How Do You Feel When You Have to Use Your Emergency Fund?

by Kevin on September 9, 2010

In my previous post I shared some strategies to deal with unexpected financial emergencies.

Today, I thought I would “get real” with all my readers. I’ll get to that in a moment, but first I was curious as to how you feel whenever you have to tap your emergency fund.

In other words: when your car dies, but you’ve saved up for car problems — how do you feel?

Do you feel relieved to have the money set aside?

Do you feel frustration because you were just getting on the right financial track, and now you’re taking a step back?

How do you feel initially when you discover the emergency? Is it different from how you feel after you’ve had time to sit and think about everything?

I Hate Using Our Emergency Fund

I’ve got to admit it. I hate using our emergency fund. Hate. It.

This may seem a bit odd for a person who has been writing on personal finance topics for the past (almost) three years. A blogger that has been telling you to save up money for years! But I hate using those additional funds.

I feel this way when the emergency first happens, and I still usually feel that way later on when I’ve had time to think about it.

It may seem really odd. I get it. I can logically walk myself through why I shouldn’t hate using my emergency fund. Nonetheless I still hate to touch that saved up money.

Our Car Emergency

In August of 2009 I reminded you that having funds saved up for car emergencies was important. That reminder came on the heels of my wife having a flat tire — a flat tire that led to the realization that all four of her tires needed replacing.

At the time we had a category in our budget for car maintenance. It was there to pay for our regular oil changes plus incidental incidents came up. When we had to buy new tires — cha-ching! — that category sat at a whopping $30.

Kind of hard to buy four new tires on $30.

So we had to dip into our emergency fund to pay for them. Ugh!

At the end of the month we were able to pay ourselves back because we had a great financial month.

But I still felt bad about dipping into those funds. I think I know why, too. Maybe this will help you understand yourself or your spouse better.

You Can’t Prepare for Every Possible Scenario

While most of you are thinking ,”Duh, of course you can’t prepare for every possible scenario in life”, I struggle with that thought.

I try to be prepared for as many possible financial scenarios as I can. It’s a losing battle because there is a limitless supply of things that could break or go wrong that I’ll never be able to prepare for.

But the financial nerd in me wants to be ready. And I feel like the few times we’ve had to dip into our emergency fund that I’ve failed to prepare. And that failure means I’ve failed myself and my family.

Does anyone else feel this way or am I alone?

You Can Prepare for Types of Scenarios

I’m not a nutcase that sits at my desk every day fretting about what horrible thing might happen that day. (I would need medication if that were true!)

What has really helped me is to not save up one giant pile of money and put one label on it: Emergency Fund.

Instead we have several different funds to cover certain categories.

For example, our emergency fund is technically a fund to cover our expenses if we both went without income for 12 months. It’s an lost income emergency fund. I’m not comfortable using that money to cover other issues unless we have no other choice.

So we have a car maintenance fund like I described earlier. We have a home maintenance fund. Things like that help me mentally separate the cash into boxes. Once I know that box has enough money in it I can stop worrying worry less about unexpected things that could pop up in that area.

But I do find myself consistently being reminded that there is simply no way to prepare for everything. I guess I’ll just have to get over that part… eventually.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you hate to tap your emergency fund? Leave a comment below — and feel free to tell me I’m crazy!

(Photo by Rocchio)

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September 12, 2010 at 5:28 pm

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathryn September 9, 2010 at 8:14 pm

Yes, I hate to go to those funds too. We save for vacation, have $ earmarked for that. When it’s time to pay the credit card bill for our wonderful trip and I transfer $ that account (ING Direct), leaving a small amount – it is depressing. Yes, we had a great trip. No we didn’t go in debt over it…but it does bother me. I have another account set aside for summer b/c my income is not consistent during those months. I try very hard NOT to use the money I have set aside, even though that is what it is for! You are not alone.

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Golfing Girl September 10, 2010 at 6:40 am

I, too, hate touching the EF. I will do anything to avoid it. Examples include digging around for healthcare items on receipts to turn into Flex spending reimbursements and cleaning out the cupboard for dinners until payday.

Fortunately, since I’ve become a stay at home mom this year, we’ve only dipped in once–and that was for a new computer–and only for half the amount needed. I lived with 1/2 a computer screen (the left half) for 4 months because I didn’t want to shell out the money for the new computer and we even tried picking up a monitor at Goodwill to see if that would help (didn’t).

We now have enough in our EF to replace our 15-year-old Jeep, but despite the money sitting there, we’re going to drive the Jeep till the wheels fall off, and even then, I probably will have angst over using the money for the new(er) vehicle.

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Kathryn September 10, 2010 at 8:46 am

I’m always a combination of relieved, triumphant and frustrated. Relieved that I HAVE the money, triumphant that my plans to stay away from borrowed money are remaining successful, and frustrated that this puts me further from my savings goals.

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cg September 12, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Every time I’ve had an emergency, I honestly just felt relieved to have an emergency fund.

When my car needed $2000 of work, it felt great to know that I didn’t have to worry about how to pay for it (at the time, I was a couple of months out of college, had no credit card, so the only alternative was ask Mom and Dad for help).

When my cat got sick earlier this year and the vet was recommending a $5000 surgery (after much soul-searching we declined, and tests and medicine still ran up to $1300), it was a relief to know that I *had* $5000 if I decided I needed it.

These experiences taught me to set up different emergency funds, though. Like you, I have a “Lose my job emergency fund”, “Pet care emergency fund”, “Car emergency fund”, etc. This is so I don’t have to think “how many months of emergency fund will I still have if I spend $5000 on the cat?”, I can just deal with the situation at hand and know the financial side will still be okay. : )

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Jaynee September 12, 2010 at 8:18 pm

We recently had this happen. We had several thousand in our emergency savings accounts, and had to use some for unexpected dental bills, two sick elderly cats, a car repair and (possibly – we’re still waiting to hear) a huge deductible for a roof repair. I know that the funds are there for these very reasons, but seeing the funds go down by 50% in the span of two weeks was painful – because what if something ELSE happens? But I’ll keep moving forward, and start building up the accounts again for the inevitable next round. But yes, like you, I hate using it. The feeling of having a cushion is a great comfort – spending the cushion is not.

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Kevin September 13, 2010 at 9:49 am

Glad to hear I’m not alone. Thanks for all the comments!

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Deb September 16, 2010 at 12:37 pm

I do save automatically every monthly into different accounts for the vet, auto maintenance, etc. But still, when we have to tap the efund or the other accounts, I just hate it. It makes me feel like we’re backsliding emotionally, but the reality is that we’re not.

If we didn’t have a healthy efund, we would have been panic stricken when my husband was laid off for the month of August. Instead, we were able to look at his time off as a chance to have some fun and also got some projects done.

Sometimes life just throws you curve balls. That efund is such a relief, even if it must be raided!

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Ken September 16, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I don’t like to tap our EF but it has to be done. I console myself by knowing I didn’t have to go to VISA this time. Done enough of that in my lfe :-)

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