The one year anniversary of the record-setting Government Shutdown happened on January 25th, 2020. The anniversary came and went without fanfare by most, but for those of us who were impacted by that particular Shutdown, we remember it all too well. Last year, Julie and I breathed a sigh of relief as the Shutdown ended and we realized that we had enough money in our Emergency Fund to survive.
This weekend, I toasted Julie as we took a few moments to remember where we were and how far we have come in a year! We have a fully funded Emergency Fund with 6 months of expenses, and Julie and I got there even after going on a trip of a lifetime to Hawaii (which was all paid in cash).
Of course, we didn’t start out that way. No, dear Lifers, we did not. We were horrible with money, and Julie and I were in survival mode and living on the edge. It was not the way to operate a household budget and certainly injected a lot of stress and uncertainty in our lives.
It took a lot of time, but we finally came to our senses and started following Dave Ramsey’s babysteps. I have to give Julie a lot of credit for getting us going and getting us to where we are today. Good job, Jules!
You might be asking: “That’s great, but how do you start your $1000 Emergency Fund?”
Well, dear Lifers, you are in luck. We are talking about The Saving Problem, defining an Emergency Fund, discussing our experience and giving you 9 Tips to Start Your $1000 Emergency Fund.
Research and Experience from Other Lifers
As I prepared for this episode and post, I found two articles of interest that are related to Emergency Funds and how Americans deal with emergencies.
The first is an article from ABCNews from May 2019 that is titled “40% of Americans don’t have $400 in the bank for emergency expenses: Federal Reserve.” This article is based on a 2018 report from the Federal Reserve that analyzes the financial health of American households. Some of the statistics are very alarming:
- About 27% of those surveyed would need to borrow the money or sell something to come up with the $400 and an additional 12% would not be able to cover it at all.
- 12% of adults said they wouldn’t be able to pay their current monthly bills if faced with the unexpected $400 expense.
- 17% of adults in the S. said they are not able to fully pay off all of their current month’s bills.
If you open the door in your neighborhood and look at ten houses down the street, four of them don’t have money in savings to handle a $400 emergency. This percentage varies depending where you live, of course. Some neighborhoods have higher percentage, others are lower. Regardless, this is a pretty dire assessment of the economic situation of our friends, neighbors and family members.
The second article is from Bankrate.com and was published in January 2020. They recently completed a study and found that only 40 percent of Americans would pay an unexpected $1,000 expense, such as a car repair or emergency room visit, from savings. People would use credit cards, loans, borrow from friends or “figure something out” to cover those unexpected expenses. Again, this is not a pretty picture. People are getting deeper into debt to handle emergencies, and this debt hangs around for a long time as bills mound up.
I posted a quote about the Bankrate statistics on the Small Scale Life Instagram page, and I did get some feedback from people. Respondents are all at different stages in this process:
- Some folks, like Karen Mangieri and us, have a fully funded emergency fund.
- Others, like @meandmrjules and @vzlamom.shop are further along and are in the process of building it.
- Still others like @i_bleed_loyalty are starting the process.
If you are just starting or have a fully funded Emergency Fund, it is important to keep going. After all, things can get out of control in a hurry, especially when Murphy comes calling!
The Problem – Murphy Comes Calling and Keeps Coming
Have you ever noticed that trouble seems to find you when you are least prepared to deal with it? Examples of this include your car breaking down, your pipes clogging up or your child getting sick and requiring medical attention. This usually comes on the heels of Christmas or some other event that has emptied your bank account or wallet.
Faced with few or no options, you have to put those unplanned expenses on credit cards, a home equity line or (worst of all) a short term, high interest rate loan. Unfortunately, these things seem to compound as time goes on!
Since you white-knuckle it through one emergency, old Murphy decides that it is time for you to have another one! Instead of just your pipe clogging, now your dog eats something he or she wasn’t supposed to, and you are heading to the vet for treatment and hundreds of dollars in fees.
As you are racing to the vet with a sick pet, this is usually when your car breaks down. We would have to pay for a tow to the shop and then spend hundreds of dollars on repairs. I coined this “Car Hell” because our old cars always were on the verge of malfunction or break down. Maintenance, dear friends, does pay for itself over time!
The cycle continues, and you will soon start to believe you have “bad luck” or that “a black cloud follows you around.” We would sometimes say that “if we didn’t have bad luck, we wouldn’t have luck at all.” Julie and I were constantly frustrated and couldn’t understand why this kept happening or what we could do to stop the cycle.
The funny thing is: once we started budgeting and started a $1000 Emergency Fund, the cycle slowed down and eventually stopped! Imagine that!
If an Emergency Fund is so important and has almost magical properties, we better define what it is.
What is an Emergency Fund?
An Emergency Fund is cash set aside in a special account that is only to be used for unplanned expenses. These expenses are not regular and can be random, unpredictable events. Some examples of emergencies are the following:
- Job loss (temporary like a Government Shutdown or long term)
- Catastrophic loss of a vehicle or home due to God, Nature or fire
- Death in the family
- Unforeseen medical issues (example: injuries in far off towns or places)
What is important about Emergency Funds is that these are to be used for emergencies. The money is used to cover the cost of the “thing,” and replenishing that emergency fund to its fully funded amount is a top priority. After all, Murphy comes calling when you are least prepared and when you least expect it, and sometimes bad things happen in pairs or threes!
As we have discussed on our introduction to Financial Freedom Episode, Julie and I married young when we were in college. We had Danny when we were 21, and it created some financial challenges. We were in survival mode for most of our 26 years of marriage. That means living paycheck-to-paycheck and dreaming about building some savings for retirements and for other things we wanted in the future….for SOMEDAY in the future!
Since we were living on the edge and living so tight, we did not account for building an Emergency Fund. We always put savings and giving WAY down the list, and it was something that we “would get to later.”
Consequently, when significant problems arose, we were running our credit cards or using other loans to cover the costs. We were always bumping into the maximum credit limit on our credit cards or home equity line. Living that tight and without any safety net was incredibly stressful!
Julie and I just couldn’t figure out that our lifestyle was out of control. We were busy shoveling money into the furnace as fast as we could earn it, and we really needed to cut dining out, expensive phone plans and an incredibly expensive mortgage.
Julie and I read Total Money Makeover, took a Dave Ramsey class and then took a Crown Financial class at church. I took Julie to see Dave Ramsey live in Indianapolis twice, and we listened to his CDs on long drives to Wisconsin and Minnesota. All in all, Julie and I soaked in as much about saving, budgeting and Dave Ramsey’s babysteps as we could.
Of course, listening to this content is one thing; we needed to put it into practice. We started tracking expenses and working on our budget together. At first, it was difficult coming face-to-face with our spending habits and making hard choices about spending, but slowly we began to work through the challenges and got more efficient at budgeting.
When we lived in Illinois during the Market Crash of 2008, we were able to start our $1000 Emergency Fund and successfully build it. We had help from Julie’s flower business and me working a lot of hours at my job, but we were able to do it! Having that money in our account gave us a sense of confidence that we could handle problems.
Of course, we learned in the Great Government Shutdown of 2018-2019 that we needed a fully funded Emergency Fund to weather bigger and longer storms. Getting a fully funded Emergency Fund with 3 to 6 months of expenses is the ultimate goal, but you need to start with $1000 in the bank first.
9 Tips to Start Your $1000 Emergency Fund
Julie and I have 9 Tips to Start Your $1000 Emergency Fund. We used the same principles to save money and fully fund our Emergency Fund this year, so we know these tips work! We discussed a couple of these in more detail in the 10 Kitchen Thrifty Thursday Tips last year, and you can click this text to read the post and listen to the episode.
Here are our 9 Tips to Start Your $1000 Emergency Fund:
- Cut Your Expensive Lifestyle
- Sell Extra Stuff on e-Bay, Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace
- Get a Second Job
- Find One-Time Job Opportunities
- Carpool, Take Transit or Bike to Work
- Plan Your Meals and Eat at Home
- Shop from Your Freezer and Pantry
- Fix It Yourself
- Save that Tax Refund
Of course we aren’t the first people to come up with these tips. There are a lot of good folks out there that are saying the same things.
Julie and I really recommend that you start with cutting your spending. The easiest and the most difficult things you will have to face in this process are you and your mindset.
Initially, it might feel difficult as you cut some of this spending out of your life, but you will find that you suddenly have more money in your account and wallet when you stop buying stuff you really don’t need. Minimalism and Financial Freedom do go hand-in-hand. You are taking control of your life by not buying every new shiny gadget and expensive coffee drinks every day.
I know $1000 seems like a lot of money to save. Remember: slow and steady wins the race. It will take time for you to figure out your path forward. The key, however, is to find what works for you and start. You have to act and get moving on this. You have to protect yourself in case Murphy comes calling and keeps trying to kick you.
To Start Your $1000 Emergency Fund, please download and use our Free Budgeting Bundle on smallscalelife.com. These tools will help you prioritize your income and spending, and you will start to see where you can make adjustments and cuts.
You can do this, and we are here to help. Feel free to use the contact us page on smallscalelife.com or by sending us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember: learn, do, grow and be a little better every day!
You can do this, Lifers!
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