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Preparing for disaster

Illustration of dollar sign on lifesaving buoy

Start an emergency fund before disaster strikes

Susan E. Hooper, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

Reviewed March 2016 by Lori A. Hendrickson, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency.

It takes discipline and planning to save. Saving means putting off using money today in order to have money for future needs. People who have experienced disasters say that an emergency fund is extremely useful in getting immediate needs met after a disaster.

Why Should You Start an Emergency Fund?

Savings are an important part of managing money and protecting a family. Two types of savings make up your emergency fund.

It is important to save steadily so you have enough money for emergencies, rather than not save because it seems impossible to put enough money aside.

Getting Started with an Emergency Fund

If you do not know your current budget, it may be hard to decide how much you can afford to put into an emergency fund. It will be helpful for you to first complete a Spending Plan. See Action Page 3-4: Spending Plan — Short Form (PDF) (also in espaƱol)

If you already have a tight budget, there are two major ways for finding money to save: cutting expenses or increasing income. Brainstorm the options for cutting expenses and/or bringing in more income with your family. Once you have decided on some strategies to pursue, use the Action Page 5-7: Getting Started: What Can I Do? (PDF) to document how much you intend to save and how you propose to find the money to save.

While you don’t need a separate savings account to get started, it may be in your best interest to set up an account at a financial institution for your emergency savings. In the event of a disaster, you'll need to access your emergency fund. If you’ve been keeping that in a jar in your house, your fund could be destroyed in the disaster. Also, by keeping your emergency fund in an official savings account, you may be able to earn interest and grow your overall fund automatically.

Pay Yourself First

Once you have a plan in place, remember to keep saving simple! Keeping it simple will increase your chance of success. If you completed a spending plan, make your emergency saving a priority on your spending plan. One method to simplify building an emergency fund is called “Pay Yourself First.” It means making savings a regular expense, just like the rent or mortgage. There are a couple of ways to make this happen:


Anderson-Porisch, S. A., Heins, R. K., Petersen, C. M., Hooper, S. E., & Bauer, J. W. (2007). Dollar Works 2: A personal financial education program (item 08503). St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Extension.

National Endowment for Financial Education. (2015). Disasters and Financial Planning: A Guide for Preparedness and Recovery.

Smart About Money. (2015). 5 Reasons You Need an Emergency Fund — and How to Create One.

Related resources

Disaster recovery — Resources for your family following a disaster. Includes the Recovery After Disaster: The Family Financial Toolkit.

Extreme Weather — Extension resources for floods, wind damage, winter impacts, and more.

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