Why You Should Always Have a Backup Plan

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.

13 thoughts on “Why You Should Always Have a Backup Plan”

  1. I keep in a hidden section of my wallet several $20 bills folded very flat and small for emergency purposes just like this. I’v used (and replenished) them several times in the past 5 years. I don’t count them as part of my “cash on hand”, since to me it is just peace of mind!

  2. How annoying! That’s the sort of thing that makes me walk out of the store, leaving the junk on the counter. But with a five-year-old in tow, I’m sure I would have done the same thing you did.

    It’s worth asking the management for a refund of your $3.00, which is a real rip! If you can’t get any satisfaction from the store manager, you should write to their corporate offices, whose address you can often unearth with a Google search for shareholder services.

  3. Great post (although less great story, I can imagine how frustrated you may have been).

    I have started keeping a minimum balance in my main bank account. I never spent more than I earned but I would be happily transferring money left, right and centre to multiple bank accounts then forget to leave money in there for direct deposits. After being charged more than one overdrawn fee I learnt my lesson and now I keep a minimum balance in there as well as keeping a better eye on what happens when.

    Not quite being prepared but along the same lines.

  4. Not fun…Have 3 kids and it is always a pain when there are issues.

    Gotta say though, the store has an issue. If it is multiple Debit cards, the store manager should have been there and warned shoppers that it was out. Then to hit you with a $3 fee…

  5. A note about carrying a checkbook with you. When my Mom’s wallet was stollen the police commended her over and over again for not having her checkbook in her wallet. Now with online account payment abilities, to authorise a transaction from your bank account they only need your account number and your name in order to drain your account, which your checkbook conviniently supplies.

    To me this risk is not worth the infrenquent inconvinience of needing a checkbook on my person.

  6. Wow. I had somewhat of a similar experience with my bank, but of course, it was the fault of my bank. To tell you how much of a stickler I am against fees, I drove a mile to a fee free ATM for my alternative bank (ING Direct) to get money out of there rather than pay the $whatever fee… I feel bad for you! I hate fees too!

  7. I would have probably left! I carry very little cash and depend on my ATM card and credit cards. I find that I spend cash so much quicker than I would with a card….

  8. I used to work at our local credit union, and was appalled to see how often the system went down, and people came in upset because their debit card didn’t work. So frustrating!

    This past fall, my purse was stolen, and although I didn’t have much cash in it, and the ID was eventually returned by someone who found it, there was a cheque in it, that took several months to be replaced. I usually keep a “cushion” in my chequing account, kind of a mini-emergency fund. This allowed me to not pull money out of my other account while I waited for the replacement cheque.

    I also carry one, low-limit credit card with me. I have found that if the debit system is down, the credit card system still works. I have made the payment with my CC, gone home and made an immediate payment online. Saved a lot of frustration for me!

  9. I’ve thought multiple times about leaving my checkbook at home as it seems like a waste of space and weight in my purse. I’ve never been able to bring myself to actually do it, though. Now I know why :)

  10. great post – and i completely understand your frustration, both with not being able to use your debit card and not wanting to drag a child back and forth to save $$

    i live in a small town and would have been able to charge my groceries… one of the few perks of small town living!

  11. What a stinky hassle!

    I never carry my checkbook anymore. Heck, I don’t even carry a purse.

    I think you should complain to the store management. Nicely, of course.

    It’s not their fault that their debit card thinger wasn’t working, but shopping at their store did cost you an extra $3. Maybe they can give you some coupons or something. Worth a shot, perhaps.

  12. Great tip. One thing that always distinguished great military leaders was their backup plans.

    You know a backup plan is really good when no one realizes you used it!

    I would suggest that everyone have a backup plan when it comes to virtually everything. I’m not talking about always hedging your bets, I’m talking about knowing and planing for options in case things don’t go as planned.


  13. This is a great article. We just wrote about our experience the other day when our debit card did not work. Enjoyed your post!!

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