In life, we can end up in the most uncertain moments and in those moments, our mental toughness is tested. My family made it through Hurricane Harvey and I documented the events starting with my first post on the debacle. From that experience, here are 7 lessons we learned from the flood that in many ways, can be applied to personal finance.
But first, let me pick up from where I left off…
As Hurricane Harvey began to move East, so did the waters gathered in the reservoirs North and West of our home. After 4 days of the torrential downpour, the hurricane had moved on. The sun was shining. Then we flooded.
It began with the sound of a trickle, as your sink faucet might sound when the last bits of water escape down the drain. The water sitting against the foundation had risen just enough to make its way through the brick’s weep holes into our living room.
The sound was disheartening, but in another aspect, it was also a relief. There was no more waiting to know our Hurricane Harvey destiny. The Army Corp of Engineers had opened the floodgates and our home was about to flood.
It was about 6:30 PM and immediately after we confirmed where the trickling was coming from, we prepared the kids for an early bed-time. Since the trickle had not made its way throughout the house yet, we began to rip out all our semi-dry carpet.
We tossed our first roll out the front door and quickly learned that was not such a great idea. By the time we came back with a second roll, the first was halfway down the driveway. A few more minutes and it would have made an exit onto the street, which looked more like a flowing river.
The railed-in porch would have to be our carpet storage area. By this point, adrenaline had taken full effect and we ripped out the entire first floor. Step two of our “plan” was to rip out the drywall and insulation to prevent moisture wicking up to the second floor.
Just like our plan to put the carpet in the front yard, this plan also had to change. We ripped out about 5 square feet before the adrenaline wore off and the emotions of the situation started to take over. As our tear ducts started to flow, we decided it was better to not add to the depths of water and decided to call it a day.
Before hitting the sack, we checked on our children who were all surprisingly fast asleep. For the last 8 hours, we had been living in what I imagined a war zone might feel like. Helicopters were overhead, while airboats were blowing past the front door.
We did not hear gunshots at our home but saw reports of shots exchanged between owners and looters in and around Houston. The electricity was off and the kids sound machine quit, but the disaster zone noises must have soothed them all right to sleep. Luckily for Sarah and I, a few hours after dusk, the loud sounds of helicopters, boats and the occasional army truck turned into the soothing sounds of bullfrogs.
Listening to the croaks of the bullfrogs, we took stock of what we had learned thus far.
1. Trust in yourself and gather data from multiple sources
Hysteria is common during uncommon events. The past four days we had heard the water was going to dramatically increase by 8’ or more in a matter of seconds. We had just lived through +20” of rain per hour and were far enough from the reservoirs to know that if the dams did break, it wouldn’t be an 8’ tsunami by the time it reached us. Even as things got worse, we still never abandoned our common sense.
In personal finance, it is always a good idea to seek advice from a financial expert and highly recommended! Also, seek more information from multiple trusted sources on the things you don’t fully understand. You also need to trust in yourself and apply common sense because ultimately, it is your money that is on the line.
2. Build up an emergency fund in advance
Money and our material possessions were the least of our worries. We didn’t have to feel compelled to stay in a flooded home just to fend off looters. We also knew that we had funds to get us through the recovery.
The personal finance lesson here is that saving money on a consistent basis is often the cure when disaster strikes. When you have a healthy amount of backup funds in the bank, you can weather the storms that come more easily.
3. Leave before the storm hits
You can replace your house and possessions, but you can’t replace each other!
The streets flooded first, trapping our cars in the garage almost immediately. We were lucky that our house didn’t flood all the way upstairs. We were certain it wouldn’t. If there was even a slight risk, we would have left.
You may have already guessed the lesson here but let’s use the stock market as an example. If you have your investments in places where there is enough evidence to suggest that a storm is brewing, then it is better to exit before you lose. Just make absolutely sure that it is a debacle that warrants action on your part because sometimes, storms come and go quickly.
4. Take the time to plan for the unexpected
Stock up on essentials and charge your modes of communication in advance. You never know how long “recovery” will take, including restoring power and access to food and water. Think Puerto Rico.
When dealing with your finances, always have a backup financial plan in case all hell breaks loose!
5. Having great friends and neighbors can make a huge difference
Heroes are born in tumultuous times and the person who arrives at your front door with a helping hand may not have been who you expected.
Think of credit cards and how useful they can become during financial difficulties but the trick is to make sure they are all paid up! Paying off your debts is like saving money today because, in so many ways, your credit score defines your potential wealth.
6. Keep communicating
Having an open dialogue with friends and family during potentially dangerous times, allows them to respond immediately when called upon. We are blessed to be in the age of cell phones, text messages, and social media.
In everything we do in life, including handling our finances, communication is crucial!
We made it with help
The morning came quickly and so did the airboats and helicopters. The noise didn’t bother the kids but it did our dog. The kids were only wondering why they were being forced to crawl/walk/tumble around with bulky life jackets strapped around their chest. The dog had already gone for a swim once to try and escape the noise.
It was not long before a familiar face was floating up to our porch, which was now a boat dock. It was a blessing to see a friend in this situation. We knew we could travel as a family and be dropped at a location where there was immediate transportation to our friend’s home.
While we were motoring away and double checking the kid’s safety gear, Sarah and I noticed that what used to be kicking and screaming had turned to smiles and laughter. This was our kids first time on a boat and they were enjoying every second of it. The day was full of sunshine and it was hard not to enjoy the Venetian experience of boating through a city.
As we got closer to the takeout, we saw more and more volunteers. It was amazing how many people came out to help. There were long lines of boats and volunteers waiting to rescue and support anyone in need. These generous acts of kindness experienced on the evacuation were only the start of an overwhelming amount of support we were about to receive in the weeks and months to come.