It’s Important to Build and Have Emergency Savings
Do you have any emergency savings to draw upon when needed?
Emergency savings take two forms. The first is a small fund of $500 - $1,000, to cover the normal but unplanned expenses, like when the washing machine breaks, to cover the deductible when someone gets sick, or to pay the vet bill if a family pet is injured. (That is different from the “pseudo-emergency” fund for shoe sales, hobby supply sales, or spending that isn’t really an emergency. You know what I mean.) The second is having six months to a year’s worth of living expenses on hand in the event of a job loss or other severe reduction in income.
According to an annual survey conducted by Bankrate.com more than a quarter of Americans have no emergency savings. Of those who do have savings, over 60% have less than six months’ worth of expenses saved. Having access to just $500-1,000 in savings could help most people meet unexpected financial challenges.
How to build an emergency fund
Building emergency funds – especially those six months to a year’s worth of living expenses – may seem like a daunting task. Where and how to begin?
First, set a goal, in terms of a purpose (“deductible and repair funds” or “six months living expenses”) and dollar amounts ($750 or $8,250). The dollar amount could be the equivalent of annual medical insurance or homeowner’s insurance deductibles, or minimal living expenses (rent/house payment, utilities, car payment, and food) for several months.
Next, decide where to keep the emergency funds. It may be wise to keep some in cash in a secure place at home. This will give you quicker access to money should the power be out and you can’t access funds through an ATM. Save the rest in one or more specific accounts in your bank or credit union. Having accounts in a financial institution makes arranging an automatic direct deposit from each paycheck a slam-dunk. This act of “paying yourself first” ensures building the emergency funds will stay on track. Make sure your savings goals are realistic, and avoid setting them too high, so that you don’t feel like you’re making a huge sacrifice and just give up altogether.
Where to find the extra money for building an emergency fund
If you think you don’t have money to save each month, review your shopping habits, and see what spending leaks you could plug. There’s the latte factor, of course. But think bigger picture….carpool to work one or more days a week to save gas and wear and tear on your car, check your pantry and freezer to develop a shopping list that you stick to at the grocery store. Find more ideas for saving at AmericaSaves.org.
Add “found money” like refunds, birthday checks, or other windfalls to your emergency fund, instead of spending it frivolously. Find ways to jump start your emergency savings with larger amounts you could save by re-negotiating cable and telecommunications services or insurance policies. Consider ending memberships or subscriptions you don’t use. Review the way you acquire prescription medications and consider generics or mail order instead of name brands from the local pharmacy. Arrange for even payment plans with your utility company and add the difference each month to your emergency funds. Or, as a certain reality star is often quoted, “Buy used and save the difference”.
Another key to success in building emergency funds is to have a partner who will help you be accountable for saving, as well as share money saving strategies and celebrate successes. When one declares a savings goal to a partner, the chances of success are increased.
Having access to emergency funds gives you more options to meet an unexpected expense. You can avoid putting the expense on a credit card, or worse yet, using a pay day loan. The peace of mind in having an emergency fund far outweighs the sacrifices you’ll make to build it.