When you're in the path of a hurricane or some other severe weather event, there are certain steps most people know to take: Stock up on potable water, a good supply of nonperishable food, flashlights, spare batteries, and of course, back-up chargers for your smartphones.
What many don't think about are the steps they ought to take to protect their finances if a storm hits. To be clear, these are all things you should do after you've done everything possible to ensure the safety of you and your loved ones. No task suggested here should take priority over putting shutters or plywood over the windows, obeying an evacuation order, or taking other similar protective measures. Once those things are done, however, you can take some simple precautions to ensure you're in good shape to financially weather any problems that might be caused by a storm.
Get ready for a storm
Gather all your important documents and put them somewhere that's waterproof. Ideally, that would be a waterproof safe, but since most of us don't have those, a simple alternative would be to put those papers in waterproof plastic bags and store them on an upper floor of your home, or at least in a high cabinet.
You should also take digital pictures of those important documents, as well as other key items that could be lost if your home is compromised. That includes your driver's license, passport, insurance documents, bank account information, and even your will.
In addition, take a set of "before" pictures of your property. Those could be useful if you have to file an insurance claim, or even as a way to know if damage occurred.
Of course, a looming storm can also be a cue to review your insurance policy. Once a storm warning goes into effect, it's too late to adjust your coverage, but it's still smart to know what your policy covers (and what it doesn't).
It's also smart to make sure you have some extra cash on hand. Devastating weather can knock out stores' abilities to connect to payment networks for days -- and you don't want their inability to accept credit or debit cards to stop you from buying necessities in a storm's aftermath.
Four other things you should probably do if you have time before a storm hits:
- Pay your monthly bills or set them to autopay.
- Fully charge your smartphones. You should also charge you laptop computers -- you can usually use them to recharge your phone later, if need be.
- Let relatives who aren't in the storm's path know your plans (whether you plan to evacuate, where you might go, and any other contingencies).
- Upload copies of the images you took of your documents to a cloud storage site, so they don't exist solely on your devices. (Or, if you want to go old school, email them to yourself.)
Documents and property can be replaced. People can't be. So prioritize safety over everything else, and follow any instructions from your local government, even if that means you can't stay on-site to protect your stuff.
Finally, remember to keep being careful after a storm has passed. You might be tempted to rush out of the house after being cooped up during heavy weather, but it's best to give utilities and government agencies time to deal with debris and lingering hazards first. So before you head out, wait for an official "all clear."