Saving for a rainy day by building an emergency fund is one of the smartest things you can do with your money. As the name suggests, an emergency fund will help see you through an unexpected and potentially costly life event, such as a health crisis, a job layoff or a major home repair.
- aspire to save enough to cover six to nine months of living expenses
- make the rainy-day fund a part of the budget
- start small
- carefully choose where to keep your money
- use automated features
- be part of the unprepared
- carry a debit card that is tied to the emergency account
- blow windfalls
- ignore debt repayment
- forget to replenish
The amount you want to save is not necessarily the same amount as your salary. It means enough money to pay the necessities: rent or mortgage, car payment, utilities and groceries.
Making a rainy-day fun part of your budget means you need to have a budget first. Setting up a budget need not be complex, and can be done with paper and pen, or a spreadsheet – no expensive software needed.
If saving up several months’ living expenses is overwhelming, determine an amount that you can comfortably save. Treat that monthly savings goal as a bill and make paying it a part of your regular budget. Every little bit helps. If you can set aside $25 a week, you will save $100 by month’s end. At the end of the year, you will have saved more than $1,000.
Make sure your emergency fund is easily accessible (within one or two business days). Consider a traditional savings account or money market account, which allow you to earn some interest while saving. After your savings has grown to a more sizable amount, consider investing the money in something that pays better interest, like a bond or a short-term certificate of deposit, but is still low-risk.
Set up an automatic transfer from your primary checking account to a savings account on the same day that your paycheck is deposited. Or ask your payroll department to directly deposit some of your pay into a savings account. Some people prefer to put their savings into an account completely separate from their normal checking account. Record the expense like a bill every month to painlessly accumulate savings.
Unfortunately, almost a third of Americans have no cash saved in reserves for an emergency. It’s never too late to start saving.
It’s too easy to use a debit card for situations that are not truly emergencies. Keep the debit card that is linked to your emergency account at home so that you aren’t tempted to use it.
If you pay off a car loan or credit card bill, get a tax refund, or earn some extra money from a freelance job, bonus or yard sale, use it to grow your emergency fund. Stick all or most of that money that you don't need for bills into your emergency fund.
Many people find it difficult to save for an emergency fund because they are trying to pay off high debt loads. Putting most of your money toward debt makes good financial sense. But if you look carefully at your expenses, you may be able to free up some cash to put into the emergency fund as you pay off your debt.
If you do need to use part of the fund, make it the priority to replenish it as soon as possible. Incorporate an amount into your monthly budget. Yes, it will require self-discipline and belt-tightening happen, but is important to do.
Not having saved for a crisis is what throws many people into a financial disaster. When finances are tight, it can be challenging, at best, to create an emergency fund. But saving for a rainy day — as you may have heard from your grandparents — makes good financial sense.