Expecting the Unexpected

by Beth · 7 comments

in Notes On Culture,Thoughts On Frugality

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I have a few issues when it comes to control.  Namely, I want to be in it.  All the time.  There is nothing more stressful to me than feeling like I’ve lost it.  From a financial standpoint, that means that it’s very important to me to be independent, have little or no debt, and most of all have an emergency fund for those times when something unexpected comes up.

Because something always does come up.  No matter how many preventative measures you take, you can’t anticipate every emergency situation that might arise.  And every new experience or venture that you undertake seems to ratchet up the chance of something happening, and thus requires giving up a little bit more control.  But hey, what’s life without a little risk? (Very peaceful, my inner control freak assures me.)

As I mentioned in last week’s post about my ‘Not-So-Frugal Vacation,’ we came home from a month of rather lax spending to some very unexpected expenses, one which nearly kept us from getting back home.  Because we had failed to acquire French passports for our children (mistakenly believing they could travel back and forth with their U.S. ones), we were required to purchase three additional, full-fare tickets before we could leave the States.  The airlines wanted us to have proof that we would come back to the U.S. with the children, despite the fact that we are all four legal French citizens and have lived here for six years.

Sound complicated?  It was, and the result on our bank account even more so, to the tune of almost $5000.  One of the more frustrating aspects of the lengthy conversation/tear-filled pleading argument with several British Airlines representatives was that they seemed to assume that we could just stick the charge on our credit card and be done with it.  We’d be filing for a refund as soon as we returned home, so no big deal, right?  Except that of our own free choice, we don’t own a credit card.  Not something I would consider to be that abnormal, but the airlines couldn’t seem to get a handle on the fact that $5000 would have to come straight out of our somewhat less well-endowed bank account.

In the end, desperate to make our flight, we bought the tickets.  We were lucky that my husband’s pay check was serendipitously deposited on the same day, meaning we had enough in the account to keep our cards from being blocked and enough time to get home and move money from one of our savings accounts to hold us over until we got our refund.  Which we’re still waiting on, over two weeks later.

But if we hadn’t had money coming in at that time, or hadn’t had some available emergency money to make up the difference for the month, we would have been in real trouble.  As one friend put it, if it had been her who needed that kind of money in her bank account, she would still be in the States with the kids.

So, what did I learn from this experience?  Of course, it only reinforced my belief that you have to be prepared for anything.  Having money saved is so important to my peace of mind, way more important and satisfying for me than anything I could buy with that money.  But at the same time, if I wanted perfect financial peace of mind, I would have stayed at home, which would have meant missing out on a great vacation and visit with family and friends.    It was worth the risk, and it could have turned out a lot worse if we hadn’t been prepared.

How do you prepare for unexpected financial emergencies?  Do you think having a credit card is a necessity, even if only for those “just in case” scenarios?  How do you balance financial risk vs. financial security?


1 kellyrigotti August 18, 2010

I'm happy to have heard this story, if not so happy that Beth had to live through it in order to tell it to me! It served to remind me to make sure that our US credit card is up to date. We carry zero balance on it, but I've always kept it open as a way to make sure that we'll have some sort of active credit history in the US- I've had the card since '95, long before I moved to France. It's not the same as having an emergency fund, but in our case, it would be the only way we would be able to get back.

2 Nancy August 18, 2010

I can't even begin to imagine making an international trip without a credit card. In my mind, they are for emergencies and just as this scenario indicates, emergencies do happen.

3 Cara August 19, 2010

I have always with my whole family travelled back and forth from the States to France (we live here too) with just the US passports, never a problem. We don't have French passports for our kids either, but everyone has dual citizenship. Don't understand why this was a problem for you guys?

4 kellyrigotti August 19, 2010

I think it's a British Airlines restriction. I have also travelled with my kids on a variety of carriers to both the US and the UK and never had this problem. BUT, it definitely made me start the process of getting them French passports. I'm also going to start carrying our Livret de Famille with us (for non French readers, it's an official booklet, issued when a couple gets married, that lists the marriage, births of all children and eventual deaths of family members. It's often used as proof of familial affiliation.). The good news is that a French passport for kids only costs €17, so besides all the hassle of the paperwork, it's not that difficult;

5 Beth Gourbiere August 19, 2010

Cara, I don't understand it, either. We've been back and forth several times with only U.S. passports for the kids, and we've never had a problem. Hence the unexpected! I don't know if it's a new rule or just British Airways having their own "special" rule, but I was floored by it and more than a little argumentative as a result. Unfortunately, although the BA employees seemed totally clueless about many, many things, they weren't budging on their position, and would not have let us on the flight without buying those extra tickets.

6 Chris August 19, 2010

Wow, that sounds like it was huge headache! It is good to have a credit card for emergency cases and maybe if you posses the willpower and self-discipline to pay them off in full, however they usually end up getting a lot of people in trouble. Having to cough up money in emergencies like this always hurts, but I could imagine it feels way more gratifying knowing you were responsible and put some $$ away in an emergency fund rather than charging it and dealing with it afterwards.

7 Siebrie August 25, 2010

Our credit card has a €2,500 limit, so we would still be stuck….

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