The Time Our Emergency Fund – and Plan – Saved The Day8 min read

The Time Our Emergency Fund and Plan Saved The Day | Sometimes you might doubt whether having a three to six month emergency fund is really necessary.

Today, I have a special guest post that is near and dear to the heart. I met Liz from Chief Mom Officer over on the Rockstar Finance Forums and she reached out to me about wanting to share her story. I think you will really enjoy and relate to her story. Hopefully you will understand why we think emergency funds are important to your overall financial plan. Without further rambling, I'll let Liz take it away!

Sometimes you might doubt whether having a three to six month emergency fund is really necessary. After all, you're young, you're healthy, your job is pretty steady. Shouldn't you have that money invested instead of easily accessed? Why bother saving up three to six months expenses-isn't that overkill?

I'm here to tell you that an emergency fund can be what will save you when everything else in your life falls apart. By sharing my story, I hope to inspire others who are still working toward their emergency funds to keep going-it will be worth it in the end.

Surgery, Sepsis, and a real Emergency 

I've always kept something aside for emergencies, with the thought that it would be used in the event of a job loss. Four and a half years ago, when my husband almost died of sepsis, I got a unique perspective on the kind of comfort an emergency fund can give you in the worst of times.

My husband had walked into the hospital a healthy 36 year old man, for a surgery that was supposed to be straightforward. As the surgeon said "there's a 99% chance he'll be fine!" Unfortunately when there's a 99% chance things will be fine, there's a 1% chance they will not, and there are real people in that 1% chance. That time, it was us. Days after the original surgery, he was not doing well. They discovered an emergency situation that led to another Sunday night emergency surgery. Before I knew it, he was in the Intensive Care Unit, on a ventilator, in a medically induced coma. He would stay that way for a week-they told me he was in something called "septic shock".

The Time Our Emergency Fund And Plan Saved The Day | You might doubt whether having an emergency fund is really necessary. Emergency funds are important because you can't predict the unpredictable.

My husband with our then-four year old at the rehabilitation center

Now, septic shock is not something you should Google.

I speak from experience here, because when I did, the fatality figures were astounding. Septic shock has a mortality rate of 50%. Abdominal sepsis (which is what he had) has a mortality rate of 72%. Every day I walked into that hospital and sat by his side, listening to the ventilator breathe for him, and I wondered how I would tell our two young children (ages 8 and 4 at the time) that their father died. I was only 31 years old at the time, and never imagined that it was possible for someone my age to be in that situation.

Fortunately, he didn't die. He was able to get off the ventilator after a week, get out of the ICU onto the hospital floor, and into a rehabilitation center. After a month away, he was able to come home. He wasn't able to climb the stairs, so I brought our bed down with the help of my parents and we all slept in the living room. The kids set up their sleeping bags on the floor, because they didn't want to be away from their dad. Once he was home, there were many more months of physical and occupational therapy. There were medical appointments, visiting nurses, procedures, and another surgery. Recovery was a long, slow, arduous process. He recovered to a "new normal", not where he was before, but much improved.

The Time Our Emergency Fund And Plan Saved The Day | You might doubt whether having an emergency fund is really necessary. Emergency funds are important because you can't predict the unpredictable.

 

Financially, this could have been devastating.

His medical bills that year totaled almost $200,000 - after the insurance discount. He had been caring for our children during the day, and now suddenly I had to pay for daycare. He had lost his job in the Great Recession when his factory closed, and was receiving unemployment. Now that stopped because he was unable to work.

On top of medical expenses, there were numerous other expenses that we needed to cover (installing railings in the house, buying assisting tools to reach & grab things on the floor, new clothes, certain food, etc.). When you're sitting in the ICU, or dealing with some other emergency, the last thing you want to worry about is "how on earth am I going to pay for this".

How the Emergency Fund - And Emergency Plan - Saved Us

At the time, I had an emergency fund of about 4-5 months of expenses. Also, we had health insurance (never, ever, ever go without health insurance!). The emergency fund was enough to take care of all the big, one-time expenses. Things like our $7,000 out of pocket maximum on the insurance policy. Or railing installations in the house so he could get around. In addition to the emergency fund, I'd always been a saver and investor. I was contributing to college funds for the kids and putting aside 15% for retirement. My monthly investing gave me the cushion in the budget to deal with this huge financial shock.

Once it was apparent my husband was going to recover, I immediately went into what Dave Ramsey would call "storm cloud mode".

I stopped the college contributions - that added a few hundred dollars a month to the budget. I cut the retirement back to 6% of my salary, still enough to get the employer match. It gave me a 9% raise (I would have cut it altogether, if needed). Those changes, in addition to the emergency fund, paid the $1,000 per month daycare bill until he recovered.

Once things calmed down, and my husband was home from rehabilitation, I took a knife to all our other expenses and cut them to the bone. We already didn't have cable, so there was nothing to cut there. We've replaced the home phone with an Ooma, saving $45 a month.  We dropped our Internet and cell phone plans to the lowest possible option. Eating out was gone from the budget, and all food was made at home from scratch. And so on, through all the expenses.

An emergency fund is a great place to start financially. However, it's important to also formulate an emergency plan to back up the fund. In the case of something going catastrophically wrong - whether it's a job loss, a medical emergency, a fire in your home, or something else - the emergency fund is just the start. Having a cushion in your budget by saving, investing and knowing what expenses are optional and can be cut out, are extremely helpful when the worst hits.

Other Things I Learned

I learned a great deal about the importance of an emergency fund and emergency plan. In the four and a half years since that time, I've built the emergency fund up to 12 months of expenses. I also learned:

  • The importance of being debt free.

    At that time, we had a car loan, which was a monthly drain of a few hundred dollars that we just didn't need. Today, we're completely debt free except for the mortgage, and I plan to pay that off in five years. I listened to both Clark Howard and Dave Ramsey's podcasts in the car on the way to/from work for years to keep motivated.

  • Accepting help from others.

    I'm a fiercely independent person and it was hard to accept help, but I knew we needed it. Our extended family was at the house every day while my husband was in the hospital and rehabilitation. They were taking care of the kids (who couldn't visit), making dinner, doing drop offs/pickups. Basically, they were helping us however they could. At work, people stepped up to cover for me while I needed to be out

  • It can happen to you. 

    We all like to pretend that because we're healthy, young, or always wear our seat belt, nothing bad will happen. This has shown me sometimes extremely bad things happen through no fault of our own, so you need to prepare. Not only through emergency funds and plans, but also through wills and life insurance.

  • Life is short-focus on what really matters.

    This is something that you hear a lot, but it usually doesn't hit home when you're in your early 30's. But it does for me. This event changed my entire perspective on life, and it also changed how I perceive stressful situations. When I find myself getting worked up over something at work or home, I take a step back and ask myself if this is something that really matters in life. Usually the answer is no-it's something that's going wrong in the moment but won't matter in a month or a year. You can check out the 10-10-10 strategy for a good method to help you focus on what really matters.

A Happy Ending?

Septic shock changed our lives, and the after effects continue to follow us to this day. Just last year, a few months after the birth of our youngest son, my husband had to have another major (reconstructive) surgery.  But we don't let any of this stop us from living a rich, full life. I'm laser focused on becoming both totally debt free and financially independent. It will give our family greater security, should something happen to one of us. I'm thankful that we've been given another chance at our life. And I hope turn this terrible situation into a force to inspire and help others on their financial journeys.

The Time Our Emergency Fund And Plan Saved The Day | You might doubt whether having an emergency fund is really necessary. Emergency funds are important because you can't predict the unpredictable.

Our youngest, born just a year and a half ago.

Liz is a mother of three boys, two cats, and one dog. She's also an MBA and IT professional helping working moms become the Chief Mom Officer of their household over at Chief Mom Officer. Follow her on Twitter at @Liz_Officer, or reach out through e-mail to Liz@ChiefMomOfficer.org.

What do you think? Does this change your views about how emergency funds are important and your need for one? Let Liz and I know in the comments below! Have a great week!

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Liz is a mother of three boys, two cats, and one dog. She's also an MBA and IT professional helping working moms become the Chief Mom Officer of their household over at Chief Mom Officer. Follow her on Twitter at @Liz_Officer, or reach out through e-mail to Liz@ChiefMomOfficer.org.
Posted in Emergency Fund, Family Finances, Guest Post, My Testimony and Story and tagged , , , , , , .

65 Comments

  1. What an awful, trying and stressful situation for you and your family. I’m glad that you were able to do what needed to be done because you had prepared. In Canada, we’re much more fortunate. No hospital bills, we can collect 15 weeks of sick benefits and then switch over to regular unemployment benefits if we’re still not able to return to work.

    We also have social programs that will assist with daycare expenses and food banks/food share programs.

    Regardless, though, it much more prudent to be prepared and know how to cut back on your expenses if need be. You deserve a lot of praise for what you’ve been able to do.
    Jane Porterfield recently posted…Christmas Stress Busting TipsMy Profile

    • Thank you Jane! I’m envious of the Canadian system sometimes, but being prepared for a medical emergency is an unfortunate reality here in the US. You’re fortunate to be better protected against some kinds of emergencies up there.

  2. I’m sorry that you and your family have had to deal with so much stress.

    I’m glad that you were so well prepared (accidentally?) for what was to come.

    I’m in Canada, so things are quite a bit easier as far as benefits, costs and social programs.

    Kudos to you for being able to deal with all of this.

  3. Wow, thankyou for putting in perspective how important it is to have those bit of savings. It’s so true that you never know what is going to be around the corner. I’m glad he pulled through, I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been.

  4. That was devastating, I’m glad you got through all of it as a family and you were able to bounce back as well. There’s really nothing like being able to save for a rainy day.

  5. You are a strong woman, my dear!
    Being a caregiver, I feel like having to deal with finances is so much added stress. That is why we have started our path to becoming debt free. It isn’t as easy as we thought it would be, but it will be worth it in the long run.
    I wish you and your family great health! It seems as though y’all were able to bounce back from this and turn it into something very positive.

  6. This is a great read and very enlightening. We’re building our emergency fund back up after having to use it for our son’s medical expenses.

  7. I agree it is great living a debt free and financially independent life. Having some money put away is so important! Unfortunately, not everyone has that extra money to put away. Glad to hear your husband is doing better.

    • So true, it can be tricky to find the money to put away. Even small amounts can help build a cushion that will help you if things go wrong! There have been times I could only put aside a few dollars a week.

  8. We just broke into our emergency fund. I think it’s important to have one. It will come in handy just as yours did. I am glad everything worked out.

  9. True inspiration, Mom. I had no idea you’d gone (and are continuing to go) through such a trial. Emergency funds are absolutely essential, and a priority for all us of.

    Your post also makes me realize this Thanksgiving season the reality that those of us who have been fortunate with our health should never take it for granted. Be thankful, and realize your life can change in an instant.

  10. Great article. I think the younger generation has the hardest time understanding this. My emergency fund saved us last year when the laws changed in the country I was working in. Being an American expat, I had experienced a time when an emergency fund kept my family together.
    J.L. McFadden recently posted…ChoicesMy Profile

  11. Thanks for sharing your story! I’m so glad your husband has recovered and that you were able to manage financially through the crisis. Emergency funds, and emergency plans, are critical. Most people think of them only for job loss, and if they feel their job is secure (no one’s job is ever truly secure), they don’t seem to worry about it. But illness or injury can prevent you from working and you definitely need health insurance, disability insurance, and an emergency fund for that.

  12. Hi Liz! So glad to hear the rest of the story. What a traumatic ordeal for you all. I, too, am fiercely independent and had to learn to accept help from others the way others accept help from me. It’s a strange place to be in but gets better the more you are able to let that wall down – looks like you got a lot of practice!

    PS – Your kids are adorable!!!
    Miss Mazuma recently posted…Your Mind is Speaking – Are You Listening?My Profile

  13. What an amazing story, this is the kind of post that can really make a difference. There’s nothing like a real life example of the impact of a sound financial plan, whether it be an emergency fund, or savings buffer, getting out of debt. So glad I read this today! 🙂

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