The Great Pause of 2020 has hit us all in very different ways: work from home, school at home, cancelled activities, and for some it’s been a loss of income.
For Mark and I, the income loss has been real. We make one quarter of our annual income at our speaking engagements in March, April, and May. Nearly all of the events in those months have been canceled or rescheduled to a far in the future date causing a significant loss of income for us right now.
If it wasn’t for our emergency fund, we would have been in very big trouble.
We didn’t have an emergency fund in our early years, so credit cards became our emergency fund by default. Car repairs? Put it on the card. Unexpected medical expenses? Put it on the card. Refrigerator stopped working? Put it on the card. The more we “put it on the card,” the deeper in debt we became. It was not a healthy plan financially, emotionally, or spiritually.
After taking a course on money through our church, we were convicted of the need for an emergency fund. Things were tight for us, but we went ahead and set up automatic transfers of a pre-determined amount of money from our checking account to an online savings account (we love Ally Bank). I think we started with $25/paycheck — so about $50 a month. We didn’t touch that money unless it was a true emergency. Over time, we increased the automatic transfer amount, revisiting it every three months or so to see if we could add some more to it. Additionally, each time we would see an increase in income (like a raise or a 3% cost of living adjustment at the beginning of the year), we would have that money put directly into our emergency fund so we never even saw it come into our checking account. After all, we had learned to live on the current salary and we felt it was more important to tuck the additional $50 a paycheck away for unexpected emergencies.
Eventually we set up a variety of savings accounts and and a variety of automated transfers every payday. There was an “auto repair” account for automobile repairs. (After all, auto repairs aren’t really an “emergency” since we all know that cars need to have occasional repairs.) We set up a “back to school” account because we knew that back to school fees were a budget buster with five kids. (These also weren’t an “emergency” because we knew they would be happening every August.) We set up a “replace appliances” fund because we know that appliances will wear out and need to be replaced. We may have only been putting $20 in each account each paycheck to begin with, but we got started and grew it from there.
Instead of “putting it on the card” as an afterthought, we started “putting it in the bank” as a forward thought. (It’s one of many strategies we share in our Living With Less So Your Family Has More book.)
So back to my entire reason for writing this today: your stimulus check.
It will likely be in your bank account within a week or two, assuming you received your 2018 or 2019 IRS refund via direct deposit. If COVID-19 has affected your finances, by all means use that stimulus check for your household needs. Pay your rent/mortgage, go to the grocery store, or make some much-needed utility payments.
However, if COVID-19 hasn’t affected your income, it might be the perfect time to launch or grow your emergency fund! Imagine being able to sock $1200 to $2400 away in a “peace of mind” fund. What a gift that would be to yourself and your family!
(If you’re getting a tax refund this year, adding all or some of that to an emergency fund could also make a huge difference in being prepared for “what might happen.”)
The local economy, company downsizing and reorganizing, and yes world-wide pandemics can all pull the income rug out from under us. Now, more than ever, we’re seeing how quickly things can change in our world. Hopefully “The Great Pause of 2020” has increased our wisdom and helped us see the need to prepare for the unexpected.
I’m curious…what are you doing to prepare for the unexpected?
Next Step Resources:
Living With Less So Your Family Has More by Mark and Jill Savage (e-book is currently $2.99!)
Ready for Anything by Kathi Lipp (new release!)
6 Reasons I Love Online Savings Accounts blog post
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