Tara Crooks
Limitless Contributor

We military spouses have an understood "joke" that Pvt. Murphy shows up every time one of our husbands is away — and that doesn't have to mean deployed either, Murphy can show up at any time, even during temporary or staff duty.


Pvt. Murphy is a fictitious character, obviously no one is really visited by "him". When we say he visited we mean that we have been cursed by Murphy's Law — "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong."


Hopefully this is not the day — or week — that you are having. But if you were having a true emergency, what would you do if you had no funds to access? Many people would say they were banking on having available credit on their credit card or they'd borrow cash from a family member. To me, realizing that is probably very true and may be necessitated, it is still really relying on others and not a responsible course of action.


When I was growing up I heard everyone say that we needed six months of committed expenses saved in a savings account (by the way, this is what most financial experts recommend). I thought all adults had that much squirreled away. It was just a given that this is what you did when you grew up and got a job — right? So, when I got my first job I attempted this crazy goal of saving this amount of money, and quickly. I tried several times and failed. One day I was talking to my mother-in-Law about my frustrations and she told the story of how she and dad built their emergency fund. It wasn't hard, but it wasn't quick either. It took discipline. Like any other goal, you don't have to see the whole staircase to take the first step.


First let's answer some basic questions:


What is an emergency fund? It's an amount of money that you keep in a savings account that's intended to be used in the event of a major crisis — job loss, medical emergency, major car repairs, etc.


What an emergency fund is NOT — it is not a savings account. We typically think of "savings" as emergency because we have it in a savings account. JJ Montanaro, USAA Certified Financial Planner says, "While a savings account is a great place to put your emergency fund, the two terms are not synonymous. A savings account is actually a type of an account available through banks or credit unions whereas an emergency fund is the strategy of setting aside money for life's uncertainties." You may want your savings to be doing more work for you in investments and/or have your emergency fund more liquid and available.


So how much do you need? That depends. It's easier to think about emergency funds in the terms of months. In our household we know it takes X amount of dollars in our budget to cover basic living expenses. If one or both of us were unable to work for any reason that is the amount of money, per month, that we would need to remain consistent in our lifestyle.


Next let's discuss some easy and non-painful ways to start a fund:


  • Create an automatic deposit to your emergency fund.
  • Pay yourself first — when you get a raise divert it to your fund.
  • Don't consider your emergency fund part of your spending money and keep it hidden.
  • Start your fund with your tax refund.


And here are a few ways to beef up your account:


  • Empty your pocket change into a jar every night.
  • Have a garage sale and give the proceeds to the fund.
  • Whenever you purchase groceries with a coupon, deposit your savings into the fund.
  • Use a cash back rewards credit card and deposit your rebates directly into your emergency fund.


I realize that it can be daunting and scary to think about starting an emergency fund. It's a lot of money. Most people don't want to think about finances and most certainly don't want to put themselves in the negative stressful thought of impending doom that would be caused by an actual emergency. Trust me, though, it's much easier to be uncomfortable for that short planning period than it will be when you're in the middle of the actual visit from Pvt. Murphy.