Building an emergency fund - how much is enough?

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How much do you need?

Whether you call it a rainy day fund, emergency fund or safety net, we can all benefit from having some money set aside for any unexpected expenses or negative financial events.

Having an emergency fund helps to reduce stress and worry about the ‘what ifs’ in our future. It means we can cope with financial shocks without needing to turn to high-cost debt that can quickly spiral into an overwhelming amount.

But it’s easier said than done, especially when most financial planners say you should have around 3 months of expenses set aside. Neyber’s latest research shows that in reality 42% of us don’t have this, and one in three of us have less than one month saved.

You could also base the amount you think you’ll need on the expenses you think you might have to cover in future. The Money Advice Service’s Unexpected Cost report shows the average cost of expenses, and how common they are:

Expense Percentage of people who experienced this expense in the last 12 months Mean average cost
Car repair or replacement 29% £1,341
Opticians or glasses cost 15% £195
Technology breakdown 15% £294
Vet bills or pet costs 14% £248
Washing machine 13% £245
Lending to family or friends 12% £2,482
Emergency dentist bills 11% £285
Emergency home repairs 10% £607
Children costs, like school trips and replacement clothes 9% £224
Mobile phone breakdown 8% £120
Boiler repair or replacement 8% £973
Unscheduled events and weddings 7% £423
Tax bills 5% £1,110
Legal bills 4% £839
Other 3% £777
None of these 29%

How to build it up

It can feel easier said than done to build up an emergency fund of several months’ pay. Here’s our top tips:

Start small and build up

Eat an elephant one bite at a time. Rather than freaking yourself out with the goal of saving three months’ expenses, start with just a £100 savings pot. Once you’ve got there, aim for £500, then 1 month, then 3 months and finally even 6 months if you are sole earner, work in a specialised field or risk averse.

You may actually want to keep your emergency fund quite small if you are paying off debt, so you can save on interest charges rather than have money sitting in an account.

Keep the money separate

Avoid the temptation to spend your emergency fund on non-emergencies by opening a new account or pot for this specific purpose. Ideally it will be somewhere that you can access easily, but still gives you some interest. If you have the ability to pay for an expense on a credit card, you could even have your emergency fund in a 30 day notice account. This would mean you can pay an unexpected expense using your card, then get the money out of your account and use it to pay off the credit card bill.

If it helps you to stay motivated, you could have multiple emergency pots - one for car repairs, one for house repairs, one for medical costs.

Automate

The easiest way to keep a saving habit is to make it automatic. Set up a standing order to your new emergency fund. It’s best to send the full amount you want to put aside on pay day, rather than just relying on saving what is left at the end of your pay cycle.

Put any cost cutting savings or extra income into your emergency fund

If you’re successful in cutting costs, you get a pay rise, or you start a side gig or find a way to get some extra cash - rather than spending the savings you’ve just made, actually put them into your emergency savings account. You’ll thank yourself in future when you have your next unexpected bill!


Important: This content is for guidance and educational purposes only and is generic in nature. Salary Finance Limited (trading as Neyber) does not offer regulated financial advice. Please seek independent financial advice.