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Why It’s (Sometimes) OK to Have a Small Emergency Fund


I’ve mentioned that I’m keeping a very slim emergency fund (just under $1,000) from now through the New Years. Instead of beefing it up right now back to a place where I feel comfortable (which, for me, is about $4,000ish), I’m putting it off until the New Year.

Last week Matt posted about how his emergency fund (EF) has also taken a dip down to right at $1,000. A couple readers commented on how dangerous and foolish it is to allow such a low EF, and the importance of having a reasonable EF in general (side note:  read the comments, as there were some really great points and an interesting discussion).

I whole-heartedly agree that an EF is of the utmost importance. When trying to get out of debt the first basic step is to stop accumulating more debt! The best way to do that is to pay for things in cash and have a bit of a safety net for any possible “uh oh” situation that would otherwise cause one to take on debt.

What one considers to be an “acceptable” level differs by person. For me, my preference is to have one full month worth of expenses in the bank (about $4,000 for our family’s minimum expenses). I know many financial gurus suggest 3-6 months worth of expenses or even 6-12 months. But, some of those same gurus admit that these figures are after debt has been paid off. While still in the trenches working to eradicate debt (some of) that money is better spent paying down debt! Dave Ramsey suggests that while in debt repayment mode to only have a $1,000 beginner EF. For me that’s a little too low for comfort (again, I prefer one month worth of expenses). But to each their own.

All that being said, I think it’s okay to have a meager emergency fund sometimes.

Here is my reasoning and logic for why I’m sticking with a very small EF right now:

  1.  It’s for a limited period of time. I would not feel comfortable with my current level of EF (under $1,000) forever. But I’m not suggesting I keep it that low forever. I’m just trying to get through the rest of 2015. I have some pretty big financial goals to achieve and I’m working my butt off to try to hit them (or come as close as possible!) I’m planning to beef back up my EF in January 2016, so we’re really only talking about a month and a half of our super slim EF.
  2.  It’s motivating. If you have a slim EF, you work that much harder because you’re motivated to be able to build it back up quickly. It’s uncomfortable to know that you have a super small financial security net, so you may be more likely to cut back further (to save additional money), find things to sell (to make more money), etc. All around, I find it motivating.
  3.  I have a steady paycheck. This is a big one because for multiple years we had a VERY variable income. During that time I would have never allowed our EF to stay at such a small level. But we also depended on our EF for our basic livelihood rather frequently. The situation is different now. I have a secure job and steady pay. If we were to experience an emergency that completely wiped out our EF, we’d still be okay because we continue having a steady paycheck! It would just mean that any funds originally earmarked to go toward debt would be diverted to pay for the “uh oh” situation. I feel a lot of security in knowing I get paid like clockwork every two weeks.
  4. We rent. One of the points brought up in the comments on Matt’s post was that renting is inherently less risky than owning.  Anyone remember the Great Flood we experienced last year at this time? I can’t even imagine how costly that was for our landlord. If a roof needed replacement, an A/C went out in the heat of summer (or heater went out in winter), or some other major expense came up, it could cost many thousands of dollars for repair/replacement. We aren’t in that situation right now, so we don’t need emergency funds to cover any of those hypothetical home-ownership-related problems.
  5. I have other savings. I really love how easy it is to have separate savings accounts for different goals with Capital One 360 (<refer a friend link! If you join, let me know how you like it!) Some people are “groupers” and some people are “splitters.” I’ve always been a splitter. You should see my desk at work – I have a different pile for each task I’m working on ; )  Anyway, I’d hate to have to do it, but if an emergency arose that we were unable to cover through our small EF or income, my next step would be to raid other existing savings. We have savings in all kinds of categories:  Christmas fund, semi-annual fees, dental/health/vision, vet/pet expenses, etc. etc. etc. If something big came up and we needed liquid cash immediately, I’d dive into these funds in order to cover our butts. Yes, I don’t consider them part of our EF (and I prefer to keep them totally separate). But, let’s be real. It’s cash money sitting in the bank. If we need cash, it’s an easy place to go.
  6.  I have credit cards. I know this is controversial because some people are big proponents of cutting up and throwing away credit cards. If you have had credit card addiction problems, then by all means get rid of them! But I’ve been pretty safe on that front in terms of being able to charge something credit and pay it off right away. I still prefer using debit cards because it’s easier for budgeting purposes. However, I use a Wells Fargo credit card for our monthly preschool tuition because of the reward points it earns, and I use a Target credit card anytime I buy gifts (wedding, baby, etc.) because I save 5% and get free shipping (remember, I live in Arizona but most of our friends/family are in Texas so almost all gifts I purchase have to be shipped back to Texas). In addition to that I have 2 more credit cards I never use (they sit in a safe in our home).  In all, I have probably $15,000 worth of credit available to me. This would be a last resort, but if a big emergency came up and we didn’t have the cash (or income, or additional savings) to cover it, I could put it on a card and pay for it the following month. That allows us an extra month to get the money together without it actually being new debt (and it would be paid off before any interest accrues, etc.)

Those are my thoughts on the matter, what are yours?

Have you ever had a small EF for a period of time? If so, how did you handle emergencies when they came up? How much of an EF have you kept while in debt-repayment mode? What’s your minimum threshold? 

My Stomach was in Knots but it is Okay


Written on Tuesday…

For the first time EVER in my life, I had to meet with someone and tell them I could not take care of my family.  I had to go to the same building that I visited so many times as a foster parent and later adoptive parent full of pride that I was doing something to give back, something good and right, and admit that I was a failure.  I had to look at a woman in the eye and in essence say “I’ve failed to prepare for this situation by not saving and by using my money un-wisely.”  It was the worst feeling EVER.

And what a lesson.  I hate this situation.  I hate that my decisions brought me here.  I cringe at admitting what a failure I am.  But if the last year and then have taught me anything, it’s that I AM going to do better.

In no way shape form or fashion am I making excuses, but the one thing that helped me get through this morning while I was turning in shot records, leases, bank statements to what turned out to a extremely compassionate worker was that this is temporary.  I will get another job.  I will choose more wisely where my career path takes me.  I will make better money choices, even better than the ones I have started to make.  And more importantly, I WILL give back.

I do not deserve the support my community has given me and yet people have reached out offering Thanksgiving meals, help with Christmas and just words of encouragement.  But I do know that when I am back on my feet, the first thing I am going to do is find someone who has entered a dark time and reach out to them as so many have to me.

I will find out in a few days if/what assistance we qualify for, and I’ve been told that I have 10 days after I get my first paycheck to report a change in status.  I continue to seek the next step in this transition.

(And just a side note: I just completed my first of two phone interviews scheduled for today…and the second interview is scheduled for Friday.  I am counting on God to steer me as I step out in faith to follow what He has for me next rather than what I would choose.  Use me, send me…that is my prayer.)