Unexpected Expenses Don’t Have to Be So Stressful. Here’s Why.

Not-so-welcome surprises come in all shapes and sizes: Your significant other volunteers you both for a night out when you planned on staying in. A work project — with a short deadline — suddenly appears. Your kid comes home with the flu that’s been floating around day care.

Among those surprises you could probably do without, unexpected expenses can always be particularly challenging.

And yet they always seem to appear. Even if you have insurance, you may find yourself needing to pay for a fridge that suddenly doesn’t get cold, a fender bender or an emergency room visit. You have every right to panic when these types of things come up, but don’t let being flustered lead you to make poor financial decisions.

Instead, take time to evaluate the situation and how it fits into your larger financial plan. Is it a blip you can quickly recover from or a significant hit? Likewise, don’t rush the research that can help you reduce your financial burden. Do some comparison shopping, for instance. You may even be able to negotiate bills. Then, consider all the possible solutions for covering what you owe.

Are You Prepared?

In the ideal scenario, you’ve planned for unexpected expenses by stashing away six months of emergency cash into a designated money market account or another type of savings account that lets you easily access your funds. If you haven’t, you’re not alone. Nearly half of Americans don’t have enough money set aside to cover three months’ worth of expenses, and 28 percent have no emergency savings at all, according to Bankrate. Likewise, The Associated Press reports that two-thirds of Americans would have trouble coming up with $1,000 to cover an unexpected bill.

5 Ways to Pay for Unexpected Bills

Thankfully, you have options if paying an expense isn’t as simple as shelling out cash. Each comes with drawbacks, so carefully consider your decision. Here are five possibilities.

1. Pay the bill with a credit card
What to consider: Carrying a large balance can introduce new anxieties, like high-interest debt and hits to your credit score.

2. Make purchases through zero-interest or low-interest financing
What to consider: You could face big interest payments if you fail to pay off the balance by the end of the deferred interest period.

3. Secure a short-term personal loan from your bank
What to consider: The loan could come with high interest rates, fees and penalties that make it unattractive.

4. Take money out of your retirement account
What to consider: Early withdrawals can spur penalties and make you sacrifice tax benefits. Also, you’ll face the stress of having less to retire on.

5. Reduce discretionary spending in other areas, like entertainment
What to consider: It’s not particularly painful, but saying goodbye to things that make you happy can still sting.

Discussing your options with a trusted financial professional can make it easier to sort out the pros and cons of each solution and control your stress level about the situation. Meanwhile, if you haven’t started setting aside money for an unexpected expense, work toward building that six-months’ emergency savings. Your future self will thank you for the gifts of financial control and peace of mind.

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