Making the case for a three to six month reserve fund
The news has been full of stories about the fallout from the federal government furlough while congress and the administration iron out a budget for 2019. Federal employees missing two paychecks as of this writing have reported that are not able to take a planned vacation, close on a house purchase or car, pay rent or mortgage, buy heating fuel or food, attend a loved-one’s funeral, and the list goes on and on. For people living paycheck to paycheck, life can become difficult very quickly with just one missed paycheck. Their plight reminds us all of advice someone may have given us as we were getting our financial lives started: “Always have 3 to 6 months of living expenses set aside, just in case!” but yet how many of us do?
You don’t need to be a federal employee to face this kind of interruption in your income. A lay-off, illness that keeps us from working, illness of a loved-one who needs our care are situations that can all prevent us from getting a pay-check and put our financial lives in jeopardy. If you are injured on the job, even worker’s compensation will usually only pay a percentage of your regular income. How would you make up the difference?
For those who are age 59 ½ or older, there is the option of dipping into retirement funds and paying any resulting income tax without an early withdrawal penalty, although we would always prefer to see those funds left alone that are in “qualified accounts” that are tax deferred. But for the rest of us, it would mean seeking deferral of loan or rent payments, forbearance from creditors, borrowing, and likely a significant curtailing of our lifestyle.
But it’s not too late to start saving for that possibility. Make a point of putting at least 5 or 10% of each paycheck into a savings account, and if this can be done by your payroll service automatically, all the better. Once you get into the habit, you will find the account will grow and when you prepare your tax return each year, you can revisit whether those funds should remain in your “reserve” or if some may go into retirement funds and grow tax-free. And of course, paying off your credit cards every month is a good habit, too. An interruption in income will be much less painful if you can cover bills until your income resumes again.
As always, consult your financial and tax advisors before making any decisions concerning your investments or financial plans to be sure they fit within your overall, long-term financial and estate planning goals.