Last week, I was faced with the unexpected expense of replacing the brakes and rotors on my car. As an unexpected expense, this was not part of my monthly budget. From time to time, we all face these unexpected financial hardships.
According to the National Financial Capability Study, 50% of people in the United States do not have a “rainy day” fund. A “rainy day fund” or an “emergency fund” is money that is set aside to cover unexpected expenses. Financial experts recommend this fund cover anywhere from 3-9 months of expenses. For many of us, this seems unrealistic. So to get started, think about setting a goal of $500. You can build this up to 3-9 months over time. To figure out how much you need to save, try using this calculator which walks you through your monthly expenses to calculate a total emergency fund based on six months of basic living expenses.
You can start building your emergency fund by:
- Adjusting your current habits, such as cutting back on eating out or your favorite cup of coffee.
- Picking up a side gig to earn some extra money.
- Saving your tax refund (tax season is upon us).
Now, you need to think about where to keep it. The simple answer is somewhere you will not spend it, such as a savings or money market account. These accounts are offered by your bank or credit union. The interest on a savings account is typically lower than a money market account. The money market account typically requires a higher balance in the account. You will probably want to start with a savings account, but when your fund balance grows, move it into the money market account for a higher interest rate.
Sometimes I get the question about when to start the “emergency fund,” especially when you have other bills to pay. This is why it is important to include putting money aside in your budget for these unexpected expenses, because you only put yourself further in debt without your “emergency fund.” Reach the $500 goal and then focus on paying down your debt.
Having this “rainy day fund” or “emergency fund” prepares you for the unexpected. For me it was an auto repair. For you, it may be replacing a furnace, buying a car, purchasing an appliance, or even worse—getting laid off from work or furloughed during an extended government shutdown. Taking steps to create your fund improves your financial wellness and gives you a little breathing room.