What is emergency fund? Why is such a fund needed? How can I save money for emergency? And, most important question, Do I need an emergency fund?
Let us try to find answers to all these questions.
I always had 40,000+ in my Checking and Savings account at any given time in last 5 years. I felt that’s the absolute minimum. I read prominent personal finance expert Suze Orman’s advice on Oprah’s web site.
The first advice was to have 8 month’s worth of expenses saved in an emergency fund. So, I thought that’s normal. Now we are a home owner and all those cash cushions went in to pay for down payment, closing, and home repair cost. We now have around $5,000 lying in a saving bank account.
As they say, buying home prompts home owners to become financially more prudent, I started reading about the emergency fund and started listening to podcasts, right after paying our mortgage down payment.
What is emergency fund?
I’d like to view emergency fund as personal insurance against sudden monetary loss. An accessible fund from where you can pay for emergencies without having to borrow the money with interest. Where as Investopedia states it as a financial security which creates a safety net around your family.
Last year I had a car breakdown. The cost of replacement was more than the car’s worth. I had to trade in. But since we were planning to buy a home, we didn’t want to go for an auto loan. Instead, we paid cash down.
This expense was not on cards, an auto loan would have made our mortgage pricier. Any other form of a loan, including drawing from a credit card, would have put us in high-interest debt. Our big emergency fund came to our rescue.
Thanks to my blog income, we eventually recovered from the loss. This same situation would have caused a lot of trouble for others though.
An emergency may occur in different forms. An accident, a sudden roof collapse. a law suit or a crime against you involving loss of money.
Even a medical emergency, which your insurance can’t cover, calls for a contingency fund to be available at disposal.
As per definition put together by Getting Rich Slowly, an emergency fund is a fund kept at an easily accessible place and to be used only in case of emergency, not for buying a new car, remodeling bathroom or buying play station.
They did mention buying a new car is not an emergency expense, but in our scenario, it was an emergency. The old car just broke down and taking auto loan was not an option.
Do I need an emergency fund?
As explained already, you never know what’s in store for you and your family tomorrow. You may need to provide cash in an emergency.
You or your spouse may suffer a job loss or temporary loss of income. Your child might fall sick requiring a huge down payment even with insurance.
There have been debates around on what should qualify as an emergency expense. To me, the emergency expense is any expense that can’t be postponed and the only alternative is going into debt, even if for short-term.
Not everyone seems to be in favor of emergency fund. We will come to those arguments later. I want you to take informed decision only after reading this entire article.
A study from Bank Rate and al.com shows how Americans save up for emergencies. You will see people saving up to 1 years of expenses for emergencies. Also, as per studies, people with emergency funds are less likely to go into debt.
As per Pew research report, done way back in 2007, 34% of people needed emergency cash, see the break down below
- 34% Medical expenses
- 24% Vehicle expenses
- 20% Related to home
- 9% related to Accidents, life or death
- Rest misc.
How can I save for emergency fund?
So, if you’re one of that 40 % of American’s (or from any country) who don’t have an emergency fund. Getting started is easy. In fact, you can do it now. The bank where you have your checking account should have a savings account as well. Which you can open online and fund from your checking account.
That was the way I started. I invested $75 from each pay check (biweekly, in my case). And, since it was a recurring setup, money kept on accumulating over the years. We didn’t feel the pinch of it. It is that simple.
Remember, the emergency fund has to be easily accessible. You can draw a check from your savings account, right now. You can also transfer money to any other bank accounts right now. So, it’s easily accessible money.
Trent from Simple Dollar did spend a lot of time to create this big list of To-Dos for building a big emergency fund, which you can leverage. Apart from $75 contribution every 14 days, I also kept a portion of my yearly bonus in our emergency fund.
You can also set aside your credit card cash back bonuses for an emergency. Also, if your budget has any surplus cash at the end of the month can go to build this fund. You may come up with a side hustle to fund it as well. Dave Ramsey’s quick ways also revolve around these steps.
How much do I need in the Emergency fund?
This is all important question. I don’t have an answer right away. In-fact I started researching on the emergency fund to know exactly how much we will need to post our home buying. As I seek advice from other experts
Dave Ramsey’s first baby step in financial make over is to set up a $1,000 emergency fund. I found an article from Go Girl Finance, where she talked about 4 couples and their saved emergency fund sizes and rationale behind if you want an insight into other American families.
JD from get Rich Slowly saved $5,000 as well, and that was equivalent to his 2 months expenses. Where as I mentioned Suze Orman, recommending 8 months of expenses in an emergency fund.
Basically, how much you need depends solely on your circumstances. Experts can only set guidelines. You have to decide on your absolute number.
You may do well with a smaller amount if you don’t really face an emergency. You will earn a higher return from investing that money else where.
On the other hand, if you face an emergency then that lower amount might not be enough. And you may not be able to encash your investments/retirement accounts on time.
I think it’s better to anticipate upcoming expenses and to adjust our emergency fund accordingly.
Counter argument against the need for an emergency fund
There are experts who recommend not to use emergency fund. Rather, they advise, one should borrow cash from the available credit line, like a credit card, and then use money from regular investments to pay off credit card dues before it becomes due.
The main premise for the opposition is the lower return on emergency cash. For people who have a larger emergency fund (like I was doing all these years), keeping the entire money in a savings account earns less than 1% interest. Where as since 2008 stock market return was more than 10% per year on average.
Here’s an extensive argument from Simple Dollar against the emergency fund. He accepts the need of having one but, argues against keeping it’s size large.
Nerd Wallets’ financial advisors in unison root for having an emergency fund. I like the advice James Twining, CFP, puts together. He basically advocates having a two tier approach.
Tier 1 – A small amount of about 1 month’s income in a “1st tier cash reserve” traditional emergency fund (bank savings, money market mutual fund, etc)
Tier 2 – A larger amount of perhaps three month’s income into a “2nd tier cash reserve” in a non-qualified account such as an individual or joint brokerage account, invested into a massively diversified basket of securities.
Here’s what I need in emergency fund
After reading top financial experts, I am now inclined to go for a smaller emergency fund. Most probably the highest amount of insurance deductible we have. Which is $5,000 on home insurance?
Our deductible on Auto and medical plans are lesser than this number. Auto insurance has $1,000 collision and comprehensive deductible. And, our medical plan has an annual out-of-pocket maximum as $3,500.
Our three month’s of living expense, in not-so-cheap South Florida, will be $12,000. That means If I lose this job, with $5,000 we can live for more than 1 month and by that time I can either get a new job or sell some of our investments, in mutual funds and direct stocks. We don’t have to borrow money to live.
In a case of disability, I have both short-term and long-term disability insurances covered by my employer. This will ensure we earn our living even with a long-term disability.
I am little worried about my old AC unit though. $5,000 might not be enough. But then, I can pay the rest using a credit card and pay it off before payment is due.
Now as opposed to $30,000 earlier, we will now have $5,000 in an emergency fund. Some of you might not agree with me. But this is how I feel in my situation, is enough. Of
Ofcourse, we will have tough time tackling multiple emergencies within short span. But, that’s the risk we are going to take.
Readers, You now know what is emergency fund, and when people need it. Do you feel this is something you should have?
This is a good article. This is a concept we all struggle with. I don’t think there is one right answer for all people as you said. I feel just thinking about a possible emergency, and having a plan in mind, is good preparation; and makes one better able to cope with an unexpected emergency. Sometimes, people are just wiped out emotionally as well as financially, when the unexpected happens.
Adriana @MoneyJourney says
I definitely think emergency funds are important! In regards with how ‘big’ it should be, I’m also quite confused. I usually just follow the “the more money in it, the better” rule 🙂
Jitender @FinanceBuddy says
Many people who earn big, think that they have no need to build an emergency fund. But as per my experience, I think that everyone who is working and making a regular income should save a certain amount for their future.I’m 30 years old young guy and trying to save 10K every month in my emergency fund.So that I can make my future secure.
Thanks for this great post.
Very informative article!! nice to read this.
Abby A says
I love Dave Ramsey’s approach. I have student debt I’ve been working off. So my first goal is to save $1,000 immediately, then put money into paying off my loans. Once that debt is gone, I see myself continuing to save in my emergency account until I have a few thousand more saved up.