This is how I see the aftermath of hurricanes. How can you not empathize with the victims of Hurricane Dorian after looking at the photos of the utter devastation the storm caused in the Bahamas? And now the storm is expected to cause historic flooding on the East Coast.
Yet, it’s hard not to wonder why — when ordered to evacuate ahead of a massive storm that threatens life and property — people refuse to leave. Why don’t they go?
It’s so easy to see fault in the actions of others, but let’s look at why people don’t heed a warning to evacuate during a natural disaster. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted six weeks after Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, looked at the reasons people didn’t leave. Here’s why.
— They couldn’t afford to help themselves. When Katrina hit many residents were criticized for their “choice” to stay during the storm. But they didn’t flee because they were being reckless. They didn’t have the financial resources to find alternative housing. They didn’t have a means of transportation to get out.
— They believed they could handle the crisis. The Katrina poll found that people 57 percent of people who didn’t evacuate misjudged the severity of the storm. Forty percent didn’t think it would be that bad, or thought that prior hurricanes turned out not to be as severe as predicted.
— They underestimated the crisis. They thought their homes could withstand the storm.
— They waited too long. By the time they realized how bad Katrina really was, they couldn’t leave.
Now, let’s juxtaposition the same reasons people don’t evacuate during a hurricane to how people respond to a financial crisis.
— They can’t afford to help themselves. If faced with an unexpected $400 expense, 4 in 10 adults said they would not have the money to cover it, according to a report last year from the Federal Reserve. To get the funds, they would have to sell something or borrow.
There are many people who can afford to save but don’t. Instead they chose to live above their means.
— They believe they can handle the crisis. I talk to a lot of parents who aren’t saving for their child’s education. They believe their kids are so academically and/or athletically talented that they will get enough scholarships to largely pay for college. These parents are misjudging the situation.
— They underestimate the situation. Many families are struggling under the weight of student loans. Outstanding student loans for the first quarter of 2019 were $1.49 trillion, according to the latest Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Household Debt and Credit report.
“Much of the debate about college today focuses on tuition and mounting student debt, with Democratic presidential candidates even raising the possibility of forgiving all student loans,” wrote Beth Akers, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “Not enough attention is paid to risk. Spending tens of thousands of dollars annually on four years of college (or more), with little promise that it will pay off in the form of a good job, is a big gamble.”
Then there is the looming problem that many people aren’t saving enough for retirement.
— They wait too long. The time to start worrying about paying for college isn’t when your child is applying to schools as a high school senior. You need to start planning and preparing when they are infants.
When it comes to saving for retirement, make it a priority decades before you plan to stop working.
You may tell yourself that of course you would heed the advice to evacuate during a hurricane. But stop for a moment and think about how you are managing your money. Are you ignoring warnings that could help you weather a financial storm?
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What financial lessons can you learn from the impact of a major storm? Send your comments to email@example.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Financial Lessons from Hurricane Dorian.”
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