Saturday, January 18

6 Signs You’ve Saved The Wrong Amount in Your Emergency Fund

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A fully funded Emergency Fund is a cornerstone of financial security. But what exactly counts as “enough” saved? 

Most financial gurus will suggest you have 3 to 6 months of essential expenses worth tucked away in a savings account. Is this amount realistic? More importantly, is it even necessary? 

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How much do you really need to save for emergencies?

An emergency fund is there to cover blips when things don’t go as planned: car repairs, emergency dental or medical bills It can also function to tide you over and pay your regular bills for months if you find yourself unable to work or terminated from your job. It does not exist to cover the times you accidentally spend $400 at the mall. Furthermore, a credit card or line of credit is not an appropriate Emergency Fund. 

You should be saving your Emergency Fund in a high-interest savings account where it is easily accessible. I know it’s hard to keep money out of the stock market where it can earn a higher return, but you can currently get 2.30%* everyday interest with the EQ Bank Savings Plus account

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When it comes to how much you should have in your Emergency Fund, the number is intensely personal. My number is $10,000. This is enough to pay a few months rent before panic sets in. However, I’m also covered on all sides with proper insurance and multiple income streams. Your number might be different!

Why you can get away with a smaller emergency fund

There are a few different reasons you don’t need to leave a mountain of cash sitting in the bank. You should always have some savings set aside, but cultivating other safety nets can only do you good. 

Furthermore, the less the chance you’ll need to touch your actual emergency fund, the more time it will have to grow!

You live well below your means

One of the best pieces of personal finance advice is to “mind the gap”. That is, the gap between your income and expenses. The larger this gap, the better equipped you are to deal with fluctuations in income and expenses.

Living well below your means gives you plenty of flexible spending dollars that can be redirected to cover an unexpected expense. If you’re underspending every month, a surprise bill can be absorbed without even needing to move anything around. Ideally, you should already have 5% to 10% of wiggle room in your monthly budget, but if you can increase this to 20% or 30% you’ll be even better off. 

You have multiple sources of income

If you’re committed to side hustles and passive income streams, you have money coming from more than one source. If one income stream is lost, it can be readily and easily replaced by others already flowing into your bank account.

While losing your primary income source or your full-time job can throw a wrench in your plans, having side hustles that cover your essential expenses can get you through lean months. Ideally, you can pay your regular bills with these sources so you might not even need to tap into your Emergency Fund at all. 

You have plenty of liquid assets

While all the money you have may not be earmarked for emergencies, it’s still there in case your emergency fund runs out. Things like vacation savings can be sacrificed for your rent should the need ever arise. However, you never want to use long-term assets, like your retirement fund, to cover regular expenses. 

Why you need a big fat emergency fund

Despite all the advice above, a good case can be made for saving the traditional 3-6 months (or more!) of essential expenses in your emergency fund. Like most things in personal finance, what’s right for you depends on one hugely variable factor: you.

Only know what amount of money will make you feel “safe”. But if you want my opinion: more is almost always better. Below are the reasons why.

More than one emergency can happen at a time

Imagine this: a car accident costs you a huge repair bill plus an ambulance ride, and then puts you out of work for 3 months, during which time your water heater/furnace/whatever breaks down. Ouch! 

The thing about unexpected expenses and emergencies is they are unexpected. We don’t really have a choice of having them happen only when we are fully prepared. It’s possible to hit a bad run of life events that rapidly deplete all your savings, and then something else happens on top of that. However, the more you have set aside, the better prepared you are against the unforeseen!

You might not be able to work

Life is tricky, and you can be diagnosed with a disability later rather than sooner. If you’re 25 years old, there’s a nearly 60% chance you’ll be disabled for 3 months or longer during your working lifetime.

One of your best defenses against unexpected illness or disability is being properly insured. Make sure you have both critical illness and disability insurance coverage. However, you’ll also need an Emergency Fund to carry you through interim when you’re waiting for insurance cheques to come through. 

Sometimes it’s not about you

Sure your money can carry you through a hardship, but imagine you found yourself in the position where you needed to help a family member, like a sibling or an aging parent.

While there’s no obligation for you to help a loved one out of a mess, you might still choose to do so and your emergency fund might be your source of financial help. In the meantime, try to encourage those near & dear to you to develop their OWN emergency funds!).

Do you have any thoughts on the “right” amount to have in an emergency fund for yourself? Do you ever consider experiencing a disability or having support from a loved one when building your emergency fund?

This post was originally published January 10, 2011 under the title “Why Your Emergency Fund Needs to Be Smaller (and Larger!) Than You Think”

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About Author

Student debt killer, super saver, and stock market addict. BSc. in Chemistry from the University of Alberta, MBA in Finance from the University of Calgary. CEO x 2 and MOM x 1. Currently residing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, but hooked on travelling.

4 Comments

  1. I am shooting for a $5,000 emergency fund by the end of this year. I am not planning to leave graduate school in the next five years, so my “job” is stable. I do not really think about experiencing disability or providing for others, I am ashamed to admit. It will be a stretch to even get to $5,000, let alone the amount I would need to do these things!

  2. I like that the logic of your argument in this post works completely independent of dollars and numbers (so it is not all about the proper ratios, proportions, or percentages, etc.). I also like how there are so many areas in which we can be proactive (i.e., it’s not just about the dollars that we save in an account, but also about the lifestyle choices we make to live more simply). Thanks!

  3. I feel somewhat comfortable with 6 months worth of living expenses in our emergency fund. However, my husband plans to work from home and that’s what I currently do, so when the both of us are working for ourselves – I would feel much more comfortable with a year’s worth of expenses saved.

    That’s just me, though. Some people are comfortable with $1,000 or $2,000 in their emergency fund and that’s just fine too! Do what works for you and your family. 🙂

  4. I’ve never really considered a disability but I have considered the possibility of having to take care of a family member – I am absolutely not prepared for that! It scares me to think about that in the future, all the more reason to get my butt in gear now. I think the right amount for me will ultimately be about a year’s worth of expenses, I could survive (if I had to) on 10,000 but I think my ultimate goal for my e-fund will be about 15,000. Part of the reason for that is my employment; I’m partially selfemployed and partially employed by the family business. Things in our industry can go belly up or to the moon at any point in time and I would loose my ob and school-funding if we went belly up…. I also have a house that needs a bunch of repairs still so to tide me over I would definitely need a solid e-fund. Great post!