How to Create Your Back-Up Plan

If only life were predictable.

Do you ever wish for that?

We merrily (or sometimes stoically) move through our days and weeks and years — following our plan, doing our thing, pursuing our goals.

And then one day, one normal day . . . WHAM BLAM BOOM!

Life smacks you upside the head with something totally unexpected — something not so good.

It could be a relatively minor event . . .

The interview is cancelled for the job you really wanted.

It rains on the day you planned the perfect outdoor event.

Your child gets sick the day before you plan a big trip.

And then it could be something life-altering. You lose your job. Your spouse ends the marriage. Your business fails. Your house is struck by lightening and burns (yes, it happens!).

Whether it is a minor inconvenience or a major upheaval, these unplanned and unwanted situations can rock your world. And oddly, sometimes the small ones create more havoc than the biggies. Maybe because they occur more often.

One thing you can surely predict about these unpredictable life events: they will happen — sooner or later.

None of us likes to think about the possibility of these surprise events. Lord knows, we have enough to worry about just managing our planned actions and goals. Building a fall-out shelter for possible incoming torpedoes is not a thrilling way to spend our precious time.

But unless you are Bubble Boy (or Girl) and live in a germ free vacuum, real living is going to throw the unexpected at you many times during your lifetime.

Knowing that fact, I think the best and only sane option is to lean into the wind and embrace the possibility (nay probability) that life is not always going to go according to plan.

  • If you come to expect the unexpected, it’s not quite so shocking or debilitating.
  • If you come to embrace the lessons and possibility for growth during these events, then you have turned lemons into lemonade.
  • And if you are prepared with a back-up plan for the most important areas of your life, you will have a safety net to catch you as you regain your footing and decide your next steps.

Β How to Create A Back-Up Plan

It’s not possible to be prepared for every potential disaster or upset in life. The universe is very creative in the assortment of calamities that might come our way.

Things can happen that you may never have contemplated, much less planned for. (I have a friend whose husband delivered their third child in the front seat of their car on the way to the hospital!)

Although you can’t prepare for everything, you can prepare for some. And you can create a general back-up plan for your own expectations, behavior, and frame of mind for those totally unexpected events.

The Events You’ve Considered

There’s a lot to be said for peace of mind, and having a safety net for some of life’s more common disruptions is well worth the effort. As they say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Here are some ideas for a back-up plan in various areas of your life:


  • I have an emergency fund of 3-6 months of income.
  • I put away savings for retirement, college funds, and other future needs/wants.
  • I pay my bills on time.
  • I don’t spend beyond my means or carry debt.
  • I pay my taxes regularly and on time.
  • I have access to a good accountant.
  • I don’t make risky investments.
  • I have an up-to-date will.


  • I have insurance.
  • I keep my important papers (and other valuables) in a safe place.
  • I have a security system, fire extinguisher, and a smoke alarm.
  • I have an escape plan that I’ve shared with my family.
  • I have emergency contact numbers easily accessible.
  • My important papers are orderly and easy to access.
  • I have a back-up for my important computer files.
  • I have protection against identity theft.
  • I have photocopies of my driver’s license, passport, social security card, and birth certificate.
  • I have a friend or family member who can help in case of emergency.


  • I have an up-to-date resume.
  • I have a good feel for my job security and the financial health of my employer.
  • I am regularly updating my skills or working to make myself more valuable.
  • I stay informed about other career opportunities in my industry.
  • I network often and have a strong circle of associates in my industry.
  • I feel confident about my interview skills.
  • I understand how to use social media to connect with others professionally.
  • I’m aware that my emotional intelligence plays a vital role in my career success and I have a high emotional IQ.

Health and Safety

  • I exercise regularly.
  • I keep my weight in the normal range for my height.
  • I don’t smoke, take recreational drugs, drink in excess, or consume any toxic or unhealthy substances.
  • I follow my regular medical check-ups and recommended preventative procedures.
  • I have ways to cope with and reduce stress.
  • I use safety precautions including a seat belt, helmet when necessary, safe sex, sunscreen, etc.
  • I don’t speed or take risks when driving or engage in other high-risk activities.
  • I get enough sleep.
  • I take care of my mental health by seeing a coach or counselor when necessary.
  • I allow myself plenty of time to get where I’m going.
  • If I live in an area prone to natural disasters (earthquakes, tornado, hurricanes, etc.), I have a plan of action for my escape and/or safety.


  • I have proper automotive insurance and keep insurance info in my car.
  • I know who to call in case of an emergency and carry a cell phone in my car.
  • I don’t allow my gas tank to get close to empty.
  • I jumper cables and a spare tire in my car, and I know how to use them.
  • I keep other emergency items in my car including a first aid kit, flares, blanket, and water.
  • I am a member of AAA or other auto emergency service.
  • I keep my regular service appointments and my tires are in good shape.
  • I tend to problems with my car right away.
  • I keep a roll of toilet paper in the car.


  • I understand the qualities of emotionally mature relationships, and I work to practice those.
  • I put my primary relationships (spouse, partner, children, parents) ahead of everything else in my life and tend to them lovingly.
  • I don’t over-promise or over-commit.
  • My emotional needs are met, and I work to meet those of my loved ones.
  • I have many fulfilling friendships and business relationships.
  • I practice forgiveness and try not to hold a grudge.
  • I don’t associate with people who can harm me, my reputation, or my peace of mind.

The Total Out-Of-The-Blue Surprise Events

I can’t list these events because, hey, they are completely unexpected. But they might fall in the category of getting abducted by aliens, delivering a baby in your car, having a tree fall on you, learning your spouse has another family, or having a grizzly bear take up residence in your garage.

These are the kinds of events that are hard to plan for but that have been known to happen (maybe not the aliens).

How does one prepare for things you don’t know to anticipate?

You can’t. But you can prepare for how you will react and respond to these events.

Here are some ideas:

  • Practical awareness that life can be unpredictable can help you cope when something unexpected happens. We shouldn’t live in fear, nor should we live with the illusion that nothing bad ever happens.
  • Define and remember who you want to be in all situations — good or bad. Life’s difficulties can bring out the worst in us, but if we know who we are and want to be in any situation, it’s easier to step into that place during rough times.
  • Yes, it will be upsetting, shocking, or even devastating when an event like this occurs, but take a deep breath and know that you have the ability to cope.
  • In difficult situations, practice putting your feelings aside at first in order toΒ  deal with the practical matters at hand. Act first, react later.
  • Learn the signs of shock or panic and how to deal with those.Try to return to a calm and stable place in your mind so you can make sound decisions. Practice this in small life upsets so you can return to it for the larger ones.
  • Have a support system in place of people and professionals you can turn to during a surprise event. This might include friends, family, clergy, a counselor, coach, attorney, or physician.
  • Practice non-resistance in everyday life so you can use it for life’s turmoil. Shift your thinking to the knowledge that even negative events can offer something positive.
  • At the right time, deal with the emotional aftermath in a healthy way. Seek the support of a professional or friend. You can’t stuff the emotions forever, or they will emerge in destructive or debilitating ways.

If you don’t have a back-up plan in some of these areas of your life, take a few days or a week to put these actions into place. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is a great time to set aside for this.

Will you share in the comments any back-up plans that you have created or found useful in your life?

17 thoughts on “How to Create Your Back-Up Plan”

  1. What an amazing resource this is, Barrie!

    I believe every single family should print this out and, after an initial sit-down or two or three between mom and dad, should hold a family meeting of sorts and go over this whole list. This is simply awesome. So much wisdom and practical insight packed into one post.

    This is a must read in these unpredictable times. Peace of mind truly valuable. Just think of its opposite! It can be had if we consider what you’ve put together and start making appropriate adjustments where needed,

    Thanks again, Barrie!

    • Hi Ken,
      I am so glad you found it useful. I tend to want to think that bad stuff won’t happen to me, but it has and will again. As much as I don’t like focusing my energy on planning for bad stuff, it is so worth the effort. It’s like playing Russian Roulette if you leave everything to chance. Sharing these ideas with your family is a great plan. Everyone should be invested and knowledgeable about the back-up plans.

  2. Kind of takes your breath away Barrie…

    After reading and pondering every word of this post, I went directly to my recliner and took a nap…not out of boredom, but out of sheer exhaustion created by the enormity of the task at hand, that of putting this great advice to work.

    In order to do this justice, I need to print it out, prioritize, do some heavy thinking (soul searching), and get about putting details into printed form. I suspect that the majority of us have never seen such a thorough and valuable planning guide, all in one place :-)! Thanks Barrie.

    All the best,


    • Oh my Jon — I didn’t mean to overwhelm you! Start with the low-hanging fruit, the area of your life that could potentially spring a leak! Just handle one of these things a week. With everything you handle, you’ll be adding to your peace of mind. πŸ™‚ But taking a nap is a good temporary plan!

  3. Hi Barrie,
    You have gone to a lot of effort here…..I’m not sure whether I’m stressed or chilled after reading this. I can only do my best and be aware of the ‘pitfalls’ and prepare as best as possible. Thankyou
    be good to yourself

    • Hi David,
      Oh I sure don’t want you to be stressed! I’m willing to bet you’ve done many (or most) of the items on these lists already. Wishing you a “pitfall free” 2012 David! πŸ™‚

  4. Hi Barrie, this is a great post, everything seems so much more uncertain these days and it has become more important than ever to have a back up plan. I got a lot from going over your comprehensive list, there are a few things there I’ve covered pretty well, but many that I can work on ( financial and car lists–I have lots to do there).

    My main way of preparing for things I can’t anticipate is having a daily meditation practice–it doesn’t stop uncertainty from being present or shield me from unexpected events, but it does help me to stay grounded when things get shaky and which helps me to attend to things with a clear mind.

    • Hi Dave,
      I’m so glad you found the list useful. Meditation is a fantastic way to prepare yourself for anything. It provides that “inner foundation” from which you can handle life’s difficulties and to which you can return when you need to regain your footing. I should have added that to the list! Thank you for sharing.

  5. it has always been a dream of mine to go on a safari and this year my hubby and i chose to go on one…of course, timing is never right and the hubby had just relocated to london, so we were going to meet in amsterdam. i had just moved out of our nyc apartment (alone), oversaw the movers (alone), and driven to my parents house (alone). the day before i was supposed to depart, I stayed up until 4 am, working and packing my cutest outfits as i hadn’t seen my husband in two weeks (felt like forever). the week before I was supposed to depart, i was overworked, tired, and exhausted. as i left the office on my way to the airport, i got in a taxi and i was running late (stayed late to finish some stuff)…and the taxi and another man end up robbing me of my preciously packed suitcase. i found myself on the streets in nyc not really knowing what to do, and only wanting to lie on the street and cry…because i had no idea how i was going to get on a plane without any clothes for two weeks. so i did the only thing that i knew how to do when i reach a breaking point and call my mom. she focused me and told me: go to X and X and X and X if you want to get on the plane and go on your safari and see your husband. so for the next hour, i force myself to buy clothes and underwear and some shoes and make it on a taxi (crying and so emotionally) exhausted. i got to the airport when the plane was boarding and i was a sweaty horrible mess. I didn’t have many things, but the hubby tried to make up for it buying me some things in london (walmart). at the end of the day, i did miss my outfits and i did think about what i would have done differently that last week (no 1, not stretch myself to thin, ask for help, say no, and focus on important things), but i got through the beautiful two weeks on very little clothes, (and from wall mart). we tried to claim this on our insurance and got rejected, and when i did the tally of what i was taking (a few thousand dollars), and how little i missed my clothes upon my return and trip, i realized that i dont really need many material things to be happy (and I can use that same sweater once a week…no one notices). so at the end of the day, even though this was one of my worst days of 2011 and my life, i learned to focus, say no, be calm and rested, and that material things, i don’t really miss. Or sit and ponder about.

    • Carolina,
      What an amazing story! I could feel your stress and excitement combined in the days leading up to your trip. All of that emotional intensity came unplugged when you were robbed. (I had a similar experience on a business trip to NYC — was buying stuff at a drug store at midnight before a big meeting.) Thank God for mothers, right? And thank goodness you were able to put it behind you and enjoy your amazing trip, even if you were wearing the Blue Light Special from Walmart! πŸ™‚ You are so right, those material things don’t matter one whit. And you and your husband have a great story to tell. Thank you for sharing it with us!

  6. Barrie, you are so organized! I think I need to have a roll of T.P. in my car and copy my important papers. We have papers in the safe/bank, but don’t have originals copied.

    The back-up plan I need to use the most often is childcare when my spouse gets called out for SWAT or one of my kids is sick. These are both unpredictably predictable – they will happen even if I’m inconvenienced at the time. You are spot on, that it is as much about have practical options as well as flexible attitude. Thanks for the reminders!

    • Hi Marci,
      I didn’t say I did all of the things on the list — just that they are good back plans! I still have much do accomplish here as well. πŸ™‚
      Kids are predictably unpredictable. They definitely teach you to plan ahead and expect that even your best planning may not be sufficient!

  7. I like the idea that you stare the “unexpected events” in the face and decide how you can prepare and deal with them. Many people do not like to think about death of a loved one, loss of a job, etc. —so thanks for sharing your plans with us. I find it hard pressed to find an event that you have not already mentioned—so all I can say, is to live each day—life is so precious.

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