Stockpiling savings for stormy days — literal or figurative — can help you cover financial mishaps.
That’s relatively rare in America: A recent Federal Reserve Board report found 44 percent of adults had to sell something or borrow money to pay for an emergency costing $400. For many, a few hundred dollars is enough to tip the scale into debt. So a savings fund is critical for when emergencies strike.
It’s important, however, to distinguish between expected and unexpected expenses. Think of it as two approaches: saving for a rainy day or for a large, unexpected emergency.
Emergency funds, which ideally provide a three- to six-month cushion of living expenses, are reserved for events that can seriously upend your financial life, such as divorce, job loss or unexpected medical expenses.
You can start a separate bank account to build up an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses. Quick access to that money is critical.
Creating a rainy day savings strategy starts with getting a handle on any future expenses. For most people, monthly expenses such as house payments, utilities, insurance and groceries stay steady. Other costs are less frequent but not technically emergencies.
Make a list of the expenses you will probably have to pay in coming years. In addition to car maintenance or house repairs, this could include kids’ braces or veterinary bills.
Financial planner Laura Scharr-Bykowsky recommends setting up multiple savings accounts, one for each category. Then get in the habit of socking away part of your income into each of your savings funds. You can start with just a few dollars a month. If you have direct deposit, Scharr-Bykowsky recommends automating your savings.
Many people throw extra money into a single account and pull from it whenever their checking account balance runs low. Scharr-Bykowsky calls this the “savings blob.”
“You just dip into it whenever,” she says. “You don’t think, that’s for when you lose your job or, ‘Wait, that’s our vacation.’ ”
When real emergencies strike, your general savings account may prove insufficient. You might then turn to expensive ways of borrowing money, such as credit cards or home equity lines of credit.
Separating savings into buckets of rainy day funds and an emergency fund has an additional benefit: You will be far less likely to tap those reserves for purposes other than what they’re meant for.
Amber Murakami-Fester is a writer at NerdWallet.