Everyday emergencies aren’t just frustrating — they can also be a major drain on your wallet. Fortunately, there are a few easy steps you can take now to avoid paying a bundle in the future. Keep reading to learn how to save costs if your car needs towing, you get locked out, your computer breaks down, or someone you love requires an ER visit.
If your car breaks down, you could face a hefty towing bill just to get to the repair shop. “With hooking up, transporting, and unloading, the cost can range from $75 to over $150, depending on distance and other factors,” says Elizabeth Martineau- Dupuis, Director of Education at the Towing and Recovery Association of America. The good news? Some insurance policies cover these charges. And if you recently bought a car from a dealership, it may have come with complimentary roadside or towing service. Adds Martineau-Dupuis, “Some credit cards and cellphone carriers offer roadside assistance services at a reduced or fixed cost.” If you’re not covered by any of these, consider adding a roadside assistance plan to your car insurance policy (they start at around $14 per year), which can save you on towing, battery jumps, and other car emergencies.
Getting locked out
“If you lose your house key, having a locksmith unlock the door can cost about $70 to $125,” says P.J. Slauson, owner of the locksmith supply store CLKSupplies.com. “And if you call outside normal business hours, you’ll likely be billed at 1.5 times those rates.” Even worse, some take advantage of folks in emergencies by quoting a low price over the phone only to charge double, triple, or more once they arrive.
You can avoid these high costs by finding a reputable locksmith before you need one by visiting FindALocksmith.com — they list businesses that belong to the Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA.org). “Members pride themselves on their ethical business practices, and belonging to it lends some accountability,” Slauson says. After finding one in your area, visit Yelp.com to read customer reviews, then program those you like into your phone.
Tip: More than 24 million Americans have had their banking and social media accounts hacked — to the tune of $12,000 in losses! To protect yours, enable two-factor authentication so anyone will need two forms of validation (a password and a PIN) to get in.
A technician will charge $45 to $90 an hour to diagnose and repair a slow or glitchy computer. To lower your risk of needing a fix in the first place, avoid one of the most common causes of computer issues — malware — by not clicking on links from unknown sources in emails and by double-checking website addresses you visit to ensure they’re safe, says Brooke Thomas, president of the Central Kentucky Computer Society. Or, she says, to fix it for free, visit APCUG2.org/locate-a-user-group to find a local computer club, a nonprofit volunteer group that educates folks about technology. Their mission is to share their enthusiasm for tech, and many are happy to fix a computer for free!
If you’ve got a fever, rash, or other non-life-threatening medical issue, you probably know to avoid the hospital’s ER because you could end up racking up thousands of dollars in medical bills. But it’s also smart to avoid accidentally visiting a “freestanding ER,” which is a health facility that looks like an urgent care clinic, but is a whopping 19 times more expensive — they’re owned by hospitals, so you’re getting charged the same sky-high prices. Instead, find a genuine urgent care clinic in your area now, then call and ask if it’s actually a freestanding ER. If it’s not, program the clinic into your phone so you’ll always remember where to go.
Losing heat in the winter is an emergency no one wants to face. That’s why scammers will call and text saying they’re from your utility company and that your bill is overdue — so you must pay them right away using Venmo or prepaid debit cards or your heat will be shut off. In reality, most companies don’t turn off the heat if you have outstanding debt; they’ll set up payment plans. So if you get a call or text, ignore it or check with your service provider using the number on your bill.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.