Surviving During Uncertain Times
How to Build an Emergency Fund in the Middle of an Emergency
If there is one thing a national crisis brings to light, it is the need for individuals and families to have an emergency fund they can rely on when there is an interruption in their income. Read any book on personal finance or listen to any financial planner and one of the first things you are taught is to make creating an emergency fund your top priority. Having a cash reserve set aside to cover six to twelve months of living expenses is considered essential to building your financial security. Yet, the vast majority of people in the United States do not have the cash to cover a car repair.
All it takes to build and emergency fund, even in the midst of a crisis, is determination and a plan. If you are on a tight budget, it may also require an attitude adjustment about how you spend your money. Regardless of your financial situation, the first thing you need to do is imagine how much financial trouble you could be in if your income suddenly stopped for six to twelve months (longer if you have children) and then follow a plan to create your emergency fund. Here are five steps to follow:
Quantify your savings goal: The minimum amount you should keep in reserve should cover six to twelve months of living expenses. If your monthly expenses are $5,000, you would need $30,000 to cover six months or $60,000 to cover 12 months. Set a goal that includes a reasonable time frame for saving your desired amount. If you want to accumulate $30,000 within the next two years, you will need to save $1,250 a month. If that is not within your budget, you can adjust your time frame or find more money in your budget.
Establish a serious budget: Saving for your emergency fund should be your top priority, taking precedence over other short- and long-term goals. If the amount you need to save is not in your budget, it is time to get serious about your spending plan. In listing all your monthly expenses, make your emergency fund savings amount the top line item, which you pay yourself first before all other expenses. If you have a shortfall, go through each of your other expenses and determine what can be cut to make up for the shortfall.
Automate your savings: Take advantage of your bank’s automatic deposit feature. Most banks have the capacity to automatically transfer funds from your checking account to your savings account. Saving is easier to do when you do not have to think about it.
Keep it safe and liquid: Savings accounts are not paying very much interest these days, but you are not doing this to make a killing. Some online only banks offer high-yielding savings and money market accounts with automatic money transfers from your checking account.
Do not touch it: It does not matter what you earn on your savings if you cannot refrain from tapping into it. Achieving any financial goal requires discipline and patience. Once you achieve your goal, you will have that monthly cash to apply to your other needs or goals.
Start today: The COVID crisis will not last forever, but we cannot know when the next crisis will arise. And, you certainly cannot know when an unexpected emergency might arise. The sooner you start saving for your emergency fund, the sooner you will be prepared.