Dawn Thornton had a lot of cleaning to do after Hurricane Irene.
But that's the least of her worries -- Irene hit her wallet even harder than a huge hickory tree hit her home.
"It was $2,500 just for the tree removal, then we had a $500 deductible, damage to the shed," she says.
When all was said and done, the storm had wiped out Thornton's savings.
"Our insurance company said that we had to pay up front," says Thornton. "Our nest egg that we had wasn't supposed to be used for that, because [my husband] just lost his job and we were living on that. Now we have none."
When it comes to natural disasters, many people prepare for the obvious: Making sure you have the necessities like water, batteries and canned food. But financial experts say most don't think about money.
"One of the more important things for the average person is to really have an adequate emergency fund," says James Shepherd, a certified public accountant. He says that when the storm hits, it's already too late.
"It depends on the individual, but typically we recommend that people have three, no more than six months' worth of their normal living expenses in a checking or savings account," he explains.
Another important reminder is to keep financial documents in a safe, convenient place.
" They should have a book where they are listing all of their insurance polices, copies of their estate documents, copies of their tax return, copies of their driver's license and social security statements," continues Shepherd.
Wherever you store those documents, make sure it's water and fire-proof.
Another key: Review your insurance policy at least once a year.
"The very first thing I did was go to the exclusion section of the insurance policy and sure enough, there was a list of a lot of things that were not covered," Thornton says. "I think the average person does not realize that. They think when they have an insurance policy it covers just about everything."
She knew exactly what was covered under her policy -- she just wishes she would have had an emergency stash.
Tapping into her nest egg was unexpected.
"It hurts," she says. "I have a special needs daughter and if something happens to her, that was the reserve to be able to pay for surgery or medical issues."
She's working to save up money for the next disaster, but Thornton knows it won't be easy. It's a tough lesson learned, but she also realizes that it could have been worse.
"The one thing that was spared was everybody we know is alive," she says. "Money is just part of life. It's not life."
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