Most Americans don’t have enough money saved for a $400 financial emergency, let alone anything larger than that. Managing your finances can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. Planning for unexpected emergencies is key to managing your money and keeping stress levels low. The first step to developing that plan is deciding what types of emergencies you want to prepare for—and then taking steps to ensure you’re ready for them when they happen.
The typical rule of thumb is to save three-to-six months of your monthly expenses for emergencies. This likely looks different depending on your family situation. A couple with no kids will likely be able to spend much less than a family of five. You’ll want to consider the most critical expenses in an emergency and the nice-to-haves that could be avoided or reduced in a crisis. Below are a few additional ideas to prepare your family for financial emergencies.
Create a Buffer
Most people spend every dollar without setting aside enough for emergencies. Planning for financial trials starts with ensuring your budget has some wiggle room. If you’re already at max spending, look for ways to save on things like insurance, groceries, cell phones, etc. You can also cancel services like your entertainment subscriptions to create a buffer if needed.
Use your buffer to start an emergency fund. Set a goal for how much you want in the fund and set aside some money each month to do it. Once you have your emergency fund in place, the next step is to keep it growing. You can set up an automatic transfer from your checking account into a high-yield savings or money market account every month to build up a healthy buffer.
Your buffer size depends on your income, essential bills, and how long you can live without one income if you are in a two-income home. Some experts suggest saving as much as 20% of your total income to account for major financial emergencies. Saving can take time, but the more you save, the better. If you need to go on social security or social security disability at some point, there are benefits for family members that you can also file for. This added income can help you create a buffer, especially if you still have children at home.
Balance Your Books
Balancing your books is essential to managing your financial situation, particularly if you’re living paycheck to paycheck. It’s important for you to keep track of how much money is coming in and where it’s going out so that you can spot any problems before they become serious.
If you’ve lost track of your finances, take some time right now to review all the accounts in which you have cash savings or investments, such as checking accounts, savings accounts, company stocks, and retirement funds. Write down each account and who holds those assets on behalf of yourself or others. You may also want to keep track of household assets such as cars or real estate property—this information can help determine the amount at risk should something unexpected like losing a job.
Once you’ve made this list, consider transferring some money from each account into another just for emergencies so that you have around three months’ worth saved up. This way, when emergencies arise—whether due to illness or unemployment—you know exactly how much money will be available.
Accessing your emergency funds for financial crises is more important than worrying about the interest rate. You should always have access to your money. Don’t turn to credit cards or other high-interest loans to pay for emergencies when you already have money available in different kinds of accounts.
To ensure quick access to emergency savings, you may want to consider opening a second bank account. That way, you can quickly use the money in an emergency situation. If the account comes with a debit card, you can store that card in a safe place when needed. If you are responsible with credit cards, another option is to use your credit card in an emergency situation and then immediately pay it off with your emergency fund.
Pay for Emergencies First
Don’t put it off when stuck with a sudden medical bill. If you can’t pay for something now, take action as soon as possible. Don’t borrow money to cover an emergency expense—that only worsens things in the long run and leaves you in debt. Pay for urgent and necessary items and set up payment plans for other things if needed.
Nothing is worse than going into high-interest debt to pay for an emergency. Therefore, even if you aren’t making a high-interest rate on your emergency savings, it could help you avoid paying 10% plus interest from using a credit card or, even worse, something like a payday loan.
If you’re not already covered, consider taking out a few types of insurance. For example, life insurance can help your loved ones if you pass away unexpectedly, and disability insurance can provide income if you become sick or injured and aren’t able to work. In addition, auto, homeowners’, and renters’ insurance are important for protecting your property from fire and theft. Dental and vision insurance may be worth considering, too—they protect against the high costs of routine dental care or glasses/contact lenses that aren’t covered by medical plans.
These policies can not only help shield you in the event of a financial emergency, but they can also make the cost of them much less than if you didn’t have them.
Even if you don’t know the emergency, you can prepare for it financially. Setting aside money to cover the cost of emergencies and being out of work is essential. Then, when you have savings in play and an insurance policy, if applicable, you can be confident that you and your family will be taken care of.
The Importance of Preparing for a Financial Emergency
Nothing can set your family back more than an unexpected financial emergency you’re unprepared to handle. However, with three-to-six months of emergency savings, proper insurance, and quick access to that money, you should be able to avoid a crippling situation.
Building an emergency fund should be one of the first steps in your financial journey. One thing is for sure; emergencies will happen. Tires will go flat, refrigerators will go out, people will get sick, and basements will leak. Hopefully, not all at the same time, but you get the point. If prepared for these unexpected expenses, you will live a more stress-free financial life.
As noted above, one of the best ways to build your emergency fund is to hide money from yourself in a separate account. For example, the next time you get a small raise at work, take that money and have it automatically deposited into a different bank account instead of increasing your spending. Over time, that account will grow to cover several months of emergency savings.
Mark is the founder of Financial Pilgrimage, a blog dedicated to helping young families pay down debt and live financially free. Mark has a Bachelor’s degree in financial management and a Master’s degree in economics and finance. He is a husband of one and father of two and calls St. Louis, MO, home. He also loves playing in old man baseball leagues, working out, and being anywhere near the water. Mark has been featured in Yahoo! Finance, NerdWallet, and the Plutus Awards Showcase.