It's fun and easy to focus on macro stuff - we read or watch the news and see what's happening in DC and around the world. The media loves to write about such things because it gets readers/clicks and it's something everyone is going to find relevant (as opposed to micro stuff like your local real estate market, which is not important to 99.99% of the world).
In reality, however, the micro stuff is more important most of the time. Not all the time, of course - sometimes macro events can have such large (usually negative) impacts that they outweigh anything that is happening at the micro level. In these cases, you hopefully have built a strong and resilient existence to weather any storms that may have come your way.
The micro things are your day-to-day habits and your ways of living in this world - they may include things like
One would be well-served by focusing on the micro stuff while ensuring they are well-protected from significantly adverse macro events.
Economic recoveries and bull markets move slowly; recessions and downturns move fast. So, be prepared...
Do you think that once a recession looms on the horizon, you'll be able to make preparatory moves to sustain your financial investments and your portfolio? If so, you're probably wrong. You're taking on too much risk and not effectively managing the risk within your portfolio and your financial life if you naively think that pre-recession prep isn't necessary.
Recessions come too quickly for most people - it'll probably be the same for you
Too often, people fail to take prudent steps to prep for recessions, market corrections, or economic downturns - they think they'll see the signs close to it and will be able to make the needed financial adjustments. This is incredibly hard to do, however, and most people fail at it.
The main reason it's hard to do is that, unlike economic recoveries and expansions, recessions come quickly and don't tend to give warning signs until after things are already bad (so, they're not really warning signs in this case).
There's too much prep work to do pre-recession
There is too much to be done to prep for a recession, and there might not be enough time to do it if you wait for some sort of warning sign to begin. These things may include the following:
The above items are essential if you want to both protect your financial and non-financial worlds during a recession. It's also important if you're going to thrive post-recession because of recessions, market corrections, and economic downturns bring asset prices down. The smartest investors are those who are eagerly awaiting a recession with a list of quality firms and other assets to buy up at low prices.
It's hard to find great firms at any time
Generally, quality firms are those who have healthy balance sheets, strong and growing earnings, proper management, and are engaged in businesses that are not readily open to competitive entrants. This is an entire field of study, however, and there isn't enough room in a single article to even begin to delve into this topic.
Sometimes luck gets in the way of us achieving our financial goals. Other times, we get in our own way. Don't make these classic financial mistakes - they have significant long-term consequences to your financial life.
1. Buy into the financial markets during market euphoria and sell out during the middle of an economic downturn: Far too often, people buy high and sell low instead of the often-stated "buy low, sell high" mantra. This has a lot to do with behavioral psychology and cognitive biases. A surefire way to take substantial steps backward in your financial life is to buy stocks (or any other asset) during a boom only to sell during a recession - this will result in capital losses, which are devastating to your financial portfolio.
2. Keep no cash cushion for the unexpected: Without a cash cushion (often called an emergency or rainy day fund), you'll need to sell less-liquid assets during harsh times for you and your family. Harsh times almost always do come, so neglecting to have a proper emergency fund in place will likely mean you'll end up selling assets at non-ideal times. Non-ideal is a good scenario. In fact, you could end up having to sell during a market correction or a full-blow recession (where asset prices can quickly drop by 50%). You can't afford to sustain such capital losses - having a cushion of money set aside as an emergency fund will protect you from this.
3. Fail to invest your savings: The first step to building wealth is saving - if you can't put money aside, you're going to have a hard time building real wealth in a sustainable and lasting way. Some people can save well, but they are afraid of investing. These people are often diligent and reasonably hard-working adults who don't like to take perceived risks. What they don't realize, however, is that for the most part, saving alone is not enough - you must invest your money at reasonable rates of return so that it may grow. Without growth, your wealth will only depend on your ability to earn income, and every year your wealth will slowly be eaten away by inflation.
From time to time and quite often, we find ourselves in need of extra money. Maybe we're paying down some credit card debt or maybe we need a few extra grand in order for us to take that vacation or maybe we need $10,000 more to be able to afford the down payment on the house we want.
Whatever it is that we need, we are lucky enough that living in a capitalist society allows for ample opportunities to earn side money. This isn't easy to do and your success will depend on many factors, including your skills, your grit level, your energy level, and the amount of time you have to devote your side hustle. But, if you're lucky enough to be able to take advantage of some opportunities that currently exist to earn side money, you could very quickly change your and your family's financial picture in as little as six months.
1. Drive for Uber/Lyft or another good ride-sharing service: Not a great job -- more of a gig in today's parlance -- but an excellent way to make extra cash for a short time if you've got the energy and the drive for it. You could put in a ton of hours and, over the course of six months, take major leaps forward in terms of your financial life. You'll need to have a reasonably new car and be able to pass a background/driving record check.
2. Charge scooters: Mobile electrics scooters like Bird, Jump, and Lime are taking over city centers and downtowns all over the US and the world. These scooters need to be charged and most companies have set up Uber-like/gig-like approaches where people can charge them overnight for a fee. The pay is not going to be great here - you'll earn a bit of money on each scooter. You'll also need cheap transportation, the ability to stay up for hours at night, and cheap electricity to make this worthwhile. But, if you fit the mold for this, you can earn some extra side cash. This is not a sustainable long-term solution to your money problems - the pay is too little, it requires a lot of energy, and the price of electricity makes it prohibitive for some people.
3. Start a blog, and do it well: You could always start a blog or a website on some niche topic, write amazing SEO-optimized content, and make money from ads. This is incredibly popular, especially in the US. There are a ton of resources available all over the internet on how to do this. This is a path that will take a while and where your patience will be tested - you'll be spending a lot of time, energy, and some money upfront to build out a good online presence. The key is not to get your hopes up too high about what's achievable.
4. Participate in focus groups or other research groups: A great way to make extra money is by participating in focus groups, research groups, or other such types of surveys. The best of these are in-person. You can search online to find some consumer research-type firms in your area and sign-up - most usually have an easy way to sign-up to receive updates. You'll periodically get updates with requirements (eg. age, type of car you drive, gender, preferences, consumer choices, etc.) and you can sign-up for them. The pay can be pretty solid - you can make a few hundred USD in just a couple of hours (sometimes more and sometimes less).
5. Tutor: If you're intelligent and have some solid knowledge about a particularly challenging topic (eg. organic chemistry, introductory Calculus, or Russian), you can tutor people and possibly build a sustainable side business that has the potential to generate extra money for you and your family. This is something that will take time to build and develop - starting a tutoring business is, in fact, starting a business, but it's not a business that requires much upfront cost. There are tons of websites online that facilitate student-tutor matching, but you can go the old fashioned route and post fliers up at local colleges, community colleges, high schools, churches, your local library, and other community centers
The above aren't the only ways to make extra money with a side gig. There are plenty of opportunities available to earn extra cash on the side for people who are smart, hard-working, and willing to put themselves out there a bit. Of course, the more skills and education you possess, the easier things will be (eg. charging scooters vs. tutoring differential Calculus), but there's no stopping you from taking a few steps forward in your financial life if you're gritty and willing to put in the work.
Too many people read lists like the one above, but never take a single step - a lot of us seem to just feel good enough searching on Google and reading the list; we too often get complacent and self-satisfied too quickly and don't actually pursue any of the above money-making opportunities. Others are eager to make extra money and change their financial picture, but are too timid to pursue anything out of their comfort zone. Avoid these pitfalls and mental traps - keep moving forward, both financially and non-financially, one step at a time.
Although a tax return means you've given Uncle Sam an interest-free loan over the course of the year -- something that probably isn't the best thing to do if you're a mature adult who knows how to handle money -- it can be a financial boost for many individuals and family in the early part of the year. In a sense, you've been forced to save over the year (you can think of it as forced savings account) and now you are to decide what to do with that savings.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that your tax refund is some sort of windfall or a gift from the government or some sort of unexpected gift that you didn't earn - your tax refund is literally your own hard-earned money that you've been forced to pay the government over the course of the year. Keeping this in mind, you should treat your tax refund like you should treat all of your money: with care, planning, and prudence. Below are a few key things you can do with your tax refund to improve your financial situation and add a bit of financial peace to your life.
1. Start or Increase Your Emergency Fund
This is No 1 on our list of things to do with your tax return because for most people a strong emergency fund is the single best first step then can take to securing a better financial life.
Those that have some sort of guaranteed income might not need a rainy day fund as much as everyone else because there is far less volatility in their monthly income - for the rest of the world an emergency fund stands in between you (and your family) and financial disaster, stress, and worry should something unpleasant happen (and in this life, something unpleasant usually does happen every once in a while).
Getting your emergency fund to a solid level (typically 3 to 6 months of living expenses) is usually even more important than paying back even high-interest debt. A person with a large amount of credit card debt and nothing in the bank at all clearly is exposed to a lot of suffering if he/she loses their source of income or if an unexpected event or emergency comes up. Of course paying down the debt is very important, but without an emergency fund, there is too much exposure to even the slightest financial emergency.
Without any money, a job loss, a flat tire, a leaky roof, prolonged sickness or any other of the many things that can go wrong, will lead to a lot of pain in your life. Having even $1000 in the bank will help shield you and having a full 3 to 6 months of living expenses in the bank will give you a very pleasant calm in knowing that you've got enough stashed away to make it through most financial emergencies.
If you don't have an emergency fund, a tax refund can be used to start one at your local bank - better yet putting that money into an online savings account where it's a bit harder to reach might be a better option.
2. Pay Down High-Interest Debt
If you already have a proper emergency fund in place, the next best thing to do with your tax refund is to pay down high-interest debt. Such high-interest debt can be credit cards, personal loans, consumer lines of credit, and car loans, etc. These all qualify as bad debt in most cases - things like student loans, mortgages, and business loans (although clearly undesirable) are better because they generally carry a lower interest rate (because they are backed by either tangible assets or are not-bankruptable) and are generally taken out for thins that increase in value over time. Paying down high-interest debt will save you money on interest, will strengthen your overall financial position, and will bring some peace into your financial life.
There are two options when paying down credit card debt:
Generally, either of the above will work and actually pay down debt aggressively is more important than which of the above methods you choose. However, you can decide how to approach paying down your debts based on your own understanding of your personality - if you're the kind of person that might need a momentum boost by seeing a credit card fully paid off, then maybe focusing on the smallest balance is better for you even though it's not the best approach from a purely mathematical standpoint.
3. Take Advantage of a Bank Bonus Offer
If you've already got your debt situation under control (meaning you don't have credit card debt or other high-interest debt as described above), then you might consider using your tax refund to get even more money via a bank offer where you get a bonus for opening up a savings account.
Online banks such as Capital One 360 and even brick-and-mortar banks such as Chase often offer bonuses for opening up a new savings account. The general gist of it is that if you deposit a certain amount of new money (eg. $10,000), you get a bonus.
One offer online was for a $200 bonus for a $10,000 deposit - this equates to an almost immediate guaranteed return of 2%. To get 2% in the markets you would have to expose your money to a bit of risk. To get 2% in a guaranteed way (like you're getting with this bonus) you would likely have to lock away your money (circa 2017) for a period of at least a couple of years. Clearly, an almost immediate 2% gain is quite lucrative a low-interest rate environment and taking advantage of such an offer could give you extra boos on top of your tax refund.
4. Open an IRA
If you don't have an Investment Retirement Account (IRA) or if you're not currently contributing the maximum amount allowed, opening an IRA could be a useful way to store your tax refund and it can help lower your tax burden next year (as long as your income during the year in which you're putting the money into the IRA at least is as much as your putting in). You might want to speak to your tax professional about the best way to approach it and if this is really a good idea for you, but for most people, an IRA can help lower taxable income and, thereby, lower the overall tax burden for next year.
5. Start a College Fund for Your Children
If your financial house is in good shape, it might be time to start thinking about college for your kids (or their financial future in general). Whether college is a few years away or whether you have a newborn, saving for college is always a prudent idea and it will greatly benefit both you and your children.
A good idea is to save the money in a place where it can be used for non-college expenses. The world is rapidly changing and if your child is very young, it is not easy to predict what the academic or occupational landscape will be like in 15 years - college might be drastically different and so might college expense. Therefore, it is prudent to save in a place where your hands won't be tied in terms of how to use the money and where you won't have severe penalties if you or your child chooses to use the money for non-academic expenses (eg. starting a business, paying for a wedding, buy a house, or whatever other hopefully useful endeavor he or she chooses to embark on).
Although we try to live life as wisely as possible, financial emergencies do arise simply because of the unpredictability of life. We might plan, but the best we can really do to protect ourselves from life’s financial emergencies is to have an emergency fund in place.
Read this comprehensive article to learn how to quickly build up your emergency fund
Once you've dealt with a financial emergency, you'll need to rebuild your rainy day fund - read this comprehensive article on how to quickly rebuild your rainy day fund
So, what do we do when we are facing a financial emergency?
The financial media speaks constantly about the importance of having an emergency fund and on how to build one up, but we rarely come across articles or videos or pieces on how to actually deal with those inevitable financial emergencies. This is unfortunate because, although a rainy day fund is crucial to your financial stability and your ability to build wealth over time, the ability to handle financial emergencies with a bit of savvy is also an incredibly useful financial skill that will pay dividends over time - handling financial emergencies well will allow you to use less of your emergency fund and get back on your feet more quickly so you can start earning and investing again.
Long-term vs. Short-term Financial Emergencies
It’s obviously impossible for us to know your exact financial emergency within the context of this piece, so you should take what’s written here with a grain of salt and filter it so that it makes sense for your and your situation. However, there’s one point we do want to bring up regarding your potential financial emergency: your emergency will either be short-term or long-term.
Here are a few examples of short-term financial emergencies:
Here are a few examples of long-term financial emergencies:
Whether you’re facing a short-term or long-term financial emergency, this article is for you. However, if you’re facing a long-term emergency, you will have to follow the steps for a longer period of time as you traverse the emergency - whether it be looking for a job or healing from an injury, you’ll have to follow the advice (which might prove difficult at times) while getting your life back in order so you can go out there and win again (and again).
Cut Expenses Fast and Hard
In a financial emergency, the first (and possibly the most crucial step) is to cut expenses down deeply to bare necessities while you are recovering.
Remember, your "monthly living expenses" as we defined them do not equal your income or your average monthly spending during normal times - your monthly living expenses for calculating the size of your rainy day fund are just those expenses that are required to pay for the basics. So, you'll have to cut down so you can stay within those monthly living expenses. That means that while you’re dealing with the financial emergency there are no fancy dinners out, no new clothes that aren’t absolutely necessary, no trips, no gifts, no luxury purchases, and no other luxuries.
Read this article for an in-depth piece on what we include in your monthly living expenses when calculating the size of your emergency fund
This is hard to write about in such a general article, but it’s important to note. You must strive to recover from your financial emergency quickly. This might seem obvious, but it’s a little more nuanced than it might seem at first glance. What we mean by recover quickly is that you should be willing to exert energy and spend money from your rainy day fund (within reasonable bounds that you have to put in place for yourself) to get things back to normal.
For example, if your washing machine breaks and your family can’t wash clothes anymore, it’s wiser to get things taken care of by repairing or replacing the washing machine than by delaying in some sort of attempt to save money.
In another example, if you are injured in some way, it is wiser to quickly recover at home and use some of your rainy day fund to get by instead of attempting to work while recovering and thereby delaying your recovery while underperforming at work due to your injury. You'll recover faster, you'll be back on your feet sooner, and you'll have a better quality of life throughout the recovery.
Recovering quickly from a financial emergency means being willing to use some of your rainy day fund in order to get things back to normal so that you can continue earning money, building wealth, and enjoying life. Your emergency fund is there exactly for this - for financial emergencies.
Maintain a Positive Outlook
Above all else, do your best to not get discouraged by a financial emergency. Many people feel discouraged when one of life's financial storms wreaks havoc on the financial house you were trying to build. Rest assured, however, that you'll recover from this and move far beyond your current state and station if you consistently apply the principles of prudent investing and frugality to your life.
Don't foolishly fall into the trap that derails many financial plans and needlessly taps into people's emergency funds: mistaking a non-emergency for a real financial emergency. A financial emergency is something unexpected, not something that predictably happens every so often.
Read our comprehensive article on emergency funds for more on the randomness of life and how so many things are unpredictable (that's why we have to have an emergency fund)
Here's what unexpected means: that you cannot reasonably anticipate the nature of the financial emergency in advance. You can of course anticipate that a financial emergency will occur based on the nature of our reality and existence, but you cannot reasonably predict what it will be.
Therefore, the following would not properly be considered financial emergencies:
The above are not emergencies because we can anticipate them - we have anticipated them for you and we don't even know you.
Real financial emergencies, however, are things that we think might happen, but things we cannot predict in any reasonable way from where we currently are. We know we might get a flat tire or injure our ankle, but we don't know if that will ever happen, when it could happen, and the financial cost of it.
Do not confuse rare expenses with financial emergencies - you will not be served well by doing so because you will consistently fail to build lasting wealth if you dip into your emergency fund to pay for things that are not at all emergencies.
The Complete Guide to Saving $1000 - Whether it's your first $1000 or you need extra cash, here is how to you can quickly earn and save more money
Every journey begins with a single step. Have you heard of that saying? You’ve probably heard of it and although it might sound cliche, it is extremely insightful. If you don’t have at least $1000 put away you have not taken your first step on the path to financial freedom - it’s time to take it with the help of Pennies and Pounds in this in-depth guide. The first step on your path to financial freedom and wealth is putting $1000 away as a starter emergency fund - that fund will stand between you and the financial emergencies that will come your way in the future. Without even $1000 saved, you are exposed to extreme risk because even a slight financial emergency has the potential to wipe you out financially or put you into debt. Read the piece below for a comprehensive guide on getting to your first $1000 and you’ll be well on your way to financial success and financial freedom.
If you don't have $1000, you're in a dangerous situation!
Whether you are 18 or 80, if you don’t even have $1000 in your pocket in the developed world, you’re in a dangerous situation and you must immediately do the things below to build up at least a basic $1000 rainy day fund.
A rainy day fund or an emergency fund is a required part for most financial plans because it protects you in various ways. You can read more about why you need an emergency fund in this very comprehensive article that will surely make you look at your finical life in a different way (check this article our immediately after reading this article):
However, if you don’t even have $1000 saved, we can’t yet be concerned with a real emergency fund because you don’t even have a tiny buffer between you and life’s uncertainties and financial storms. An emergency fund will almost always be more than $1000 if you’re an adult with living expenses (and will definitely be more than $1000 if you are running a household), but we must take the first small step, moving you from the absolute nakedness of not even having $1000 saved to putting a $1000 financial blanket over you.
Without any money saved in a rainy day fund or emergency fund, you will have trouble handling the following possible financial emergencies:
Additionally, without even a bare minimum of $1000 saved, you will likely find it very difficult and stressful to deal with expenses that aren’t emergencies, but that are rare (eg. those that occur once every few months, once every few years, etc.) - expenses such as:
If you don’t have $1000 saved, you probably know the above already and you probably already know how stressful life can be without some sort of financial cushion, but we must reiterate it in order to really demonstrate how important it is that you act now and act quickly to put $1000 away.
Once you have your $1000 saved, you will feel much better. Although $1000 isn’t a proper emergency fund for most people, you’ll still have some breathing room in your life once you are able to put away your first $1000 - you’ll have some cash put aside for when life comes knocking on the door. You’ll know that you can handle small financial emergencies easily because you have the money put aside for them. You’ll also feel proud for doing it because getting to your first $1000 (regardless of your age) isn’t an easy task. If you can get to $1000, you can move forward to building up a full emergency fund and then building some wealth for you and your family.
This is why you don't have $1000 already
If you don’t have $1000 put away already, it’s likely for one of the following three reasons:
First, let’s address the third category - if you recently dealt with a financial emergency that wiped you out financially. That’s a very tough situation to be in. However, if you had an emergency fund before the financial emergency and if you had some wealth built up, you actually did pretty well. Yes, you’re back at square one now, but you have proven yourself capable of building an emergency fund and building wealth. So, you can do it again, even though it may seem incredibly hard now. In a way, we’re not as worried about you as we are with those in the first two categories. So, ask yourself whether or not you were doing well once financially and whether or not your current situation is just because of some finical emergency. If that’s the case, get back up, look into getting some more insurance in place to guard you in the future, and begin anew, with the knowledge that you’re capable of doing what’s right for your finical life. There’s deep dignity in being able to take a hard punch to the chin and having the grit to get back up again - have the grit and get up.
Now, on to the first two categories - these are serious issues because they demonstrate fundamental or structural problems with your finical life - it’s not that you had a run of bad luck. If you’re in the first two categories, some drastic but focused changes will need to be made so that you can get on the right track finically and put some money aside for yourself and your family.
1. Don’t Make Enough Money
This is tough and everyone should understand this. After the Great Recession, the US economy (and generally speaking, the global economy) has recovered, but it has been an unusual recovery compared with other economic recoveries in the last century - it has been a recovery in the stock market and the GDP, but not in employment. Yes, the unemployment rate has dropped, but the definition of the term “unemployment” is very precise and that precision can be misleading when people exit the workforce. We won’t go into the details of how unemployment is measured or the technical definition of the unemployment rate in this article, but it is important to note that just because the unemployment rate has gone down doesn’t mean that things have gotten much better in terms of employment - people might be employed but underemployed and some people might have dropped out of the labor force altogether (and, therefore, wouldn’t be counted as unemployed per the current definition of unemployment in the United States). Those are a lot of words to explain what you probably already know, just because you have a job doesn’t mean it pays enough and doesn’t mean you have enough hours at it to make a good income.
If you don’t have an income at all currently and are on your own (if you’re pursuing some sort of education and are living with parents or other relatives you’re not really on your own yet) then you’ve got a bigger problem than those that are underemployed - you’re not even earning anything. That’s an understandable position to be in - the economy of the United States and much of the Western World has shifted and is continuing to shift towards a more capital-intense knowledge-powered economy that is making many people simply unemployable. What this means is that many people aren’t unemployed because they are lazy or don’t apply for jobs or because they somehow failed to get the right skills - it’s that we’re transitioning towards an economy where there are no right skills for you to have, an economy where not everyone can have a job because there just aren’t that many jobs available. Now, we know it’s a tough situation for many people, but that can’t stop you from doing your best to earn some sort of income and putting some money aside for the future. You cannot afford to be left in the backwash of the transitioning global economy - you must find the energy to do something today to move forward while at the same time creating a gameplan for the future.
Whether you are underemployed or unemployed, you should likely get working right now in some part-time job or freelance gig. The job doesn’t have to be something you see yourself doing one year from now, it just has to be something that can reliably bring in extra cash every week and every month, allowing you to put some money aside to get you to your first $1000.
A few potential side gigs to earn extra money fast
Pizza Delivery: This is a slightly old-school recommendation for a part time gig but it can still work in the right situations and for the right people. It doesn’t pay very well hourly, but you have the potential to earn a decent amount in tips if you work in a good area and are personable.
Drive for Uber or Lyft: This seems like the 21st-century version of the pizza delivery job. It’s becoming common knowledge that Uber, Lyft, and other firms are attempting to move away from human-based transportation, so the opportunity to earn money with Uber and Lyft might not exist a decade from now, but you can definitely take advantage of it today as long as your car meets their requirements.
Cashier: This works best for seasonal work - times of the year (usually the holidays) when business picks up and extra workers are temporarily needed. There are a few disadvantages with this type of job, however. You can’t set your own ours and you can’t work extra hours. Freelancing or driving for Uber, for example, you can decide to have an intense two weeks and drive a lot of hours to earn some extra cash quickly - with a typical cashier (or similar) job you just can’t do that and you’ll have to be ok with the money trickling in slowly. Additionally, the pay is likely to be low with few or no opportunities to earn tips.
Upwork: If you have some advanced and in-demand skills, check out Upwork, an excellent way to freelance online. It might take some time to build up your profile so you’ll have to be a bit patient compared to other jobs (you don’t start earning much immediately) but you have the potential to earn a very good hourly wage and you can work from anywhere.
Fiverr: Similar to Upwork, but paying less, Fiverr allows you to freelance and take jobs from anywhere if you have in-demand skills.
If you can get a side job (or two - and possibly three), even temporarily, you should be able to put enough money away every week or every month to build up your first small rainy day fund of $1000. If you’re in this camp, however, you need to make sure to stay vigilant and forward-looking because you don’t want to:
The ideal situation is you working now and putting money aside while developing some sort of gameplan to earn more in the future - earn more not just by working more hours but by earning a higher hourly wage. To earn more per hour, you’ll need to improve yourself - you’ll need to improve your technical or job-related skills, your professional skills, and your overall personality. Think about where you want to be in a year and in a few years and move in that direction, getting the necessary skills and experiences so that you can end up in the job you want (and can realistically obtain).
2. Earning a Decent Income but Spending Too Much
If you’re in the camp of people who earn a decent income but who overspend, you’re in the toughest camp because some deep changes will need to be made in order to make financial progress - changes that might take less time than a side job but that are more mentally and spiritually difficult to accomplish and changes that you’ll have to stick with for the long run if you are to permanently improve your financial situation.
What qualifies as a decent or good income?
Now, by decent income, we don’t mean earning six figures or earning enough money that all financial irresponsibility will be wiped away just by the sheer volume of money coming in. By decent income, we mean an income that is around the median income of your community or state. There is no hard and fast rule for this, but you could consider earning anywhere from 75% of your community’s median income as a decent income that should easily allow you to put away $1000. If your household makes a median income, in the vast majority of cases you should easily be able to have $1000 put away - if you don’t seem to ever be able to do this then it means you are likely consistently overspending and living beyond your means even though your means allow you to live a reasonably comfortable life while still saving for your future and building your financial house.
Read this interesting Wikipedia article that lists the median household incomes for every state in the United States
To save more money, you must cut out unnecessary spending vigorously
If you’re making a reasonable income and you still don’t have $1000 saved, you must likely cut down on your spending. It’s very difficult to write general statements for a general audience, but it is likely that most readers who earn an income 75% of the median in their communities (or more) and are unable to put away $1000 likely have a problem with overspending and understanding the difference between necessities and luxuries.
It is very difficult to move from a lifestyle of reckless wastefulness to lifestyle of frugality and discipline. Many people try for a little while but then return to their old ways of overspending. It seems that there are underlying reasons for many people’s dysfunctional financial habits that cause them to behave in irrational and self-destructive ways. We won’t go into them here in any depth, but here are a few possible psychological issues or neuroses that potentially cause people to behave recklessly with their money (and overspending is definitely reckless financial behavior):
Now, we all feel bad about ourselves at times. We all doubt ourselves at times. We all have occasional fears of being in poverty and many people have been spoiled in certain ways. However, many of these people are still able to live financially responsible lives because they do not allow their internal psychological issues and neuroses to influence their pocketbooks, their bank accounts, and their wealth building programs - they understand that the cost is just too great and that nothing will be improved by mishandling finances. However, handling your finances properly and spending less then you make (living in financial dignity) will allow you to improve both your financial life, your personal life, your professional life, and your internal life - it will make you into a happier and stronger individual.
I know the above is easy to say but hard to do - it’s very hard to overcome yourself and stop misbehaving financially. However, if you are to ever build wealth and live a financially stable and successful life you must begin to improve your interactions with money and your ability to handle it properly. You must begin by saving your first $1000 so that you may go on to amass $10,000 and $100,000 and hopefully much more than that in time. But, you’ll never be able to amass any real and lasting wealth if you are governed by your own psychological neuroses and your momentary whims and desires to spend money on frivolous things when you don’t even have $1000 put away for yourself.
To the Details - Start Putting Away Some Money Every Week
If you put in a concentrated effort into building up your wealth, you’ll be able to save your $1000 in less than a year (and possibly in less than 3 months if you can save more).
Don’t save every month - do it every single week. If you attempt to save every month you might end up at the end of the month with not enough to put away. You will run the risk of not having the needed amount if you do it every single month. However, if you save a bit of money every week, it will be both painless and it will assure that you actually are able to put enough money away. Weekly savings will be relatively painless. Weekly saving doesn’t even require receiving a weekly income - you can be paid biweekly or once a month and still successfully save every week because you can save a very small amount every week (an amount possibly less than the cost of a single skipped restaurant meal).
Take a look at the graph below to see how long it will take you to reach $1000 by saving either $25 per week, $50 per week, $75 per week, or $100 per week. Obviously saving more is better, but even if you can put away $25 a month, you will have your $1000 in less than one year - you will transform your financial house from a desolate and empty lot to a lot with a slowly building solid foundation (a foundation on which you will continue to build upon).
Additionally, you will want to create a monthly budget. This is tough and you can expect that you’ll be way off on your budget for the first couple of months, but things should get easier if you keep at it. In creating a budget, plan on where each dollar will go to next month and do your best to stick to it. Next month, before creating another budget, evaluate the success and failures from the previous month. If you’re married or financially intertwined with a partner, make sure to create the budget together. Not both of you have to put in equal effort (some people are more financially savvy or more interested in personal finance than others) but both of you should have a seat at the table and both of you should have a say into how the budget is determined if you are to do this in a proper and overall healthy way.
If you don’t have $1000 saved up, you’re in a dangerous situation because you are exposed to both financial emergencies and one-off expenses (those expenses that are not monthly but that instead occur yearly, every few years, or once in a lifetime). Without having even a very basic $1000 rainy day fund, you are in a very precarious situation which will prevent your from building wealth - if you can’t even save $1000, how will you save $10,000 or $100,000 or build lasting wealth. This should motivate you to put in the work and make the necessary sacrifices to get to your first $1000. The good thing is that $1000 isn’t very hard to save up - as the above graph demonstrates, even putting away an extra $25 per week will get you to your $1000 in a lot less than a year.
Depending on your current situation (not earning enough vs. big spender), you will have to approach things as described above. Be aware that the problem with your current financial situation isn’t just the numbers, but it is with your heart and your soul also - never forget that who we are inside will manifest itself in our finical life also. Be courageous as you make the necessary external (getting an extra job or building a budget) and internal (understanding why you overspend if you’re in the second category) changes to start on the path to financial success and finical freedom.
If you’ve had a financial emergency that forced you to dip into your emergency fund, rebuilding it quickly is crucial to your financial success even though it might seem like a difficult and unpleasant task. Read the article below to get motivated and to find out how you’ll be able to rebuild your emergency fund very quickly.
If you have weathered a financial emergency by tapping into your emergency fund, I want to take a moment to congratulate you. I know things might seem difficult now and even if the financial emergency is gone, it never feels good to have to tap into your emergency fund. However, I congratulate you anyway because the fact that you even had a rainy day fund in place puts you above so many others who must weather financial emergencies with no rainy day fund - they must either resort to going into debt to pay for the financial emergency or they must liquidate some of their investments. You, however, planned ahead and had a rainy day fund in place to guard you and your household against life’s financial storms - instead of hoping that those storms wouldn’t come, you knew they would one day arrive and you set out to put an emergency fund in place between you and the harsh realities of the world.
Now, however, it is time to once again buckle down and quickly rebuild your emergency fund. You can’t waste time by slowly rebuilding your emergency fund. At Pennies and Pounds we recommend building up your emergency fund very quickly and, in the same light, we recommend rebuilding your emergency fund very quickly after a financial emergency.
First, You Need to Get Motivated. Don't have the energy to build an emergency fund again? Too bad - you've got to do it and it's not as hard as it might seem.
I know how hard it is to weather a financial emergency and to see the emergency fund you built with your sweat, your toil, and your sacrifices be depleted to take care of something that shouldn’t have even happened in the first place. You might not feel that you have the internal energy to build up your emergency fund quickly again - you might feel like you’re not up for it. This is an understandable feeling, but you cannot let it prevent you from putting in the necessary effort into rebuilding your rainy day fund quickly, an integral part of your financial success and well-being.
The truth is that even if you feel like it’s too much trouble to rebuild your emergency fund, you’re probably wrong. It’s not as hard as you likely think it is. You built up your rainy day fund once and you can do it again. In fact, it will be easier to do it again because you’ve already done it once before - you have proven yourself capable of achieving the important task of putting a proper emergency fund in place.
Building up your emergency fund won’t take much time, but it will take some concentrated effort. The good news is that the effort you will have to exert isn’t particularly difficult as you will see below - it might be slightly physically taxing, but it won’t likely be overly mentally or emotionally taxing. You’ll need to buckle down for a bit, but it won’t be long or particularly arduous.
Use the Following Strategies to Quickly Rebuild Your Emergency Fund After a Financial Emergency
1. Get a Temporary Second Job: Get a second job doing something on the side. Dave Ramsey's pizza delivery job has been the classic recommendation, but today many more options are available. You can drive for Uber or Lyft if your car meets the requirements. You can tutor if you have skills that are in demand. If you have the skills, it might be possible to do some freelance consulting. Even a weekend job as a cashier is a decent short-term gig if it helps you supercharge your emergency fund savings.
2. Sell Stuff: Selling stuff is a tried and true way of getting your hands on some cash quickly. Some people have more to sell than others, but if you have things that you aren't using anymore, try to put them on eBay or Craigslist.
3. Cut Down Big Time: Most households have some fluff-room (that's not a technical term). What I mean is that most households aren't just buying the basic necessities, but are instead buying extra luxuries. It might be possible to buckle down and cut out a lot of unnecessary (although pleasant) expenses for a short while. It obviously won't feel great while you're doing it, but it's not for long and once you have your emergency fund in place you can go back to a normal lifestyle secure in the knowledge that you have a cushion of cash in place against all of life's crazy unpredictabilities.
Using the above strategies, you can quickly rebuild your emergency fund after a financial emergency. We highly recommend you rebuild your rainy day fund as quickly as possible so you can sleep easier and so you can return to focusing on your other long-term financial goals such as investing for the future and building wealth.
1Even though it might be hard to rebuild your emergency fund after a financial emergency, it is a necessary action and you must do it in order maintain your financial house - in order to keep a buffer between your household and the financial storms that might come your way again.
Now that you’ve already had a rainy day fund and weathered a financial storm, it will be easier to rebuild it than you think - you’ve just got to start and you’ll see how quickly you can rebuild your emergency fund using the tried and true tactics above.
Are emergency funds still needed in an age of easy credit, liquid portfolios, and broad governmental welfare programs?
Today, if you live in the developed world, you have an unprecedented financial flexibility that will allow you to get your hands on cash very quickly - unlike most of human history. So, do you still need a rainy day fund in the 21st century when you can just use a credit card or sell your investments easily? The answer is YES - read the piece below to understand both sides of the argument and to find out why you still need an emergency fund even in today's modern financial landscape.
Can you not have an emergency fund in place and still be in excellent financial shape? That’s a tough question because a rainy day fund lies at the bedrock of a good financial house and is recommended by most in the financial media and by most financial advisors. However, some say that an emergency fund is an outdated concept in today’s world of very liquid assets and easy access to credit - they argue that you can be in great financial shape without allocating some of your net worth into an emergency fund held in cash. Instead, they would argue, you can have the money you would have allocated to your rainy day fund invested in the market where it would earn a higher return. Are they correct or are is an emergency a timeless piece in your financial puzzle and still required even today?
First, we’ll begin with the argument that AGAINST an emergency fund today…
The World Used To Be Different
Let’s go back 100 years into the past and look at an average middle-class person’s financial house. That person likely had:
So, 100 years ago, and basically any time in human history, your financial situation was a lot less complicated and much less flexible. You would find it difficult to finance a semi-major purchase. Additionally, if you needed money quickly to pay for some sort of financial emergency, you wouldn’t easily and quickly be able to obtain it.
Today There's Much More Financial Flexibility
Today, those in first world countries live in a world filled with more financial options than was ever available. Today we have:
So, do you really need a rainy day fund when you have all of the above options to handle financial emergencies?
Yes - you still need an emergency fund in the 21st century. Although we live in the world with much greater financial flexibility and with a bigger societal safety net, you should still have a 3-month to 6-month emergency fund in place to protect you. It is the case that if you didn't have a rainy day fund today, you would likely fare better in a financial emergency than you would 100 years ago, but that isn't relevant. An emergency fund will still protect your financial well-being by allowing you to weather financial emergencies:
Additionally, a rainy day fund will keep you calm - it will help you sleep better at night. Regardless of the financial innovations that now allow you to have much greater financial flexibility, an emergency fund is still a crucial part of your financial house.
You absolutely need an emergency fund because life is unpredictable and filled with many potential costs that might not seem apparent to you in the moment
Does anyone in the financial media or the financial press even address the question of why we need an emergency or rainy day fund? I feel that the idea of having an emergency fund is so deeply ingrained in the personal finance world that no one in personal finance discusses why you actually need an emergency fund. I don't think that's wise. If we are going to save up 3-months to 6-months in living expenses (a serious pile of cash), we better have a good reason for it. Otherwise, why bother with it? We could either spend that money on things we enjoy, give it away to someone in need, or invest it in the markets where the money has a chance of obtaining a return and growing. Why would I just have a pile of cash sitting around earning abysmally low rates or return if there isn't a solid foundation to it?
First, let's define a key term: Stochastic
Something is said to be stochastic in nature when it is randomly determined or when it's probability distribution cannot be precisely predicted.
Stochastic is sort of the same as random. So we can say, "this is a stochastic process" or "these events are stochastic."
Here are a few examples of stochastic processes or things that have stochastic components to them:
The term stochastic is heavily used in mathematics, but we don't need to give the term any more treatment than we have already. I didn't use the word "random" because I wanted to really bring home the fact that the physical and life sciences, mathematics, and even the social sciences recognize the fact that the world is random and unpredictable in many ways. For many things that have a material effect on our lives, it might be possible to understand the general distribution of things (eg. what will happen on average) but it is not possible to understand what will happen next.
The world is stochastic in nature
As stated above, the world is stochastic in many ways. The world is filled with randomness and random processes and occurrences. There's no way to tell exactly when your car will break down, when a major weather event will require a window replacement, or when your body will have some sort of medical emergency. There's not a way to predict when you'll get into a car accident, trip while walking off a curb, or when the economy will fall into a recession and you will lose your job. Hopefully, none of the above ever happens to any of us, but there's no guarantee. And so, we must be prepared as best as we can.
One way we can be prepared for possible emergencies is to be financially prepared. We can be physically prepared, mentally prepared, emotionally prepared, and spiritually prepared, but we must also strive to be financially prepared to weather life's inevitable blows to our peace and tranquility.
Now that we understand that the world is random, we can see that this randomness might cause financial emergencies - things we weren't anticipating that require the use of money.
How can we react to such financial emergencies? There are 4 main ways you can react to a financial emergency:
The 4 ways to handle an emergency, financial or otherwise
Sell your investments; liquidate a portion of your financial portfolio: One way to handle a financial emergency is to sell your investments (if you have them,). If you're invested in the stock market, for example, you can liquidate enough shares to take care of the financial emergency. That's easy, right? Wrong.
If your emergency occurs after at the end of a long bull run, then that selling your investments to pay for your financial emergency could possibly be a reasonable idea. But what if your financial emergency occurs during a recession? Isn't it more likely that a financial emergency such as losing your job will occur during a downtrend in the stock market. What if there is no recession or downtrend, but your particular portfolio is down? Selling your shares to cover the financial emergency will be very unpleasant and it will further compound the already bad situation. You'll basically be locking in the losses and losing an opportunity for a possible recovery. You want to have the opportunity to ride out the downtrend should you so desire.
The example with stocks can be extended to investments in commodities, real estate, bonds, and derivatives. You don't want to have to sell when things are down. You want the flexibility to be able to stay invested and ride things out.
Cash flow through an emergency: Not everyone has investments and even if they do, they might not have enough invested to cover a financial emergency. So, if you can't sell investments to pay for it, maybe you can just cash flow through the financial emergency - maybe you can just pay for things with the income you have coming in every month. But what if your emergency is such that your ability to earn an income is diminished or eliminated for a period of time? What if you just don't make enough to cash flow through your financial emergency?
It's pretty risky to rely on your ability to earn your way through an emergency. Say you need a car repair that costs $500? You can cash flow through that relatively easily. But what if you have a medical emergency with a high deductible? That's more difficult. What if you have a major repair that needs to be done to your house? That's pretty difficult too.
Use debt to handle an emergency: f you have no investments to sell and you can't cash flow through the financial emergency, you'll probably have to go into debt to take care of things. That's obviously a bad situation. You're again compounding the bad stuff by going into debt.
But what if you can't go into debt? What if you don't have enough on your credit cards? What if you can't get a loan? Now you're totally stuck aren't you? No money and no ability to obtain funds elsewhere will mean you'll have to resort to asking your friends and family for assistance or for loans, a pretty unattractive proposition.
So, the above three options for dealing with a rainy day are obviously not optimal. There's a fourth option: have a rainy day fund.
Use your emergency fund: It should be obvious by now that an emergency fund is the optimal way to deal with life's financial emergencies. It's better than having to sell your investments to deal with a financial emergency because the emergency fund acts as an insurance policy, protecting you from having to liquidate your investments. If you don't have investments yet (keep reading Pennies and Pounds and you will soon), then the insurance policy allows you to move forward after a financial emergency without going into debt and without stress and anxiety. It allows you to take life's financial blows and get right back up again instead of staying knocked down.
So, we see that random stuff happens and that the best way to protect yourself and your household is to have an emergency fund. An emergency fund will benefit you whether you have lots of investments or no investments at all.
But there's one other reason to have an emergency fund in place...
Not all expenses are monthly
Most people think in terms of monthly income and monthly expenses. The more sophisticated or the more financially nerdy among us (myself included) might think about yearly expenses. But there are many expenses in life that are not monthly. Expenses can happen:
Some expenses come every year
Some expenses come every few years
Some expenses com only once every 5-10 years
A handful of expense are generally considered once-in-a-lifetime
I hesitated to discuss these expenses in this piece because they aren't proper emergencies in my opinion. Emergencies are surprises that are unforeseen, but the above expenses are not unforeseen - I just wrote about them and named off a bunch of possible expenses that are not monthly. We should plan for them because we can obviously anticipate them, unlike an actual emergency such as a car accident or an injury. So, why did I include them?
I included these expenses because of my awareness of human nature. Humans aren't great at anticipating the future and planning ahead. I know that these expenses aren't proper financial emergencies and I know that we should plan for them, but I also know that we're humans and the reality is that most people will neglect to plan for them. That's just human nature. Studies show that most people fail to even have a basic emergency fund, let alone save for far-off expenses. People have a tendency to focus on the here and now and to not pay attention to what is coming down the road. Therefore, I do believe that an emergency fund can act as a certain protection against our human nature, against our seeming inability to see too far ahead. It acts as a cushion not just against life, but also as a cushion against our own minds and our own selves. If, in a moment of rationality, we can understand this about ourselves (our poor ability to plan for such expenses) we might be able to set up a very strong foundation for our financial security.
Having a rainy day fund in place just makes sense
An emergency fund is important. It just makes good sense. An emergency fund is one of the simplest and most prudent financial moves you can make. Since antiquity, the wise have understood the importance of storing something away for a rainy day.
So, make sure you have a proper emergency fund in place and do the hard work needed to get one set up quickly. You already knew that you need a rainy day fund I'm sure, but now you know why with what is probably a much deep and much more sophisticated understanding than most people have.
There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up. (Proverbs 21-20)
P.S. If we know emergencies will come and if we understand the world is stochastic in nature, do true emergencies really exist?
I couldn't help getting a bit deeper and philosophical here. Let's think about this. We figured out that life and the world are random and that random and unpredictable (stochastic) stuff will happen. So, are there really any real financial emergencies? By definition, an emergency is something unpredictable. But, although we can't exactly predict when something bad will happen because of the stochastic nature of things, we can definitely be sure that the world is random and that something might happen at any time. So, we should never be really surprised when we have a financial emergency became we should already know that it's a possibility. Regardless, we still need to have a rainy day fund set aside. So maybe there aren't really emergencies after all - maybe there are just those things that we know will happen and those things that could happen but shouldn't surprise us if they do. What do you think about this? I'm interested in your opinion on this - comment below or email
Once you've accumulated your 3-month to 6-month emergency fund you will need a place to put it. Where should you keep your emergency fund? There are actually 3 places you should keep your emergency fund for optimal protection and efficiency. Read the article below to find out what those places are so you can rest easy knowing you have a solid financial emergency cushion in place.
Rainy Day Fund = Protection Against Life's Financial Storms
Your emergency fund is protection against life's financial uncertainties. The typical rule of thumb says that you should have 3-months to 6-months of living expenses in your emergency fund. That rule of thumb balances the cost of not having money in the markets with the benefit of a rainy day fund provides - namely, insurance against life's financial storms. Of course, some situations vary and might call for a larger emergency fund, but I would caution against going below 3-months of living expenses.
But where do I keep my rainy day fund?
Having 3-months to 6-months in living expenses leads to a further question: where should you keep your rainy day fund? This is an important question because your emergency fund is a significant amount of money and requires prudent care in order to protect it while still having the liquidity a proper emergency fund requires.
Don't Just Keep Your Emergency Fund in One Place
My advice is to keep your emergency fund in more than one place. You want your overall rainy day fund split up into 3 categories:
By keeping it in three places, you are properly protecting yourself against emergencies. Not every emergency happens during bank operating hours and you might not have access to an ATM. You should have a small portion of cash in your pocket and a small portion of cash at home with the rest in a liquid account at a bank (or more than one bank - one a brick and mortar bank and one an online bank for the higher interest rate).
1. Cash in your wallet or purse
Emergencies can happen anywhere. You might have a situation where cold hard cash is required (although that is becoming less and less of a worry as the world digitizes and even small businesses can easily accept credit cards). For those rare or hopefully nonexistent occurrences, having a small percentage of your rainy day fund in your wallet in the form of cold hard hundred dollar bills and twenty dollar bills might prove useful.
You obviously don't want to have a significant amount in your wallet or purse for the obvious reason that it could be stolen or lost. You should be wise and prudent in how you keep this money. Put it in a more secret place in your wallet or purse if such a place exists.
I don't have a hard and fast percentage rule for how much you should keep in your wallet or purse, but it should probably be less than 5% of your total rainy day fund.
2. Cash at home
You want to also have some cash at home. I don't have a hard and fast rule for what percentage of your emergency fund you should keep at home, but it should probably be less than 25% of your total emergency fund.
Keeping cash at home is a good idea for various reasons. First, you might need to get your hands on cash right away without having to make a trip to the bank or an ATM. Additionally, there might be a natural, societal, or political disaster that prevents you from leaving the vicinity of your residence for various reasons (eg. safety, inability to get on roadways, injury, etc.). In this situation, cash at home might prove very useful should there be opportunities to purchase basic necessities within your neighborhood or to transact in other beneficial ways.
3. Money in the bank (or banks)
The majority of your emergency or rainy day fund should obviously be kept in a bank. There the money is physically safe and FDIC insured (assuming you are within FDIC Insurance limits). We now have a few options for exactly how to keep the money in a bank.
Brick and Mortar + Online
You should do both. Keep a portion in your brick and mortar bank for quicker access and keep the rest in an online bank. An online bank has two benefits:
First, it allows you to separate from the money a bit more but still gives you quick access when needed. This separation prevents you from using your rainy day fund for unnecessary things or non-emergencies. The separation gives you a bit more time to think about whether using the money is actually required.
Second, you will most likely get a higher interest rate at an online bank. The purpose of your rainy day fund isn't to obtain a return on your capital (it's to protect your wealth and your other investments from liquidation in a financial emergency), but it doesn't feel pleasant when you're earning abysmally low interest rates. Keeping a portion of your emergency fund in an online bank might remedy this.
Savings > Checking
Keeping the money in a savings account that is linked to your checking account is preferred. The savings account will earn a higher interest rate and it will allow some sort of separation from your daily transactional account. A dedicated savings account (both at your brick and mortar bank and your online bank) is a good idea because you'll know exactly how much money is allocated for your rainy day fund and you won't get it mixed up with your transactional accounts or with other savings accounts (eg. other liquid cash, down payment, imminent tuition payments, etc.).
What if I have more than the FDIC Insurance limits?
If you are in the pleasant situation of having more money in your saving account than is covered by FDIC Insurance limits (currently $250,000 in each bank for individual accounts - visit the FDIC website for the full information on this), you'll want to split up your money and put it into different banks so that you are below the limit at each bank. I would recommend being careful and doing your research with this in order to make sure all of your rainy day fund is covered by FDIC Insurance.
If you have so much money that it is not feasible to put your entire rainy day fund in various banks (eg. an emergency fund in the millions or tens of millions of US dollars), then you might have to purchase less liquid instruments such as US Treasuries in order to keep the remainder of your rainy day fund, but won't go down that path here. However, it is unlikely that your rainy day fund will be that large because your rainy day fund should cover 3-months to 6-months of living expenses, not income. Even if you have a very high income, it is unlikely that 6-months of living expenses will be more than a couple of million dollars.
Further Reading: How big should your emergency fund be?
Further Reading: 3 Ways to Build Up Your Emergency Fund Super Fast
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You need an emergency or rainy day fund to protect you against all of life's unpredictabilities. But saving up 3-months to 6-months of living expenses can be a difficult and tedious task, one that can be so discouraging that you give up altogether. To build up your rainy day fund correctly, you need to do it quickly. Read below for 3 time-tested ways of building up your rainy day fund quickly so you can move on to bigger and better things in your wealth-building.
3-month to 6-months of living expenses saved? - That's so much!
The typical 3-month to 6-month emergency fund is a decent chunk of change and it's not that easy to accumulate that much cash very quickly. You usually want to err on the side of caution and go for a bigger emergency fund (eg. 6-months of living expenses instead), but many people struggle with accumulating half a year of living expenses. Half a year of living expenses isn't the same as half of your income (it should be significantly less), but it's still a respectable amount and that amount can be difficult to accumulate when you have all of the other expenses gnawing at you (expenses like credit card payments, student loan payments, rent/mortgage, car payments, gas, and the basic necessities of lie). Life is expensive and it's understandable that so many people don't even manage to accumulate a reasonable rainy day fund.
It's hard...but you must do it
The fact that life is hard and that we have many expenses, however, is no excuse to not have a proper emergency fund in place. Life is random and unpredictable. You are doing yourself and your household a deep disservice by not having a proper emergency fund in place to shield you against the storms that will inevitably come your way.
Slow and Steady Doesn't Always Win the Race
Slow and steady saving might be good for long-term wealth building, but not for your emergency fund. For your emergency fund, you want to buckle down and use grit, discipline, and short-term self-denial to quickly build up your stash of cash so that you can move on to bigger and better things, secure in the knowledge that you have your emergency fund in place as insurance against all life's unpredictability. By quickly building up your emergency fund, you can channel your energy into a single purpose and you can quickly accomplish what will otherwise be a dreary and frustrating task (accumulating many months of living expenses by saving only a small percentage of your income).
Use the Following Strategies to Quickly Build Up Your Emergency Fund
1. Get a Temporary Second Job
Get a second job doing something on the side. Dave Ramsey's pizza delivery job has been the classic recommendation, but today many more options are available. You can drive for Uber or Lyft if your car meets the requirements. You can tutor if you have skills that are in demand. If you have the skills, it might be possible to do some freelance consulting. Even a weekend job as a cashier is a decent short-term gig if it helps you supercharge your emergency fund savings.
2. Sell Stuff
Selling stuff is a tried and true way of getting your hands on some cash quickly. Some people have more to sell than others, but if you have things that you aren't using anymore, try to put them on eBay or Craigslist.
3. Cut Down Big Time
Most households have some fluff-room (that's not a technical term). What I mean is that most households aren't just buying the basic necessities, but are instead buying extras luxuries. It might be possible to buckle down and cut out a lot of unnecessary (although pleasant) expenses for a short while. It obviously won't feel great while you're doing it, but it's not for long and once you have your emergency fund in place you can go back to a normal lifestyle secure in the knowledge that you have a cushion of cash in place against all of life's crazy unpredictabilities.
Pull Off the Bandage Quickly
Pull off the bandage of having to save up such a significant amount of money quickly. You can take your sweet time, but taking so much time will discourage you and taking a lot of time means you're not investing in the markets. Your emergency fund is not your wealth and its only function in your wealth-building is as insurance - insurance against the unpredictable that allows you to not have to touch your invested money. That's a key point to keep in mind. Don't waste time but instead build up your rainy day fund quickly using the tactics above. It may not be pleasant, but it will benefit both your pocket and your mind if done correctly.
In order to keep this website free and filled with useful and interesting content, Pennies and Pounds uses responsible sponsor support. Click through the link below and use it for Amazon purchases. Your purchase price stays the same but Pennies and Pounds will get portion of the sales price.
Income vs. Monthly Expenses: Use your required monthly expenses to properly size your emergency fund, not your pre-tax or take-home income
Your monthly living expenses are a small portion of your monthly income and will most likely be less than your current monthly expenses due to your ability to cut down on extras and luxuries. In many cases, you can use your required monthly expenses, instead of your income, to size your emergency fund appropriately and avoid keeping excess cash in non-earning/growth parts of your financial portfolio
The common financial rule of thumb says that you should have 3 to 6 months of living expenses in your emergency fund. But what does "living expenses" actually mean? To calculate your monthly living expenses, you need to combine the amount needed to maintain your household's physical and mental-well being along with your other monthly required payments. Surprisingly, it is possible for your monthly living expenses to be quite a bit less than your normal monthly spending. Read the full article below to find out your monthly living expenses and be surprised at how reasonable they can be relative to your income.
What can be considered living expenses for the purposes of emergency fund sizing?
The typical rule of thumb is to have 3 to 6 months of living expenses stored. Although this might not be right for everyone, it is generally a good rule of thumb because it balances the costs of having a significant portion of your wealth in cash (and possibly earning so little that inflation is eating away at it) with the benefits of having a cushion of liquid funds available should a financial storm strike. Inquisitive minds will follow with the following question: What do you mean by "living expenses?" This is an excellent question because the rule of thumb states that we need to look at living expenses as opposed to income.
Living Expenses vs. Income
Living expenses are not income, but instead mean the total amount of money needed to provide for the needs (as opposed to wants) of you and your household, maintain financial security, and keep you out of financial default. In a financially healthy situation, living expenses should be substantially less than your pre-tax income and less than your post-tax income by a significant amount.
Note: If you find yourself in the unsustainable situation where your monthly living expenses exceed your monthly income, you are headed for a financial catastrophe (unless you're expecting some sort of windfall) and you should immediately attempt to remedy the situation.
How to properly calculate your monthly living expenses so that your rainy day fund can be sized accurately - not too big, and not too small
To get at your monthly living expenses number, we will first focus on the expenses required to maintain immediate life, health, physical, and mental well-being of your household:
But living expenses aren't enough - you've got to think about required monthly payments (eg. student loans, credit cards, etc.) when determining the appropriate size for your emergency fund
After we have taken care of the basic necessities, we will need to tabulate your required monthly payments in order to properly calculate your monthly living expenses. You want to stay out of financial default and maintain any sort of insurance you have in place even in a financial emergency, so it is important to account for the following:
Remember that this is a very general guide meant to be used by a variety of people. Your situation is unique and it is possible that your monthly expenses may be different by a little or a lot from what we discuss here. Things such as the number of dependents, unique family situations, unique jobs and businesses, unique medical or mental health needs, or unique lifestyles might cause your situation to be different from the typical scenarios discussed here.
If you've been using monthly income to determine the size of your emergency fund, it might be a bit too big
If you're a true financial nerd you can put numbers to each of the above items and calculate the current projected monthly living expenses for your household (it's only going to be a projection because things are random in this world and things can change at any moment). If you're not yet a hardcore financial nerd, it might be enough to just glance over the items and roughly estimate the amount needed in your mind (provided you understand that this will be a less accurate estimation of your monthly living expenses). Either way, you will likely come to the conclusion that your true monthly living expenses as needed to calculate the size of your emergency fund are less than what you currently spend on a monthly basis. This is generally true fro the following two reasons:
Although your monthly living expenses don't have to be the size of your actual monthly expenses, it is wise to remember that a conservative approach will lead to a more robust emergency fund and a more resilient financial situation for you. Err on the side of caution and don't be overly aggressive in estimating how much you can cut down during a financial emergency.
I know it's not fun reading the above - no one wants to cut out their premium bottled waters, their dinners out, movies, app and music purchases, premiums soaps and shampoos, or anything else they enjoy doing. If you're in a financial emergency, however, it is wise to buckle down for a bit until you get back on your feet. Discipline and short-term self-denial can be excellent tools for quickly recovering form a financial emergency minimally scathed. The knowledge that you can buckle down and survive with a diminished lifestyle for a short period of time is useful in figuring out how much money you'll need in your emergency fund.
In conclusion, you don't need to use your monthly income when calculating your emergency fund - your monthly living expenses are likely to be significantly less than your income. Additionally, you can cut out extras and luxurious and only focus on the necessities described above when calculating your monthly living expenses. This will allow you to get a better and more accurate picture of how much you need have in your emergency fund and you'll see that you can fill up your emergency fund much more quickly because of this. However, remember to not be overly optimistic about how much you can really live on - be realistic with a conservative outlook and you should be fine.
This is a topic that’s been covered by every financial blog, podcast, book, or show, but we’ve got to cover it here as part of the basics because a proper emergency fund is a basic necessity to financial well-being and financial health and I refuse to give it short shrift just because it’s a readily-covered topic
The traditional advice: A 3-month to 6-month emergency fund
The traditional advice has been to have a 3-month to 6-month emergency/rainy day fund. That 3-months to 6-months doesn’t mean you have to have enough in your emergency fund to replace your income, it only means you need to have enough to cover only your expenses for 3 to 6 months. For example, if you make a household income $80,000 a year, 6 months of income would be $40,000. However, if you’re smart with your money and live below your means, your monthly expenses are likely less than your monthly income. It might be the case that $20,000 would be sufficient to cover 6 months of living expenses.
But, why is 3 to 6 months in an emergency fund enough?
Why 3 to 6 months, however? Where did that number come from? If more is better, why not go for a full year of expenses? Why not two years? That’s tough to answer and there might be possible reasons for going beyond 6 months. For some conservative people or for those who believe there are rainy days ahead, a full year of living expenses might be reasonable. However, the larger your emergency fun, the more money that is sitting outside of the markets and earning very little interest. There is an inherent trade-off between the security that comes with an emergency fund and the growth that can potentially occur from having funds invested in the markets (be they equities markets, bond markets, real estate, or other investments) over the long-term. Be mindful of that trade-off when you are choosing the size of your emergency fund.
An important principle in creating your emergency or rainy day fund is conservatism. We want to make sure that we err on the side of caution: it’s better to have too much than too little. Additionally, having a conservative approach will make us keep our emergency or rainy day fund in a very safe place, namely a simple saving or money market account. An emergency fund isn’t an investment, it’s insurance for all of your other investments, protecting them from potential liquidation should an emergency occur during some sort of economic downturn.
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