What is it the Boy Scouts say? Be prepared?

I made a quick shopping trip last week.  I was running multiple errands in town, and I had my 5 year old son with me.  I had a lot of things that I needed to accomplish, because we had been stuck at home due to snow for a few days.  We ran several errands and then headed to the grocery store to pick up some necessities before heading home.

I’m not fond of shopping with Sam, because…well, Sam’s not fond of shopping.  But we needed bread, peanut butter, and milk, so we had to go.  After making a quick run through the grocery store, we went to check out.  There weren’t many people in the store, because the roads were still bad, and people just weren’t out and about.  Thus, there was only one checkout lane open.  I was the second person in line. 

The person ahead of my swiped his debit card, and it didn’t take.  The cashier sent him to the in-store ATM.  I wasn’t worried.  I’ve never had trouble with my debit card.  The cashier rang up all of my groceries, gave me my total, and I swiped my card.  Nothing.  I swiped it again.  Nothing.  The cashier told me that I could either write a check or use the ATM.

I didn’t have my checkbook.  I was less than thrilled.  At this point I had two options.  I could use the in-store ATM and get charged $3 ($1.50 from the ATM and $1.50 from my bank), or I could cancel my purchase, head to the bank and get some cash, and come back to pay.

Sam was tired, so I sucked it up and paid the fee.  It was really difficult, considering how much effort I put into frugal grocery shopping.  By the time I got back to the checkout lane, the customer behind me was leaving in a huff, because his debit card didn’t work either.  He didn’t have cash or a checkbook, and he was only buying one 99 cent loaf of bread.  I would have walked out too.

What I learned from this experience is that you always need to have a backup plan.  I never write checks anymore, other than to pay a few bills, so I never carry my checkbook.  That’s going to change.  I know using my checkbook will be a rare occasion, but I never want to pay an unnecessary fee again.

But backup plans don’t only pertain to debit cards.  Last week I also learned the importance of a backup plan when you can’t get out of the house to go shopping.  If I didn’t have a stocked pantry, my family would have been in sad shape when we were snowed in.  We would have had to have braved the icy roads, and I can tell you from experience, I’m not very good at driving on ice.

Backup plans are necessary for when the kids get sick, for when you have to work late…or get called in early.  What if a company pulls too much money out of your account one month?  What if you lose your job?

Part being frugal is adequately planning for the unexpected.  It’s a given that the unexpected will happen, so you’d better be prepared.  I know I have a lot of work to do in this area.  How about you?  Are you prepared with a backup plan?

Some of my blogging buddies have also learned the hard way that having a backup plan is important.  Check out the posts from PaidTwice and Gibble for their perspectives.

Photo by artbird309.