A few weeks ago, we asked DailyFinance readers for their best tips for putting your financial house in order. Many were quick to note that the foundation of financial security lies in being ready when disaster hits. With that in mind, here are some of their best suggestions for planning ahead for rainy days -- and making sure your umbrella is big enough.
In 2008, more than 2.6 million people lost their jobs. Some were prepared, but many found themselves raiding savings accounts, selling possessions, and moving out of their dream homes in desperate attempts to get their finances on a firmer footing. As "Frank S." noted, much of that frantic effort could have been avoided with better planning. "Save up to six months in the event you get laid off," he suggests.
Several other readers expressed similar sentiments: "Ray" noted that he has "saved at least 10% of what I have earned since I first began to work in 1971." "DocDearth" suggested going even further: "The more you can afford to save in the way of a percentage of income the better. Between 10% and 15% ... is a good benchmark."
Many of you pointed out that planning for retirement is vital for long-term financial security. To accomplish that goal, some said, they saved all of their bonuses, lived off of only one spouse's income, or maxed out their 401(k) accounts. "DocDearth" puts this especially well, reminding us that we should put money in our retirement accounts before spending on anything else: "The number one rule of financial planning is 'PAY YOURSELF FIRST!!'"
When It Rains, It Pours
But saving can only take you so far. As many readers noted, another vital part of keeping your finances healthy is avoiding the sorts of situations that can decimate them. For example, in 2010 and 2011 20% of people seeking bankruptcy counseling blamed medical bills for their dire financial straits. In 2009, The American Journal of Medicine put the number even higher: According to a study published by the journal, up to 60% of bankruptcies could trace their financial woes to out-of-control health bills.
"Susan S.," who describes herself as a "secret millionaire," takes a proactive approach to the problem: Her simple answer is doing everything she can to avoid getting sick. "You cannot control for all diseases, but keeping yourself as healthy as possible will save on healthcare. Eat your vegetables, exercise, don't smoke or drink to excess, and wear protective equipment such as bike helmets." Also, as many readers noted, even expensive health insurance can be a bargain if a serious medical problem arises.
Divorce is another financial disaster: In the past, it was women who were most often left financially bereft when marriages fell apart, but a rise in divorce judgments against men, combined with increased policing of their child support and alimony payments, has shifted the trend. Today, the percentages of men and women whose economic fortunes take a nosedive when their marriages break up are almost the same.
But while the financial impact of divorce has become more fairly divided, there is no question that the overall cost remains high. "Meek6" advised "Chose a life partner and stay married. Divorce is the biggest loss you can ever have." "David A" echoed the sentiment by telling a bit of his own private story: "My beloved wife and I will be celebrating 34 years together in 2012. Divorce is one of the most costly mistakes you can make to derail your finances."
When it comes to your finances, there are many ways to scrimp and save. However, as DailyFinance's readers note, perhaps the best way to live well is to be prepared when disaster comes knocking.
Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.