I have always tried to keep money in an emergency fund for the unexpected because, frankly, the unexpected seems to happen a lot in our family. About five years ago, we faced an unexpected time of unemployment for my husband’s job. Without that emergency fund strongly in place, I truly believe that we could have ended up in bankruptcy. Trying to be dedicated savers, we had put all of our money into a savings account to prepare for those rainy days.
Well, that rainy day came in our house. And it rained. And it poured. And it thundered. And it… well, you get the picture. He went almost a year without finding a job and I tried to help with the finances by working full-time until he found something. Even though we were drawing an unemployment check and I was doing my part working full-time, we were just covering my husband’s pay and we were missing our additional income. We had a new baby, a new mortgage, and a huge amount of student debt.
What we had to be thankful for was a fat savings account that would ride us through the storm. We had saved up around $15,000, after purchasing our home, for those rainy days that were ahead. During that time of unemployment, we managed to eat through all of that saved money and then accumulated more debt on top of that.
Now we are better money-managers, but we are working with only one income. I feel very privileged to be home with my children, but I miss being able to jump right in with my own income in these emergency situations. That safety net just isn’t what it used to be. In fact, my net looks a little threadbare and it often scares me. I have found because I have faced uncertain times in my financial past, that it is rare for me to feel true certainty when it comes to my finances. What I mean to say is that I can’t seem to put my finger on a magical number that would be right for my emergency fund so that I could feel at peace with an unemployment situation happening again. Gosh, $15,000 seemed like a magical number at the time and yet…it wasn’t magical enough.
Now with each paycheck I am trying to sock money away into an emergency fund for our family. The big question is…what is more important- building up your emergency fund OR paying down your debt?
An emergency fund trumps debt, at least it does in my family. We are steadily paying down our debt, but we are also putting our nickels and dimes away in our emergency fund too. If given a choice between putting money towards my credit card or putting my money towards my emergency fund…I would lean towards saving. The reason is, if something unexpected should happen, I would need that money from my emergency fund a whole lot more than looking at my extra $25 payment that got absorbed into my credit card.
I am wondering what the scenario is in your homes. Do you have any emergency fund? Is your emergency fund in a savings account or do you keep your money elsewhere? What is your magical number/equation you use for deciding how much to put in your accounts?