The Weather and Your Wallet: Don’t Let Natural Disasters Destroy Your Life or Your Finances
Doris Baker: Good afternoon everyone and thank you for joining us today for today’s webinar titled “The Weather and Your Wallet: Don’t Let Natural Disasters Destroy Your Life or Your Finances”
COVID-19 has been the biggest natural disaster in a century, but we’re here today to talk about the natural disasters that come like clockwork every year. We’re not trying to depress you, but actually raise your spirits!
Preparing for natural disasters isn’t hard, and it’s not expensive, either. Once you do it, you’ll have peace of mind because you’re prepared for anything. When you have a disaster plan, you worry less and enjoy life a little more – even now, as we emerge from a pandemic.
2020 Natural Disasters
Of course, natural disasters aren’t polite. They don’t stand in line and wait their turn. COVID-19 didn’t deter wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes or floods last year. And if 2021 is anything like 2019, most of the country is in the path of something bad. No matter what the year, no part of the United States is immune from natural disasters. Wherever you are right now, listening to me, you’re vulnerable to a natural disaster.
Natural Disasters mostly get more costly
And as you can see, natural disasters are unpredictable. In 2020, there were more wildfires and hurricanes than the year before, but fewer earthquakes and tornadoes. One natural disaster that has been trending up for years is damage from flooding, which is typically the most costly of all natural disasters.
According to the federal government, natural disasters killed 262 people last year and totaled $322 billion in damages. You might think with that many lives and that much money on the line, Americans would be on top of their disaster planning. Think again.
When was the last time 70 percent of people in this country agreed on anything? Well, last year – during a presidential campaign where the nation was deeply at odds – there was bipartisan agreement: Most of us worry about natural disasters.
Then again, three-quarters of us aren’t doing anything about it. We have enough to worry about these days, so let’s talk about easing our fear of natural disasters. How can we do that? By taking just a little time and even less money to prepare in advance.
Let’s start by talking about disaster preparation that costs nothing. There are three key things you can do right now: gather all your key documents, organize everything you’ll need to get compensated for any destruction, and design evacuation routes and when you’ll use them. Let’s take a quick look at each.
First, gather up all the paperwork you’ll need in case the worst happens. Most importantly, that means insurance policies. Check your policies to make sure you’re properly covered. If not, time to talk to your insurance agent. If so, write down the name, address and claims-reporting telephone number of your insurance company – and remember, this might be different from your agent’s contact information.
Next, whip out your phone and take pictures of everything of value in your house. Don’t forget to shoot not only that nice couch but also all your jewelry and other collectibles. If you have documents attesting to their value, gather those, too. Even take photos of those documents. Store them on the cloud for free using Google Drive or similar options.
Of course, we’re not a paperless society just yet. So you definitely need to safely store any hardcopies of important documents. And it needs to be portable, too. If you must evacuate, you want to grab everything you’ll need and not worry you’ve left something behind. That’s why the worst time to gather up your documentation is right before you need to head out.
Now some people buy a portable and waterproof metal lockbox for hundreds of dollars, and you can see them advertised on Amazon and at stores like Walmart and Target. But you don’t need to buy one of these pricey options. We’ve known many people who keep these documents safely stored in cheap Tupperware. It’s waterproof and lightweight – and best of all, cheap! Whatever works for you, as long as it’s protected and at your fingertips.
When many people hear the word “evacuation” they think it only means, “Get out now!” They don’t often consider, “Where am I going?” So a solid evacuation plan actually answers two important questions that can save you money and even save your life….
First, what’s the safest and quickest route away from the natural disaster? If it’s a hurricane, you have more time to plan than if it’s a tornado, but either way, you want to map it out now. In the case of the former, a hurricane gives you a lot of notice, but you often have to get very far away to get out of the storm’s path. A tornado can give you only minutes, and you need to think about shelter close by.
Speaking of location, where is the safest and cheapest place to land? That could be the home of a nearby friend or faraway relative, or it could be a government or private shelter. But you want to figure that out now. Otherwise, you’ll get the first part right and get out of danger. But you won’t have a destination to wait out the worst of it. That can be costly, uncomfortable, and maybe even deadly.
Technology doesn’t just make it easier to order stuff online and make our TV sets bigger and brighter. Technology has made it safer to survive natural disasters. And it’s not expensive, either. Great strides and innovations have been made in products that can help you out during a natural disaster. And they’re not expensive, either.
For instance, you can buy a thermal emergency blanket for around $15. A good solar charger for your smartphone is around $20. Same for a personal water filter. Best of all, these items last a long time, so you don’t have to buy them again. Even the emergency food, while it’s not exactly gourmet fare, is relatively cheap and lasts for up to a decade.
Each kind of natural disaster requires different supplies, although some are universal. Here’s the problem: Most disaster supplies are purchased at exactly the wrong time. During hurricane season, for example, most bottled water is sold 48 hours before the storm is scheduled to hit – leading not only to shortages but price gouging. So what’s the solution?
The best advice sounds weird: Shopping for disaster supplies is just like shopping for holiday gifts. Why? Because it’s best to do it off-season. You’ll save more. Look for deals year-round, not just on the eve of, say, tornado season. Shop for blizzard supplies in the summer. Shop for hurricane supplies in the winter.
Not only will you save money shopping off-season, if a natural disaster is approaching or strikes, you’ll have one less thing to worry about. You won’t forget something important because you’re in a panic, and you’ll have that peace of mind we mentioned earlier.
Now, we could spend an entire webinar on preparing for each kind of natural disaster. But thankfully, there’s no shortage of excellent advice on exactly what to do to prep for each kind of disaster – from the best masks to breathe during a wildfire to how much bottled water you’ll need after a hurricane. If you don’t know where to go first, start with us. We’ve compiled a simple booklet on natural disasters that isn’t the end of the information you’ll need, but it’s a really good beginning.
While we’re talking about beginning your research, let’s focus on one key fact about each kind of natural disaster that often gets overlooked. For instance, even if you’ve gone through a hurricane before, and even if you’ve prepared for it very well, you might not know this: Flooding kills more people and costs more in property damage than the high winds do. It’s the “storm surge” from the ocean that’s more deadly than the gale-force winds.
In some ways, calling wildfires a “natural disaster” isn’t accurate, since almost all of them are caused by human beings either acting clumsily or maliciously. Thus, more wildfires start in areas where camping is allowed than in remote wilderness areas. So check to see where camping is allowed near you, because that’s something you need to keep your eye on.
Although tornado season is traditionally March through May in the south, they peak in the summer up north. And they can happen in any state in the country. Only Alaska is usually spared, although it last had one documented in 2005. So unless you live in Alaska, don’t ever say it can’t happen here.
Earthquakes are the most common natural occurrence on this list, except no one feels most of them. Of the half a million that happen each year, human beings feel only 100,00 of them – and only 100 cause any damage to property or claim lives. But earthquakes are among the most damaging natural disasters. In this country, they cause more than 4 billion dollars a year, according to FEMA.
Flooding is the one natural disaster that follows many other natural disasters. As we mentioned, hurricanes can cause flooding, but so can tornadoes and earthquakes. So-called “no-name storms” cause flooding, too. Did you know 90 percent of all U.S. natural disasters declared by the President involve some sort of flooding? It’s also the one natural disaster that can happen anywhere – even Alaska.
No matter what natural disaster hits you, the recovery process is almost always the same. Yet more injuries, costs, and even deaths result from people simply not following this basic advice.
First, don’t venture outside until you get the all-clear from officials. This isn’t the time to sight-see the damage. Downed powerlines and other dangers lurk everywhere. Second, spend your time close to home, assessing your family’s needs and documenting any property damage. Third, use your disaster supplies for eating, drinking, cleaning, and washing. Don’t try venturing out to buy anything.
That’s all basic stuff, but what about financially recovering from a natural disaster?
If you suffer any damage from a natural disaster, and you and your family are safe, the next step is to ensure your finances are safe. Now let’s double back and take advantage of all the preparation you did earlier.
Consult your insurance policies and call your agent
Remember when I talked about putting all your valuable documents in one safe place? Well, now it’s time to consult them. Break out those insurance policies. Call the agents representing you right away. Don’t expect them to get right back to you, since they’re slammed with other claims. But the sooner you call, the sooner you’ll hear back.
Contact your lenders and the utilities
Also, contact your lenders and ask for grace periods and extensions. That’s everything from your mortgage to your credit cards. They have protocols for this, so it can be quite easy to do. If your home is damaged and you can’t stay there, don’t forget to tell your utility companies. They can suspend your service and save you some money.
You are not alone
And now we come to the most important slide of this presentation. After a natural disaster, you might feel like your world has been turned upside down, and you’re all alone. You might not have cellphone service, only heightening your sense of loneliness. But the fact is, you’re not alone. You have help available to you, and much of it is free. Some of it actually gives you money. Let’s review that quickly…
Once you can get back online, your first step is to visit consumerfinance.gov/recover. That website offers step-by-step instructions for recovering from every kind of natural disaster. If you’re in a presidentially-declared disaster area, go to disasterassistance.gov to learn how to claim some aid. Go to the homepage of your state’s website to see if you qualify for state aid, even if you’re not in an official disaster area. You can also call the Red Cross at 800-RED-CROSS to see about financial aid, shelter, free meals, free clothing, and even some personal hygiene supplies.
Consolidated Credit can help
One service Consolidated Credit has long provided is free priority counseling for those affected by natural disasters. For nearly three decades, we’ve offered a free debt analysis from a certified credit counselor, but after a natural disaster, we’ve offered even more help. Keep this number handy, and after you seek out the help on the previous slide, make sure to call us.
2 ways to avoid scams
Avoid shady contractors
Now let’s talk briefly about who NOT to call. After a natural disaster, scammers descend upon the area. Some are shady contractors who offer to fix up your property for cheap – but only if you pay in cash, up front, and right away. NEVER pay up front. Pay as the work gets done. ALWAYS get estimates from more than one contractor, and make sure they’re licensed and bonded.
Don’t give out personal info
You might also get phone calls from official-sounding people demanding you give them your Social Security number and other personal details. Ask for their number so you can call them back, and if they’re reluctant, hang up. In fact, if you’re not sure what to do, the best advice is to do nothing. Like we just said there’s plenty of free help out there, so you don’t need to fall for any scams to get the assistance you need.
Natural disasters are only fun in the movies. In real life, they’re scary and costly. But with a little planning and just a little money, you can weather the storm. Today was just an overview, just a starting point. But as you can see, it’s not as daunting as you might think. If you’re in debt right now, this is a good time to call Consolidated Credit and save some money that can go into an emergency fund and disaster supplies. Call us before trouble arrives. Thank you so much for listening, and we welcome any questions.
Consolidated Credit may be able to help you save money and get out of debt faster than you can on your own.
Our licensed and trained credit counselors will provide you with a FREE budget analysis
We work with your creditors to lower your interest rates and eliminate fees
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Call 1-800-210-3481 to speak with a certified credit counselor and start your path to getting out of debt today or go to www.consolidatedcredit.org and tell us a little about yourself and one of our counselors will call you!