A typical emergency fund should contain at least six months’ worth of net income (up to a year is recommended if you have kids or other dependents), and you should only touch it in a true emergency (no, under no circumstances is your dream vacation to Tahiti a true emergency).
Here are five examples of situations that qualify as actual financial emergencies:
- Emergency 1: You’ve lost your job and need to continue paying rent, bills, and other living expenses.
- Emergency 2: You have a medical or dental emergency.
- Emergency 3: Your car breaks down and it is your primary form of transportation.
- Emergency 4: You have emergency home expenses. For example, your air conditioning unit breaks down in 100-degree weather, your roof is leaking, your basement is flooded (no again, a kitchen in need of redecorating doesn’t count, no matter how much you hate that wallpaper or your “outdated” cabinets).
- Emergency 5: You have bereavement-related expenses, like travel costs for a family funeral.
Here’s another reason why you should always have money in an emergency fund: If you don’t, and one of these five situations occurs, you’ll most likely be stuck using a credit card to handle it, leading you into (or deeper into) credit card debt. In fact, medical expenses are the leading contributor to credit card debt, with low-to moderate-income households averaging $1,678 in credit card debt due to out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Plus, paying for emergency expenses on your credit card (if you don’t pay off your bill immediately) will end up costing you more over time, when you rack up interest payments as you try to dig yourself out of debt. Having an emergency fund will not only save you more money in the long run, but it will also give you peace of mind in knowing you have the safety net to catch those unexpected curveballs when they arrive.
If getting six months of take-home pay together seems daunting, here are eight useful tips that might better help you boost your emergency savings:
1. Direct Deposit into Your Savings
Think of yourself as a regular monthly bill you have to pay. All you have to do is arrange to have a set amount of money directly deposited from your paycheck into a savings account each month. The savings account is recommended because if you use your checking account, you may be tempted to spend the money you are trying to set aside. It might hurt a bit at first to take home a little less every month, but after awhile you won’t even notice it’s gone. Here’s a moment when the “set it and forget it” strategy works wonders!
2. Never Spend a Bonus Again
It feels great to be rewarded for your hard work. And it feels even better to spend that hard-earned bonus on something you’ll enjoy, like a trip to the Caribbean or a new tablet. At the same time, the pleasure of a vacation or new gadget is short-lived compared to financial security.
So make a pact with yourself to put every bonus you get from here on out to good use. If you direct 90 percent of your bonuses straight into your savings account as a rule, you’ll still have 10 percent to treat yourself with (plus the comfort of knowing that you’re building a well-earned safety net).
3. Cut Unnecessary Costs
This seems like an obvious one — and is easier said than done. Actually, most people spend money on more unnecessary items than they think. So take time to look at where your money is going in detail and begin to cut back. Saving $10 here and $5 there could help you put a lot away in the long run – you’d really be surprised.
4. Open a Seasonal Savings Account
Many financial institutions offer seasonal accounts meant to save for the holidays. These accounts give you reduced access to your accounts, charging a penalty each time you withdraw more than permitted. Since emergencies (hopefully) don’t occur often, a seasonal account could make sure you’re touching it only when needed.
Check out First Financial’s Holiday Savings Club Account – don’t put yourself into debt over holiday spending, save ahead and come out on top (and not in debt)!*
- Open at any time
- No minimum balance requirements
- Dividends are posted annually on balances of $100 or more
- Accounts automatically renew each year
- Deposits can be made in person, via mail, payroll deductions, or direct deposit
- Holiday Club funds are deposited into a First Financial Checking or Base Savings Account
5. Sell Unused Items
Rather than throwing these unused goods away, start selling them, and put that money into your emergency fund. All you need to do is post them to a site like eBay, Craigslist, or Amazon and you can get rid of items from the comfort of your home. You can also take your clothes to a consignment shop to have them sold for you.
6. Stop Spending $5 Bills
Instead of saving your pennies, put aside any $5 bills that come your way. Never spend a $5 bill again, and you’ll be surprised by how quickly this little trick will help you come up with a few hundred dollars to add to an emergency fund.
7. Earn Extra Income
You could pick up odd jobs to help do things for other people, freelance writing/blogging, or babysitting via websites like TaskRabbit.com, DoMyStuff.com, Elance.com, FreelanceSwitch.com, or Sitters.com. Or if you have the time – go out and find an additional part-time job as a cashier, server, or utilize your hidden talents in web design, catering, and so on.
8. Use Cash Back Rewards
If you get a cash-back reward for any spending on your credit card, just make it a rule that those dollars will be dedicated to your emergency fund. It may only add up to $100 extra each year, depending on your spending, but every little bit counts!
*A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the Bronze Tier. Click here to view full Rewards First program details, and here to view the Tier Level Comparison Chart. Accounts for children age 13 and under are excluded from this program.