An emergency fund is money that you put aside to act as a financial cushion from life’s surprises - usually around 3-6 months of expenses.1 But what counts as an “emergency” when it comes time to spend it? Ask yourself these four questions before tapping that pool of hard-earned money.
Sometimes the difference between a want and a need can get a little fuzzy. It’s easy to convince yourself that a want is a need. For example, a bathroom remodel is a want but a major leak is a need.2
Medical expenses can be another gray area. Necessary, unexpected medical expenses, like a trip to the ER, is a good candidate for using your emergency fund. Elective healthcare such as plastic surgery, which may not be an emergency, probably isn’t.3
Remember, this fund is there to help you cover essential spending you didn’t see coming – when your savings or income is not enough to cover the costs, but the need is something you can’t wait to address.
Consider the time of year before dipping into your emergency fund to make an urgent repair. If the furnace conks out in the dead of winter, you need to get the heat back on immediately.4 Same with the air conditioning in mid-July, especially in hot climates.
Seasonal, expected spending, on the other hand, isn’t a good use of your emergency fund.5 Expenses you can plan ahead for should be built into your regular budget. That includes things like back-to-school shopping, holiday presents and regular house and car maintenance.6
Weigh the cost of repairing or replacing a broken item. Ask yourself, is the repair cheaper than replacing it? Will the total cost to replace use up most of your emergency fund?7 Not every breakdown is an emergency, depending on your lifestyle. A refrigerator full of food that stops working is an emergency. If your dishwasher breaks down, you may be able to get by washing dishes by hand for awhile.4
If possible, take 24 hours to give yourself time to think about it.8 You may decide it’s smarter to repair or replace later, or maybe even learn to live without it.
When deciding whether to tap into your emergency fund, think about the effect on your day-to-day. If your car breaks down and you have no other way to get to work, that’s a need. If you’re a working parent with kids and the laundry machine kicks the bucket, replace it. If your phone falls in water and can’t be saved, you probably need to get a new one. If, on the other hand, you lose an expensive watch, chances are you can manage without for a while and give yourself time to save up and replace it.
So, you answered yes to all of the questions above and dipped into your emergency fund. Here are a few ways to help grow your fund (and your peace of mind) back to a place you’re comfortable with. As a reminder, your emergency fund should total around 3-6 months of your normal expenses.
Having an emergency fund gives you some financial control over how you react to unanticipated events and helps you stay on track for other savings goals – like buying a home. For more tips and financial advice about how to develop a plan for the future, connect with a John Hancock advisor today.
To start your emergency savings fund, sign up for a free emergency savings account today. There are no account management or distribution fees, and you can withdraw at any time. The registration process makes it easy, just follow the steps to create an account, so you’re ready when an emergency strikes.
1 NerdWallet: “Emergency Fund: What It Is and Why It Matters” by Margarette Burnette, December 8, 2020 https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/banking/savings/life-build-emergency-fund/
2, 6 SWBC Blog: “When to Dip Into Your Emergency Savings Fund” by Gil Castillo, November 8, 2016 https://blog.swbc.com/personalhub/when-to-dip-into-your-emergency-savings-fund
3 Money Under 30: “Emergency Funds: Everything You Need To Know” by Lance Cothern, November 25, 2020 https://www.moneyunder30.com/emergency-fund
4 Morningstar: “6 Reasons to Tap Your Emergency Fund” by Karen Wallace, CFP®, March 26, 2019 https://www.morningstar.com/articles/920944/6-reasons-to-tap-your-emergency-fund
5 The Balance: “When to Use Your Emergency Fund” by Latoya Irby, October 28, 2020 https://www.thebalance.com/when-should-you-use-your-emergency-fund-453900
7, 8 Bankrate: “Facing financial hardship? 7 questions to ask before dipping into your emergency savings” by Amanda Dixon, March 19, 2020 https://www.bankrate.com/banking/savings/questions-to-ask-emergency-savings-coronavirus-impact/
9 Bankrate: “How to start (and build) an emergency fund” by Matthew Goldberg, January 25, 2021 https://www.bankrate.com/banking/savings/starting-an-emergency-fund/
10 CNBC: “Worried about a recession? Your emergency fund should be your top priority” by Alicia Adamczyk, April 28, 2020 https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/28/if-youre-worried-about-a-recession-prioritize-your-emergency-fund.html
11 The Simple Dollar: “No Emergency Fund? Start With Your Tax Refund” by Cynthia Paez Brown, April 20, 2020 https://www.thesimpledollar.com/banking/no-emergency-fund-save-your-tax-refund-this-year/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=facebook
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Emergency Savings is a product offered by John Hancock Personal Financial Services LLC, an SEC investment adviser registered under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. The assets in Emergency Savings accounts are swept into interest-bearing FDIC- insured deposit accounts as described below.
Apex (the account custodian) in its sole discretion may sweep the cash in a client’s Emergency Savings account into and out of interest-bearing FDIC-insured deposit accounts opened by Apex at participating banks (“Participating Banks”). Participating in the Emergency Savings program does not guarantee that any or all of the cash in a client’s account will be swept into a Participating Bank. FDIC insurance only applies to those assets in a client’s account that are swept into a Participating Bank. Assets in the client’s account that are not swept into accounts at Participating Banks are not insured by the FDIC and have no bank or government guarantees but are instead covered up to $250,000 by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (“SIPC”) of which Apex is a member.
Interest paid on a client’s Emergency Savings account will vary over time and can change daily without notice to the client. Interest paid on a client’s Emergency Savings account may be lower or higher than interest paid on the bank account used by a client to fund the client’s Emergency Savings account or the interest paid on deposits at the Participating Banks or at other banks.