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Our primary emergency fund is in cash on hand. Our view is, emergencies are unlooked for events that require cash in hand now—Natural disasters, bad weather, being on the road—situations where credit cards are useless. We think in terms of money for a week for such circumstances. We also choose to have 9 months of “cash” in our money market fund. In the last year, our family bank was bought out. Some of our automatic deposits took months to get into our account (don’t ask!). Because we had a fat pot of MM money, we could pay our bills while sorting out a five figure mess. For us, these arrangements have saved anxiety and trouble. But everyone has to hoe their own row.
Retired, I have a $107,000.00 pension and $224,000.00 in an emergency account. Hope that is enough.
The financial retirement gurus say that you need at least ten to fifteen times or more of your last annual salary to retire comfortably or Sleep Well At Night (SWAN). So, hopefully, your social security check will cover 40% of your living costs. Inflation has measurably increased most folks living costs over last years living costs.
Everyone should have an emergency account. However, that should not come at the expense of foregoing tax preferenced participation and employer contributions to a 401(k) or 403(b) – where, done right, the retirement savings plan offers “liquidity without leakage along the way to and throughout retirement.”
We hold approximately four years of living expenses in cash. The possibility of job loss for the two of us is low given her tenured position as a teacher and my new position as a community bank president. This is a topic of much discussion in our home given likely retirements in about seven years or so, her generous pension on retirement and a small state pension that I’ve earned that provides healthcare coverage for both of us for life.
I don’t hold very much cash. If I need cash, I can use a margin loan on my portfolio. My broker has a low rate and I can repay it at my discretion. This allows me to keep my funds invested.
5 years – 1 year’s worth in savings a/cs, 4 years’ worth in a ladder of I-Bonds and CDs.
I don’t hold bonds in my investment portfolio. If there is a market correction, I don’t need to sell and I can funnel 2 years’ worth emergency expenses into the market when it is cheap.
All our kids know to save in stages. First, a 3-month emergency fund. Then as your career progresses, slowly grow that to 6-months. Now, that I am retired it dawned on me as a “bucket approach kinda guy” that I could take that 6-month emergency fund and turn it into another layer of the first retirement bucket by expanding it to 12 months of living expenses giving us 3 years of cash as we start retirement. And if we have “an emergency” it’s still there.
How much and where you keep it depends on family/work situation. My goal is to have enough readily available cash to meet expenses while making thoughtful decisions about how to pull money from my investment accounts. I keep a month’s current expenses in checking, two month’s essential expenses in savings, and the rest is invested. If I had dependent children, I might want more cash available to minimize disruption to family while dealing with emergency.
I keep 2-3 months of expenses. I try to keep 2 months always available and the money for the third I used to things like car repair, private insurance or any other emergency, I see more like amount of money I have saved for big bills.
I keep only 2 months because I’m single, no dependants, have a high paying job as a software engineer and I’m really good at it, so is very unlikely to be unemployed more than a few hours/days (really!).
If I endup in a situation where I’ll need to cover more than two months I can always go back to Nicaragua where I have a shelter and can live with the third of what I spend where I live right now.
I’m early retired and rely on my investments pay my bills. I get a “paycheck” each month from my investment account – selling index funds when my net worth is within 90% of it’s all time high and pulling cash when my net worth is below the 90% threshold.
I keep about six years of spending in cash and CD’s so I can make it through a six year downturn without having to sell stock. These cash holdings allow me to be aggressive with my other investments and still sleep at night.
In a different interest rate environment, I’d be in bonds rather than cash and CD’s but I’m not willing to take the rate risk in bonds. I keep less than a year’s expenses in each CD so I won’t have to pay much of a penalty in the event of early withdrawal.
For many years, I didn’t make enough or had enough to keep an emergency fund. I was fortunate to make a good living and finally accumulated 6 months. As I’ve gotten older (51), I carry way too much cash but it seems to make me sleep better.
I also used an untaped HELOC as my emergency reserves.
I heard about that on a podcast. Seems to make sense as long as people have the self discipline to not run up the credit line with things other than the emergency. Also, during the 2008 financial crisis, did banks close or reduce HELOCs on people? That’s certainly a risk.
I understand and agree with the conventional financial planning guidance of holding 3 to 6 months of expenses in liquid savings. I can’t say my wife and I always met this. There were definitely times when we scrambled to make ends meet. It’s important to understand your personal situation, how secure your employment is, and what your risk are. Do you have short term disability insurance – that helps. Where I worked you were allowed to accumulate up to 400 hours of vacation in a bank. Lots of employees considered that an emergency fund against a layoff.
Caution on using stocks as a store for emergency fund money. There have been rare occasions such as 9/11 when the stock market has been closed. It could also potentially be closed for weeks. I used to hold emergency money as US Savings Bonds which paid a 4 per cent minimum interest that compounded tax free until maturity and was state tax exempt (those were the days!).
These best place today is probably a high yield (like .50 per cent per year – ha!) account at Citibank, American Express or some local credit unions.
I guess it works if you have twice (or more) your emergency fund on stocks and no plans to retire in the next few years.
but yes, I would at least keep 2 months in cash.
Jonathan, that strikes me as a clever method and maybe I should re-think this subject. But I’m older than you and on Medicare, so there’s another factor in play. If our MAGI (modified adjusted gross income) exceeds a certain level, I have to pay IRMAA surcharges on Medicare, which can be pretty expensive. So if I needed a big chunk of cash, and got it by selling stock which resulted in a significant long term capital gain, it could trigger the IRMAA problem.
Am I missing something here?
I don’t think you’re missing anything. In the good old days, when bonds had a yield that you didn’t need a microscope to see, the standard advice was to keep bonds in a retirement, while favoring tax-efficient stock strategies in a taxable account. But at today’s tiny yields, high-quality bonds aren’t nearly as tax-inefficient as they once were, so there’s less reason to avoid them in a taxable account.
I’m not claiming this is smart, but I’ve never had what people think of as an emergency fund—three or six months of living expenses sitting in cash investments and held in a regular taxable account. In my 20s, when I was married to a graduate student and raising two children on a junior reporter’s salary, I simply didn’t have much money to spare, and what I could spare I preferred to stash in my 401(k) or use to buy stock funds in my regular taxable account. Over the years, that taxable account grew, so I always knew I could dip into it if I suddenly needed cash. To be sure, my taxable account is mostly in stocks, so I run the risk of having to sell stocks during a bear market. But if that happened, I’d simply make an offsetting move from bonds to stocks within my retirement account, thereby maintaining my portfolio’s overall stock exposure and effectively avoiding selling at a market low.