How to survive financial emergencies
In every life, a little rain must fall. If you have suddenly found yourself in downpour of money problems, there are productive steps for protecting your finances. Here are two common scenarios and how to navigate them to save your sanity—and your savings.

Scenario #1: You’ve lost your job

Recessions and job losses go together like candy and cavities: you rarely have one without the other. Losing one’s job is among the most stressful experiences, yet it is more common than most people realize.

Job seekers should take a page from experienced investors who always consider both how to get into—and out of—an investment. In the initial excitement, many people want to lock in the offer and sign on the dotted line. The first step in getting a fair termination is to ensure it’s in writing. Don’t be shy about requesting amendments to what is often a boilerplate employment contract. For ideas on what to ask for, research online posts from firms who specialize in employment law.

If you have been terminated without cause, you may be eligible for severance, termination pay in lieu of notice, outstanding vacation pay, and any unpaid wages. Every dollar or benefit you receive from a previous employer is a dollar you keep in your pocket.

It’s a common practice for employers to give a short deadline to sign back the termination agreement, implying if you miss the date, the offer will “expire”. Request an extension in writing and state it is for the purpose of getting professional advice. Also, do not worry if by negotiating, your employer will reduce the initial offer, as this very rarely happens. Remember your total compensation includes benefits, commission, non-discretionary bonuses, and potential overtime etc. Review any deadlines for transferring pension benefits or extending health benefits.

Next, tackle the financial planning side of job loss. If you are expecting a large severance, request that it be paid over two tax years, so you’re not bumped into a higher tax bracket based on the lump sum. If you have room in your RRSP and don’t need the funds, consider receiving them in your RRSP to avoid withholding taxes.

Next you’ll need to review your cash flow. Will you have enough to meet your expenses and loan payments? If it looks tight, contact your bank and credit card companies immediately to explain the situation. You should be able to negotiate deferred or reduced payments to avoid skipping a payment and damaging your credit history. If you have a life insurance policy, you may be able to use it as collateral to borrow money for living expenses.

The last thing you want is to feel financially confused. Many banks offer complementary financial planning services, and these planners are paid by the financial institution. For completely unbiased help, contact a fee-only financial planner. Knowing that you are on track – or at least have a plan to get there – frees up your energy to focus on landing your next job.

Now, brainstorm all the potential sources of income and other support available. Check government websites for a list of tax credits, income programs, or skills upgrading benefits. Finally, don’t waste good energy on self-recrimination and regrets. Turn the chapter.

Scenario #2: The value of your investments has dropped

Seeing the paper value of our investments drop is not an endorphin rush. Instead, it causes feelings of anxiety and depression. Before doing anything rash, look at the big picture:

Am I on track for meeting my short, medium, and long-term goals? A sharp market downturn doesn’t necessarily mean goals along your entire time horizon are derailed. Perhaps only your short-term goals will be delayed.

Do I have an emergency fund? If you don’t already have a cash-based emergency fund, create one as soon as you can. Depending on factors such as your age, income security, and cashflow needs, your emergency fund should represent anywhere from 6 months to 3 years of regular expenses. Remember: ‘Cash is King’ as it allows you to cover your expenses— and scoop up quality investments at a lower cost.

To boost your cashflow, consider negotiating lower loan payments or even payment holidays. Identify where you can raise cash quickly should you need to, such as a line-of-credit or certain assets that could be used as collateral for a bridge loan. This might be a great time for a closet clean-up as there may be treasures in there for resale.

It’s easy to be comfortable with risk during bull markets when most asset prices are rising. Only when the value of our investments drops precipitously, do we fully understand our true risk tolerance. You may have a high emotional tolerance for risk but a low financial tolerance for it or vice-versa. Whatever the case, avoid doing anything extreme. Instead, consider the benefits of dollar-cost-averaging where your investment dollar goes further in a bear market. This is also a good time to rebalance your portfolio if a drop in one asset class has thrown it off. Oddly, most of us are more likely to buy in a rising market and sell in a falling one—the opposite of what we should be doing.

Finally, remember, it’s not an actual loss until you sell.

Rita Silvan, CIM™️, is personal finance and investment writer and editor. She is the former editor-in-chief of ELLE Canada magazine and is an award-winning journalist and tv media personality. Rita is the editor-in-chief of Golden Girl Finance, an online magazine focusing on women’s financial success. When not writing about all things financial, Rita explores Toronto’s parks with her standard poodle.

Rita Silvan is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.
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