Disasters happen. You might have done everything else right: carefully budgeted your rent or mortgage, put aside a good amount of your paycheck into a retirement fund, negotiated the best deal on your car, and paid back your student loans as quickly as possible. You pride yourself in managing money, but then your car breaks down. A hurricane blows off your roof. Or, you get sick or injured, and your health insurance won’t cover the costs of an operation.
If you don’t have the emergency funds to fix damage or support yourself when your cash flow takes a hit, you could end up in a serious financial predicament. It’s imperative to have emergency savings, but that raises another question: how much should you have in an emergency fund? 40% of Americans don’t have $400 for emergencies, so how much is too much, and how much is too little?
The Right Emergency Fund Amount
There is no definite number everyone should have, i.e., $5,000. The right emergency fund amount for you depends on your income and overall financial situation. On that note, most experts say that you should have between three to six month’s living expenses stashed away to prepare for emergencies, though more is always wise (especially if you are a non-salaried worker who earns variable income). Save as much as you can each paycheck until you have a financial cushion you’d feel comfortable surviving on for a while.
Say you lose your job. You still have rent and other bills to pay, and you don’t know when exactly you’ll find a new position. That’s why having a few months’ worth of living expenses to fall back on is necessary because, without your job, everything you pay for will come out of your savings. Just make sure it’s the right savings, not another fund you were building up.
Does My Emergency Account Need to Be Separate?
There are all kinds of significant expenses to save up for, like houses, vehicles, education, and retirement. Many people consider tapping into their retirement or other savings when emergencies arise because, well, they have the money; they’re just spending it earlier than expected.
Don’t tap into your retirement fund if you can avoid it. Withdrawing from it too early could result in additional hardship in the future. You don’t technically need a separate emergency funds account, but it’s a smart thing to practice. Opening an account dedicated to emergency savings reminds you to replenish it whenever you use it. Plus, many kinds of savings accounts accumulate interest, so you can earn a bit of passive money that way.
Important Factors to Consider
When determining your emergency funds amount, keep the following factors in mind:
- How easily can you get a new job with similar pay? — Depending on your field, you might be able to attain a new position if you lose yours pretty quickly, or it could take months of interviewing.
- How expensive is your area? — Someone who lives in a rural area will spend less on living expenses than someone in San Francisco or New York.
- How likely are you to experience an emergency? — This one’s a little up in the air, we know, because emergencies can happen to anyone. However, honestly reflect on how at-risk you are of specific crises. Do you have any medical issues? Is your car in top shape, or is it faulty? Are you in a disaster-prone area? How well is your industry doing? If your apartment or home is beyond repair, then you might need emergency moving funds.
You can also take advantage of an emergency funds calculator to help you consider various scenarios.
Can’t I Just Use Credit?
You’re probably wondering: if I’m in an emergency and don’t have the money to cover it, can’t I just use my credit card? You could, but doing so entails consequences. If something happens to your house and you need to pay $10,000 to repair damages to make it livable, that’s $10,000 that will accumulate interest. You’ll end up paying much more money in the long-run and could set yourself up for extra difficulty.
Some people may have no choice but to use credit, but if possible, it’s better to have cash to pay for emergencies. Personal loans can also be dangerous.
We acknowledge it, saving is a privilege, and people who live paycheck to paycheck don’t often have spare change to put away. Save whatever you can, though, even if it’s only a few dollars per week. You’ll be in an even worse situation if an emergency happens that you can’t pay for in any capacity. A few savings tips include:
- Tip Yourself with the Earnin app whenever you accomplish part of your routine (every time you do also qualifies you for a chance to win prizes);
- Open a savings account that earns interest and put aside as much of your paycheck as you can;
- Set goals: think about how much money you want to have saved and by when;
- Reduce your unnecessary expenses by negotiating with your vendors and cutting back on superfluous spending.
Your emergency fund amount is up to you — just be sure however much you save is enough to take care of yourself for the foreseeable future or enough to make life a little easier when an emergency happens.
EarnIn is a financial technology company, not a bank. Bank products are issued by Evolve Bank & Trust, Member FDIC. The EarnIn Card is issued pursuant to a license from Visa USA Inc.