Saving for emergencies is an important part of responsible money management. However, many Americans find themselves in a situation where they cannot afford a $400 emergency. Without some sort of emergency savings, people risk digging themselves deeper into debt any time an unexpected expense comes up. This is why it’s recommended to save around 15% of your income – but how much of that should go into an emergency fund? How do you know when you have enough in your emergency fund? As a nonprofit credit counseling agency, ACCC is here to answer those questions and provide additional advice on how to save for emergencies.
Emergency Expenses: What Are They?
When it comes to emergency expenses, people often think about medical emergencies first. The cost of ambulance rides, hospital stays, and certain medications can add up quickly, especially if health insurance doesn’t cover as much as hoped. Without an adequate emergency fund, one medical emergency could lead to thousands of dollars in medical debt.
Another situation in which people may use their emergency fund would be urgent home or car repairs. This doesn’t mean a home improvement project, like new decor or adding things to your car that aren’t necessary. Urgent repairs would be things like a hot water heater needing to be replaced so the household can have hot water, or the brakes needing to be fixed on a car so it can be driven safely.
Emergency funds can also be used for unexpected family emergencies, such as the death of a family member. The cost of travel can be expensive, especially if living far away, and funeral expenses can add up quickly.
Another situation where people should use their emergency funds would be job loss or furlough. When there’s no money coming in, but rent, groceries, and other essential living expenses still need to be paid, an emergency fund can help alleviate the financial stress.
How Much Should You Save for Emergencies?
We suggest having around 3-6 months’ worth of expenses in the emergency fund. The specific amount will vary based on individual budgets. To determine the amount needed in the emergency fund, create a budget if one hasn’t been made already.
Look at the expenses in the budget, which include housing, transportation, childcare, other household expenses, and debt payments. Multiply that number by 3. That is the minimum dollar amount that should be in the emergency fund. Multiply the expenses by 6. That is ideally what should be saved for emergencies.
One might be thinking, “Do I really need that much?” But remember, it’s always best to be prepared (financially, at least), for the worst. Consider the COVID-19 pandemic; non-essential workers and those unable to work from home were out of work for significant periods of time. While that was an unprecedented situation for the country, other circumstances in which people can be unemployed for extended periods of time happen all the time. Injuries, family emergencies, and struggling to find work after a job loss happen frequently.
Tips for Saving for Emergencies
Saving doesn’t have to be overwhelming. If you can’t afford to save as much as they would like to, just save what you can. Maybe that means $20 a month. Something is better than nothing! Once it’s possible to save more, put more into savings, but don’t feel bad if it’s not possible just yet.
An easy way to start saving is to automate savings. This way, nothing needs to be thought about or done. Even if one forgets, their bank account won’t! It’s possible to set up automatic deposits to the savings account on a monthly basis. If unsure how to do that, contact the bank, and they can help get that set up.
Also, any extra money that you receive, such as a bonus at work, should be put straight into the emergency fund until you reach your savings goal. Those boosts in savings with bonuses or extra cash will help you reach that goal sooner!
What kind of account should I use for my emergency fund?
A regular savings account should be just fine for your emergency fund. The most important part of an emergency fund is that it is easily accessible when you need it. There are some financial bloggers out there who might encourage consumers to use a CD rather than a regular savings account because it has a better interest rate. However, you must keep in mind that the funds in a CD are often not accessible for a year or more without penalty. You wouldn’t want an emergency expense to cost you more than it should with the penalty for withdrawing from a CD too soon.
Regardless of how you save, the important thing is that you are saving for emergencies. You never know when one could strike, so it’s best to be financially prepared!
If you’re struggling to pay off debt, ACCC can help. Schedule a free credit counseling session with us today.