Six years ago, Chanel Reynolds leaned over the kitchen counter and kissed her husband good-bye. Minutes later, he was hit by a van while training for his last race of the season on his bicycle. A week later, Chanel removed his medical support.
In that life altering moment, she became a 39-year-old widowed single parent with a son about to start kindergarten.
We all say prepare for the unexpected, but who really does it? And how can you come to grips with your personal finances and paying bills when you can barely get a grip on the emotional toll of losing a loved one unexpectedly?
Mint asked Chanel Reynolds, founder of Get Your Shit Together, to share her personal journey and firsthand advice for financially preparing for the unexpected.
What was your financial situation prior to losing your husband?
We were making progress as a growing family but procrastinated some of the important stuff. For example, we had not saved well. Our wills were finished but not signed. Our income went from very healthy to zero. We had recently stretched to purchase a new two-income family home and our life insurance policies had not been updated (but at least there was something).
How did you and your husband manage your money?
Like many partnerships, we split things 50/50. However, we weren’t good at keeping each other up to date on each other’s 50 percent. Writing down the details of which accounts are where and what the account numbers or user names and passwords are is critical. It only takes a minute to jot down now but hours to track down later.
Were there any surprises about your personal finances when you lost your husband?
There were many ‘forehead-slap’ moments during my tumble down the rabbit hole. I realized the fall might have been shorter, the landing a bit softer, the uncertainty perhaps less terrifying had we taken care of a few more of the basics, ahead of time. Very easy stuff, like updating our life insurance (which we delayed for 5 years) and having an emergency fund…all the stuff that had been on our collective lists for years.
Not knowing his phone password to get the contact information to call his family was excruciating and something I had never thought to ask for.
What can people do right now with their money to prepare for the loss of a loved one?
The basic stuff that kept bubbling up over and over again is the stuff on the checklist. It feels like the elephant is finally off your chest once that stuff is done. More importantly, prioritize conversations. For example, what is most important to us? How do we want to prioritize our time and energy in our lives? Are we living our values? What are our shared values? This is the important stuff.
Who knew that kiss with my husband would be our last? I’ve learned that we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow or even the next hour. Identify your financial weak spots and some ‘most likely to happen’ vulnerable spots and start planning.
In short, do the stuff you know you should do! We only have so many spins around the sun. Doing your will and saving for retirement, technically, is very doable. Childbirth is hard. Middle school was hard. Automatically funding your 401k from your paycheck? Not so much. So really, it’s just about showing up for your life – you, and everyone, will be better for it.
Chanel Reynolds is the founder of Get Your Shit Together. Since launching in 2013, she has quickly reached millions worldwide, inspiring people everywhere with her story and giving them the ‘kick in the pants’ they needed to take care of the basics. The project has been featured in The New York Times, NPR, The Huffington Post, LifeHacker, BoingBoing, Redbook, BUST and on CBS and ABC.
While not talking about death, you can find Chanel wildly enjoying her life in Seattle with her son Gabriel and stepdaughter Lyric. In her (passionately guarded) spare time, you might find her in the yoga studio, planning a surf trip, kid-wrangling, walking the chocolate lab, zipping around town on her Vespa or heads down writing her first book.