I felt selfish for writing my letter, and sending it out to close friends I knew would follow through on my wishes. I only asked that my family be looked after when I was gone. Most of the guilt came from the fact that I hadn't really been able to look after them myself yet. My family had always looked after me, and supported me monetarily when the occasion called for it. After my first year in NYC, I began to gain financial independence. I worked in project management and brought home a decent salary. But I was a contracted employee, and eventually my contract ended. It wasn't long before I was on my own again, with a dwindling savings account in a city that's prohibitively expensive. I spent a few months toying with the idea of writing for a living, and I even worked on a book project. The money was going fast, and I was only able to work a few days on another project. It was at that point I noticed that something was wrong, and a cancer diagnosis promptly followed. I didn't have much of an opportunity to pick myself back up after that. It was on to surgery and immunotherapy instead. I didn't fully know it yet, but my working days would be over for a while.
I wondered if I'd actually done something wrong. If I'd made a mistake and hadn't prepared to the best of my ability, even though I could never have predicted what happened. All the same, I began to wonder what I should have had in place at that point, in order to protect myself against unexpected hardship. To answer that question, I spoke with Bryan Mills, a financial consultant with Investors Capital.
|"I'm not made of money, but my clothes are"|
"One of the biggest things I always ask someone I speak to is, do you have six months of living expenses in the bank? Six to twelve of months of real cash. Whatever your monthly expenses are, you have to be able to cover at least six months." It's no secret that the average person needs to be saving, in order to cover their bases. But how do you go about this? "Write down what's called a T-Chart," says Mills. "Income on the right side, outflow on the left. Write down every single expense: food, bills, car, gas, insurance, travel. Go through line by line and see if there are things you can cut if you need to."
Seems simple enough. But what about when something serious happens? What can the average person do to protect themselves in case of an unexpected health crisis? "Level premium term life insurance is important for everyone to have," says Mills. "You can usually get it dirt cheap. The average cost of a funeral today is over $10,000. A 20-30 year term policy is relatively easy to qualify for and would cover the expense, instead of leaving your family to pay out of pocket." Age and health are a factor though, and policies will cost you more as you get older. "Most people think they're safe. 'My company is going to give me all this insurance,' they think. But what happens if you leave the company? Most group insurance isn't portable. Personal insurance is the best way to make sure you're covered. And it has to be through a company with a superior credit rating, otherwise they might not be able to make good on their obligations in a really bad situation."
What if you're just starting out in life? And you can't afford a term policy, even though Bryan would argue that a lot of them are very affordable, there are still instances in which any expenditure seems like too much.
"Budget yourself," says Mills. "Don't spend wildly or erratically. You can treat yourself, but really be conscious about what you're spending. There are apps that can help you."
Apps! Apps! Of course! As a millennial, born into an era of increasing technological dependence, I was very happy to hear that. In my day-to-day adventuring, I use a host of apps to make life easier, to entertain myself, and to annoy as many people as possible. And so I figured that being a financial consultant, Bryan would have the skinny on the best gadgets in the financial field. Turns out, he does. So what are these magnificent software-laden golden geese? Bryan gives us the rundown:
From the glorious minds behind Mint.com, the app version of the site provides all of your financial needs at the tips of your fingers (or thumbs). It tracks your spending habits and cash flow, and creates a personalized budget based on your needs. Just add your banks and credit cards, and watch your custom graphs load up and head deep into the red (oh, that doesn't happen to everyone?).
Run by the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education, a nonprofit that helps people find the insurance that's right for them. They offer options based on your current needs, providing various calculator and estimator tools to help you figure out what kind of coverage you require. They have an Iphone app, and a website with resources for consumers and advisers alike.
This is Bryan's very own app. "For someone who just started a job or is new to the workforce, it'll help you plan for the future," he explains. His goal is to get you from here to a healthy retirement, without pushing expensive products down your throat. The app is completely unbiased, and comes with two categories: "Retire Logix," for those looking to plan for the long-term, and "Student Logix," designed specifically for the academics among us. Anytime you feel like talking to Bryan in more detail, click on "Consult with Bryan?" and you can dial him up or send him an email. I personally send him life-sized cardboard cutouts of my face, but he tells me that emails work just as well. Retire Logix was rated among the top 100 apps of 2011 by Money Magazine.
It turns out there are options for protecting yourself financially in a crisis. Granted, it's very difficult to manage, and no one knows this better than myself. But I'm trying my best to get back on my feet, and if you're looking to do so as well, I hope this information will be of use.
Image Credits: Top -- Pumice on 20 dollars, by Robert DuHamel via Wikimedia Commons; Middle -- I'm not made of money, but my clothes are, by Craighton Miller via flickr; Bottom -- I am PRETTY give me MONEY, by dtchn via deviantart
Disclosure: I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. Bryan E. Mills is a financial consultant who offers securities through Investors Capital Corporation. Member FINRA/SIPC. 800-949-1422. The views and opinions offered by Bryan Mills in this piece should not be construed as specific investment advice. You should consult an investment professional regarding your unique situation.