Is It Ever Okay to Raid Your Emergency Fund for a Non-Emergency?

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  • Your emergency fund should really be reserved for unplanned bills or periods of income loss.
  • But in limited circumstances, you may be okay to remove money from your emergency fund for a non-urgent situation.

You'll need to be really careful when tapping your emergency cash reserves.

You'll often hear that building an emergency fund should be your top financial priority -- and for good reason. Without emergency savings, you might immediately be forced to rack up costly debt when unplanned bills arise that your paycheck can't cover. Plus, in more extreme circumstances, not having an emergency fund could put you at risk of losing your home if you were to lose your job and remain unemployed for months on end.

As a general rule, it's a good idea to sock away enough money to cover three to six months of living expenses. You should keep that money in a savings account so it's accessible to you at all times.

You may, from time to time, need to tap your emergency fund to cover things like an unexpected car repair or a medical bill for a sudden illness or injury. And if you lose your job, you may need to fall back on your emergency savings until your unemployment benefits start rolling in.

But is it ever okay to take an emergency fund withdrawal for a non-urgent matter? For the most part, that's not a good practice. But there may be some exceptions.

When you've forgotten about a bill that can't be put off

There's a difference between unplanned expenses and expenses you forget about. Say you're a homeowner who pays their property taxes every quarter. If you forget to budget for those taxes, you may run into a situation where you owe your township $1,000 but don't have the money in your checking account. In that case, even though the expense in question shouldn't have been a surprise, you should feel free to take an emergency fund withdrawal to cover it in the absence of having other options.

When you've erred on the side of saving more

There may come a point when you're tempted to raid your emergency fund for a non-urgent matter, like taking a trip or buying furniture. You might assume doing so is an absolute no-no. And for the most part, it is. The only exception is when you've really overfunded your emergency savings and can afford to take some money out.

Let's say you used to spend $3,000 a month on essential living expenses, so you socked away $18,000 in your emergency fund. If you've since downsized your living space, your essential monthly bills may now only amount to $2,500, which means that $15,000 in savings gives you plenty of emergency cash to work with. In that situation, you can probably get away with taking a withdrawal for a non-emergency as long as you're still leaving yourself with enough money to cover those six months of bills.

An emergency fund can serve as protection in the face of life's many unknowns. While it's generally best to only tap that fund for a true emergency, there can be exceptions. But generally, you're better off saving up in advance for other things and keeping solid tabs on your expenses so none of them catch you off guard.

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