If you're like the average modern household, you probably have a bunch of bank accounts, retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, insurance policies, credit cards, a dog, two hamsters, and some goldfish. That's a lot of stuff to keep track of, and that list doesn't even include the kids.
Our financial lives have become extremely complicated, too complicated to keep all the information in our brains. That's why, in the event of an emergency, you should have a packet of financial records prepared that you can grab on the go. It's not likely, but you never know when a flood, wildfire, or stampeding herd of wild buffalo will drive you from your home.
(You should also have your most important documents stored in a safe. Look back to the first article in this series for more details.)
When doing your preparations, make sure you put all this financial information on paper. I used to be quite smug about keeping all my important data organized in my PDA until, a few years ago, a hurricane knocked out our power for five days. You can guess what happened to the battery in my lifeless hunk of metal.
What kind of records am I talking about? Think about two things. First, if you had to live with a friend or a relative, or stay in a shelter, you could not just open your filing cabinet and get access to all of your account information. Likewise, anything stored on your computer would be useless to you. Second, imagine your paperwork and computer completely destroyed. You'd want to at least have your account numbers and passwords so you didn't have to reconstruct everything out from scratch.
That's enough time imagining disaster. Let's get around to what you can do to prepare.
First, you'll want some cash -- good old-fashioned greenbacks. If something happens to the power, and the network of ATMs and credit card scanners, you will need dollars and cents to buy gas or food. Have a few days' supply of money on hand, just in case. In addition, if you keep a separate emergency fund in a money market account, include the checkbook.
Second, you'll want to accumulate basic information for all your financial accounts -- checking, savings, retirement, brokerage, college savings, etc. One easy way to do that is just to make copies of a recent statement, which will include the account number. If you want to streamline your emergency pile, make a list instead. Write down your online passwords to each of these accounts. Do the same for each of your credit cards.
For insurance purposes, you'll want not only homeowners coverage information, but also an inventory of your possessions, records of home improvements, and appraisals of very valuable items like jewelry.
In addition, include:
- the key to your safe or your safe deposit box.
- a list of emergency contacts, including doctors, dentists, pediatricians, friends, and family.
- several recent federal and state tax returns.
- copies of important medical information, including your health insurance, immunization records, and prescription information.
- a recent pay stub.
Add to this list anything else you consider important to your financial life. You may want to include copies of all the documents you keep in your safe or safe deposit box. You can even put a big note on top of the pile reminding yourself to grab specific, special keepsakes -- if you can do so safely, of course.
You'll want to update all of these records at least once a year, or whenever anything major changes.
A secondary, if morbid, benefit to doing all this work means that your family will have in one place all of the information they need to handle your finances in case something happens to you.
This sounds like a major project and truthfully, though it isn't difficult, it could be time consuming. But don't let that stop you; just take on a little bit at a time. Anything you do to prepare will be a step in the right direction.
For related disaster-planning articles:
- Disaster-Proof Your Prized Possessions
- Financial Disaster Preparedness
- Your Own Personal Hurricane
- Dodge Disaster Part 1
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