Toward the end of August back when I was 18 years old, I stood outside in the middle of the night in eerie silence. All around me, things were still. There wasn't any wind or noise. There were no snapping branches or animal sounds or pitter‐patter of rain. There was just darkness. I stood out there next to my Dad, who woke me up and told me to come outside and witness a once‐in‐a‐lifetime event—standing in the eye of a hurricane.
I grew up in south Louisiana on the north shore of New Orleans. I spent my summers as a kid digging in crawfish holes and swimming in the bayou. Hurricanes are a normal part of life there, so much so that the people of south Louisiana throw hurricane parties.
Every fall, my dad would inevitably have to board up our windows, and school and work would be canceled for a few days as the bigger storms rolled through. Then, the storms would leave, my siblings and I would have a lot of sticks to pick up in the yard, and life would go back to normal.
But Katrina—she was different.
Hurricane Katrina came just as I headed off to college. In fact, my parents were in the middle of dropping me off in my college dorm in New Orleans when an announcement came over the loudspeakers on campus that the city was evacuating for the storm and that all parents and students should leave. So, I left all my belongings in my dorm room—mini fridge and all—and headed back home to wait out the storm as always.
I expected to return to college a week or so later, except the next morning Hurricane Katrina increased to a Category 5 storm. In a matter of days, she came through and destroyed my hometown with a vengeance. While she raged, I was tucked away in a three‐story brick office building where my parents worked, which is why I was able to walk outside and stand in the eye.
A lot happened in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina, including leaving my home, which was badly damaged, switching colleges because mine closed for the semester, and watching my parents pick up the pieces of their lives.
It's all a bit of a blur, to be honest, but I remember standing in the eye very clearly. I think it's because in that moment I felt a massive sense of dissonance. Standing outside with my dad, things were still and safe and quiet. But, we both knew something big was coming. We just didn't know the impact it would have on my family's life.
Nearly 15 years after that day, as I drove to pick up my twins from kindergarten in March 2020, the same feeling washed over me. Their school, getting ready to close for spring break, told parents they weren't sure if they'd open back up or not when the break was over. We knew Covid‐19 was spreading in the United States, but it wasn't quite to pandemic proportions yet.
It was a pretty day. I picked up the twins and took them home. They ran around in the backyard giggling and playing. As I watched them, in the pit of my stomach, it was almost like a string grabbed on and pulled me right back to that night in the eye of the storm. It was the same exact feeling of dissonance. There the kids were, playing and happy in the sunshine, but there was also a sense of knowing. There was something coming, and I knew the something was bad. But, in that moment, I didn't know how it would impact my life.
My college in New Orleans closed for the semester after Katrina. So, I enrolled in college in Baton Rouge instead. Similarly, 15 years later, my twins' school closed and switched to online learning due to Covid‐19.
Two life‐changing events—15 years apart.
We'd all be naive to think there won't be more. And, that's just in my personal life. Think of other families who've been deeply affected by war, illness, accidents, terrorism, tornadoes, fires, and floods.
These catastrophic events require large emergency funds. How prepared all of us are to weather them will determine whether our families merely survive them or actually thrive despite them.
It's not really a fun conversation, I know. And if your chest is tight from anxiety just after reading that, trust me I understand. But, because I am teaching you to develop a boss mindset, we cannot ignore this. The best‐case scenario is that you build a large emergency fund and you never, ever have to use it.
The next‐best‐case scenario is that you have a large emergency fund and you do have to use it. And, of course, the worst‐case scenario is that you and your children are caught in a situation where you have to completely upend your life because of a massive emergency, and you don't have any money to get you to a different location or to ensure that everybody is safe and taken care of.
So, how much do you need?
In order to figure out what you spend in one month, complete the steps outlined in the budgeting chapter, and add up all your expenses. Keep in mind, this one month of expenses can be a very bare bones budget. It does not have to include eating out or your waxing appointment. How much money do you need to stay in your home, eat, and keep the lights on? That's the goal amount for a starter emergency fund.
For most families, your starter emergency fund will have a few thousand dollars in it. For a long time, many personal finance experts popularized the idea of a $1,000 emergency fund. However, for most families, $1,000 won't get you very far. If you think about the two most common types of unexpected expenses, home repairs and car repairs, you can imagine that $1,000 would go very quickly.
Our dog recently had to spend three nights at a veterinary hospital because she was very sick, and the bill for that was about $1,500. It was a completely unexpected, out‐of‐the blue expense. What if I had only had a $1,000 emergency fund, which so many financial experts recommend? What would I have done about the other $500? Go into debt? Put it on a credit card? Put my dog down instead of taking care of her? And, that was just one unexpected expense. How many times have you had more than one unexpected expense pop up in a month?
Once you have your one‐month emergency fund in place, shift your focus to killing that high‐interest debt. Pretend the credit card debt is a roach in your house, and muster up that same enthusiasm to eliminate it! It has to go!
Once you are free from high‐interest debt, then go back to your emergency fund and continue to build it until it has six‐plus months of expenses in it. It sounds like a lot, I know, but your kids are worth it.
Your emergency fund could mean the difference between putting your kids in a hurricane shelter in the middle of a high school gymnasium or putting them in a hotel with a fun indoor pool to keep them busy. It seems like an unlikely scenario, but emergencies happen to families every year. And, I promise, for your kids' sake, it's worth the time it takes to double down and fill up that fund.
Why is this so vital? I would argue that it's a lack of emergency savings, rather than overspending, that causes people to get into debt in many cases.
I hear from so many moms who tell me they do the best they can with their spending. They'll tell me that they don't have a lot of designer brands and that they're cost‐conscious when they're shopping for food. However, inevitably something always comes up, which makes it very hard to get ahead. That's why emergency funds are so useful.
I know saving months of expenses might seem incredibly daunting for you, especially if you're used to a paycheck‐to‐paycheck cycle. And, to be fair, it is a large amount of money that I'm asking you to save, money I'm encouraging you to put somewhere else and not touch. It's money I want you to pretend isn't even there.
But, here's the good news. When you're a total boss and finally able to get that first month of emergency savings tucked away, you are going to feel incredible. You're going to feel like a kindergartener who got picked to be student of the day. You're going to feel responsible and most importantly, secure.
If you haven't noticed, a huge theme of this book is me trying to help alleviate your mental load. I want to help you gain back a lot of what mentally drains you. I don't want you to worry anymore. I want you to fall asleep as fast as your husband does.
So, commit to putting your first $100 in this account today. I don't care how many things you have to put on your porch and sell on Facebook Marketplace to get there. Let's do it!
Momentum is everything, so get rid of that old desk in your basement. Let go of the chair you thought would fit in the corner but really doesn't. Take that nice purse you used to use all the time but don't anymore and sell it. The second you get the money for those sales, put it right into your emergency savings account. There is nothing more important than having savings for your family. Trust me, when your house fills with eight feet of water like my childhood home did, none of the stuff inside matters. Your purses and shoes and furniture and all the art on the walls will flood, but hopefully, your kids will be safe because you saved and planned in advance.
Remember, you don't have to be in a savings frenzy forever. It can just be for a season where you decide to work overtime, do food deliveries, or purge your closets just until you get your emergency fund where you want it to be. Once you finish, you'll feel incredibly accomplished. You can pretend the fund is not there and go back to living your life, feeling confident because of what you have saved.
I keep my emergency fund in a totally separate bank account from the bank account I use for my day‐to‐day expenses. This reduces the likelihood that I will use it for something that is not an emergency.
Here's how I personally organize my finances. I've tried a few different ways to manage my regular checking account and my savings, and I've found this to be the most effective.
I keep all the money for my daily spending and monthly bills in one checking account. My paychecks and my husband's paychecks get deposited in this account. All our bills are set to auto‐draft out of this account. There is no savings account associated with this checking account. This is simply the account where our cash flows in and out.
Then, I have another checking account and all my savings accounts at a completely different bank. With this bank, I labeled my savings accounts with different goals. There is a $1,000 mini emergency fund in one savings account and a big emergency fund in another savings account. There's a vacation savings fund, a tax savings fund, and a Christmas savings fund. I have a debit card in my wallet that's associated with this checking account. Again, I don't use it for my day‐to‐day expenses.
So let's say I get a flat tire, and it costs me $300 to get it fixed. When I go to pay my bill at the car shop, I can use my phone and immediately transfer $300 from my mini‐emergency fund to the checking account associated with all my savings accounts. Because it's at the same bank, my transfer is instant. Then I use my debit card associated with that bank to pay my car bill.
I don't have to wait several days to move money around, and the entire transaction does not affect my main checking account and main cash flow whatsoever. It does not cause me to go over my monthly budget, and it does not cause me stress.
When it's time for Christmas, I can instantly transfer my Christmas savings fund to the checking account associated with it. Then, I can use that debit card to buy Christmas gifts. I can even do this throughout the year, like if I spot a great Christmas gift for one of my kids some other time during the year. Again, because it's all happening in a different bank from my regular cash flow, Christmas shopping does not affect my regular budget or cause me to have overages.
When it comes to emergencies, you often need to access your emergency fund quickly. So, it's not helpful to have to transfer money and wait three to four days for it to hit your regular checking account. That's why I like having dual banks, one for my everyday expenses and one for my savings and any emergency issues.
Having this system also keeps me from accessing my savings account needlessly. Because I actually have to go in and transfer money from my savings to my checking to use it, it makes me think twice. I often ask myself, “Is this purchase worth lowering your savings account?” Or, “Is this a real emergency?”
Again, this is the system that I found works for me after trying many different ways of organizing money in the past. I have friends who have multiple checking accounts at multiple banks. But, I know that the fewer accounts I have, the better. I love streamlining my accounts, my bills, and my life. Two checking accounts works for me for this reason, and labeling my savings accounts with my goals keeps me motivated and excited.
If I were writing this book 12 months ago instead of now, I'd probably echo the advice I've been giving for years, which is to save a three‐ to six‐month emergency fund. But, because I'm currently writing this book in the middle of the Covid‐19 pandemic, it's hard to feel like that would be enough. That's why I'm pushing for a six‐plus‐month emergency fund. The pandemic has gone on for so long and caused such economic destruction that many Americans have used up any savings they had. According to a survey, 14% of Americans wiped out their emergency savings because of the pandemic and 11% borrowed money to cover everyday expenses.1
For many families, a large‐scale emergency hasn't really been at the forefront of their minds, so this has all been quite a shock. After all, prior to this pandemic, the American economy was booming. Job growth was good. The stock market blew past all expectations. But now, things are uncertain, and they can change in a matter of weeks. That's why it's always good to have money saved on the side. You need it for your sanity, but you also need it to protect your kids. Saving for an emergency won't happen overnight. It might not even happen in a month or two. However, don't let that stop you from starting. And once you start, don't quit until it's done.
Now that we've covered emergency funds at length, it's time to look at insurance. I feel like this is one of the least fun things about becoming an adult. But, if you have kids and people who rely on you, buying term life insurance is an incredibly important step.
There are a lot of different insurance products out there so make sure you're reading the fine print. I recommend term life insurance, not whole life insurance or any other type of life insurance that has a different name. Whole life insurance salesmen will regale you with tales of how buying whole life insurance is an investment and how your money will grow. But, they rarely tell you how much money they make if they sell you the product or what fees they'll charge you. Insurance should be insurance, not an investment opportunity.
Whole life insurance salesmen also do a great job of trying to get you to buy life insurance for your kids. They tell you that you can use it as a savings account and then use the money for college. Again, insurance should be insurance. It's not a good investment account. If you want to save money for your kids' college, save it in a college savings fund like a 529 plan or an Education Savings Account (ESA). If you insist on having life insurance for your child, you can ask your term life insurance provider if you can buy a rider for your child.
When it comes to term life insurance, purchase a policy that is somewhere between 10 and 12 times your annual income. So if your income is $50,000 a year it's wise to get a policy that's worth anywhere from $500,000 to $600,000.
This is also important to get if you are a stay‐at‐home mom. I meet a lot of stay‐at‐home moms who never even considered buying a term life insurance policy for themselves. But, think about everything that you do for your family and how valuable your work is. If something happened to you unexpectedly, it would cost a considerable amount of money to hire someone to do everything that you do for your family. Childcare alone would be incredibly expensive.
So, whether you're a stay‐at‐home mom, a single mom, a working mom, or some combination of all of these, make sure that you get quoted for a term life insurance policy. If you have a policy through work, it might not be large enough to take care of your family if something should happen to you. So, please consider getting a policy that's adequate.
If you are unable to get a term life insurance policy due to medical conditions you may have, there might be alternative options available to you that you can find through independent research. At a minimum, you can set aside the money you would have spent on policy premiums in an investment account specifically for that purpose.
This is also a good time to set up a will if you don't have one already. If you're worried about the expense and you don't have a complicated estate, there are many low‐cost options and apps that can help you create a basic will. If you have a more complicated estate, hire an estate‐planning attorney to help you.
I'm also a huge advocate for creating an emergency binder, something that you can keep on your computer digitally and in hard copy form in your house. You're the mama, so if something happens to you, your family is going to need a lot of support and help picking up the pieces. An emergency binder can be a good first step to getting your life organized and doing some bosslike “adulting.” Not only can you include basic information about your household and you, but you can include information about your kids too if someone needs to step in and take over.
Because your emergency binder will have sensitive information in it, like your bank passwords and account information, keep it in a safe place and only let one or two trusted people know where it is. Update it every few months so that it has the most accurate information in it.
Between your emergency binder, securing a term life insurance policy, and building your emergency savings, you will acquire a great sense of peace and be able to take care of your family in a worst‐case scenario.