Financial Lessons From A Hurricane

hurricaneBack in 2005, I was a new freshman in college. I drove to the university I was supposed to go to, Tulane in New Orleans, the city that I am from. I put my mini fridge, my clothes, my ten pairs of shoes, and my books in my dorm room like thousands of college students across the country. Except, for me, that was the last time I set foot there.

A mere minutes after I placed my belongings in my dorm room, the city spread an evacuation notice for Hurricane Katrina, and my life changed forever.

After the devastation, the arduous task of helping my parents clean up our house, and the emotional pain that set in that (that still stings from time to time to this day), my family was left with a heaping financial mess.

Financial Lesson #1: Expect the Unexpected.

I had a full tuition scholarship to Tulane for 4 years, but the hurricane closed down the school for a semester. While other students returned when that time was up, my family didn’t feel the city was safe enough yet after a semester for me to return to. The city is still recovering 7 years later, so I feel that was a wise choice. Still, I ended up transferring to William and Mary. Although they granted me need-based assistance due to the trauma we endured, I still ended up with $14,000 in undergraduate debt. So, even if you feel like you have a full ride or a trip fully paid for, it’s best to have some extra cash lying around just in case.

Financial Lesson #2: Your Stuff is Not As Important As You Think

Perhaps this lesson is more emotional than financial, but when you lose everything, you realize how little it mattered. My parents had six figures of uninsured losses which included everything from furniture to Christmas ornaments. It also included things that were too sentimental to even have a price tag. It pains me to think about all those items gone, but the memories do sustain me.

Financial Lesson #3: It’s Pays To Have Emergency Kits

Today, 2 in 5 households live paycheck to paycheck. So, it may be difficult to justify purchasing expensive batteries, bottles of water, or any other necessary emergency item. However, when you are faced with a true emergency as I have been, those things are priceless. I remember very vividly that my dad had a radio that we could listen to when all of the phone lines were down in the surrounding areas. It helped us to get very important news that we wouldn’t have heard otherwise.

I could share more in this post about what we lost and how difficult it still is today to talk about Katrina, a name that has gained notoriety. Every time I tell someone I am from the New Orleans area, the first things they ask about is Katrina, not the French Quarter or the food or Mardi Gras. So I could share more about what we lost, but I think it’s more important to focus on what we gained.

We gained an immense perspective, first of all. We learned that as long as our family was safe, it didn’t matter how much we lost. We learned insurance companies are hard to deal with at times. We learned that assistance is actually not always on the way. We learned to think for ourselves and to be grateful to have had savings accounts and money to live on for several months when most people didn’t. The financial lessons are important for us still today, especially now during this hurricane season, but the life lessons last forever.

photo by ChalkyLives