Common unexpected expenses and three ways to pay for them

Whether you’re a saver or a spender, a surprise bill can throw your finances off balance. These tips can help you be ready.

Tags: Credit, Be prepared, Loans, Gig economy
Published: September 10, 2020

Life can sometimes feel like a financial revolving door: Paychecks come in and bills go out. We work so that we can pay for the essentials — and hopefully some extras — in our lives. If you’re lucky, it doesn’t get more complicated than that. But a sudden or unexpected expense might lead you to need a helping hand to stay afloat.

According to a recent survey, if suddenly faced with a $1,000 bill for an unexpected expense, only 39% of adults would be able to pay for it out of their savings.[1] The Federal Reserve’s yearly study on the economic wellbeing of Americans suggests that the situation is even more dire: four-in-ten Americans wouldn’t be able to cover a $400 unexpected cost.[2]

The good news is it’s possible to plan ahead for the unexpected. By knowing the most common surprise expenses, and roughly how much they cost, you can start to prepare in case you encounter one.

  • The broken-down car: The average cost of a repair to a car is between $500 and $600, which as many as one-in-three drivers do not readily have available.[3]
  • The medical bill. Even with health insurance and no expected changes to your health, an accident or sudden hospital visit can be expensive. Out-of-pocket costs vary widely, and can top $6,000 for medical services.[4] As a result, more than one-in-four adults skipped medical care in 2017 because of the prohibitive costs.[5]
  • The sick dog. Pets sometimes need medical attention just like humans, and the average cost of emergency vet care is $1,500.[6] Fewer than 6 percent of dog owners have pet insurance, which can help bring that number down, but even those that do generally face deductibles just like human health insurance policies.[1]
  • The busted furnace. Home expenses add up quickly. The cost of a new furnace can range from $1,000 to $7,000, including installation, depending on whether you need a gas-fired, oil-burning, or electric model. And high-efficiency models may cost up to $12,000.[2]

Dealing with the costs

Unexpected expenses can throw a wrench in your monthly budget. One study found that more than one-in-five adults struggle to pay their bills in full each month, [3] and an unexpected cost could lead to ongoing bill disruption. Having backlogged or unpaid bills can lead to other financial issues, like growing debt or credit score issues. Here are three ways to manage your bill payments and be ready for the unexpected:

1. Start saving now. Being prepared ahead of time may be the best defense against unexpected costs. Though saving can be difficult, building up an emergency fund can help you pay a one-time cost on top of your ongoing bills. Consider putting money aside on a regular basis into a savings account to help you prepare for the unexpected. 

2. Take out a short-term money loan. Borrowing money — even $100 to $1,000 — from a financial institution you trust can help create a bridge over your unexpected expense. Institutions may be able to arrange these loans quickly, and, depending on the terms, may allow you to set up monthly payments so you’re on a plan to pay them back. Certain loans may come with high interest rates so be sure to ask your lender before committing to a loan.

3. Cut your expenses as much as possible. Even if you had savings to pay for a sudden expense, you may want to slash your daily expenses to help you rebuild them going forward. Making your own food, for example, may not seem like a lot, but the average household spends $3,008 per year eating out.[4]

Paying for unexpected expenses is a part of all of our lives, but making sure you’re ready — whether it’s by saving money ahead of time or knowing where you’ll turn if you need extra funds — can make all the difference. 

Dealing with an unanticipated expense? Consider a small personal loan to help cover it. Learn more here.

[1] “Most Americans don’t have enough savings to cover a $1K emergency,”, January 2018.
[2] “Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2017 - May 2018,” Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, June 2018.
[3] “One-in-Three U.S. Drivers Cannot Pay for an Unexpected Car Repair Bill,” AAA, April 2017.
[4] “2016 Employer Health Benefits Survey,” Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, September 2016.
[5] “Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2017 - May 2018,” Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, June 2018.
[6] “Petplan: Average cost for emergency vet care is $1500,” Veterinary Practice News, May 2017.
[7] “I used to think pet insurance was a ripoff. Here’s why I changed my mind,” Vox, August 2015.
[8] “Furnace on the fritz? A new one doesn’t have to burn through your budget,”, May 2017.
[9] “Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2017 - May 2018,” Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, June 2018.
[10] “90% of Americans don't like to cook—and it's costing them thousands each year,” CNBC, September 2017.