You have likely heard the saying about saving money for a rainy day. In life, rainy days can come out of nowhere, and when not prepared, can totally mess up your financial standing.
Let’s just say for new college grads and young professionals, the threat is even greater.
Without financial footing, the world can be a scary place. In case something happens, like a job loss, medical or transportation emergency, or any other unexpected expenses, an emergency fund can make everything feel much less stressful.
You might be wondering how a building an emergency fund is possible, but with a bit of planning, you can be ready for a rainy day too.
Benefits of an emergency fund
In a perfect world, you’d hit it rich right away and not have to worry about surprise expenses.
While something like winning the lottery is even worse than a longshot, an emergency fund allows you the stability you are longing for. When starting in a new career or just coming out of college, money is tight, but there are clear benefits to making sure you’re saving what you can.
For starters, there’s nothing like peace of mind for you and your loved ones. When something like a surprise car repair or an unexpected expense comes up, it’s often stress-inducing. You might even be feeling anxious just reading about unexpected costs.
That’s normal, and nearly everyone in your position worries about not being ready for a big expense. The worry usually comes from a fear to provide for yourself and those close to you. With an emergency fund, you’re ready for anything.
Peace of mind regarding surprise expenses can make everything feel easier. Work, interpersonal relationships, and even your mood improves when you’re not living paycheck to paycheck. Emergency fund saving is a weight off your shoulders, and that’s priceless.
Saving for an emergency fund also allows you flexibility. When things go haywire and you are scraping for cash, you might be tempted to take from places you don’t want to. In particular, some people in tight spots will try to pull from investments.
Investment capital needs to stay where it’s at, so long as you can pull from other places. In some situations, you’re not left with much of an option. With an emergency fund, however, investments stay put while you take from your dedicated savings meant exactly for moments like these.
Lastly, an emergency fund helps you avoid debt. Coming out of college, you’re likely carrying some student loan or credit card debt. That’s normal for this point in your life. Adding debt to the pile, however, is a slippery slope.
As debt totals increase, it becomes easier for you to disassociate the actual cost of the debt. Slowly, it just becomes a number, and that’s when spending and saving habits can get off-track. It might not seem possible, but most people in serious debt didn’t plan on letting it go that far either.
Saving for an emergency fund keeps debt away. When the situation arises, your emergency fund is there for you to take care of a cost and not fall apart financially.
So, when is it time to use the emergency fund?
When to use your emergency fund
An emergency fund is meant to be used for certain situations. In some cases, you might feel guilty for breaking into it to cover an expense.
Don’t… that’s why you have it in the first place!
Saving can sometimes feel like an obsessive process. With an emergency fund, you might feel less inclined to spend that money the larger the pot grows. That’s a good thing in terms of getting savings collected for emergency expenses.
When an emergency comes up, that means you need to be okay spending the money you saved. You’ll likely debate whether or not the situation calls for the use of your emergency fund. If the situation calls for it, don’t hesitate.
Some logical times to dip into your emergency fund are:
- Loss of income that pays for bills
- Unexpected medical costs
- Transportation emergency, including car costs for repairs and safety concerns
- A required surprise cost you could not have prepared for
That last point is important. There are plenty of times you might find yourself facing an expense that, with better organization and financial planning, you could have been prepared for.
Examples of times you should not use your emergency fund include:
- Entertainment and leisure
- Gift giving
- Trying to start a business or work project
- Student loans and other debts
The last situation might make you do a double-take. Why would it be bad to pay your student loans with an emergency fund? Shouldn’t you be paying down your debt as much as possible?
Sure, your debt is something you’ll want to eliminate. If you’re just starting to improve your financial situation, your debt isn’t going to disappear overnight. Without an emergency fund, a surprise expense is only going to dig you further into debt.
That’s why getting your emergency fund established is so important. Now that we know the importance of an emergency fund, let’s talk about how much you should be saving.
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How much do you need to save in an emergency fund?
Establishing an emergency fund is one of the easiest ways to better yourself at this point in your life.
An emergency fund does not need to be some large stockpile you accumulate over multiple years. For a lot of new college grads and young professionals like yourself, a small start is all you really need.
Getting a base fund of $500-$1,000 is a wonderful way to kick start an emergency fund. In many cases, it can cover those costs for which you would be using the fund. Plus, it allows you the freedom to take care of other financial responsibilities.
A lot of college grads and young professionals are facing some high-interest debt via credit cards. Rather than trying to build a huge emergency fund, get yourself settled at a comfortable place and pay down those debts.
In most cases, a good emergency fund to start with should cover one month of expenses. This gets you out of trouble for long enough to figure out how to move forward. In a lot of cases, a month should be long enough to get back on your feet financially.
As you settle into your budget and begin seeing a path towards some sort of path towards your financial legacy, grow the emergency fund into 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses. Having a large emergency fund like this can help get you out of jams that come with increased income and savings.
Once you hit the cap of six months of expenses saved, there’s not a real need to keep going. At that point, you should be set up for any sort of emergency that might come your way. Anything saved past a six-month fund is going to make you miss out on investment opportunities.
Think of it this way. Putting away an emergency fund of a full year’s worth of expenses means most of that money will sit there unused. Instead, it could be working for you to create financial returns.
While we’re on the topic of where to put your money, here are the best places you can keep your emergency fund.
Where to store your emergency fund
Saving for your emergency fund is one thing, but where should you store the money?
There are a few things you need to take into account when choosing a place for your savings. In most cases, the place is going to be somewhere easily accessible, or “liquid.”
Any sort of emergency fund needs to be somewhere you can easily pull money out quickly. If your car breaks down, you don’t have 3-5 business days to wait for it to come out of a standard savings account. Likewise, you don’t want it to be sitting without making some sort of money back either.
A popular trend for savings storage is high-yield online savings accounts. These sorts of accounts allow for easy access, as well as a favorable savings yield. Higher than most traditional banks, online savings sites can allow you some return on your emergency fund while you’re not using it.
One of the modern options for emergency fund storage is the CIT Savings Builder.
At more than 25 times the national average, CIT offers a 2.3% interest rate (as of September 2019) on accounts with either $25,000+ or a regular monthly deposit of $100.
The program is great for building better habits for saving, and with a minimum $100 opening deposit, it’s accessible for nearly anyone who is serious about building an emergency fund.
Another option is a money market account. These generally offer a higher interest rate back to the account holder than a standard checking or savings account.
However, some of these can carry higher minimum balance requirements, making them tough to pull off right out of college.
Lastly, a short-term CD is always a great option for a brief investment with a higher return rate. Some 6-month options can yield as much as 2% back on interest. The money does need to stay in the account, however, so make sure to have something else set aside while that money grows.
How to build your emergency fund
The benefits of an emergency fund are evident, and now you know where to keep the money. Now it’s time to talk about putting the concept into practice. As a young adult, it can be tough finding a way out of the paycheck to paycheck cycle.
To start, make sure to treat deposits to your emergency fund as a bill. If this means making an automated direct deposit to your account every paycheck, then do it. If it comes out like a bill, you won’t sit there wondering if you should hold onto it for something less important
Recurring transfers can also be turned off quickly, so don’t worry about needing that money down the road. If for whatever reason you need to take that money for something else, most accounts let you change settings at the click of a mouse or a phone call.
Try not to miss contributions to your emergency fund, though. If you find yourself needing that money each pay period, don’t take it before you look at ways to trim expenses. In a lot of ways, you’re probably spending money you don’t need to be spending.
Things like entertainment subscriptions, eating out, tickets to events and concerts, and other leisure costs don’t need to be cut entirely. But, be honest with yourself. If these things are holding you back from your emergency fund, cut a few of them to be able to put that money aside.
Of course, you might also want to earn more income. Be careful not to earn more money and then spend it on the things listed above. This extra income should go towards more savings, not spending.
There are a lot of ways to add income to your financial situation. These can include:
- Asking for a raise at work
- Finding some sort of second job or “side hustle”
- Working overtime
- Freelancing using your skillset
In terms of asking for a raise, this can be a tough one to navigate. In most cases, the idea of asking is much more intimidating than it needs to be. When you ask for a raise, you can also apply a really easy method of saving for an emergency fund.
Take the difference between your old salary and new salary, and automatically contribute that amount to your emergency fund. That way, you’re not needing to change your budget for bills. It’s an easy life hack to get you the emergency fund you need quickly.
In some cases, you can earn extra income and not wear yourself thin. Plus, you might not need to do it permanently. With the added stress of financial instability gone, the extra work might not even phase you too much.
Aside from cutting expenses and earning more money, you can also sell things you don’t need. Without an emergency fund, you might be faced with selling things for cash down the road. To avoid this, sell unused possessions now while you’re still in good financial standing.
Anything from clothing to electronics can be sold online. Even furniture, hobby equipment, and appliances you don’t use can turn into some extra money for the emergency fund. Make sure not to go overboard clearing out your stuff.
It does you no good to have to repurchase something a month from now that you just sold. In most cases, you’ll end up losing money in the process. Make sure to only get rid of nonessentials you won’t want again in the near future.
Lastly, any sort of extra money you are given can go straight into the emergency fund. These might include a bonus at work or a tax return. A lot of times, those are seen as a way to pay for fun expenses. If you’re still working on building your emergency fund, skip the big purchase and put that cash away.
Start saving now!
If you take away anything from this article, it’s the idea that an emergency fund is obtainable. The secret isn’t some scheme or money-saving trick. A simple budget and some financial planning can stabilize you for surprise expenses.
The benefits of an emergency fund are vast. Between the financial and mental relief, having money set aside can help you feel more prepared for the road ahead. Early in your career, an emergency fund can be a difference between building your future and falling behind yet again.
You want to be financially stable, and that means being ready for anything and everything, even the unexpected.
Start saving for your emergency fund now, and avoid future surprises, slipups, and debt you don’t want to deal with. You never know when a rainy day is right around the corner.