Thoughts on Financial Emergencies


A recent report I read said that 47% of Middle-Class Americans couldn’t cover a $400 emergency without borrowing the money via credit cards, family loans, or other means.

An odd rush of emotions came through as I read Neil Gabler’s excellent article in the Atlantic on this topic. 

The Dread of a Money Emergency

The first thought that came to my mind was familiarity.

For a while, we had been doing quite well for ourselves, and life was good. Then, about 17 years ago, the bottom fell out of our lives financially. My husband’s pay dropped to 1/3 of what he had been earning as a tool and die skilled tradesman, and we had to figure out how to deal with it.

In fact, most of my books on frugal living came out of the season where we were suddenly earning way less than what we had been, and had to figure out how to make ends meet as best we could.

At some point, five years ago, we were in foreclosure in our house, and struggling to even find a cheap rental in a safe neighborhood to move to with our five teens and two dogs. Rentals it turned out were more expensive than the mortgage I couldn’t pay. Friends helped and God intervened, and a miracle happened. I’ve written about that in a different post.

Last year some time, my son and one of my daughters were in a terrible car accident that could have easily been fatal. One of the added frustrations (beyond just worrying about them) was the panic I felt about our car situation. The most reliable car was the one that was just pancaked in the car wreck….a car we just poured $1000 into in repairs the week before. Left to get us to and from both hospitals (one an hour away, the other 2 hours away). were two cars that we never trusted to go further than the local grocery store, not to mention all of the eating on the go that became our reality.  We had gotten really good at saving up for emergencies, but after taking care of a few other emergencies right before the accident, we were depleted. Ugh. Bad timing.

Thankfully that too was resolved with help from others and God’s grace, and we were able to find some reliable wheels. Thank God, given how often I have had to drive to the hospital two hours from home for all sorts of things while my son heals up, plus eating on the go during those long days.

Suffice it to say, I know what it’s like to live in dread of any emergency.

The Ironic Emergency Fund & Hoarding Money

The second thought emerged as I was mulling that over and reading through Mr. Gabler’s article.

While reading, our trusty mechanic called. My husband’s normally reliable car had just stopped on us on Saturday, so we dropped it off to him. The fuel pump had to be replaced. The bill? $400.

“Hold on a sec. I’ll be right up.” I took out the $400 without a second thought and paid the bill.

As I handed him the money I burst out laughing, as this is the target amount someone who makes significantly more than us can’t come up with in an emergency. I’m no longer in the class of people that wouldn’t be able to pay for a $400 emergency. Praise God.

The most amusing part to me? Our income still isn’t restored to what it once was. Technically we fluctuate at the border between lower middle class and poverty, given our family size.

A huge chunk of it is grace. We pray daily that God will allow us to save, and only live on what is absolutely necessary. But, through our hardships, we’ve become money hoarders in some ways. Not in an evil way, but so that we’ll be free to meet emergencies and also bless others.  Recently, while in the grocery store, I saw my husband pay for a single mom’s groceries when she didn’t have quite enough to meet her bill. Our family motto in this regard is to always freely help individuals if God enables us and sends the opportunity.

I find it ironic that we probably earn (as a combined household income) about 1/4 of what Mr. Gabler’s household earns, with more kids than they have, and yet….$400 car repair bill? Let me pull that out for you.

It feels much better inside of me than, “Oh no! What are we going to do! ARRRRRGH!” Been there, done that.

Fighting off the Creep of Lifestyle Inflation

An even bigger chunk, second only to God’s grace in our lives, is our prayer and goal to fight off the slow creep of lifestyle inflation.

What is lifestyle inflation?

Lifestyle inflation is what happens when you get a raise and automatically increase your spending, just because. It happens small and subtly.

Our income hasn’t gone up too much, but it has gone up somewhat in the last few years, and our expenses, of course, went down after we became debt free. 

After the car accident, we got into the bad habit of eating out more. Some of it was just because we were not home for a good portion of life for a while there, and some of it was because of all of the gift cards friends sent our way to help us out (at first, I was thinking, “What’s with the gift cards? I don’t eat out.”…but wow, what a blessing!).

Now that this season is over, we had to not fall for the convenience of grabbing a bite to eat whenever we feel like it. We had to get back to the habit of, “Eating out is for birthdays, anniversaries, and kids in the ICU.”

Even being debt free comes with its own temptations.

I get frequent phone calls (despite being on the do not call list, in fact) and mailers offering me easy credit to fix up my house. I have friends and family who have suggested or outright told us we should just get out a home equity loan and fix up the kitchen and other things.  Oh, yeah, because using our house as collateral worked out so well last time.

Instead of allowing the small increases from our incomes to just become an increase in spending, we’ve been putting that into the emergency and home repair fund. We are determined to buy an American Made furnace for our house by the end of the year, Lord willing, and we have a few other things we want to do. Therefore, we just pretend like that money doesn’t even exist. Sometimes life happens and we have to pull it out for a true emergency, but most of the time, we just let it accumulate for the big things we need.

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