In October 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall in Bay County, Florida, the county my family calls home. It was a massive category 4 hurricane packing 155 mph winds — one of the strongest to ever make landfall in the United States. As you can imagine, it left behind a wake of massive destruction.

While we were lucky that our home was mostly spared, my wife’s employer wasn’t so lucky. Prior to the hurricane, my wife worked part-time at one of the two major hospitals in our town. After the hurricane, neither hospital was open except for their emergency rooms. The hurricane had effectively shut down all of the major hospitals in our county.

The other local hospital was able to open up in bits and pieces and has returned to the full-staffing and full-service levels they operated at prior to the hurricane. My wife’s hospital, on the other hand, wasn’t able to do so. In fact, my wife’s employer stayed shut down for basically three months after the hurricane. Even when it reopened in 2019, it only reopened at roughly 25 percent of its former capacity. That meant major layoffs in our community.

After months of not working since the hurricane, my wife was one of the hundreds of medical employees laid off in February, almost four months after the storm hit. We relied on the income even though it wasn’t a huge portion of our monthly budget. Here’s how we financially survived the hurricane, the months without work that came after, and the eventual layoff in February.

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We Had an Emergency Fund

How to Cope With a Layoff After a Natural Disaster. Losing a job isn't easy, especially after a natural disaster. One couple went through just that. Learn how to cope with a layoff like theirs. #financialhardship #moneyproblemSurviving a major financial emergency like a natural disaster or a job layoff isn’t easy. That said, you can do it if you’re properly prepared in advance. It's absolutely essential to have an emergency fund if you want to survive.

Personally, my family had a six-month emergency fund set aside just in case something like this happened.

Through planning, a bit of luck, and a lot of hard work, we managed not to touch it at all during this extremely tough time. But it was there if we needed it, which allowed us to make smart decisions.

If we didn’t have an emergency fund, we would have had to rush to stop the financial bleeding as fast as possible.

A situation like that could have led to less-than-optimal decisions. For example, shortly after the hurricane hit, the hospital was allowing people to move from my wife’s part-time status to full-time status in order to secure storm pay while the hospital was shut down.

The issue is, the hospital would expect my wife to return to work full time once things were back to normal. We knew our family’s schedule couldn’t handle that change. Rather than freak out and accept the full-time offer because we needed the money, we were able to make the smarter decision for our family and keep her in her part-time status.

We Took Stock of Our Situation

After the hurricane hit, we knew things wouldn’t be normal for a long time. As such, we needed to take a hard look at our financial situation. We knew we had our emergency fund to rely on. However, we also knew we needed to make a plan for how we’d move forward.

With the hospital shut down, we knew not to expect any income from my wife’s job for months. This put our income a bit lower than we’d like. Thankfully, I work online for multiple clients, none of whom were impacted by the hurricane.

We Took Advantage of the Opportunities We Had

Since we had our internet restored fairly quickly after the storm, we knew I needed to focus on growing my income to fully support our needs.

I was able to find a couple of new income opportunities and increased my workload in the months after the storm. This meant I was now working more hours than in the past, while my wife was no longer working at all. Over the next couple of months, our family found out we liked this arrangement more than our work arrangements prior to the storm.

When my wife got laid off, it ended up making our decision to have her stay home easy. Rather than have my wife look for a new job, I’d just continue to work more and focus on growing my business.

Unexpected Ways This Can Impact You

Even if you’re financially prepared for a natural disaster, a layoff, or both, there are factors to consider other than just income lost. You may lose health insurance, dental insurance, life insurance, retirement plan matching, and other employee benefits. These didn’t impact us because my wife was a part-time employee with no benefits prior to the storm.

But if this happens to you, you’ll need to quickly figure out which benefits are worth replacing and how much they’ll cost you. Continuing health insurance with your employer through COBRA will be expensive because your employer will no longer subsidize your coverage.

Even finding insurance on a health exchange could be expensive.

While health insurance is expensive, going uninsured could leave you bankrupt, so make sure you consider your options very carefully.

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How to Cope With a Layoff: Our Takeaways

Looking back, we wouldn’t have done anything differently. However, if we didn’t have that emergency fund that allowed us to slow down, consider our situation, and make smart decisions for our family, I’d be telling you a completely different story today.

Start preparing for the next natural disaster or layoff today. Start building an emergency fund. Make a plan for what you’d do for the types of natural disasters that could hit you where you live. Think through what you’d do if you found out you were getting laid off today. Thinking through these situations, how you’d handle them, and how you can better prepare your family and your finances is the best way to strengthen your position.

If you’re currently dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster or a layoff, you don’t have time to prepare anymore. You have only the resources you’ve built in the past. Focus on how you can maximize those resources and make them last. Try to make smart decisions on how to recover and find new work, but remember to look at the big picture.

If you absolutely need money, you may need to take the first job you find. Just make sure you don’t settle over the long term. If you know it isn't the right fit, keep looking, even after you find that job.