted rate for families of hospital patients. We saved almost half off the lowest published room rate by asking for the special rate.

Tap Your Emergency Fund: Finally, in times of crisis, it’s important to have an emergency fund to fall back on, when needed. An emergency fund protects you when the inevitable happens, and it’s Baby Step #1 in Dave Ramsey’s Seven Baby Steps to Financial Peace.

In addition to the family crisis stress, my car was damaged while parked in the hotel parking lot. With little hope of finding the offender, it’s likely I will have to cough up the $500 deductible to get my car fixed. If we didn’t have the extra money available in savings to cover the unexpected expense, our emergency fund could serve as a backup resource to cover the expense, and would help mitigate additional stress at an already difficult time.

What things have you done to protect your budget during times of crisis or an unexpected trip?

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Wherever you are at during your emergency, continue to think frugally. Don't just give up and go out to eat anywhere. Continue to think smart while on the road and you will save money even when you are being forced to spend money that you hadn't planned on.

I hope your dad is OK.