Most financial experts recommend saving up an emergency fund large enough to cover several months of living expenses. Sacrificing to save this money can be hard work, though. And until you're faced with an emergency, you may not see the point of squirreling so much away.
The reality, however, is that having ample emergency savings can not only keep you out of debt, but it can also ensure you're able to afford important purchases it might otherwise be really difficult to make.
In fact, there have been many times when my emergency fund has been a life-saver -- in one case, literally. Here are four of those situations.
1. When my dog got very sick
Like many pet owners, I consider my dog a member of the family. So when she was struggling to breathe, am immediate trip to the ER was in order. We sadly found out she was in congestive heart failure and had eight to twelve months to live. The only cure was open heart bypass surgery that was performed in just two places in the world at the time: London and Japan.
Pet insurance provides no coverage for a procedure abroad so we were faced with the choice of medication to try to prolong her life, or funding a costly surgery and an expensive trip. Fortunately, because we had an emergency fund, we didn't have any financial obstacles to proceeding with surgery, and we decided to go for it. It was a success, and she's now outlived her projected life expectancy with no sign of slowing down.
While this was a unique situation, it's not uncommon for animals to be expensive to care for. Having an emergency fund means you won't have to go into debt or be forced to decide if you can afford the care you need to save your animal's life.
2. When I had a car accident
In my early 20s, I was involved in a car accident that totaled my vehicle. There was a dispute over which insurance had to pay, and the whole thing dragged out for a long time. I didn't have rental car insurance because at the time it was difficult to rent a car if you were under 25, but I needed a vehicle to get to work and couldn't wait for the insurance payout to buy a new one.
Fortunately, I'd been working for a little while at the time, and one of the first things I'd done when I started earning money was to save up an emergency fund. This enabled me to put a large down payment on a new vehicle so I could qualify for a car loan and get to my job without a problem.
3. When money didn't clear in time to close on a property
When my husband and I decided to build a house, the plan was to pay cash for the land first, and then use the value of the land as a down payment when qualifying for a mortgage. We were scheduled to close on the property on a specific date and had to move money from various investment accounts to pay for it.
Unfortunately, due to a holiday we hadn't planned for and some other unforeseen difficulties, the money didn't clear in time for the closing date. We would have had to try to get an extension from the seller and potentially been at risk of losing our deposit if they didn't agree. But fortunately, we had our emergency fund available to pay for the property, and were able to close on time.
4. When our heat broke on a very cold day
Last year, we were scheduled to host Thanksgiving at our house. When we woke up that day, I mentioned to my husband how cold it was. And it kept getting colder. It turned out there was a problem with our heater -- on a day when temperatures hit a record low.
Finding a company to come out and investigate a problem on a holiday when it's freezing isn't easy or inexpensive. Thankfully, due to our emergency fund, we were able to pay holiday rates to get everything up and running before our guests came over -- and we didn't have to borrow money to fix the heater.
You need an emergency fund to avoid your own calamities
In each of these four situations, not having an emergency fund would have been a big problem. You may never encounter these types of situations in your own life, but chances are good you'll inevitably face some big and important expenses sooner rather than later. If you don't already have money in the bank to cover them, now is the time to start saving.