Start an Emergency Fund Before Disaster Strikes
Susan E. Hooper, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management
Reviewed March 2014 by Sara Croymans, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management.
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.
- Set aside savings is money set aside for non-monthly, periodic expenses. Each family or person needs to determine how much money to set aside depending on the types of expenses they may have. It might be money to replace a broken appliance, repair a tire, or travel to a sick relative. It might be $25 or $500.
- Emergency income savings is money put aside to pay the rent or mortgage, utilities, car payment, and car insurance if your income is reduced or stops for a few months. This money could prevent eviction or foreclosure, or car repossession.
Both 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 3-2: Spending Plan [289 K PDF] from Dollar Works 2.)
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? (204 K 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.
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:
- Put a specific dollar amount or a percentage of pay directly into a savings account each pay day. This eliminates having easy access to the money to spend it before it gets deposited in an account.
- Put loose coins from pockets or purses into a jar at the end of each day. When the jar is full, take it to the bank to deposit it into your emergency savings account. The money will add up quickly!
- If you earn tips, put all tips into a jar. When the jar is full, take it to the bank to deposit it into your emergency savings account.
- Put part of gift money into savings.
- Put some of a bonus or pay raise money into savings.
- Deposit part of a tax refund directly into a savings account.
This has been adapted from Anderson-Porisch, Heins, Petersen, Hooper, and Bauer’s (2007) Dollar Works 2: A Personal Financial Education Program (St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Extension). It is used by permission. Get more information on Dollar Works 2.
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.