Why an emergency fund is a good idea

Published  20 December 2022
   4 min read

Setting aside money for a rainy day can help tide you over in difficult times and provide some financial security when you need it most.

What is an emergency fund?

This is money you save to pay for the unexpected, whether that’s a bill you hadn’t planned for or a change in your circumstances such as if you lose your job or are unable to work due to illness. This cash is often called rainy day money.

Why you should have an emergency fund

If you have money set aside for emergencies, you’re far less likely to experience financial difficulties or have to borrow at a high interest rate if things go wrong or your circumstances change. Knowing you’ve got some money tucked away might help you sleep better at night too.

Deciding how much you need

This depends on several things such as your circumstances, the sorts of emergencies you might face and how much insurance protection you already have.

For example, someone with a family, mortgage and loans is likely to need a larger emergency fund than a single person with no children who lives in rented accommodation and has no debts. This is because they have more financial responsibilities and dependants to look after. That's not to say that if you're single with no dependants you don't need an emergency fund. Everyone should keep some spare money available - it's just a question of how much.

If you have insurance to cover certain losses or expenses, this might affect how much you need in your emergency fund. For example, you may have house, car or dental insurance which would cover you for some emergencies and expensive bills. Or you may have insurance which would provide you with an income or pay some of your bills if you lost your job or were unable to work due to illness. In these cases you might only need enough in your emergency fund to tide you over until these payments kicked in.

But the general advice is to have enough money in your emergency fund to cover your expenses for at least three months. So if your monthly expenses are £2,000 you might want an emergency fund of £6,000. If this seems like a daunting amount to aim for, don’t be put off. Remember that having some savings, however small, is better than having nothing. Why not try setting your own goal to save a set amount by the end of year? Aim for a challenging but achievable amount.

How to build an emergency fund

Saving regularly is a good way to build up an emergency fund. You’ll find that if you get into the habit of saving each month your savings will soon mount up. See our tips below to help you save.

Some people like to have more than one emergency fund. For example, one fund might be to replace income if you’re unable to work and another to cover any unexpected one-off or larger-than-expected bills. There's no right or wrong way of doing this, just choose the method that suits you best.

Tips to help you save

  • Make it simple: Set up a monthly transfer so that money is automatically taken from your current account and put into a savings account.
  • Time it right: Set the transfer so it goes out of your bank account straight after you get paid or get your pension or benefits.
  • Keep your savings separate: By keeping your savings in a separate account from your everyday spending you’ll be less tempted to spend them.
  • Check your spending: If you don’t think you can afford to save, try closely monitoring your spending for a month or two. You may find areas you can cut back on. If you haven’t reviewed your bills like your house and car insurance or your energy or mobile phone deal recently, you may be able to free-up money by switching to a cheaper deal.
  • Save first: If you get a pay rise, think about saving some of it before you get used to having the extra cash.

Where to keep your rainy day money

Regardless of how many emergency funds you choose to have, the money should always be easily accessible such as in an easy access savings account or instant-access cash ISA. Avoid accounts where you have to give a long period of notice to take your money out.

If you are on certain benefits, you will qualify for the government’s Help to Save account which pays a generous tax-free bonus to help boost your savings. You’ll get 50p for each £1 you save over four years, although there are limits on the maximum bonus you can get. For example, you can only save up to £50 a month into the account. To find out if you’re eligible and for details of the bonus, go to Gov.uk.

What if I’ve got debts, should I still save?

It depends on what kind of debts you have. If your debts are manageable and low cost, this shouldn’t hold you back from starting a rainy day fund. Having some savings set aside will mean you won’t have to fall back on expensive borrowing if you do have an unexpected expense.

If you’ve got expensive debts such as credit card or overdraft debt, arrears on your mortgage or a payday loan, you might want to think about using any spare money you have to pay off these first. Our guide on debt has some useful guidance on whether to save or pay off debts first.