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Starting Your Emergency Savings Fund

A patient and doctor having a conversation.

What do car accidents, house fires, and layoffs all have in common? They’re all unexpected, uncontrollable, and urgent life events that occur in our world every day. What you can control about these situations is the emergency money you save to prevent these situations from having a negative impact on your financial status.

An emergency savings fund is a safety net that can help cover unexpected expenses without breaking your budget or taking on debt. Emergency savings are meant to be kept separate from your other long-term savings goals and only used in case of an emergency.

Budgeting for an Emergency Fund

According to The Federal Reserve, four out of ten Americans couldn’t cover a $400 emergency expense. Setting aside cash for unexpected events is important for long term stability and can also give you some peace of mind, considering how unexpected life can be.

The rule of thumb is to save at least three to six months of living expenses in an emergency savings fund. The amount of emergency cash you should budget for depends on your lifestyle, committed expenses, household size and income.

How much emergency cash do I need?

Here’s a simple way to figure out how much emergency money you should budget:

Step 1: Figure out the total necessary expenses you pay each month

These expenses include everything from your rent or a mortgage payment, utilities, car payments, gas, groceries, phone bill, and any other necessary payments made on a monthly basis. For this example, we are going to assume $2,000 a month of expenses.

Step 2: Pick the number of months you would like this emergency fund to cover

Although it’s recommended to save enough to cover at least six months’ worth of expenses, we are going to use three months for this exercise.

Step 3: Choose how long it will take to fund an emergency savings account

This number is based on the amount of money you intend to save per month. For this example, we will say that we want to reach our emergency money goal in three years.

Step 4: Do the math

  • Multiply monthly expenses by the number of months the emergency fund will cover.
    $2,000 * 3 = $6,000 emergency cash needed
  • Multiply the number of years you’ll save to reach your emergency savings goal by 12, to figure out the number of months you’ll need to fund the emergency account.
    3 * 12 = 36 months to fund savings goal
  • Divide the emergency savings goal by the number of months needed to fund your savings goals to determine your monthly contribution.
    $6,000 / 36 = $167 monthly contribution  

In this example, you need to save $167 every month for three years to have $6,000 in the emergency savings. This doesn’t account for any interest accrued from your savings account.

Where to Stash Your Emergency Cash

Now that you know how much money you need to save to build up your emergency savings, now you’ll want to decide where to save it. It’s smart to start a separate savings account for your emergency fund to avoid the temptation of dipping into it. A few safe options for storing emergency money are:

  • Savings Account: This type of account will allow you to access your money easily in case of an emergency and offers better interest rates than a typical checking account. At Piedmont Advantage Credit Union, we offer several types of savings accounts including regular share accounts, personal select accounts and more.
  • Money Market Account: This type of savings account, also called an MMA, is like a cross between a savings and checking account in that you can earn interest and can withdraw money up to six times a month via a debit card or checks. At Piedmont Advantage Credit Union, we offer a Money Market account and a Money Market Plus account.
  • Certificates of Deposit (Share Certificate): Another option is to tie up some of your emergency savings into a Share Certificate (aka Certificate of Deposit) as a way to earn interest on money you’ve already saved and can afford not to access for a while. You’ll get a guaranteed rate of return based on your initial deposit and term selected. You may also consider laddering CDs so they mature at different dates, giving you access to your money at different dates.

These options will allow you to dissociate yourself completely from this fund, as it is only meant for emergencies. If this fund ends up being used for recreational purchases, such as vacations or new cars, you will no longer be protecting your finances for emergencies.

Emergency Savings Strategies

Depending on your situation, it may be difficult to set aside money into an emergency savings account. Here are a few strategies to help you save more for a rainy day.

  1. Make savings automatic: Use direct deposit to automatically set aside a portion of your paycheck into your savings account or money market account each month.
  1. Evaluate and reduce monthly expenses: Look at non-essential costs that can be substituted with less expensive alternatives or cut out completely. If you tend to buy a fancy coffee every morning, try making coffee at home or wait to drink the coffee at work. Take a look at subscriptions that may be non-essential or try cooking more at home and eating out less. Your emergency savings account will thank you later.
  1. Sell used items: If you haven’t used something for six months, why not sell it? There are a ton of free apps and websites now that help you sell unwanted items for cash. You could also have a good old-fashioned yard sale. Set aside the money you make into your emergency account.
  1. Get a side hustle: Have a talent that you could make money from, or have some extra time? Find ways to make more money by getting an odd job or side hustle in North Carolina.
  1. Re-calculate your budget each year: Expenses and circumstances change in life, so make it an annual task to make sure you’re saving the right amount.

A fully funded emergency savings account gives you the ability to deal with problems in a level-headed manner and helps you avoid high interest loans (like payday loans) or racking up credit card debt. This approach will enhance your lifestyle both financially and emotionally, giving you peace of mind during the times you need it the most. Contact a Piedmont Advantage Credit Union representative to get advice on the best savings accounts for your emergency fund. 

Headquartered in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and founded in 1949 within the airline industry, Piedmont Advantage Credit Union (PACU) now serves member-owners, who reside, work, worship or attend school in one of the 13 counties it serves in North Carolina or who are employed by one of its many employer companies. These 13 counties are Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Cumberland, Davie, Duplin, Forsyth, Guilford, Iredell, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Pender and Rockingham. A nonprofit cooperative financial institution, PACU has 10 branches throughout its service regions and employs a workforce of over 100.

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