5 Levers to Pull…In Case of Emergency


What will you do when you have planned for the unexpected, yet find your savings are not enough?  You need a Plan B.

Plan B is simply identifying the levers you can pull when your emergency fund is not enough to cover an unexpected expense.

For clarification, I’m not referring to a last minute trip to the Superbowl once your team makes the quarter-finals or a flash sale on a Tom Ford suit you’ve had your eye on for months. I’m speaking of a “true” financial emergency caused by Mother Nature (e.g., tornado, flooding) or medical bills beyond your insurance coverage. Or maybe you need extra cash to cover a critical car repair or funeral expenses for a loved one.

Depending on the dollar amount needed, I’ve noted five levers to consider to help you cover an unexpected expense when your emergency fund is insufficient.

Lever 1: Eliminate Non-Essential Spending
This is your starting point.  Revisit your budget to “temporarily” eliminate non-essential spending. It is important to continue to pay your current creditors, so look at your social calendar and convenience spending and cut expenses like entertainment, eating out, and purchasing gifts, just to name a few. The objective is to swiftly identify non-essential items in your budget and suspend spending in these categories.  The sacrifices you make in this category alone can help you avoid options like payday loans which could be detrimental to your financial future.

Lever 2: Adjust Your W-4 Withholding
If you receive a tax refund every year, then this is a viable option for you. Instead of receiving a large tax refund, you can adjust your W-4 withholding and receive more money in each pay check.

To adjust your withholding, follow the instructions on the IRS Tax Withholding webpage, or use the easy, breezy Turbo Tax W-4 Withholding Calculator. If the result is different from your current withholding, update Form W-4 with your current employer.

Lever 3: Liquidate Your Assets
We all have valuable assets sitting around, collecting dust in our closet or basement that could easily cover an unexpected expense.  The cash is there, it now becomes how willing you are to part with an asset you clearly aren’t using to its full potential.  Think unused golf clubs, exercise equipment, road bikes, designer purses or electronics.  These are all items that could easily bring in a few hundred dollars on sites like eBay, Craigslist, or consignment stores like Play It Again Sports or CashInMyBag.com.

Lever 4: Reduce or Suspend Retirement Savings
Once you have determined you are in a true financial emergency, this is a lever you can pull.  If your current contribution exceeds the company match, reduce your monthly contribution to equal the company match. For example, if you are currently contributing 10% of your income to a 401K and your company matches up to 4%, reduce your current retirement contributions to the 4% where you still receive the match from your employer. Anything less and you are leaving free money on the table.

If reducing your retirement savings doesn’t meet your financial need, consider suspending all retirement savings for a few months to cover your financial emergency.

Helpful Hint: Don’t use your 401(k) for loans.  Most employers allow employees to take loans from their 401(k)s, the problem is that many end up not paying themselves back. If you switch jobs or are laid off,the loan is due immediately, and if you can’t pay it off, penalties as well as regular taxes apply.

Lever 5: Consider a Personal Loan
As much as I despise owing others, desperate times call for desperate measures. When you have exhausted other viable alternatives, visit your local credit union and www.bankrate.com to shop for the best rates on a personal loan. Based on your credit score, you can find competitive rates to help cover your financial emergency.

Know this, financial emergencies will arise. Pulling one (or a combination) of the levers noted above can help you make an unexpected expense a temporary inconvenience.

I want to hear from you.  What other levers are included in your Plan B? Where have you found relief in times of a financial emergency?

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