The Emergency Fund: How I Saved It, And What It’s Done For Me

By | Friday, June 26, 2015

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When I was in grad school, I worked two jobs: a part-time office job and a bar job. My grad program was designed for people working full-time jobs, so I would leave my office job and go straight to class, then would leave class and go straight to work at the bar until 4 AM, with enough time to get roughly four hours of sleep before starting it over again the next day. As you can imagine, it was rough. I worked something like 70 hours every week, plus school on top of that, saving diligently as I went.

When I finished grad school, I kept up the two jobs while searching for a full-time job in my field, which took about six months to find. As rough as it was, working so much had so many benefits. I was making good money, and because I was so busy I was never spending any of it — it effectively eliminated the desire I would have had to spend money “because I could,” or to relieve my stress. I was either working or sleeping, and rarely anything in between. Yes, there were days off that were spent shopping and nights off that were spent out ~on the town, but they were infrequent. My rent and utility bills were super cheap, and I was in the grace period of my student loans, so almost all of the money I was making went straight into my savings account, creating a robust emergency fund.

Spending a year or so working like a madwoman allowed me to put my savings account into the five-figure range. When I finally landed a job, I was able to buy a new-to-me car (that I badly needed) and put down a significant amount at the time of purchase so that my monthly payments were low and manageable. This gave me breathing room for the student loan payments I knew were going to be kicking in soon. In addition, it allowed me a small budget to furnish my new apartment and pay for moving expenses, since my new job required me to move to a new city.

Now, having been at my job for almost three years, I am incredibly grateful to myself for making the smart decisions to work so hard and to so diligently save all that money. My savings account has fluctuated over the course of the several years since I built it up, but it remains a healthy “emergency fund” that will get my through several months should I lose my job or become unable to work.

The importance of this safety net is demonstrated to me more often than I’d like, but the fact that it is there has made life, and will continue to make life, so much less financially stressful. Just this week, my dog needed an emergency vet visit and multiple prescriptions after coming down with kennel cough (which he is vaccinated against!). As if the vet bills weren’t enough of a hit and caring for a sick dog wasn’t stressful enough, add on top of it that I am leaving for vacation this week with plans to leave my dog with friends who also have dogs… who my contagiously sick dog can no longer stay with.

If it weren’t for my emergency fund, I would be in tears over these vet bills and would have no choice but to cancel my vacation in order to stay home and care for my dog instead of paying someone to care for him while I’m away. Of course, when I return from my trip I am going to have to live frugally to rebuild my EF to its former glory, but in the mean time I can still go on this adventure I have been dreaming of for months with the comfort of knowing my dog is cared for and I will still be able to eat when I come home. I view it as taking a short-term loan from myself which I will diligently pay back once I’m back to the grind in a few weeks.

Creating an emergency fund for yourself is not an easy or fun thing to do, and my time spent working multiple jobs (often while going to school) confirms that. But my life as an adult is immeasurably easier — and more enjoyable — now that I know that no small problem or unexpected obstacle means financial disaster. If I had to go back and work those two jobs again, I would do it in a heartbeat, because I know that the life I live now is worth the relatively small time of discomfort. Emergency funds are never a mistake to work for.

Katie is an engineer living in Baltimore. She is on Twitter and Instagram.

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