THE SAVINGS HIERARCHY: EMERGENCIES FIRST
An emergency fund should be your first short-term savings goal, and for good reason: Emergencies happen. Whether it’s a blown fridge, a pet’s health scare or sudden car trouble that socks you with a $300 bill, events we don’t plan pop up (often all too frequently) and cost money nearly every time.
Unfortunately, many people—civilians and members of the military alike—don’t have any sort of emergency cash cushion. Of the FINRA survey respondents, 43% do not have emergency funds. Not surprisingly, the higher the pay grade, the more likely a member of the military is to save for a rainy day. So, let’s break down how much you need and where you should be keeping it.
How Much Do You Need?
An emergency cushion should consist of three-to-six months’ worth of fixed expenses. If you’re a two-income family, three months should be sufficient—especially if that second-income has been fairly consistent. If you’re living on a single income (even if your spouse earns some money with part-time work), aim for six.
That might sound like a lot of money to put away, but let’s be clear about what we’re talking about here: three-to-six months’ worth of expenses, not income. And those expenses can be bare bones, because during an emergency—if you’re living lean due to a major financial hardship—you’re going to forgo extras. That means the emergency fund should factor in electricity, but not premium cable. Include enough to cover your mortgage and groceries, but not eating out or leisure travel.
The way you establish an emergency fund is the same way you save for any other goal: bit by bit. Unless you can stash away a bonus or other windfall (tax refunds make excellent emergency fund starters), you’re going to be putting small amounts in the bank here and there, working your way up to that three-to-six-month level. Use the tips above to help you get there.