You Can’t Always Anticipate A Huge Expense (So Try These 3 Things Instead)

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unplanned expenses
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Don't panic!

Maddie is in a great mood. She’s finally headed home after a killer week. Her boss was off-site all day. Her cinnamon spice latte fills the car with holiday hopefulness. The traffic is light and she lands her favorite parking spot on the busy street in front of their turn-of-the-century fixer-upper.


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Arms loaded with some weekend work and the happiness-scented latte, she kicks open the front door, takes one look at her husband's face and the hunk of metal he’s dragging toward the door, and knows her great mood is history.

Maddie sees more than a hot water heater on its side. She stares right into the face of an unplanned expense. A huge one!

Unplanned expenses are the worst!

You're strolling (or scrolling) through life and then — WHAM — destiny tosses you a curveball. A-George-Springer-couldn’t-hit-this-curveball.

Surprises are no fun. And surprises with a big price tag attached are way less fun.

Even if you have an “emergency fund” (i.e. several months of living expenses set aside) for an unplanned expense, it depletes any fund you had finally worked to build up.

And most every unplanned expense does feel like an emergency because you definitely weren’t planning on it, and need something fast to stop the hemorrhaging.

We know it feels like a setback, but you’ll recover from it, so keep your head up.

You can’t always anticipate a huge expense, so try these 3 steps instead:

1. Don’t freak out.

Try not to make matters worse by getting insanely mad. Or even worse — make matters terrible by taking your disappointment out on someone you love. Chances are they are feeling backed into a corner, too, so a hot mess tirade won’t help anyone.

Your relationship is worth more than any unplanned expense.

Even though most everyone would feel the pinch of an unplanned expense, some personalities will handle it better than others. Some individuals will freak out at the unplanned expense even if they have money set aside for this very occurrence. And no amount of explaining or begging by you to “chill out” will prove effective.

Control what you can — your reaction. It’s just money. Don’t freak out.

2. Get factual.

Take a deep breath and look at the facts. Spending some time to quantify the problem in black in white can be very helpful. Write down what you know.

Resist the urge to jump way ahead to the worst possible ending for this problem, by stating just the facts.

  • Is it critical to fix it immediately?

  • Can you wait a period of time to fix it?

  • How much might it cost to fix it?

  • Can you make small payments over time?

  • Would a repair or temporary fix be a solution?

  • Does insurance cover any of it?

One fact is: this stinks! But another fact is: you can handle this. Bit by bit.

3. Get creative.

Once you have the facts down in all their unfortunate glory, get creative.

Start to brainstorm possible, out-of-the-box solutions for this problem. Involve anyone and everyone who might have a clever idea to help get you out of this expensive jam.

  • Do you really need to replace or fix it?

  • Do you have a to buy a new one?

  • Can you purchase a second-hand model?

  • Is it something you could borrow?

  • What upcoming, planned expense can you reroute funds from?

  • Is there anyone else who would profit from your purchase and can they share in the expense?

  • Do you own something you could sell to pay for the expense?

  • Do you have time to use a “side hustle” to pay for it?

  • Is your tragedy or curveball crowdfunding worthy?

Clear your head. Shuffle your best party mix and get creative. Jot down ideas on your phone, some paper, sticky notes, or permanent marker on the now-dead water heater or fill-in-the-blank.

Move beyond the "pulling out hair stage" to the "we can make this work somehow" stage.

There is never a great time for an unplanned expense, but it does seem they tend to show up at the least inconvenient time. But when would you volunteer for an expense you don’t want? Never.

You’ll be miles ahead if you can keep your wits about you, avoid chewing the heads off of any friends or family, stick to the facts, and get creative with a solution. 


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Scott & Bethany Palmer, The Money Couple, are financial experts who help individuals tackle money issues in their relationships. To learn more about how you are wired to handle money, take the FREE online Money Personality Assessment