How to Manage Your Money in the Midst of Chaos

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Chaos and trials throw our life into complete disarray and money is the last thing on your mind. Here are ways I found that helped after losing my Dad.

As many know, I lost my father last December. While it was expected, to a certain extent, the way it happened was completely unexpected. Regardless of knowing it will come, death rarely fails to take us by surprise. Never having lost a parent, everything was a new experience for me. That’s not even to mention the emotions wrapped up in such a life-changing moment. The first few days, weeks and months were filled with chaos.

Many things had to be put on hold. Projects we were working on had to be completely shelved for an unknown period of time – and some still are. Unfortunately, life is full of unexpected traumatic events – death, loss of a job, divorce, etc., etc. The last thing you want to think of during those times is money.

You want to deal with the more tangible and practical matters at hand, which is understandable. As a result, money can often take a back seat during those times.

Cling to Your Budget


I know that your budget may be the last thing you think of during chaos. I know it has certainly been for me at times over the past 6-9 months. It’s inevitable. You’re dealing with pressing matters, so your finances get pushed to the back burner.

It may be difficult not to, but don’t give into that temptation as it’ll only make your personal life worse once the dust settles. How then can you cling to your budget during chaos? It depends on the situation, in my opinion. If you’re dealing with something that directly impacts your earning ability it may mean having a desperate measures budget where you cut back everything that’s not essential.

If the situation doesn’t impact your earning ability, then it may mean leaning on automation  – that is if you automate your finances of course. Regardless of the reason and event, find some way to keep on eye on your finances.

We use Personal Capital to track our spending and have many things automated, so that made it somewhat simpler to manage over the past few months. Even if it’s a piece of paper on which you record all of your spending during the chaotic time, do that, so you know what you’re spending. You can even ask someone to keep you accountable to stick to your budget. Find what works for you and go with it.

Have Cash on Hand


I remember reading somewhere that it’s important to have cash on hand specifically for unexpected events. While we actively churn credit cards to supplement our travel budget, we also use a modified cash envelope system in connection with our budget.

We rarely use cash as we’re usually working on a card, but having cash I could access was a lifesaver more than once during the past during 6-9 months. There were instances where the only way I could pay for something was with cash or check. If I didn’t have cash on hand, in the moment, I would’ve had to find an ATM from which to withdraw cash. I’m thankful I didn’t have to do that.

You never know when you may need cash so it helps to lighten the stress load a bit knowing you can take care of something when it pops up.

Watch the Urge to Soothe With Spending


I’m not much of a spender, but I can tell you that you will be tempted to heal your pain through spending when you face chaos. Like alcohol, to a certain extent, it dulls the pain for a brief bit. We see something we like or want, and it becomes that much simpler to justify buying said item.

It makes sense, on one hand. We think the item will make us feel better by helping us forget the problem we face. There’s two reasons spending for that reason hurts more than it helps; it provides only temporary relief and it can lead to overspending. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t spend, as you need to have balance; just that you want to avoid justifying spending that only leads to more problems.

Replenish Your Emergency Fund


If you’ve had to dip into your emergency fund during a trial, you obviously want to replenish it as soon as you’re able. We had to dip into our emergency fund several times in the first few months after my Dad’s passing to cover certain items. We didn’t like to, but that’s what it’s there for, and it was for things that genuinely had to take place.

We knew we’d eventually make ourselves whole, which really should be the goal. When you do that will depend on your situation, but you should seek ways to replenish the finances you’ve spent – whether that be finding ways to save money or ways to make extra money, after the trial is over.

Chaos and trials throw our life into complete disarray and money is the last thing on your mind. Here are ways I found that helped after losing my Dad.

More Practical Steps to Manage the Chaos


Your Health and Sleep are a Priority


It goes without saying, but your health and sleep are a major priority during the trial. You will only make matters worse by not getting sleep or filling yourself with junk. Find ways to get the sleep and healthy food you need – even if you have to make yourself do it. You’ll make much better decisions with a good night’s sleep and a stomach full of healthy food – not to mention keeping your sanity.

Seek Help


Don’t be afraid to ask for help during a trial. We had friends drive me back and forth to the airport; provide meals; and clean our house while I was gone. Some of it we asked for and in some cases, friends just offered. That’s what friends and family are for so don’t let your pride get in the way of accepting help from others. It’s how they show they love you.

Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself


I think this may be the most important thing to remember. Chaos and trials throw our lives into the unknown. You will be forced to make decisions in a vacuum. You may make mistakes. You may even spend money you wouldn’t otherwise spend. I’ve learned to extend myself some latitude and not be overly critical. Being hard on yourself only makes your time of healing that much more difficult.


How do you manage your money during trials or chaos? What’s one thing you do to keep yourself financially on track? What things do you do during a trial to keep yourself sane?

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor says:

    Great post, John. All the money advice in the world can fly out the window during a time of chaos or loss. I think getting help when you need it is huge. Whether that means reaching out to a friend or seeing a professional, it doesn’t pay to avoid your feelings. I also find exercise to be very therapeutic.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Thanks Kalie! That’s a great point on exercise – I think during times like this the mental benefits of exercise are just as important, if not more so, than the physical benefits.

    • Xyz says:

      I just experience a similar situation where everything happened in the same week! Thank god I have good savings to calm me down and bring me back to earth.

      • John Schmoll says:

        Sorry to hear that Xyz, but yes having ample savings definitely helps provide some stability – I can attest to that.

  • Holly Johnson says:

    I do think it helps to keep a written monthly budget. With a budget, nothing that happens is our lives can knock us off track too much. We have an e-fund we use for big, unexpected expenses, and we don’t plan to change that, either.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Agreed Holly. I’ve been very thankful for our EF a lot over the past 6 months, even more thankful to be able to replenish it.

  • Rachel @ The Latte Budget says:

    Great post. When bad things happen, it’s easy to cover up our emotions with things like eating junk food, spending more, etc. Trying to maintain normalcy with health and finances will pay off huge.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Thanks Rachel. There are so many ways to try and dull pain, which some is expected but you really need to keep yourself accountable to managing it.

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach says:

    I always try to go back to basics and take care of my health. That might mean spending little more if necessary but usually not. It is very tempting, however, to self-sooth like you say and “do something nice for myself” like a massage or facial. I have to keep that in check.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Completely agreed Tonya. That temptation to self-sooth can be big and rationalizing can make it much easier to give in to.

  • Eric Bowlin says:

    Great post. These unexpected things are exactly why we need to have a good budget and plan in place.

    When something happens a person will likely fall to the lowest level of their planning/training.

    By having a good plan in place beforehand, it’s easier to keep your head above water during the inevitable life situations.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Exactly Eric. It’s hard to plan beforehand for some things, but if you already have a good handle on finances, life, etc. it can be much simpler to live to some sort of plan during chaotic times.

  • Amanda @ centsiblyrich says:

    Thanks for sharing this, John! Great information here.

    We’ve had a couple of health emergencies with our son and it can be tough to even think straight, let alone worry about money at that point. What helped us stay on track was getting help from family and friends, plus taking care of ourselves. I remember how good one of the meals tasted in the hospital and realized it had been almost a day since I’d eaten. Taking care of your health is huge!

    • John Schmoll says:

      Thanks Amanda!

      Ugh, going through health trials with a child can definitely make it difficult to think straight. You just feel so helpless at those times, which is why that help and support system are vital.

  • Gary R says:

    Hi John,

    I’m so sorry to hear the news. Condolences to you and family. As someone who has been dealing with a sick parent for several decades, and now another parent with dementia, I fully understand the burden. I, unfortunately, had to gut my emergency fund last year to deal with seven large bills coming due at the same time. I’m trying to replenish as quickly as possible, but I admit it’s not easy. Take everything one day at a time, one dollar at a time; that’s what I’m trying to do, and moving forward. Besides a solid support system, that’s all you can do

    • John Schmoll says:

      Thanks Gary and sorry to hear of your parents’ health trials. I could not agree more on your thoughts about taking things one day and one dollar at a time. That’s about all you can do in certain occasions and it’s not always an easy choice – but it’s the best one to make.

  • Jon @ Be Net Worthy says:

    These are good tips to consider when you eventually find yourself in a crisis situation, it’s just a matter of time.

    Keep your head on straight, make sure to take of your health and try not to drown out the emotion with excess spending!

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    Honestly when things go bad I do end up spending more money. In the past, before stressful situations I would spend money. I still succumb to this sometimes, but it’s not as bad. During our forecast when I’m working 12+ hours a day I typically “treat” myself by getting a Caribou drink right before they close at 4pm. It’s like $5 for a drink (which is a lot imo) but it’s a nice pick me up during a week or two of an intense work schedule.

    • John Schmoll says:

      I think it’s inevitable that you’ll face spending more during tough times. It’s the keeping it in check that counts.

  • Dividend Diplomats says:

    Great post. I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your father. I think the items listed in the practical section of the article become significantly worse if you don’t have a budget, emergency fund, etc. in place. Having a tight grip on your finances through the methods you displayed in the first part of your article will prevent an over-reaction and panic in a time of chaos. You won’t know how you will react until you are in the situation, but those items at least help you have a plan in place. It is nice to hear that your friends and family were so helpful to you, it shows you have surrounded yourself with a great group of people that care about you.

    Love the article, you can never be too prepared. And being prepared is the best way to avoid knee-jerk, financial and mentally devastating mistakes.

    Bert, One of the Dividend Diplomats

    • John Schmoll says:

      Thanks Bert. Love your thoughts and you’re exactly right, preparing beforehand will help protect against panic and overreaction.

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