How Much Should I Have In My Emergency Fund?

Now that you know the personal finance basics, you understand why you need an emergency fund. But what size should that emergency fund be?

The general guidance is 3-6 months of expenses. This is a great starting point, but I don't think it's set in stone for everyone. Can you apply the same rule to a homeowner with kids as well as a couch-surfing student? This leaves a lot of wiggle room, especially since our expenses change from month to month.

Sizing your emergency fund is more of an art than a science. Like any other act of self-care, it's about knowing yourself, anticipating how you will react and what you'll desire in an emergency situation, and hooking your future self up with the lifeline. While you're thinking about it, ask yourself these questions:

What kind of responsibilities do I have?

Simply put, more responsibilities = bigger emergency fund.

I always say that if you become a homeowner, your emergency fund needs to grow, even if your regular monthly expenses do not. Why? Because, unlike a renter, you're now on the hook for all kinds of things from broken water heaters to septic systems.

People with kids also need bigger emergency funds. While you may not mind roughing it in the Crack House Motel for a couple days when your apartment floods, you definitely don't want to bring your kids there. Similarly, you might choose to live in some discomfort while you put off your own medical expenses until payday... but when it comes to your kids, there is no waiting.

People with pets also need bigger emergency funds. Unexpected vet bills are a thing, and not being able to cover them really sucks.

How much support do I have?

Some people have an open offer from family or friends to move back in with them during hard times. Some people have a church group who would raise money for their medical bills. Some households have two incomes, which means they can fall back on one if someone loses their job.

Conversely, some of us don't have surviving family, or that kind of relationship with their friends or community. Some of us are out here on our own.

If you have less support, you need more emergency fund. This doesn't mean you are excused entirely from needing an emergency fund if you have a lot of support. Posting a Gofundme or knocking on Aunt Susy's door should never be a first line of defense in a financial emergency. There's nothing wrong with doing it when you genuinely need it, but after the 4th or 5th Gofundme, your friends will just start to think you're unprepared... especially if they just saw you buying rounds at the bar the month before.

How stable is my current situation?

If you work in a cyclical industry like oil, you know that during good times, the money flows and the jobs grow on trees, but during bad times, mass layoffs can keep you unemployed for years. Ups and downs are just natural to the industry and totally out of your control.

 Similarly, if you work as a home health aide and your client is 95 years old, you know that any moment you could get a call telling you that there's no need to show up for work anymore.

No job is certain, but some jobs are more stable than others. Keep the bad times in mind during the good times. If you work in an cyclical industry, a niche position, or on contract, you may need a bigger emergency fund than someone who is in a tenured teaching position.

What level of comfort do I need?

Some people don't mind the prospect of going carless until the repairs are finished, or even going a few weeks without a washing machine. To many others, a single day without their washing machine, apartment, or car is unthinkable. Emergency funds are meant to cover the extra price we must pay for immediacy. If you need more of it, you will need more money to pay for it.

There's another level of comfort you should consider when you're sizing your emergency fund: how OK you are with risk. Some of us are fine figuring things out as we go- if we lose the job, we'll just wing it when it comes to finding another one. Conversely, some of us need a detailed plan to feel safe.

So what does it all boil down to?

It's all about knowing yourself. Once you know yourself, you can take care of yourself better. As I said, having an emergency fund is an act of self care. It might not be as fun as a bath bomb or buying yourself a treat at the shops, but trust me: your future self will truly appreciate the consideration. When the sh*t hits the fan, instead of selling a kidney to the mob to make it until payday, you'll be sitting pretty with your rental car, new water heater, new apartment, or whatever else it was that you needed in a pinch.

So... take care of yourself by saving up a custom, personalized emergency fund that's as unique as you are. You deserve it!

XOXO, Meow

(Has an emergency fund saved your butt? Can you think of any other factors that might change the size of your e-fund? Let me know in the comments!)


  1. Good post! I think 3-6 months is the right amount, however, for those with large expenses that can be a huge sum of money. Along with saving for an emergency fund, I'd also recommend working on reducing recurring expenses so you can actually save less!

    1. Absolutely, Lance! Reducing expenses has a double-punch effect: you need less in your emergency fund, AND you have more money to save for emergencies!