How to Think About Saving Beyond Your Emergency Fund
When you’ve lived paycheck to paycheck, scrounging up enough money for an emergency fund can feel like a revelation. All of a sudden you’re not living with a dark cloud over your head and setbacks start to seem more manageable. You feel more in control of your life and your finances.
But you can take that even further. Saving for emergencies is just the first step in developing a strong, stable plan for the future. Once you have the foundation laid, it’s time to start deciding just what kind of future you’re trying to build.
That future starts with savings goals. Here are a few examples of how to start saving beyond your emergency fund.
Car Repair Fund: About 18 months ago, my husband and I were driving up for a ski weekend in the Colorado mountains. We were meeting his cousin and wife for a long weekend of winter sports, beer and food. At least, that was the plan.
On the way there our car started making a funny noise. Eventually, that funny noise turned into a persistent whine, and before we knew it the engine was smoking and we were stranded on the side of the road. We had the car towed back to a mechanic, who informed us that it would cost several thousand dollars to repair the damage.
I hadn’t really planned for this. The car had less than 200,000 miles and seemed in good shape. We’d followed the maintenance schedule religiously and had no reason to worry. Luckily, the incident happened just a few days before we received a huge tax refund, so we took the money and bought another car. I learned a valuable lesson that day: always save for a car repair fund.
Since then, I set up an auto draft to a separate savings account solely for car repairs. I picked $75 a month as a starting point but might increase it to $100 in the near future.
I’ve also started a car replacement fund, so I’m prepared for the next time my husband and I need to buy a new car. That account gets $100 every month, and any leftover money I find at the end of the year.
Vacation Fund: Erin Lowry of “Broke Millennial” wrote in a recent post about how she has a separate vacation fund set aside so she can travel more spontaneously. She has at least $3,000 in her vacation fund, so she’s prepared when her girlfriends want to take an impromptu trip or she finds an amazing flight deal to Germany.
If travel is an important part of your life – or you’d like it to be – consider starting a vacation fund. Even if it’s just a long weekend at the family cabin or a short road trip to a neighboring state, giving yourself the option to escape at any time can make the daily grind a little more bearable.
Don’t feel pressured to save aggressively if you don’t want to. Even $300 a month will add up to $3,600 a year, enough for a two-week European stay or a handful of smaller domestic trips. If you keep saving for multiple years, you could end up with enough for a months-long sabbatical.
Personal Goals: When people talk about their greatest financial regrets, they usually reminisce about the investment deal they didn’t take or the house they never bought. For me, it’s the Spice Girls concert I didn’t go to.
The group came to Chicago while I was in college, and a few people from my dorm were carpooling to the concert. They had an extra ticket, which cost $100. I had the money in my bank account, but chose to be “responsible” and stay home. I’ve regretted it ever since.
About a year ago, there were rumors that the Spice Girls were planning to reunite and go on a limited international tour. I live about three hours from Chicago, and I figured the Windy City would definitely be a stop on the tour.
A couple weeks later I got a birthday check from my grandma, which I promptly deposited into a separate Spice Girls savings account. Rumors of a tour have since dissipated, but I still have hope that one day the girls will be reunited. Until then, I’ll be keeping $200 in that account.
It might seem insane to have a whole savings account for one concert that may never happen, but it’s worth it for the peace of mind. If I ever get the opportunity to fulfill this dream, I won’t have to sacrifice a thing. I’ll just pluck the money from my account, close it down and go have the time of my life.
If there’s something you desperately want to do someday, like attend the Super Bowl or run the Boston Marathon, it’s not a bad idea to have the money stashed away for that purpose. If the goal never comes to fruition or you’re not able to get tickets, you can always use it for something else.
Medical Expenses: One of the best ways to save money outside of an emergency fund is in a health savings account (HSA). HSA contributions are tax-deductible, can be withdrawn tax-free and earnings are also not taxed.
You can contribute up to $3,3450 for an individual or $6,900 for families. Once you have more than $2,000 in your HSA, you can start to invest the money like you would for a retirement account. HSAs are only available if you have a high-deductible insurance plan, but don’t have any income limitations.
If you aren’t eligible for a high-deductible plan or it’s just not a good fit, you can still save for medical expenses outside of an HSA. A good rule of thumb is to save as much as your out-of-pocket maximum since that should cover a year of catastrophic medical bills. You can keep this in the same savings account where you have your emergency fund or in a separate one.