If you have a partner, kids or other family members who rely on your earnings power you may need to save more than a single person with no dependents. If there are no other sources of income in the household, the impact of a financial emergency could have a compounding effect when there are several lives to clothe, feed and shelter. Younger dependents in particular have added costs for health, dental, education, child care and transportation.
Your Fixed Expenses
Did you just take out a large new mortgage, or are you a few months away from paying it off? How your expenses change as your life evolves can impact how prepared you are for an emergency. A proper emergency fund could be a cushion in tough times that overlap peak spending mid-life on a home, cars, kids’ education, insurance premiums and income taxes. On the other hand, if you are living off the fruits of your labor in retirement and no longer have debts to service or kids to put through college, the focus on reserves might be more for health and long term care services and how much of those expenses you need to cover out-of-pocket.
Surprise health events can result in unexpected bills, often at a time when one is already stressed. You should be aware if your health insurance plan has a high-deductible that you would need to fund on your own. A Health Savings Account might be an option for some to help be prepared. A chronic illness that might require a leave of absence from work could mean tapping cash reserves, depending on your access to disability insurance.
Three to six months’ worth of living expenses is a reasonable starting point, from which you can customize based on your own situation. Consider a larger emergency fund if you have a specialized or volatile career, high fixed expenses, dependents and health risks. On the other hand, you may be able to get by with a smaller reserve fund if you have a large degree of flexibility in your living situation and varied sources of income to support expenses.