No emergency fund? What are you waiting for?
Even if you and your family weathered the crises of the past couple years, you probably know people who haven’t fared as well. Health problems, business shutdowns, lost jobs and inflation have all exerted extreme financial pressure on Americans. But an emergency savings fund has kept
some people afloat.
A cache of cash can help if you lose your job, experience health problems, or face emergency home repairs and other unexpected expenses. But you need to make sure you’re saving enough, given your income and lifestyle.
Cover Nondiscredtionary Expenses
You may have heard that you need cash savings of three to six months of living costs. But this rule isn’t as straightforward as it may sound. Some
experts say you need to save enough to cover three to six months of expenses. Others believe you should save three to six months of take-home
pay. Depending on your family’s financial and other circumstances, you may need to save an amount at the lower end or aim for the six-month target.
Emergency fund savings targets often are expressed in terms of take-home pay, but most people are better off focusing on expenses, particularly nondiscretionary expenses. During a temporary emergency, you can always eliminate spending such as vacations, entertainment, dining out
and nonessential shopping. Your emergency fund really needs to cover mortgage and property taxes or rent, utility, phone and Internet
bills, car payments, food, health care, insurance, and credit card or other debt payments.
Focus On Your Target
Determine the target size of your emergency fund by totaling nondiscretionary expenses over the time period you anticipate it would take to find a new job or cover another emergency. Be sure to subtract other income sources, such as a spouse’s salary or rental property income. Keep in mind that reasonably foreseeable expenses aren’t emergencies and should be saved for separately. For example, you may expect you’ll need to replace
your roof in two years. Or you may be planning an elective medical procedure or a family celebration in the near future. Don’t dip into emergency funds for these planned events.At the same time, try not to save too much. If you save substantially more than you’ll reasonably need in a low-interest savings account, you may actually lose money to inflation over time. Plus, you might miss out on opportunities to invest those funds in tax-
advantaged retirement accounts or in other assets.
Take Immediate Action
If you don’t have an emergency fund, you’re not alone. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 24% of Americans have no emergency savings, 39% have less than a month’s worth of expenses saved and 37% have more than a month’s worth. If you land in one of the groups that would be forced to turn to credit cards, subprime loans or other undesirable methods to finance an emergency, start building your cash cushion immediately.
You might arrange for a portion of every paycheck to be deposited automatically in a savings account. Also consider reducing certain expenses, such as entertainment subscriptions and restaurant meals. Or adjust your tax withholdings, so you receive more currently instead of a tax refund when you file your annual return.
A Secondary Issue
People who don’t have adequate savings usually suffer from another issue: They lack a household budget. Make a realistic expense plan now and stick to it so you’ll be able to put money aside for an emergency. If you’re having trouble budgeting or finding funds to save, contact your Lenox Advisor.