Emergency Funds – The Basics

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Starting an Emergency Fund

An emergency fund is an amount of money that you save for hard times. Out of sight and out of mind, you don’t use it until you absolutely, positively need it. Many advocate for at least $1000 in savings to be held in an easily accessible location (i.e. in cash or a savings account). While $1000 is a frugal choice, I’d say you probably want a little more than that. If you can save around $3000 dollars for your emergency fund, it will go a long way during hard times.

I recommend $3000 because most unexpected expenses will take a large chunk out of your pocket. Think about your last major car repair, it was probably on the low end of $500 dollars and the high end of $2000. Think about medical bills. Sometimes your insurance won’t kick in until you’ve met your deductible, i.e. the minimum you pay out of pocket in order to have a large portion of your bill covered by the insurance company. Depending on your health insurance plan, your deductible can be anywhere from $1000 to $3000 dollars. What if you had to go to an emergency room for treatment? The costs would sky rocket.

After your Emergency Fund

But what about after you’ve saved that initial 1k (or 3k)? In addition to your emergency fund, you’ll want a “Disaster Fund.” Why? Because while unexpected costs can sideline you if you have a job, those same costs can be disastrous if you lose your job or are disabled.

Generally you’ll want to save about 10% of what you make monthly for your Disaster Fund. Take this 10%, add it to your savings, and act like it is not there. Let’s say you take home 5k a month. 10% of that will be $500 dollars. How long do you save 10% for?

Let’s look at two possible scenarios that could play out in your life:

1) You lose your job.

2) You start your own business.

While the second isn’t really a disaster, you’ll probably be bootstrapping it for a while. How do you maintain an adequate lifestyle when you’re paying for everything without positive earnings? This is where the disaster fund comes in. If you’ve lost your job, it will take a minute before you get another. If you start a business, it will take a minute before you have a positive cash flow.

Most money specialists will tell you to have at least 6 months of your expenses in savings for a Disaster Fund. So if your take home pay is 5k a month, but you only need 3k of it a month to pay for all your expenses, then you’ll need to save 3k x 6 = $18,000. If you’re saving 10%, you’ll cap off your disaster fund in about 36 months or 3 years. What if you increase your savings until you get to that point? Instead of saving 10% when starting your fund, you invest 20%? You’d be saving 1k a month, and that would cut your savings time for the disaster fund in half to 18 month or 1 ½ years.

After you’ve met your 6 months of expenses in your Disaster Fund, you can scale down your savings percentage to something lower. If you are comfortable with where it is, start to invest the same amount you were saving. See some of our article on investments to get a better idea of what to do in that situation.

Bottom line: Start today to secure an emergency fund, then a disaster fund.

The Prophet ﷺ said “If I had mount Uhud in gold in my home I’d give it all away in three nights, except for some money that I’d save to pay off debts.”

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Investment Advice

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There are plenty of resources out there offering investment advice. Not all of this advice is good. Some of it is bad. Some of it done right ugly. So to separate the wheat from the chafe, we’ve listed a number of resources here that you’ll find on the internet, in the library, or advertised on TV.

Good: Books

There are many good books you can read. I recommend that you start with “The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need” by Andrew Tobias. It is a general book covering most topics related to investing and frugal living. If you are looking for details that are easy to digest, this is the book for you. He makes several recommendations for further reading at the end of the book, but this is a good book to start with.

Good: Non-Credit Investment Courses

While some of these depend on the quality of the teacher, in general they are great resources for learning the basics of investments. Look for “continuing education” or similar titles on the website of your local community college or university. Many times your teacher may be a professor or teacher hired by the university. Sometimes the person teaching the course may be an investment advisor or broker themselves. If your teacher is soliciting services things could go bad. If that is the case, then keep that in mind. Take the information for what it is worth, and then shop around for the services your need from someone else to gauge the legitimacy of information you gathered.

Bad: Radio and TV commercials and call-in shows

Most radio programs, commercials, and call-in shows are selling something. A larger segment of the program will be about the host’s favorite investment product. The hosts (and sometimes the guests) are selling investment portfolios, insurance plans, and newsletters (see below). There can be a lot of good advice on the non-pitch portions of the program, and especially when they interview industry experts. Beware of buzz-words and claims of “exponential” or “unlimited” wealth (imagine the exclamation marks if it were in print).

Bad: Investment Newsletters

Investment newsletters used to be mailed to your home. Nowadays they are subscription based emails that you may or may not be charged for. The problem with newsletters is that they are telling you about opportunities that the authors have probably already taken advantage of. This is pretty common with newsletters about FOREX trading, Day Trading, and Penny Stocks. While there may be some newsletters that are interesting reads, relying on the information for investment is just bad.

Ugly: Your family member or friend’s plan that will “make us all rich”

At some time in our lives’ we’ve all had that one relative or friend that claims to have the one opportunity that will “change your life forever” or “make us all rich beyond our dreams.” Avoid this type of advice at all costs. You only want to invest in things that you know and real wealth comes from diligence and hard work, not quick schemes.

Ugly: Wealth Building Programs

Like newsletters, seminars, classes or anything else claiming AMAZING returns are cause for pause. Wealth building programs usually are a combination of the previous. Attend a seminar, setup numerous consultations, buy the books, listen to the tapes, buy the DVDs, and bring your friends. Think of this as a combination of the two bad choices above combined with the one ugly one right before this. Many of these programs will claims to teach you to “master the game,” as if your money is something to play with.  Cult like following of a charismatic leader may be part of this. Many times often than not their advice is not the soundest, and if it is sound it may not be the best advice for you. You don’t need a social movement, just sound, independent advice. Beware of the hustle.

Before investing, make an educated decision. Consult qualified advisors that can help guide you through the process or read up enough to make a confident choice. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

 

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