Emergency Funds


Common wisdom says that a family should have a few months of pay in emergency savings, just in case. My husband and I used to say that we military families had fewer “just in case” scenarios than civilian families. We have more job security than the average person, so it’s highly unlikely my husband could suddenly lose his job. We also have Tricare, so it’s unlikely we’d rack up sudden medical debt. We did indeed have a savings account, but I remember a conversation where we were struggling to come up with an emergency where we’d need access to lots of money.

Well, I came up with one!

Over Veterans’ weekend we took a vacation. On the drive home, we ended up in a car accident. The other driver was ticketed, so that was a relief for us, but it didn’t help us any that we were 300 miles from home with an undriveable car.

Our car stayed at a local dealership and we rented a car to get home. We then kept the rental car so the baby and I wouldn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to make an hour round-trip to drop my husband off at work. It was a good thing we did, since the baby ended up getting very sick last week and almost had to be taken to the emergency room.

We finally got our car back yesterday. You’ll note that it’s been a month since Veterans’ weekend.

Anyway, the other woman was ticketed, so one would assume that her insurance would cover costs. Well, the rub is that it has been a month and neither insurance company has been able to contact this woman yet! She never called in the accident. This has held up payment considerably.

And therefore the $1500 in car rentals we accrued over the past month has all been on our credit card. We expect to get reimbursed eventually, but for now the money has come out of our pocket. We almost had to pay the $7000 for damages to our car until USAA stepped in and said they’d pay it for us and collect from the other insurance agency.

This is not something we ever foresaw. It was the first car accident we’d ever been in, and we assumed that since the other driver was at fault, her insurance would pay for everything. We learned a lot this past month, not the least of which is that the process moves very slowly on a good day, and molasses-slowly when the other person is a deadbeat.

Thank goodness for our emergency funds. We were able to make sure that I had a vehicle for the past month without dipping into money that covers normal monthly expenses. I’m glad my husband and I didn’t listen to that little voice telling us that a military family is immune from financial emergency! In hindsight it seems so naive…

What are some unforeseen financial emergencies that have befallen you? Clue me in to all the other predicaments that I forgot to account for…

About the Author

Sarah has been married to her soldier for a bit more than 10 years. In the past decade, they've been at six different duty stations in four different branches of the Army. They've also endured three deployments, six miscarriages, and a failed IVF. Sarah's blogging focus has shifted some in the past five years, from common military issues to something more personal: the difficult intersection between the military and infertility. It's hard for some couples to start a family; it's even harder when one person spends a lot of time on the other side of the globe. But Sarah was lucky enough to declare Mission Accomplished when their daughter was born 10 days after her husband's return from Afghanistan. And she tries to remind herself how irreplaceable and cherished that daughter is now that she's entered the terrible two's. In her free time, Sarah is a pioneer housewife: knitting, crocheting, and cooking ... and sometimes even firing a weapon.
  • Amy

    Well on Thursday I broke our expensive TV by touching it, but I don’t think that’s what you mean (since, let’s be honest, we don’t HAVE to have a TV ….).

    Our financial problems are always family related. Since we have all of the above financial security that you mentioned above, even though we are by no means “well off” we feel an obligation to help family where and when we can. This includes when they have car accident dram worse than the one you mentioned above (the slowness plus a year plus of hospital stays) and when someone ends up in jail falsely accused. That emergency fund also pays for emergency trips to go be with them in the middle of all of this suckiness.

    And speaking of emergency travel — sometimes elderly family dies suddenly, and those airlines don’t care that you really want to be there for the funeral. They are still going to charge you $500 for that ticket.

  • Sarah

    Amy — Yeah, I had thought of travel when a family member dies, but I guess this car accident thing was more of a situation where I thought we wouldn’t need money because we had insurance. I figured if we were insured, we’d be covered, but I guess I didn’t realize how the process actually worked. I didn’t expect to have to have the funds up front and get reimbursed…especially not that much money.

  • Amy

    For serious. I do not envy you!
    Another thing that came to mind — FLIPL. Just because the government decides your hubby is the one at fault doesn’t mean he actually is. Even that steady paycheck can be suddenly missing if the stars align in just a ****** enough way. (it is taking all of my self control to not elaborate on this right this second. every. single. ounce.)

  • Maharet

    dealing with insurance companies is a nightmre. i’ve seen friends go through it and i nearly did to. my husband is a magnet.

  • Tracey Kowalewski

    New tires on my husband’s car, flying my daughter home for Christmas…and then the dog needing ACL surgery! That was $800!!! This was definitely our year for tires on all three cars…I’m just hoping that’s all that goes wrong with them since I quit working to go back to school and our emergency savings hasn’t gone back up!!! Too bad you can’t put the pets on Tricare :)))

  • Andi

    A/C unit died when my husband was deployed. Yikes…. Appliances always behave under the watchful eye of my husband. They like my husband so much that they’d rather croak than live with me controlling them!

  • Val

    We had a month or two of car repair after car repair after car repair ourselves. We had to dip into savings a bit at that point.

    Medical expenses, even though we have TriCare, there are ‘incidental’ ones that come up. If you have a medical condition outside the norm and have to travel for treatment whether that’s two hours to the nearest ‘big city’ or further. This is one we’re working through right now. Gas gets expensive when the trips are frequent. IF you’re there overnight there’s lodging. Meals on the road (sure you can pack a sack lunch). I know that seems like piddly stuff, but when you’re doing it frequently, it can add up.

  • Dana

    We switched from Army to Air Force and didn’t get paid for months. We also are currently waiting for the AF to repay us for 6 months of TDY travel plus expenses on our personal credit card that exceeded the government travel card that they haven’t paid so is maxed out. We’ve done every thing they’ve requested to get it paid, but it’s a slow process to get things done with the military (shocking!). It’s been an expensive nightmare for my husband to be traveling for so long. On both accounts I’m really thankful that we have savings otherwise we’d have been in big trouble for things that we didn’t foresee and that were completely out of our control even though we did everything we were supposed to do.

  • Sarah

    Dana — How could I forget…the same thing happened to us back in 2003! We PCSed to Germany and got three or four LESes that were straight zeroes across the board! Somehow my husband got “lost in the system” and it took a couple of pay periods to reinstate him. Yeah, that stunk! By the time we got paid, I think that one LES said $11,000 :)