Religion & Liberty Online

Most Americans Aren’t Prepared for a $1,000 Unexpected Expense (But You Can Be)

2014-03-19-piggyThe good news is that the pinging sound your car’s engine was making for the last month has finally stopped. The bad news is that the sound stopped because the engine stopped working. You take the car to a local mechanic who tells you it will cost $1,000 to repair.

How would you handle this type of unexpected emergency? Would you be prepared?

Only about 4 in 10 Americans (37 percent) say they would pay for an unexpected expense with savings, a Bankrate survey found. Almost a quarter more (23 percent) say they’d pay for an emergency by reducing spending on other things.

Credit cards would be an option for 15 percent and another 15 percent would borrow from family or friends. That leaves nearly 10 percent who have no idea what they’d do.

Not surprisingly, a person’s level of income was a major factor in how well they’d be able to handle the $1,000 emergency. Those with higher incomes were most likely to say they would rely on savings for emergencies, notes Bankrate. Over half, 54 percent, of those earning $75,000 or more annually said they would have the cash to deal with the problem. Only 23 percent of people with yearly incomes less than $30,000 said they would use savings. And 9 percent of respondents in this income level said they had now idea how they would pay for the unexpected expense.

Having an emergency fund when you have a low income is certainly difficult. But the alternative is likely to be even costlier in the long run. Being poor is expensive in large part because the inability to pay things like basic maintenance on a vehicle can lead to expensive “unexpected” emergency costs.

So how do you save money for the inevitable rainy day? Financial advisor Dave Ramsey recommends several ways to start a $1,000 emergency fund:

In this first step, the goal is to save $1,000 as fast as you can. Go through your storage boxes and sell some stuff. Work an extra job. Do whatever it takes to start saving money. Once you have it, open a checking account that is separate from your regular account and put the cash there. When a car battery goes out or a baseball meets a window in your house, you won’t have to go into debt to fix it. You don’t want to dig a deeper hole while you’re trying to work your way out.

Ramsey offers several tips for how to quickly establish that savings buffer. But the most important step is to decide to do it and believe you can. “No matter what tricks you use or how much money you can dig up,” says Ramsey, “you won’t hit a savings goal if you don’t believe you can do it.”


Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).