Ever since I first started working, I’ve always kept some amount of savings in my bank account out of a sheer desire to never spend more than I made. While in high school and college, my income was minuscule, but so was my necessary spending, so I was able to save up a decent amount of money for the time.
It was enough to pay for my college books out of pocket and all of my sorority dues, so my student loans ended up a little smaller than they could have been otherwise. I had to be very careful though, because my parents made a deal with all of us that as long as they were paying a portion of our college tuition, we were not to get a credit card, so I really couldn’t spend more than I earned even if I had wanted to.
Once I graduated college (even before walking at graduating), I hopped into my car and drove to South Carolina for my summer internship and my new boyfriend who would soon become my husband.
While I ended up finding an internship related to my environmental science degree, my primary goal had been to find ANY job near the Marine Corps base my boyfriend (now husband). I succeeded with that part, finding an awesome naturalist internship on an island 45 minutes away, so we rented a cheap apartment in between the two. The internship was a lot of fun, but it paid a stipend of $750/month – plus free lunch – for full time employment. Most of the time I ended up working around 45 hours a week, which works out to $4.17 an hour, plus a sandwich and a bag of chips each day. I was just rolling in the money.
It didn’t take me long to realize I couldn’t manage half of our $575/month apartment, even after renting out the second bedroom, since I soon would have to start paying a minimum $308/month on my student loans. And so I found a second job as quickly as possibly and started working 7 days a week. The second job only made $8.50/hour and didn’t require my degree, but it felt like a ton of money in comparison, and I was able to start paying slightly over the minimum once my student loans came due a few month later.
Looking back, I realize I could have easily deferred my loans due to financial hardship, but it honestly didn’t even cross my mind, and I’m sure glad that I didn’t, because starting payments immediately set me up for having them paid in full less than 4 years later.
That time in my life is the closest budget I’ve had to stick to, and my bank account dropped to $243 at one point. While I realize I’ve been extremely lucky that this was my low point – and my net worth was very much negative as well – to have that little in the bank and no credit card to fall back on was really terrifying for me and something I told myself I would never, ever experience again. And I haven’t.
Fast forward eight years, and our emergency fund has continued to grow through my husband’s college days, the purchase of our house, and the birth of our son. While it has mostly stabilized these days because I would rather have the bulk of our savings working harder than bank account interest, we also haven’t really had to touch it by generally living below our means and having a buffer every month for when the inevitable “emergency” pops up.
Both of our incomes have steadily increased since we moved home from South Carolina, and we’ve done a reasonably good job of fighting lifestyle inflation, though our 21 year old selves would be staggered to know how much money we make now.
That said, it has been a really expensive summer of house maintenance and car repairs. Since I wrote that post a month ago, the truck needed new ball joints and serpentine belt ($500 since my husband did the work himself) and we’ve spent over $2,500 on vet bills and medications to keep our dog alive, and while I don’t regret spending that money on her even one bit, it means that this month has been even more expensive than the last few.
Ever since we opened our first credit card together in 2010, we have paid the balance in full every single month and have not paid a cent of credit card interest. We have taken practically free airplane trips with our miles credit card and have gotten countless $50 Home Depot gift cards from our rewards card, which has helped to bankroll the cost of home ownership, but I feel very strongly that these rewards are only worthwhile if we pay them off every single month. As soon as you start paying credit card interest, which is something ridiculous like 20-29%, all of those interest payments quickly eat up any rewards you earn from using the card in the first place.
This month is the first month in a VERY long time that I’ve been concerned that we may not be able to pay off all of our credit card bills in full when they come due (Friday and next Tuesday) because we’ve had such high expenses over the past few months. The last two months, I was able to get creative and pay them off, but it was dicey. This month, after an additional $3000 of unexpected expenses, the numbers don’t look so good.
Monday night, the three of us took a walk through the trails behind our house, and we – well, the two grown ups – were talking about our recent crazy expenses, and I was telling my husband that I might not be able to pay the cards off in full like I always do. He trusts me to take care of the financial details, so this has always been fully in my camp. He’s always been careful with his money, but he just used debit cards before I came along so he didn’t have to worry about balancing out a credit card statement.
Talking it through with him on our walk, I mentioned frustration that I would have to then dip into our emergency fund savings to pay off the cards, and he just laughed at me. “That’s what they’re for.”
That’s why we HAVE an emergency fund and don’t spend to zero every paycheck. It’s there to be used in case of emergencies. It’s been so long since I’ve really had to dip into our savings that it just felt wrong to need to do so. Thanks to my husband, he was able to pull me around to reality and have it really sink in that using that money when we need it is completely okay – in fact, it’s the whole reason we keep it there in the first place.
While I’m not happy about having to transfer that money over today, I’ve relaxed a bit with that realization that we are still in a good place and it will be okay to touch those funds. Plus, I was considering just paying the credit card interest instead of paying those funds, which makes absolutely zero sense, but shows how adverse I am to using those backup funds. Thankfully, I talked that one through and will be paying them off after all. Our savings accounts will just be a bit sparse for a little while.
This month we’ve really bucked down on our discretionary expenses, and I’ve been focused on cooking meals from the garden and the pantry and avoiding the grocery stores for as many days in a row as I can manage. While I’m not sure I’m ready for a full month of an “eat from the larder” challenge, I’m consistently getting better at throwing together meals from what we already have on hand.
So far, this month has been considerably cheaper than the past three, and I expect to put a good part of the money back into our emergency fund next month. Again, I realize we are in a really great situation financially and this is seriously a small stress compared to what most people go through, but for someone who almost always has things under control, these past few months have been really big stressors.
Cross your fingers for us that there are no more big months through the end of the year, and we should be back to smooth sailing in no time.
29 thoughts on “When You Actually Have To Use Your Emergency Fund”
I’ve had similar struggles with dipping into our emergency fund for things I wouldn’t typically categorize as emergencies. But when I step back and realize that I am blessed with this option and can work to build the fund back up, it helps to put it in perspective 🙂
~Mrs. Adventure Rich
Yeah, I have to keep reminding myself how blessed we are to never need it until now, and that my dilemma is only to dip into cash savings versus paying a month or two of credit card interest. It’s not like I’m worried about losing our home or putting food on the table.
Ah, the unexpected bills are tough. We used to have two dogs and they could certainly throw us off our budget. (Totally worth it!) I liked your background history about Environmental Science. My husband is an Environmental Scientist but has never relocated any venomous snakes! Very cool.
Alligators too occasionally 😉 I gave up my park ranger job (follow up to my naturalist internship) and now I’m 100% green building. No more snakes unfortunately.
I’m in the same situation now where I’ve travelled a lot these past couple of months and have a big credit card to pay off this month. I’m building an emergency fund but as it’s not fully funded I feel guilty touching it! Better than paying the high interest rates as you’ve said though. I liked hearing your story and how you’ve built up your lives so well!
Thank you! Amazing how once money becomes an “emergency fund” it becomes so hard to touch it!
There’s no need to sacrifice 18%+ for the luxury of holding cash. Good on your husband for pointing it out! 🙂 My emergency fund is more of a slush fund that I use as needed. Depending on the cash balance, there’s a huge opportunity cost of missed gains to factor in. A 0% credit card is a great solution!
This was the biggest factor in focusing on a 50% savings rate every month though, because that means we have a TON of wiggle room even for stupid expensive months.
I know this is an older post, but definitely hits home. We just spent five figures to waterproof our basement and now will be replacing the flooring. It sucks but I haven’t lost any sleep over it since we had money in an emergency fund to cover it. Having that peace of mind is hard to put a price tag on.
I’d say this is definitely one of those “evergreen content” posts, unfortunately 😆 Sorry about the house expenses, but glad you had the money to not stress about it!