It’s National Preparedness Month, the time each year when we’re reminded that you can’t predict emergencies like natural disasters, and that now is always a good time to start saving (just in case your rainy day ends up being a monsoon).

This hit especially close to home (pun intended) when Hurricane Isiais made its presence known by knocking a large tree limb down on top of my car. While I certainly hadn’t planned for my vehicle to be a casualty of the storm, I had savings set aside that cushioned the blow when it came to repairs.

Truthfully, I learned to set aside funds for an emergency the hard way (as many do): after incurring plenty of unforeseen expenses of my own. Take it from someone who knows: without an emergency savings fund, it’s very possible to take on unnecessary debt.

Navy Federal provides great advice on the basics of an emergency fund and how to set one up, but what exactly should you be saving for? It’s often hard to conceptualize what an unexpected expense might look like. To help, I polled friends, family and colleagues to see what surprise costs they’d tackled this year.

General Expenses

This year brought with it a lot of changes in expenses as none of us saw COVID coming. Friends and family saw grocery, electricity, water and even internet bills rise as a result of staying (and working…and learning…) at home.

Income Shifts

On that same note, some I talked to dealt with loss of income as a result of being laid off or furloughed due to COVID. For one friend, the change was more choice than circumstance, as she left her job to care for her kids. Either way you split it, though, no one I spoke with was planning to go from two incomes to one, and those who dropped from one to none faced an even tougher challenge.

Medical Expenses

This was another big one. It’s not fun to think about or plan for medical emergencies but you’ll likely feel better prepared to tackle them if you have money set aside. Those I spoke with dealt with added costs that included an emergency appendectomy, at least two root canals, a cancer diagnosis and fertility treatments. Even with insurance, the cost for out-of-network providers and additional diagnostics (think labs or imaging) proved to be a surprise for many.

Vet Bills

It’s not just people who required unexpected care, though. Unanticipated costs for veterinary care were another reason folks had to dip into their emergency savings. Whether it was $2,500 to remove a sock from the tummy of a very curious spaniel or $500 to cover allergy shots for a beloved mutt, pet costs were another area of unexpected expense for more than a few of the people I talked to.

Home Improvements

It’s never a good time for your air conditioning to quit, your roof to leak or your water heater to go—lessons many friends and family learned the hard way this year. Just ask my sister, who had to dig for coins from between her couch cushions to help cover the $750 she needed for a new AC unit when hers went bust during a mid-July heatwave.

Home offices were another area of unanticipated expense as nearly everyone I talked to was now working from the (dis)comfort of their kitchen, living room or other improvised space. As a result, desks, lamps, chairs and other home office equipment became unexpected essentials.

Electronics

Similarly, new computers and other gadgets weren’t in the original budget for many I spoke with. For families with children, the need to provide or upgrade their child’s electronics to keep pace with distance learning came as a surprise. It wasn’t just computers, though; others had to cover a new cell phone after dropping the old one in the toilet and a home security system after a porch theft.

Vehicle Care

It seems I wasn’t the only person in my circle who faced unanticipated car costs this year. And, while I was lucky enough to only have to cover my insurance deductible, it was still $250 I had to pull from my emergency savings. Others fared far worse, though, having to replace their brakes, tires and even entire car.


This all goes to say that there are many costs in life we can’t anticipate. And, whether it’s a tree limb across your car, a sock in your dog’s stomach, an AC unit on the fritz or a global pandemic to contend with, you’ll need some way to cover the expense. Expect the unexpected and make sure you’re in control when things are not.

See how you can start building your emergency savings with guidance from Navy Federal. If you have unexpected costs you need help covering now, they can help with a personal loan to ease the burden as well.

Amy is the editor for our Marketing Communications team, working to strengthen the messaging behind our member outreach. She’s been with Navy Federal for three years and lives in Richmond, Va. with her husband and cat.

This article is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.