Webinar: 5 myths about emergency funds

Saving for a rainy day just might be easier than you think.

Tags: Savings, Banking basics, Budgeting
Published: September 30, 2020

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In this webinar, we’re busting some common myths about what it takes to build up an emergency fund. Watch it now to get some practical advice related to saving up for unexpected expenses. 

View video transcript

And now I'll turn it over to today's presenters after we start with our quick poll. The poll will be open now. You can answer the poll by using the buttons, the radio buttons, on the right-hand side of your screen. The poll will be open for five minutes.
Today's poll question is, "when you hear rainy day, what do you picture? A big scary storm, a dreary, endless drizzle, a quiet, but not altogether bad day indoors, a gentle, somewhat sprinkle." Now I'll turn it over to today's presenters. Take it away, Marta.
Well, hello everyone. My name is Marta Depczynska, and I am one of the eight goals coaches here at U.S. Bank.
Hi. This is Mark Salatino. I manage consumer deposit products at U.S. Bank, and I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
And my name is Laura Garcia Villalpando. I am a financial well-being coach for Operation HOPE located in Aurora, Colorado.
So as we saw from the poll, we all picture something a little bit different when we talk about saving for a rainy day. So as we go through the presentation, you're going to also learn that a rainy day isn't always a bad day. We chose this term "rainy day" specifically not just because it gives us an excuse to use pretty pictures of clouds and rainbows, even though I personally love clouds and rainbows. Research has shown that when you talk to people about their emergency funds, there's always a lot of baggage that comes along with the word emergency.
So some of us go into panic mode as we start imagining all the disasters that could happen to ourselves and our family. And many of us have preconceived ideas about how much money that we may need for an emergency and what really defines an emergency. So having these predetermined ideas isn't always helpful. And it can actually also work against us, which we're going to talk about a little bit later.
So for today's purposes, think about a rainy day fund as money that you set aside for any unexpected expenses. You may know exactly what you're going-- so you're not going to know exactly what you're going to need it for. But you definitely want to make sure that the money is there when you need it, because unfortunately, we cannot predict an unexpected event. At least I know I can't.
So some people call this a cushion or a safety net, which is the reassuring bit of cash that you're going to save for your rainy day, whatever that might look like to you. So, Mark, take it away.
Thanks, Marta. So regardless of your income or your life stage, everyone has a savings need. It doesn't matter if you're older or younger, very wealthy or just starting out in life. Everybody needs to save money.
Now, the money you save should be safe and secure. The piggy bank that you see here is a cute illustration, but it's actually not a very smart place to put your money. A savings account is designed for money that you want to set aside but also be able to access easily.
We can save for many things-- a vacation, a wedding, or any number of events. But the most important part of savings is establishing what we're calling a rainy day fund. This is a fund that serves a very important function. You add money to it whenever you're able to save, and you take money out of the fund when you have payments that can't be covered with the funds in your checking account.
Now, you don't want to make it too easy to access your rainy day funds. You don't want to be spending this money without realizing it. So it's best to keep it separate from the account that you use for your everyday spending and paying bills.
You can set a nickname for your savings account and call it Rainy Day Fund. You can see that below the red arrow in the picture. I call mine Safety Net, for example. But regardless of the name, the most important thing is that the fund is there.
Now, if you don't have a rainy day fund set up yet, do not feel bad. The great thing about this is that it's never too late to start saving. And as you'll find out, making even small changes in how you save can have a big impact over time. And the best part is that U.S. Bank offers savings tools that are super easy to use and that help you continue to save consistently going forward. With that, I'll turn it over to Laura.
So our myth number 1 is "I can't save until my debt is paid off." This is one of the most common questions that we hear from individuals who are trying to pay off debt. Debt is expensive. The interest you are paying on debt is almost always higher than the interest you're earning by keeping your money in a savings account.
However, there are a few reasons to keep a rainy day fund even if you have debt. We are all going to deal with unexpected expenses from time to time. And if you do not have a rainy day fund, then anything you cannot afford to pay from your regular income, you will need to be purchased on credit.
There are some expenses that you cannot use credit for. For example, you cannot pay your mortgage with a credit card, or many landlords don't accept cards either. If you do not have enough to pay your rent or mortgage, you could risk losing your house. Maybe you will need to find another source of cash to take care of the payment. And those options can be even more expensive than credit cards.
Think of it like this-- the most important thing when you are eliminating debt is to stop the debt cycle. I have seen many people trapped in the cycle, and it is pretty miserable. It is emotionally draining to see your credit card balances go up while you are working to pay them down. Having savings to cover sudden expenses will keep you out of the debt cycle. This means you've won your first battle.
Perfect. Thank you. So myth number 2, "I can't afford to save." If you feel this way, you are definitely not alone. Most Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and it can be overwhelming to even imagine setting aside money when you're tight on cash.
But there is some good news. You can start small and still have a real impact. Small choices add up over time. So saving one penny or dime doesn't seem like much. However, over time, those pennies and dimes can add up to 50s and 100s.
Start by printing out your bank statements and look at what you've been spending over the past couple months. Look to see if you can find areas to cut back and redirect that money towards your rainy day fund. Don't make it complicated on yourself. Start with the easy stuff like expenses that don't add a lot of value to your life.
For example, having multiple subscriptions to streaming networks-- ask yourself, which one do I barely use? And, boom, unsubscribe. And cha ching, you now have some extra cash flow into your savings.
I'm not going to tell you to cut everything fun out of your life. That's definitely not realistic, and it's not sustainable. If Friday night take-out is something that your family looks forward to all week, then don't get rid of that right away. You might look for a lower cost way to do it. Maybe try a less expensive restaurant. But focus on those things that you can cut out without too much distress.
And if you've gone through everything and all of it still feels essential to you, then think about ways you can possibly boost your income. It's a tough job market, but you might be able to earn some extra cash with delivering food or groceries. Or you could sell items that you don't need. I'm personally a fan of OfferUp and social media marketplaces like Facebook, which makes it super easy to get rid of items like clothes, sports equipment, household items, and many other objects. So, Mark, share some automated saving tips.
Sure, Marta. So one of the many misconceptions about savings is that you need to frequently set aside large amounts of money in order to be a successful saver. That simply is not true.
Now, you want to save frequently, but it doesn't always need to be in large chunks. The best practice when it comes to savings is to save on a regular basis. Sometimes that will be a large amount of money, sometimes a small amount, and other times something in between. Over the long term, the act of saving frequently, regardless of amount, is what will produce the best results.
Now, U.S. Bank has two different savings tools that can help with all of this. The first is called automatic transfers. You can set an automatic recurring transfer to move money from your checking account to your savings account on a regular basis.
One good way to use it is to set an amount to be transferred on each pay day. So for example, if you get paid every other Friday and you can consistently save $50 of your paycheck, you can use the automatic transfer feature in either usbank.com or our mobile app and set up that recurring transfer. This is a great way to save larger chunks of money.
And if for some reason you don't have enough money in your checking account to make the transfer, then it won't happen. So you never have to worry about an automatic transfer taking your balance negative.
Now, another great tool that we have is called purchase transfers. This is a really useful feature that lets you save money every time you use your debit card or your credit card. To set it up, you just log into your account at usbank.com, and you can set any amount between $0.25 and $5. And every time you make a debit card or a credit card transaction, that amount that you set between $0.25 and $5 will get transferred from your checking account to your savings account. It's a great way to stay disciplined about savings, because every time you spend, you save.
So to sum it up, purchase transfers will help you save small amounts but more frequently while automatic transfers are going to help you save larger amounts but usually less frequently. But when you use these two features together, your savings will start adding up quickly.
Another pro tip is go on a money hunt. Here is a fun way to give your rainy day fund a boost. You may be sitting on money that you didn't know you had. You know that feeling when you put on an old jacket or an old pair of pants and you find money? Well, thanks to technology, there are so many more places that money can hide.
Maybe someone paid you a few bucks on Venmo last month and it's just sitting there. You have not cashed it out. Or maybe you've used one of those reward apps that saves up your balance until you choose to withdraw it. Do an inventory of your phone apps to see if there's money hiding on any of them.
And check your physical space too. We are having a national coin shortage. Gather up those coins in your car cup holder, those tattered dollar bills that went through your laundry in your pants pocket. If you have at least 3/4 of the bill, the bank will accept it and any change in jars that you have around your house.
Also check your state's treasury website for unclaimed property. This is super common, and not many people know about it. Look at every state that you lived in as an adult. If someone sent you a check that you didn't cash, that money eventually gets turned over to the state treasury. And you can claim it there.
This money can come from all kinds of places-- your final paycheck from a former job, security deposit refunds or old landlords or a refund from an account that you closed a long time ago. You have to enter some information in the state's website and request a check to be sent to you by mail. Even if it's just a few dollars, this is free money for you. And it can help your rainy day fund.
You can travel-- you can use some of these rainy funds to travel to visit family. For example, me, I used one of my work credit cards to be able to travel to Peru and visit some family. And I didn't have to spend any money because I used the rewards from that credit card.
Another way that you can think about boosting your savings is when you get a birthday gift for example or a holiday gift, any kind of money that you weren't expecting that comes your way. Either save all that in your rainy day fund or maybe save half of it or a quarter of it. Any amount of what you might consider found money or free money can really be great to add to this fund.
Great examples. And as I mentioned earlier-- and now I feel a bit like a paid sponsor-- but I am a big on selling items on OfferUp or social media marketplaces. You ultimately just look for any unneeded items that aren't worn down too much and post them online. No matter how outrageous the item may seem, you never know who is searching for what on the internet.
So a lot of financial experts recommend setting aside three to six months worth of expenses. And this recommendation is based on the average amount of time that it takes to find a new position if you lose your job. So this is a great goal if you're already financially stable and have paid off your debt along with having money set aside for retirement. But I have a feeling that that isn't the most of us.
So nearly 40% of American households can't cover $400 worth of emergency funds without borrowing money or selling something. So when you put such a big number out there, it's easy to feel discouraged and think, why should I even bother when I will never be able to save that much money?
So let's forget that number. So if you're among nearly the 40% of American households who can't cover a $400 emergency expense without borrowing money or selling something, start there and work your way to saving $400. And then aim for $1,000. And you can also set personal targets like saving two months worth of rent or mortgage payments.
And so personally, I'm also a big fan of saving money with substitution. So this is a method that allows you to not completely cut out some of the things that you love, but still be able to purchase lower cost items. So a great example for this is that if you love your name brand body wash and you want to continue purchasing Dove or Axe, but you don't really care too much for the name brand of your toothbrush, then you can purchase a generic store brand. And cha ching, you now have more money saved. Laura, what kind of tips do you have?
The 52-week challenge-- I use the 52-week challenge as the framework for my clients. It starts with $1.00 on week 1, $2 on week 2, and $3 on week 3 until you go to week 52. If you follow this structure, you will be able to save over $1,300 in a year.
The most important thing about this challenge is to establish the habit. Make savings part of your daily life. That sense of accomplishment and knowing that it's adding up, it's huge. You can find quite a few other ideas of the 52-week challenge on Pinterest.
Thanks. Now I'm going to talk about a myth that I think is pretty relevant for this-- that you should only use savings for serious emergencies. Many people feel guilty about using the money that they put in their rainy day fund. They think that either it should only be used in very serious, in fact even the most serious of emergencies, or very rare or call it once in a decade type events. But that's not the case. If you don't have enough money in your checking account to cover a payment, the rainy day fund should be used as a first resort, not a last resort.
I'll give you a personal example. This past summer, the air conditioning in my house broke during the hottest week in July. It needed to get fixed right away. If I decided not to use my rainy day fund to pay for it and instead paid with a credit card, I'd likely have to repay the money with interest.
But if I used the money in my rainy day fund, which, by the way, I did, there's no interest payment. It's usually cheaper to use the money in your rainy day fund than to use credit because you didn't want to touch your savings.
But you can feel good about using your rainy day fund in non-emergency situations too. For example, some people work jobs where they only get paid once per month or even less frequently than that even though most of their bills are due monthly. People in that situation can use a rainy day fund to smooth out their cash flows.
In other words, save more during times when they have more cash inflows than outflows and then dip into your rainy day savings fund during times when you have more cash outflows than inflows. As a general rule, as long as you're being thoughtful and intentional about how you're using your rainy day fund and staying disciplined about adding to the fund frequently, you can use the funds in your rainy day account confidently without feeling guilty or ashamed.
Our myth number 5 is "rainy days are always bad." Remember at the beginning of the call, we asked that you picture what you think of a rainy day? As many of you have noticed, every one of us have a different view of a rainy day. Life is full of surprises. And not all rainy days are drab.
In my culture, it is very common to celebrate life events such as a wedding or a quinceañera. Most households start financially preparing for such events early enough to avoid getting into debt. When you're looking to build your rainy day savings, think of all the things that life has to offer and how great you will feel when you're able to afford those surprises that come your way, no matter what shape they come in.
Yeah, to that point, sometimes rainy days can be pretty exciting. One example would be if you get a new job and you have to move for work. There's obviously a lot of expenses associated with setting up a new household. And that rainy day fund can be used to cover a lot of those expenses that you might have out of pocket before your first paycheck will help you start covering them.
Yes. And also a positive rainy day can be receiving an unexpected job interview and needing to purchase some new job interview clothes.
Great examples. Yes.
Wonderful examples. Now we'd like to move to our whiteboard session for the day. And we'll switch gears here. You should be able to use the big T, little T available on the left-hand side of your Webex screen to list examples of rainy day expenses you want to be prepared for. These might be expenses you've encountered in the past or things you want to be prepared for in the future. Don't just limit yourself to emergencies or disasters.
It looks like we have a couple people who want to be prepared for car repairs. We have medical expenses and vet bills, a new air conditioner and furnace, home repairs, trips to South America, car repair purchases.
You know, we think that that's not something that is going to be coming, but it will. You know, there's maintenance that needs to be done. So it's better to be prepared than having to be in debt because you didn't do it.
Great point, Laura. We have some great examples coming in. Let's give it just another minute here. Insurance, kids' school fees, unexpected bills, illness, moving, traveling for work. These are all fantastic examples of some of the ways we can use the rainy day fund.
Yeah. I like the one that says my dog will probably eat something she shouldn't and needs to go to the vet. Something like that happened to me. And yes, the vet is expensive. So yes, I-- lesson learned. Now I know that I need to start saving for that little dog, because it will probably happen again.
One of the things I saw written on there was traveling for work and needing to get reimbursed afterwards. And that's a perfect example of what I was talking about before with smoothing out cash flows, because a lot of times, you might have the expense up front that you need to cover. And that's where you can dip into that rainy day fund without having to worry about it. But then when you do get reimbursed, put the funds back into your rainy day fund. You're just consistently replenishing that fund.
Thanks, Mark. Great advice. U.S. Bank and Operation HOPE has some fantastic additional resources we'd like to share with you today. Our first resource is from U.S. Bank. And we offer information on how you can save for an emergency at usbank.com/financialiq. You can scan the QR code at the top of this slide to take you directly to these resources. Laura, can you please share the resources Operation HOPE offers as well?
Absolutely. Operation HOPE is a non-profit organization. We are serving the community by providing financial literacy workshops and one-on-one consultations. We also do first-time homebuyer seminars and business entrepreneur seminars as well. And right now we are very dedicated into providing community resources to those displaced by the hurricanes that have recently happened on the East Coast. Please visit our website, www.operationhope.org, so that you can get connected to a coach near you, and you can start getting some assistance.
That's wonderful. Great resources for our viewers here today. U.S. Bank is also offering a chance to win up to $20,000 in scholarships for students. By completing online financial education lessons powered by EVERFI. Students are eligible to win $5,000, $10,000, or $20,000 in scholarships. The more the students learn, the more they could win. Students can scan the QR code with phone's camera from the slide or visit usbank.com/scholarship to get started.
Where was that offer when I was in school? As we mentioned earlier in today's presentation is compliments of U.S. Bank. All of our viewers today have the opportunity to enter to win a $1,000 cash prize at complimentsofusbank.com. It's as easy as entering your name, email address, and the event code HABITS. While you are there, send an eCompliment card to your family and friends so they have a chance to win the cash prize too. You can also share on social media using #ComplimentsofUSBank.
OK. So--
Oh, go ahead, Marta.
Thank you everyone for joining this call. Sometimes discussing savings in emergencies can cause stress. But hopefully you have gained confidence within yourself to begin this journey. It's not about how much you make each month that matters. It's about how much you save along the way with the flexibility to still enjoy life.
So I want to say to you, just by participating in this webinar, you've taken a really important step in starting or enhancing your savings journey. You should be proud of yourself simply for being here today, because obviously a lot of people aren't. So remember, savings is a behavior. And like any behavior, the more you do it, the better you get at it. So start small if you need to. And just keep saving over and over and over again. And before you know it, you're going to be well on your way.
And also know that this is just the beginning of a good habit that you will have the opportunity to transfer from one generation to the next.
Thank you to our wonderful presenters today. We received some really great questions during the registration process. And we'll have our panelists answer a few of those questions today. Our first question is from Sharon. Sharon asked, "what percentage of weekly income should be placed in a savings account?" Mark has a recommendation for you, Sharon.
So this is a complicated question, and it depends on a variety of factors. For example, what are your cash inflows relative to your cash outflows, the frequency with which you get paid versus the frequency with which bills come due. You know, there are some other considerations too.
But let me give you a few tips that I think can help no matter what your situation is. First, start by saving small amounts that you know you'll be able to save with some frequency even if it's just a few dollars a week. It's like dipping your toe into the water. You know, once you get comfortable with the act of saving, you'll have greater confidence with saving larger amounts more frequently.
The other thing you can do is to take advantage of that purchase transfer functionality that I talked about earlier where you can save anywhere between $0.25 and $5, have it get transferred from your checking account to your savings account every time you use your debit or credit card. That's a really great way to just start by saving a quarter. You know, just every time you go and spend money on anything using your debit card or credit card, $0.25 just goes right into your savings account. Once you feel comfortable with that, maybe make it $0.50, then $1, then $1.50, and so on and so on up to $5. Just again, reinforcing that behavior every chance you get.
The second thing I'd recommend here-- think about all the payments that you need to make each month relative to how you get paid. So if your payments tend to be frequent, but your paychecks are infrequent, then you're going to likely need to save more in your rainy day fund in order to smooth out the cash flows. The person, for example, who wrote about needing to get reimbursed for savings trips, that's a perfect example-- or sorry, for traveling for business. Perfect example, right?
If you're going to be making a lot of trips, then you're going to want to make sure you have more in your savings account, in your rainy day fund in order to cover that. If you have fewer trips coming up, maybe less so. But again, I'll go back to what I said earlier. As long as you're thoughtful and intentional about what you're doing and you're using opportunities to replenish that fund every chance you get, that's going to have you be successful in the long term.
Thanks, Mark. That's really great advice. Our next question comes from Katy. She asked, "what is the best way for an impulse shopper to keep myself from my savings? I have nobody else to take it. I wish I could hide it from myself until my goal is reached. Any advice?" Katy, Marta has some great advice for you.
So, Katy, you want to make it difficult to keep dipping into your savings. You can reach out to your bank or a financial institution that you bank with and explore their savings options. You can choose to not have a debit card, therefore making it harder and nothing physical to tempt you. Sometimes there are fees associated with dipping into your savings, which a banker can provide you with more details on.
You can also consider finding a bank which is 30 minutes or more further from you, which will make you consider whether those items are really worth purchasing. And lastly, my personal go-to for online shopping is filling up my virtual basket, then seeing the total, and sleeping on it. Usually by the next day, the $200 total doesn't appear so appealing anymore.
I definitely like to sleep on my purchase as well. Great feedback, Marta. Our last question comes from Consuelo, who asked, "how do you know what the minimum amount of money you need a month to live off of is, and how do you go about saving the rest?" Laura, can you please help address this one for us?
Yes. Consuelo, our best advice is to begin by tracking your expenses. Calculate and write them down each by category and then compare them to your income. This is also known as a budget. You can work this budget weekly, monthly, or annually. And it allows for you to have a full view of what your expenses really are. Make any adjustments if you need to, and any extra cash can go into your rainy day fund.
Thank you, Laura, for that advice. And thank you to our panelists and to all of you for joining today's presentation. Please use your phone's camera to register for our next webinar, Tips to Avoid Today's Cyber Threats on October 13. As a reminder, we'll post the recording from today's session to usbank.com/wellnesswebinars in the next week. Remember to provide us with your feedback in the post-event survey following the session. This concludes our webinar. Have a wonderful afternoon, everyone.

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