Dealing with Financial Woes During Life Transitions

Notepad with disaster plan on a wooden table.

Life transitions bring change, challenges and the possibility of transformation. Transitions come about in many ways: the birth of a child, loss of a job, retirement, prolonged illness or death of a loved one, to name a few.  Each transition presents an opportunity for growth, resilience and a broadening of personal capacity.  But it all comes at an emotional and usually financial cost.

Steve’s department was being eliminated and was given a two-week notice. His wife Denise’s job brought in a decent amount, but their lifestyle depended on both incomes.

The severance package offered would get them through a month or so, but after that it would be tough.  

Amy’s father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Her parents lived across the country, and her mother was devastated.  They had no support, and it was up to Amy to help them out.  Her consulting business was flexible, but not that much. Amy had to hand off some clients to friends and hoped that she could pick up the pieces when life returned to normal. 

Peter and Carol’s first child was born on a Sunday.  The family was overwhelmed with joy at the arrival. What Peter and Carol weren’t expecting was the doctor’s report that surgery would be needed to correct a problem they had found soon after birth.  It would require a fairly long and expensive recovery period. There were more many issues to deal with than Peter and Carol could handle at this time.

Dealing with financial issues during periods of significant change can be nearly impossible.  Following any highly emotional occurrence, getting your head around the nuts and bolts of financial decision-making can be a menacing obstacle. But let’s face it—it’s not as if there’s a lot of choice in the matter.

The best approach to working through financial matters during transition times involves forethought and preparation.  Consider the following:

  1. Liquidity: Have enough cash available to cover your needs during transition time. This is where your emergency fund is so vital.
  2. Appropriate risk management: Make sure you have sufficient insurance to cover big risks. Life insurance, disability, health, homeowner’s, auto and umbrella coverages with adequate limits provide the safety net to pick up where your cash reserves end.
  3. Backup management: Be sure to have someone knowledgeable in your financial mechanics to pick up the slack when you’re unable to do so.
  4. Legal support: You should have a properly prepared and current Power of Attorney in case you are ever unable to act on your own behalf. You might also consider the need for asset protection or other legal protections as appropriate for your situation.
  5. Emotional support: Transitions can be emotionally devastating. Make sure you know a therapist, counselor or coach whose aid and support might be immeasurably meaningful during times of strife and trouble.
  6. A written emergency plan: A meaningful emergency plan includes information on your current net worth and cash flow; contact information for your planner, attorney, CPA, etc.; information on your creditors and other bills; and the location of your Power of Attorney, insurance policies and other legal documents.

Some transitions are foreseeable, such as the birth of a baby or planned retirement. Others, such as sickness or an accident or a sudden death or job loss, happen in the blink of an eye. But what they all have in common is the emotional energy consumed during these times preventing the other “stuff” to get relegated to lesser importance.

In dealing with times of stress and strife, we need to draw on our strength to find our resilience.  Our ability to bounce back from upheaval is a key component to meeting the inevitable challenges life provides. Without resiliency, we end up floundering in our problems and lacking the tools necessary to claw our way out.

Preparation and forethought are great steps to take to meet potential life transitions head-on. Waiting until you’re in the midst of a major life change to deal with financial challenges is far from ideal. It’s much easier to bounce back when you already have your cash reserves, insurance, and emergency plans in place. To think of it another way, it’s much better to have a fire extinguisher on hand and never use it than to wait to buy one until your house catches fire.

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