According to our friends over at Bankrate.com, 28% of Americans have no emergency fund, up from 24% in 2011. The general rule of thumb is to have about six months’ worth of either income or expenses saved, with some financial gurus saying to go to as much as two years worth of expenses. The survey also found that 49% of Americans have roughly three months worth of expenses while 25% have the recommended six months worth of expenses saved.
As someone who lived ‘hand-to-mouth’ as my mom used to say, for a long time, I know that saving money for an emergency fund can seem both daunting and counter intuitive. This is especially true when you are attempting to pay down debt or if you are barely getting by. But, the need to save for an emergency still exists.
To begin you must be honest with yourself. While you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip, no matter how much you make, you can save something. I remember working while in college at age 20 bringing home maybe $100 per week. I really felt as if I couldn’t save anything, but even then, I managed to save a tiny amount.
I have found that automating your savings is the easiest way to accomplish this. You should begin by opening a savings account with no fees. Second, determine how much money you can safely put away without missing it. If you’re unsure, begin where it will be completely painless. Begin with sometime tiny like 2% of your paycheck. For every $100 that you make, only $2 will go to savings. Fill out a direct deposit form with this new savings account getting what we’ll call the ‘painless percentage’ and then promptly forget about it. Wait about one month and see if you miss the money coming from your paycheck. If you don’t them bump your savings rate up by another percentage point and continue doing so until you reach a comfortable level.
Although the number of Americans with adequate savings isn’t where it should be, there’s still good news with regards to how much we have saved. When Bankrate conducted the same survey back in 2006, it found that 61% of Americans didn’t have enough money saved for three months. Since that number has fallen to 49% we are moving in the right direction.