It really isn’t a question on whether or not you need an emergency fund.
(You do.) It’s the first line of defense when unexpected expenses show up (and they will—have kids?). Unforeseen emergencies threaten to undo your hard work and careful financial planning.
But what exactly is an emergency fund? What should it look like? And how do you start building one if you don’t have a sack of cash lying around?
What’s an emergency fund… and why do you need one?
An emergency fund is a dedicated amount of money to cover unplanned, unavoidable expenses. Establishing one is an important milestone on your journey to achieving financial independence! But why is it such a big deal?
Emergencies are a part of life. Nobody schedules a busted transmission or a broken arm, but you’ll need a way to pay for them when they happen. Who would have guessed that a global pandemic would force most of us to stay at home and cost millions of Americans their jobs? So it’s not a question of if you’ll need to cover something unexpected but how you’ll cover it. Without an emergency fund, you’ll be forced to either dip into your long-term savings (assuming you have them) or go into debt. For most people, either option can seriously throw off long-term financial plans. An emergency fund gives you the power to overcome sudden obstacles without sacrificing your retirement or piling up credit card bills.
Emergency fund ins and outs
One critical thing to grasp is that an emergency fund isn’t the same as your savings. Establishing a solid emergency fund is not a long-term goal that’s built over years or decades. Once the emergency fund is full, then you move on to other money milestones like conquering debt and saving for the future.
So how do you know you have enough in your fund? That depends on how much you make. A good rule of thumb is that an emergency fund should cover 3 to 6 months of income. That provides a buffer if you have an unexpected car repair, medical emergency, or if you’re temporarily unemployed due to an unprecedented global pandemic!
But what if you don’t have that much cash just lying around?
3 to 6 months of income might seem like a lot of money to set aside, especially if you’re currently living paycheck to paycheck. Building an emergency fund will take time and budgeting. Start with a goal of saving 2 weeks of pay. Then shoot for 1 month, then 2 months, etc., until you reach your goal.
The 2 Rules of Emergency Funds
Rule 1: An emergency fund is only, ONLY to be used in case of actual emergencies. It’s not for last minute getaways, much needed spa days, or killer video game sales. If those kinds of things come along, you can use a “fun fund”, which of course is part of your regular budget!
Rule 2: The emergency fund needs to be easily accessible. Make sure it’s in an account where you won’t incur fees for withdrawals when your car breaks down or you suddenly need a new AC unit. That’s why it’s there. Just remember to refill it as soon as the emergency has passed.
Once you’ve built your emergency fund and you know the rules, you’re ready to move on to the next stages of building wealth. Congratulations!You’re officially not broke and in the perfect position to chase your financial future!