How to Deal With These 10 Terrible, Unexpected Bills We’ve All Had to Pay

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We’ve all been there.

You’re cruising smoothly through life when suddenly, BAM — something big breaks. Something expensive.

Your transmission needs replacing. Your home’s air conditioner breaks down. You break an ankle and get a pile of medical bills. Your faithful dog Rusty has this weird bumpy thing that might be a tumor or something. And then your phone dies — or you drop it in the toilet.

You get the idea.

This is one of those How am I going to pay for this? kind of expenses. You wonder if you’ll even have enough cash and/or credit available to cover the cost. Your life slips out of cruise control and starts to drift toward the breakdown lane.

At times like this, you’ll need to use your wits. One way or another, you’ll be paying bills, possibly by drumming up some extra cash.

Here are 10 unexpected expenses we’ve all encountered and strategies for dealing with them.

1. Car Repairs

Your car starts making a funny noise: Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-CHUNK, ka-chunk, ka-CHUNK…

It’ll happen: Sooner or later, your muffler or brakes or transmission will break down.

Or your mechanic will squint at you and say, “It’s your ignition coil and your manifold and your catalytic converter,” and like we all do, you’ll nod like you know exactly what he’s talking about.

Fact: 1 in 3 U.S. drivers can't pay for an unexpected auto repair without going into debt. The average car repair cost is $500 to $600, and major engine or transmission repairs cost a lot more.

What to do: Start an emergency fund, preferably one you can’t touch. A good option is opening an account with Aspiration Summit checking account. Sure, it’s not a traditional “savings” account, but this online-only bank has no fees, no minimum balance, and pays up to 100 times more interest than an average checking account.

2. Home Repairs

I own a house. As a homeowner, one thing I can testify to is this: Just when you think you’re starting to get a little bit ahead financially, something big breaks, whether it’s the roof or a random water pipe.

I live in Florida, and just last week my house’s 18-year-old central air conditioning system finally wheezed its last breath and gave up the ghost. At the beginning of summer. IN FLORIDA. IN SUMMER. It was like living inside a microwave oven inside a sauna inside a jungle. That A/C had to be replaced pronto.   

No wonder homeowners typically spend between 1% and 4% of the value of their home on annual maintenance and repairs.

You can save by doing some repairs on your own. But you also know when it’s time to hire a pro.

How to afford that on short notice? Sometimes you can’t just throw it on a credit card (which probably isn’t the best idea, anyway).

Credible is an online marketplace that offers consumers personalized loan offers. Think of it like Zillow — but for personal loans. Rates start at 5.99%, and you can check yours by entering a loan amount here ($500 to $40,000) and comparing your personalized options in under 90 seconds.

Odds are you’ll get a better interest rate than you’d get from a credit card.

3. Weddings and Other Unexpected Trips

It’s wedding season! Hurray!

Your best friend/cousin/college roommate is getting hitched. Hurray!

You’re in the wedding party, and you’ll have to fly across the country for this. Hurr-ouch!

Weddings are expensive, and this one will involve vacation days, airfare and hotel rooms. If it involves a lengthy trek, use these tips to save money flying.

Not to mention, you’re also in the wedding party. Now you’re probably on the hook for whatever the bride/groom wants everyone to wear.

And don’t forget the destination bachelor(ette) party…

What to Do: Start an emergency fund with Stash.

Automating your savings is a great way to get a jump-start on the slightly intimidating process — without even thinking about it.

And we love the idea of making that money work for you with a micro-investing app like Stash. Start with as little as $5, and select how often — and how much — you'd like to invest. Be realistic. Even if it's $5 a month, you're doing something, and that's all that matters.

And if you sign up for Stash here, you’ll get an extra $5 to invest when you open your account. Note: There is a $1 monthly fee for balances under $5,000.

You won’t have a fortune overnight, but every bit helps.

4. Pricy Prescriptions

You have a cough. Ehh, you’ll be fine.

A week later, you can’t stop coughing. You can barely get a word in. You need strong medicine.

But you need to take time off work to go to the doctor. And depending on your insurance, you might have to pay for that visit. And you’re going to need that strong medicine — which definitely isn’t free.

Prescription drugs can be expensive — and the prices keep increasing. Plus, the high cost of insurance can put them out of reach for many adults.

What to do: Use an app like GoodRX to shop around for the best prescription price.

The app quickly compares prices across pharmacies to see where your meds are cheapest. It also provides coupons, some of which could save you up to 80%. You can either print them out or just show them to the pharmacist on your phone.

5. Medical Bills

Remember that cough? Maybe it develops into something worse. (Hope not…) Or, heaven forbid, you’re running late for work and take a weird step off a curb.

Congratulations! You now have a broken ankle and need an X-ray, cast and crutches (and probably a ride for a few weeks).

Medical bills pile up fast. Americans pay more for medical care than almost any other industrialized nationabout $10,000 a year per capita, in fact.

Here are 10 ways to save money on your medical bills, including negotiating them. Still, when you see those crazy-high bills, the bottom line can seem insurmountable.

With medical expenses, you can often work out a payment plan with your medical provider. Then you could use a steady source of extra income. Shoot for earning enough extra cash to cover your payment plan.

What to do: Work with a healthcare concierge.

Check out Joany, a technology company that’ll help you deal with your medical bills. It can help you understand bills, and detect billing errors, overcharges and other inaccuracies.

Joany’s free health care concierge service helps people compare health plans, seek out doctors, check health plan coverage and more.

Start using their services by submitting your basic information and any helpful documentation regarding your health insurance query, such as a picture of a doctor’s prescription or medical bill.

It’s faster if you have health insurance coverage, but Joany’s team will still try to find solutions for you even if you don’t.  

The service is free to you, because Joany gets paid through your health insurance provider.

6. Veterinary Bills

Dogs have this weird idea that they need to put everything in their mouth. It probably tastes good, right?

Nope, it might cause vomiting, and lethargy, and all the other warning signs that mean you’re about to frantically rush to the vet.

Here are 21 ways to save money on pet care, including this key tip: Call the vet before you need one.

The worst time to find an affordable vet is when you have a medical emergency (stupid dog). If you love your pets, you'll pay whatever it costs in the moment. To lower the cost of routine and emergency pet care, choose an affordable vet before you need one.

Use websites like VetRatingz.com to avoid bad vets. Call the acceptable ones and ask what they charge for a basic checkup, vaccinations, teeth cleaning or other procedures.

No matter what, a sudden vet bill may leave you short of cash.

What to do: Drive with Uber.

As a driver partner with Uber, you are an independent contractor. You create your own schedule and work as much or as little as you want.

Your earnings will be calculated by adding a base fare, plus time and distance traveled after your pickup, and Uber charges a service fee.

If you want to give it a try here are a few of the things to keep in mind: You must be at least 21 years old, have at least one year of licensed driving experience in the U.S. (three years if you are under 23 years old), have a valid US driver’s license and pass a background check.

Also, your car must be a four-door, seat at least four passengers (excluding the driver), be registered in-state and be covered by in-state insurance.

Here’s a link to sign up to use the Uber app.

7. Your Phone Bites the Big One

You drop your phone in the toilet. PLUNK. Tell me this isn’t happening, you think.

At least the water is clean.

We live and die by our phones. Let’s face it: At this point, our phones are basically an extension of our bodies. In another decade or so, we’ll all be cyborgs. Bank on it.

Exhibit A: When our smartphones suddenly stop working, we don’t say, “Oh, my phone broke,” or “My phone is busted.”

Instead we say, “My phone died.”

The average new smartphone costs more than $500, while the cost of used ones is all over the map. How can you come up with extra cash fast?

Sell all that extraneous stuff that’s cluttering up your home.

What to do: Use apps to quickly unload all that extraneous stuff that’s cluttering up your home.

Decluttr: This app buys your old CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays and video games, plus tech like cell phones, tablets, game consoles and iPods. Scan the barcode with your phone, and Decluttr will make you an offer. It’ll also send you a shipping label, so you can ship everything free. Plus, enter FREE5 at checkout to get an extra $5 on your trade-ins.

Letgo: You can sell nearly anything through this app. Just snap a photo of your item, and set up a listing in about 30 seconds. Letgo is 80% free to use.

Bookscouter: Hoarding old textbooks? Someone will probably pay you for them. Just search the book’s ISBN on Bookscouter, and the site will connect you with more than 25 of the best-paying and most reputable online buyback companies.

8. A Death in the Family

The worst emergency of all. We’d trade for any other emergency on this list to avoid this one.

You may have to travel suddenly for a loved one’s funeral. And if it turns out to be your funeral this time, here’s how to plan an affordable one so your family isn’t buried in debt.

No matter what, there will still be expenses.

What to do: Consider a life insurance policy, which could be useful for paying off your funeral, mortgage or car loans. It’s about making sure your loved ones will be okay if you unexpectedly leave them behind.

A company like Policygenius offers you an easy way for anyone to compare and buy life insurance. The search engine allows you to compare policies and get instant quotes. Once you find the right fit, you can apply right online.

If you’re young and mostly healthy, consider purchasing term life insurance online from Ethos. It partners with a major A-rated life insurance carrier to provide policies for a low price. For example, $30 a month could get your family $1 million of coverage.

Anyone, including independent contractors, can secure term life insurance through Ethos without a medical exam or extensive paperwork; just fill out a digital application.

9. Identity Theft

Who’d really want to be you, right? Probably more people than you think.

That’s why they open accounts in your name — and spend money just like they’re you. Only they buy lots of way cooler, more expensive stuff than you do. But they do this with shiny new credit cards — with YOUR name on them.

The best part? You don’t even know about it. Until the collections agencies start calling you.

This is definitely an unexpected emergency, and it happens more often than you might think — nearly 3 million times a year.

When fraudsters hijack your identity for their own purposes, they can grab up lines of credit and rack up significant debt in your name with shocking ease.

A free service like Credit Sesame helps you avoid this situation by keeping a watchful eye your finances. It lets you check your credit score, but you also get $50,000 in identity theft insurance, plus fraud resolution assistance – for free.

10. Traffic and Parking Tickets

There’s nothing worse than watching the meter maid put a fresh parking ticket on your windshield from across a busy intersection.

These days I don’t get as many speeding tickets as I did when I was a kid with a Camaro. I spend a lot of time in our local downtown, though, so I still get parking tickets.

These things are getting expensive. The average cost of a speeding ticket is about $150 these days. Parking tickets can run you $10 to $50.

You may need to drum up some extra cash here.

What to Do: There are a number of sites on the web that will pay you to read advertisers’ emails, sign up for offers, and take surveys. We’ve tried many of them, but there are only a few we'd recommend. One is Survey Junkie.

The surveys are relatively quick to complete, and reward you with points. Once you earn 1,000 points — or $10 — you can cash in. Some surveys offers up to 300 points.

Sign up for this at the beginning of the month and promise yourself you’ll log in a few times each week. You’ll have no trouble earning an extra $30 this month.

Another (free) option? Stop getting traffic tickets, dork.

Disclosure: You wouldn’t believe how much coffee The Penny Hoarder team goes through. This post contains affiliate links so we can keep the grinds stocked!

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. His whole life is one long unexpected expense.

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