Do you have enough cash to handle an unexpected emergency expense? According to a new survey from Bankrate.com, a significant number of Americans don't have an emergency savings fund – and don't see the lack of one as a problem.
Bankrate found that almost one in four respondents has no emergency fund at all, and 18% of all respondents are comfortable with not having one. For those who do have an emergency fund, the bar for acceptable amounts is pretty low. Close to half (47%) of respondents who have emergency funds to cover less than three months of expenses are either very comfortable or somewhat comfortable with their accounts.
Financial experts generally suggest that emergency funds contain six months' worth of expenses. The survey shows that only 29% of Americans have that much saved up, down from 31% in the 2017 survey.
Older Americans are more likely to have a six-month savings buffer – an understandable result since they have been in the job market longer, should generally make higher salaries, and have had a longer time to save. While 42% of the silent generation members and 36% of baby boomers have a six-month emergency fund, only 22% of millennials do.
Surprisingly, the one-in-four percentage of non-savers holds across generations. Millennials, generation Xers, and baby boomers all report that 25% of their respective generations have no emergency fund.
Millennials may think they have more time to generate funds and may be more interested in paying down student loan debt or other debt – a reasonable choice if the alternative is carrying a balance on high-interest credit card debt. Baby boomers have less of an excuse for lacking emergency funds – they may simply be refusing to acknowledge the gravity of the situation as retirement nears.
Review your expenses to see where you can save. Perhaps it's one or two fewer meals out in a month, one less coffee each day, or a less expensive smartphone data plan. Every dollar per day that you can save adds up to $365 per year – a decent addition to your emergency fund.
Do you qualify for senior discounts or other savings through group memberships? Do you use coupons? Do you frequently comparison-shop to get the best deal? All these forms of savings can contribute to a monthly surplus that you can roll into your emergency fund.
Don't forget about cash-back rewards programs. If a credit or debit card offers you cash back as a perk, devote that surplus toward your emergency fund. If you want more credit, check out our list of cash-back rewards credit card offers.
Consider having a small part of your monthly paycheck deposited in a separate emergency fund account. You'll be less tempted to use the emergency fund for non-emergency purposes, and you'll get used to budgeting with the lower amount of take-home pay.
If you're one of the 18% of Americans who don't have an emergency fund and think it's okay not to have one, reconsider your choice. You may have a credit buffer, but if you can't save up enough money to build an emergency fund, you're on the edge of carrying balances and paying interest charges. Perhaps you're already over the edge. One missed credit payment and you'll have damaged your credit score. You can check your credit score and read your credit report for free within minutes using Credit Manager by MoneyTips.
Regardless of your age or your fiscal situation, it's important to establish a savings habit. Enjoy the security of an emergency fund along with the satisfaction of knowing that you can live within your means.