If you remember reading a guest post last year about a woman who retired at 44, you might also remember that I promised to try and get her to write another post here on the blog since everyone loved hearing her story as a non-blogging early retiree. She and I have become better friends since that post and talk to each other via text or other social media channels pretty much weekly.
She’d thought about writing a few different posts for me to share, but for the most part, her early retired life doesn’t involve a ton of screen time, so it kept being pushed to “later.” And then COVID-19 descended on us all, and she felt inspired to write up a post about her family’s experience with testing out their emergency preparedness supplies. I was very excited to share that story, and encouraged her to finish it, and here is that story. I’ll turn the rest of this over to Liz, and if you haven’t read her initial guest post, I highly recommend you read that one as well to learn her backstory of how she is so financially set for this current recession and instability of life.
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Tread Lightly Retire Early Readers! Hello! How are you today? I’m feeling a tad anxious some days, very grounded on others, and wavering between the two on most. While I feel some underlying frustration, I feel super lucky.
My life has not been turned upside down since I am financially independent already and opted out of work nearly 3 years ago. Last June, I wrote a guest post sharing my finances and my retirement plan. I had been working on a follow-up post but the topic I’m exploring doesn’t currently resonate with me for obvious reasons.
I felt inspired to write a little about how the Covid-19 quarantine provided an opportunity to test my family’s emergency plan (or lack thereof) and the needed motivation to take care of some financial organization/estate planning things I had been putting off.
Holes in My Family’s Emergency Financial Preparedness Plan
You may or may not remember in my last post that my partner and I handle our finances separately. This arrangement works splendidly for us – we are accountable to each other but manage our own finances. I was already FI when we married but a year away from peacing out on work. We did not execute a prenup before the wedding, for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I didn’t think it was necessary.
Shortly after I finalized my divorce from my kiddo’s Dad, I hired an estate planning attorney and put all my assets into a Trust with my then toddler as the primary beneficiary (also executed a Will and Advanced Healthcare Directive). If something had happened to me, it was important that I jumped through those legal hoops for my daughter and for whomever would have to pick up the pieces after a catastrophic incident, just in case.
Every bank and brokerage account or other investment (including our home) is owned by my trust or the trust is the beneficiary. At this point it’s important to note that I’m not an attorney and only know enough to be dangerous about estate planning (also that every state has different laws!). So please do not construe any of what I’m discussing as legal advice. Use my oversight to consider your own situation and make sure you have your financial house in order.
Flash forward to the present day. My partner is a nurse and the constantly changing and possibly deadly situation had us both having minor freak-out episodes. He could be exposed, could bring it home and either or both of us could fall ill. In the midst of one, I remembered we had been procrastinating on updating the estate planning and because we have all our finances separate, neither of us knew much about the other’s finances. So, we got to work and did the following:
• Listed all of our bank accounts, savings, brokerage and credit cards with the account numbers, websites and login information.
• Identified any automatically paying charges on those accounts.
• Added each other to all the accounts that were easy to add to – since mine are all in a trust, I’m still jumping through hoops trying to get my partner added, and things are in process but I’m added on all his accounts.
• Listed out our life insurance policies, amounts and numbers and phone numbers to call. Note: I know life insurance can be a contentious topic with the FI crowd. My policy has a specific purpose and my partner gets a small no-cost one through work as a benefit.
• Partner gave me the phone number of his HR department should he become incapacitated.
While I’m still not done with all the tasks I need to get all of our accounts titled the way we want, going through this process made us both feel better. We both have a road map of sorts to be able to manage the other’s finances if one or the other of us fell ill.
It seemed more urgent since my partner works in healthcare but I think it’s important for all of us to think through our financial picture and patch the holes we find, even if they are just temporary ones. We are going to formally update the trust once we are through the crisis phase of the pandemic but what we have (we think) will suffice for the time being. Did I miss anything?
(Angela: here’s a link to a FABULOUS In Case of Emergency Binder from Smart Money Mamas that I highly recommend if you haven’t done this yourself, or are worried you’ve missed something)
The Gaping Holes in My Family’s Disaster Preparedness Plan
Perhaps more urgently, I uncovered some other holes in our basic survival preparedness plan. I *thought* we were well-prepared. Come down memory lane with me. In January 2010, Haiti experienced a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake, 6 weeks later, Chili experienced an offshore 8.8 magnitude quake.
Shaken by current events (pun intended), I got my butt in gear to create a disaster preparedness plan for my little family, which at the time was my 2-year old and me. I live in Southern California so having a basic plan whether you consider yourself the prepper type or not is a good idea. An earthquake (or wildfire) could devastate the infrastructure of my city, so I followed the basic recommendations and purchased an earthquake kit in a bucket and added the recommended 3 days of water plus a few more gallons, an additional freeze dried food (hereinafter referred to as FDF) bucket, a couple of tarps, some rope, a couple of extra flashlights, a first aid kit, a couple warm blankets and 5-6 rolls of toilet paper.
I prepared a separate backpack – a “go bag” – with a gallon of water, a couple days’ worth of freeze dried food I skimmed off the kit, my Jetboil camping stove, matches, a water purification thing, a roll of toilet paper and a couple of changes of clothes that fit my kid and me at the time.
It made me feel better to do all those things and I would have felt like a completely irresponsible parent if I hadn’t! I have continued to replace our earthquake water supply with newer water every 18 months or so and keep the go bag handy but haven’t given the earthquake buckets much other thought (other than moving them into a hard to access spot in our shed).
Real Time Emergency Preparedness Test: COVID-19
Fast forward a decade. I received a text from Angela on March 8th – it said “Ahem. Your friendly neighborhood reminder to be sure you have at least a few weeks of food on hand.” My response, “Definitely do! thx”. I moved on with my life still blissfully unworried about the Covid-19 situation. We always have a decent supply of food, currently have an abundant winter garden, plus we reclaim rainwater so have a couple hundred gallons of water we could purify if needed. But Angela’s text got me thinking about that FDF and my long-ignored earthquake buckets.
A short 5 days later, California public schools announced a shut down, my partner’s hospital started to prepare for a disaster and people stocked up like we were about to experience a Category 5 hurricane. This was all before the imposition of shelter in place and physical distancing rules.
The next day I pulled out the go bag, precariously climbed and rearranged to get to the earthquake and FDF buckets and pulled them down. The earthquake kit has nearly everything on the recommended checklist (I can’t remember if I ever actually looked prior), and I checked out the FDF choices since we decided to augment our current food situation with the FDF. “It will be fun, like camping out”, we thought. It was 10 years old but we thought it would keep us out of the grocery store as well as reduce the strain on the delivery situation.
At lunch, I decided to cook up some vegetarian western stew from the kit. I opened the bag; it smelled salty and almost metallic but looked like food so I threw it in the pot with water and started cooking it. I ran outside, cut a couple leaves of Swiss chard out of the garden, cut up a carrot and a piece of celery and threw it in the pot for some fresh veggies, you know, to balance things out. It didn’t smell any better after the 25-minute cook time but we tasted it hopefully. And then tasted it again. My partner and I each had 4-5 small spoonfuls of the stuff and it was inedible, so inedible, we threw it out. The tiny amount I consumed gave me heartburn. I left it on the stove to cool off and the smell started to get to me even after just a few minutes.
The following morning, I tried out the blueberry pancake mix. “How bad can it be?” I kept thinking optimistically. I had been craving pancakes. Thankfully, it took only a couple minutes to prepare but the pancakes turned out bitter and didn’t taste anything like any pancake mix I’ve ever eaten before. I opened up a few other FDF packets of different flavors and none smelled like anything I, or anybody else should eat, so I threw them all out (note: it hurt me to throw it out because I abhor food waste).
I’ve eaten camp food, including FDF before, and enjoyed it. Maybe I liked it because I hiked 10-15 miles before consuming it and my body was craving sodium? Maybe it is so heavily laced with preservatives that my fresh food eating habits made those tastes terrible? Maybe the FDF had gone bad? It has a shelf life of 20 years if it was stored at a 75 degrees and lower temperature, and it for sure got hotter than than the ideal storage temperature. Maybe the stuff was inedible in the first place? (Angela: clearly I need to eat my favorite Mountain House meal again one of these days to figure out if I do like it outside of backpacking trips)
I did some quick internet research and the consensus is the FDF I purchased probably never tasted good. I couldn’t figure out if it had actually gone bad but had no desire to be my own human guinea pig in this experiment. If we were in a real emergency, there is no way I would want anybody eating that crap and with the heightened anxiety in an emergency situation, I would want the food I’m consuming to provide me and my family sustenance and comfort. I don’t think I thought through how important it is to have our food provide comfort before the quarantine.
Quarantine is a Great Time to Test Preparedness
That is the long-winded story of how I inadvertently stress-tested the food piece of my disaster-preparedness plan and epically failed! But I failed during a quarantine and not during an infrastructure destroying earthquake (or wildfire), so I’m incredibly lucky to be able to redo how my family is going to handle our earthquake preparation. I’ve worked on a list of food we would like to eat (Angela: here’s mine) if we were without running water, electric and gas (depending on the time of year, our solar panels could help us keep some stuff refrigerated).
My plan is to get shelf stable food that we enjoy eating, store it in the earthquake food bucket in an easy to access spot and put some notifications on my phone to check on it once a year or so. I don’t feel like I need to buy freeze dried food, but if you decide to go that route, try it and make sure it’s something you and your loved ones will eat! I won’t bore you with my family’s list but I will mention that I added instant coffee as the first item. I couldn’t imagine going through a disaster without having access to copious amounts of caffeine (it’s my stress drug of choice).*
*We nearly always have an extra pound of coffee beans around the house but if we didn’t have electricity I couldn’t grind them, thus, the instant coffee. (Angela: my husband also bought me a hand grinder, so I actually can grind coffee without electricity – though I have to admit I haven’t used it yet)
Have y’all communicated with other folks who might need access to your finances? Have you stress tested your disaster preparedness plan? Anything else along the lines of these topics you want to share?