Starting an emergency fund may not sound like the most exciting thing, but it’s something that everyone should make a priority.
Emergencies are usually unexpected, which is why preparing for one before it happens is a smart move. Whether it’s the question of where to store your savings or how to prioritize it against debt that’s holding you back, we’re here to answer your questions.
To help get you started, we asked personal finance blogger Shang Saavedra of @savemycents for some advice on building an emergency fund. Saavedra is a full-time management consultant who does retirement and money coaching on the side. She managed to reach FIRE (meaning financial independence, retire early) at 31-years-old, although she still continues to work.
After achieving her personal financial freedom, Saavedra decided that she wanted to start helping others, and thus became a retirement and money coach on the side.
Here’s what advice she had to give when it comes to building an emergency fund in the midst of a pandemic.
Don’t focus on interest rates when it comes to your emergency fund
Savers shouldn’t let the current low-interest rate environment discourage them from saving, especially when it comes to building your emergency fund.
“Your emergency fund is not an investment,” says Saavedra. “It’s a cushion that you will need to secure against falling into further credit card debt when emergencies happen. The difference between 1 percent or a 0 percent paying bank account is a lot less significant than falling into an emergency, putting life on a credit card, and paying off debt that might have an APR [annual percentage rate] of 25 percent.”
Try to balance saving and paying back debt
When it comes to Saavedra’s saving strategy, she recommends trying to split your priorities of saving and paying back debt as best as you can.
“If you have credit card debt, build a starter emergency fund of about one month’s bills,” says Saavedra. “Once you finish paying down credit card debt, start building up to a three to six month emergency fund, even if you have other types of debt such as student loans or a mortgage.”
Build an emergency fund that fits your situation
In general, it’s recommended that savers set aside three to six months of expenses in an emergency fund. However, this may vary depending on each person’s individual situation.
For example, Saavedra says that it probably makes more sense for those with relatively stable jobs and no dependents to have a cushion of about three months’ expenses. Whereas those with kids under the age of 18 will likely want to save six months’ worth of expenses to give them more peace of mind.
“Do whatever it takes” to get started
When it comes to getting started, Saavedra has found that a “do whatever it takes” approach has proven to be a successful attitude for both herself and her clients.
Saavedra suggests that those looking to boost their savings should consider:
- Selling everything they’re not currently using.
- Doing a series of quick hustles (i.e. selling plasma, focus groups, side jobs).
- Pausing all non-essential spending.
- Put any raise or bonus money you earn straight into savings.
These are some quick and easy ways to boost your balance or even get it going.
Focus on your emergency fund before you start investing
“Stocks are hot” is probably a phrase you’ve been hearing fairly often as of late. And while that may be true, stocks are not for everyone.
Saavedra advises against investing in the stock market until you have a fully-funded emergency fund. Investing comes with more inherent risks, which is why you should focus on covering your back for those “just in case” moments.
“Keep your emergency fund in cash or cash-like equivalents, and make sure it is fully funded before you begin investing,” says Saavedra.
Finally, it should go without saying but never stash your emergency fund in investments.
Starting (and building) an emergency fund should be a key part of your financial plan. Not only will it give you peace of mind knowing that you have a cushion to fall back on, but it will actually be there for you when you most need it.
It takes work and a positive mindset, but hopefully these tips and tricks from Saavedra will help you work your way towards a fully-funded emergency fund.