This article is the ninth in a series on how to get out of debt. If you haven’t already, you should check out the previous articles:
- Step 1 – Declare War on Your Debt
- Step 2 – Stop Increasing Your Debt
- Step 3 – Create a Budget & Stick to It
- Step 4 – Find Ways to Cut Back & Earn More
- Step 5 – Build a Starter Emergency Fund
- Step 6 – Make a Plan to Pay Off Your Debt
- Step 7 – Focus on Paying Off Your Debt
- Step 8 – Celebrate Milestones
Step 9 – Top Off Your Emergency Fund
You’ve reached your final milestone. You’ve paid off your debts. Congratulations!!! Enjoy the moment and celebrate the fact that you’ve come so far. You’ve accomplished your goal and you should be joyful.
But if you want to avoid sinking into debt again, you’re going to have to apply everything you’ve learned along the way and take a couple extra steps to protect yourself. The last two parts of this series will deal with the follow-through.
After paying off your debt, your next goal should be to bolster your savings so that no emergency will force you into debt again. In Step 5, you built a starter emergency fund that equaled one month’s worth of your living expenses. Now it’s time to top off that fund depending on your circumstances.
To figure out how much you should have in your emergency fund, think of it in terms of levels of risk. Some people have a very stable situation and may not need as large of a fund. Others will have much more risk in their situation and should consider saving more. These are not hard and fast rules. They’re simply a guideline to help you think about what works for your situation.
Level 1: Three Months of Living Expenses
Once you’ve got your debt under control, your next emergency fund goal should be three months worth of living expenses. This gives you a large enough cushion to withstand a job loss if you can find another job quickly. It will also help you cover car repairs, some medical bills, and other small to medium sized emergencies. If you’re married and you both have stable jobs, you might feel comfortable stopping here. If you’re single, married with one income, self-employed, or have an unstable job, you’ll want to keep going.
Level 2: Six Months of Living Expenses
An emergency fund with six months worth of living expenses should be large enough for most people. You’ll have plenty of time to find a new job in most scenarios. However, you might want a larger emergency fund if the economy looks bleak or if you are single or married with one income and you have an unstable job or you are self-employed. In those cases, I’d recommend going for a larger emergency fund.
Level 3: Twelve Months of Living Expenses
If you’re self-employed or have an unstable job and you rely on only one income, you’re going to want to play it safe and save up twelve months of living expenses in your emergency fund. This will help you make it through rough patches in your career when profits are down or you lose your job. This would also be a great idea if you or your children have medical needs that require large payments at unpredictable intervals.
Adjust for Your Situation
If you feel that your situation doesn’t fall into one of these specific categories, then use these as guidelines and save what you feel you’ll need. This guide should help most people get close to the right-sized emergency fund for them. Don’t get discouraged if you feel like it’s a lot. Attack this goal in small steps and you’ll quickly make progress. If you have questions, just leave them in the comments and I’ll try to help!
This series is almost finished! In the last step, I’m going to talk about a couple others things you should consider to help you stay out of debt. This isn’t to say you’ll never use debt again. But the next time you do, it will be a conscious choice based on good and sound reasons. Make sure you’ve signed up for free updates to Provident Planning so you don’t miss out on this important last step! Plus, I’ll be bundling this series with helpful resources and calculators in the future. It’ll be a valuable guide for getting out of debt. If you’ve signed up for free updates, you’ll be sure to see it as soon as it’s available.
Have you topped off your emergency fund yet? How long did it take, and how did you do it? What level did you choose and why? Let me know in the comments below!
P.S. Here are some other articles about emergency funds if you’d like to read more: