We hear a lot about the importance of having an emergency fund, but some of us need to get better at listening. According to data released by Bankrate earlier this year, an estimated 28% of Americans have no emergency savings whatsoever. The scary thing, however, is that even those of us who are saving may be falling short.
Ideally, you should have enough money in a savings account to cover three to six months' worth of living expenses. But a lot of people fall into the trap of miscalculating how much they really need for emergencies. We all know that an emergency fund needs to cover things like housing, transportation, utilities, and food for as long as you're unable to work, but here are a few things you may be forgetting to include in your calculation.
1. Commuting and travel costs
A big reason many people have to use their emergency cash is that they've lost their jobs and need a way to pay their bills while they look for work. As such, a lot of folks make the mistake of thinking that their emergency savings don't need to account for commuting costs, since the reason they're tapping those funds in the first place is because they're unemployed. While that line of thinking certainly makes sense in theory, in practice, things don't always work out that way. If you're actively looking for work, there's a good chance you'll spend just as much, and possibly more, on commuting and travel than you did back when you had a steady gig.
Let's say you live in a suburb and spend $200 on a monthly rail pass to get into the city for your job. If you fail to include that $200 a month when calculating your emergency fund, you risk falling short when the time comes to use that money.
2. Health insurance
Many employers who provide health coverage subsidize a fair amount of their employees' insurance costs. According to a 2015 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average health insurance premium for single coverage last year was $521 per month, of which workers contributed an average of $89 while their employers paid the rest. In other words, the average employee paid just 17% of his or her health insurance premium.
Now many of us who do get job-sponsored coverage may not even realize how much our employers are paying toward our premiums, but it's a good idea to find out what that number is and save for it as part of your emergency fund. This way, if you end up out of work for a few months and want to retain your plan in the interim (which COBRA allows you to do), you'll be able to afford those premiums in full.
Let's say you currently contribute $89 a month toward your health insurance premium but it really costs $521 in total. If you make the mistake of only factoring $89 a month into your emergency fund, you risk coming up $432 short for each month you hang onto that plan while unemployed. Even a lower-cost plan on the open market is likely to be more than your share of your health insurance premium, so be sure to save accordingly.
3. Communication services
Sure, you probably already have a cellphone and data plan like so many working Americans do, but you may not realize that your communication costs could go up if you're no longer going to work every day. For one thing, you may find that you need to increase your cell or data plan, or pay for home Internet service because you need more access than your plan allows for. Also, although almost half of Americans no longer have landlines, you may require one if cell service is spotty in your area and you need to be available for calls all day. Be sure to keep these extra costs in mind as you calculate your emergency fund, because even an extra $20 or $30 a month could throw you for a loop if you're not prepared.
If you already have an emergency fund in place, you can take comfort in the fact that you're way ahead of your non-saving counterparts. But if you really want that emergency fund to do what it's supposed to do -- cover your living costs when you need it -- make sure you're accounting for every expense you might encounter while you're unable to work. It's better to err on the side of caution than forget to save for those things that could come back to haunt you.