Emergency Savings: How Much Do I Need?

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, approximately 30-50% of adults in the United States (depending on the study) would struggle when faced with an unexpected or emergency expense. While the percentage of affected adults improved with the arrival of COVID relief programs, recent data shows that the numbers may be trending back down toward pre-pandemic levels. The aggregate data will continue to show these fluctuations over time depending on the macroeconomy, significant policy changes, etc., so a more immediate question for consumers is:  How much do I need in my emergency savings account? $400…$1,000…3-6 months of expenses? The answer is not concrete and completely depends on your own personal situation, but here are some things to consider:

  1. How large is your household? – the necessary living expenses for a single individual will likely look much different than a household of four.
  2. Do you own a home or rent? – homeowners face the risk of repair costs, which increases their need for emergency savings. The recent derechos are a perfect example.
  3. What are your insurance deductibles? – this is an often-overlooked aspect of emergency savings. Auto insurance deductibles tend to be around $250 or $500, while health insurance and homeowner’s insurance deductibles could be in the thousands. A higher deductible provides lower premium costs, but does increase your need for emergency savings.
  4. How stable is your income? – are you self-employed or an independent contractor? Do you work in a high-turnover industry or face occasional government shutdowns? How likely you are to need those savings to make up for lost income should also factor into the amount saved.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather a starting point for your emergency savings plan. For the DIY-ers, I encourage you to utilize PowerPay, Utah State University Extension’s free, online, personal finance tool to create your emergency savings plan; otherwise, you can contact your local Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Financial Educator for a free, confidential, 1:1 Financial Consultation!

Ryan Stuart

Ryan is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Wellbeing and an Accredited Financial Counselor®. He focuses on educating and empowering all Iowans to independently make positive financial decisions throughout their life course.

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Pandemic-Induced Goals?

The current period of job loss and reduced income has affected people in different ways. The result? Different households face different financial challenges at this point. Whatever your situation, now is s a good time to assess your financial situation, evaluate your priorities, and take steps to improve your situation as necessary. If you’d like some help, your local ISU Extension financial educator is available to work with you, providing free, non-commercial information and a sounding board as you make your plans.

  1. Some of you have been living with seriously reduced income – and still are. Your task has been to find every possible way to reduce your expenses and/or find new income and make use of new resources, including public assistance if you qualify. You must communicate with all of your creditors, but avoid making promises you cannot keep. If returning to something like normal looks unlikely, you may need to consider major lifestyle changes.
  2. Some of you lost income for a while, but are now back to an income you can live on. It is likely that you got behind on bills, built up credit card debt, and/or depleted your savings during your crisis. Strong focus on repaying those debts and building up emergency savings will get you ready in case of an unexpected expense or another loss of income. Careful examination of your spending choices will help you regain equilibrium and then build a strong cushion.
  3. Others of you had stable income, but have realized that if you did lose income, you would be in a very difficult spot. Facing the reality that you lack basic financial security can motivate you to build up savings and pay down debt. Start by cutting your living expenses so that your regular monthly expenses are 10-25% less than your income. Putting the extra funds toward savings and expedited debt payment will build you a cushion that will bring peace of mind and make your life easier if/when hardship strikes.
  4. Still others have stable income, and have felt secure that even if you did have a cutback, you would be okay. In your case there is no obvious need for change, but it’s wise to maintain control of your finances through good planning. You may wish to build an even stronger savings cushion, after seeing others struggle with lost income for six months or longer. As you build savings, seek out accounts that pay slightly higher interest while still providing ready access to your funds.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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