How much emergency reserve do I really need?

Xena Financial Planning blog rainy day fund

The conventional wisdom for an emergency reserve is about 3 to 6 months of living expenses, typically kept in a liquid, FDIC-insured account. So just how do you calculate “living expenses” and what exactly is “essential”?

In the current global pandemic environment, most of us have noticed a shift in our spending. Travel budget: $0, eating out: minimal. Your spending now is probably fairly representative of the minimum needed to survive. Things like your rent/mortgage, basic transportation expenses, food & utilities should absolutely be included. Now take that minimum monthly number and multiply it by 3. This is the smallest number you should target for an emergency reserve.

If anyone in your household is self-employed or has variable income (i.e. a real-estate agent, or an artist), you will want to target the higher end of the 3-6 month range. COVID and its effects have hit certain industries particularly hard. Even professional athletes are facing a significant cut to their expected income. Given the circumstances, it’s understandable to lean towards caution and keep as much as you can.

That’s a reasonable strategy for the short term, but don’t sacrifice saving for retirement or other goals in favor of sitting on oodles of cash. 

On the flip side, if you’re just starting to save, these amounts may seem daunting. At the very least, aim to have a couple thousand dollars set aside in the event you have a major house repair or other unexpected expense. It won’t get you too far but it’s a great start. Plan to set aside a little bit from each paycheck until you reach the goal.

One of the benefits of working with a financial planner is that they can help you prioritize saving for an emergency reserve, paying down debt and saving for other short and long-term goals. All of the recommendations here are simply that.