How to Start an Emergency Fund

Starting an emergency fund is totally non-difficult. Anyone can do it. Here’s how:

  • Pick a bank. I’m a fan of local credit unions and community banks, but I also like high-yield savings accounts at online banks. (My emergency fund is at Capital One 360, although there are plenty of other options.)
  • Build a buffer. If you’re still in debt, it’s probably best not to stick a lot in savings. You should set aside $500 or $1000 to deal with annoying emergencies like a car that breaks down, but the rest of your money should be thrown at your debt.
  • Resist temptation. When you have a big chunk of change sitting in the bank unused, it can be tempting to use it for other things. Resist the urge. Use your emergency fund only for emergencies, otherwise you defeat the purpose.
  • Save more. As your debt dwindles, and as you get better control of your finances, build your emergency fund. Pick a number that helps you sleep at night. For me, that number was $10,000. That seemed like a lot of money to me (and still does!), and if anything disastrous happened, it would help me survive for a long time.

Finally, it’s wise to keep your emergency money someplace that’s not too easy to access. (Ignore this piece of advice if you know you’re disciplined enough not to use the money for other purposes.)

You might, for example, open an account at a bank across town. Or deposit the money with an internet bank. Or put the money into a certificate of deposit. Don’t carry a debit card tied to your emergency fund. You’ll still have access to the cash when you need it, but you’ll be forced to consider your actions before making a withdrawal.

Written by Trevor Davis

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