Don’t have savings? Quit making excuses

I’m back, and I sound just like your mom: Save that damned emergency fund, already.

This week (Feb. 24-March 1) is America Saves Week. And not a moment too soon: As a nation, we’re losing ground. An ASW survey shows that just 51 percent of us have a savings plan with specific goals; four years ago that number was 55 percent. (Still too low, IMHO.) Just 40 percent of us have budgets that allow for savings at all, compared with 46 percent in 2010.

The ASW report notes several reasons (stop me if these sound familiar): relatively high unemployment and underemployment rates, stagnant wages and the struggle to pay off homes. (Hint: In the past four years, the number of homeowners who expected to pay off mortgages before retirement dropped 10 percent.)

So yes, I know it can be hard to save. Boy, do I know. (More on that later.) This is especially true if you’re living paycheck to paycheck or, worse, from unemployment check to unemployment check. But in most cases saving is possible.

I didn’t say “easy” or “fun.” I said possible. Take a look at “Stealth savings: Sneaky ways to fatten your account.” Go ahead. I’ll wait.

You’ll notice I wrote that one as well. Saving is one of my personal drumbeats. I implore everyone I know (and plenty I don’t know — thanks, WordPress!) to carve even a dollar a week out of their budgets and into emergency funds.

Preparing for the inevitable

Why? Because emergencies happen, dammit. If you think you’re having trouble making ends meet now, wait until that bald-as-an-inner-tube tire finally blows out and you don’t have a dime.

Then you might face some fairly lousy choices:

  • Putting the fix on a credit card. If you’re living hand-to-mouth now, how long do you think it’ll take to pay that off?
  • Taking out a payday loan. Don’t. Just don’t!
  • Not going to work because you can’t get there. Good idea!

Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a relative or friend who will lend you money in case of an emergency. At least that way you won’t have to pay interest. But the fact is, you now owe someone and have no clear plan how you’ll pay it back.

If you’d saved that damned EF you could borrow it from yourself, and pay yourself back. Maybe even with interest.

Things may not always go your way

Understand: I am not berating those of you who really can’t save anything due to desperate times. You know who you are.

And those of you who merely think you can’t save? You may not know who you are. But I do.

You’re the ones who gripe about being “broke” while eating chicken wings at a sports bar. The folks who spend a ton on concerts, sporting events, movies or other recreation without considering future needs. The men and women who treat shopping as an avocation, often dressing it up (so to speak) as “investing” in business wear.

People who eat lunch out every single day and/or refuse to learn to cook their own dinners. People who cook but who buy whatever looks good and include 12-packs of beer or soda with every grocery order. (Full disclosure: I drink Diet Coke. I also have an emergency fund.)

Women who get mani-pedis on a regular schedule. Men who insist on picking up the tab for every date. Families who sign up for satellite TVs and give their kids cell phones even though they can’t pay their bills.

You get the picture. People who want what they want when they want it. People who think that they’ll always have the world by the ass. People who think the books are balanced as long as they can keep the lights on, make minimum payments on their cards and look really FABulous for those feverish Saturday nights.

Wake up and smell reality

Have any of you thought about what will happen if you suddenly need a chunk of cash and don’t have it? Nope, I didn’t think so.

Hope the memory of those shiny nails or your team’s surprise win can tide you over during your scramble to meet the unexpected obligation. Had you skipped even a few of those extras each month you’d have the money sitting in the bank, all liquid and useful.

All the interest you’re paying on those cards? That’s money you can no longer put to work for more useful things, such as an eventual home of your own or planning for retirement.

And heaven forbid that you lose your job. According to a 2013 study from, here’s how we stack up in terms of preparedness:

  • Fewer than one in four have at least a six-month EF
  • Half of us have less than a three-month EF
  • The rest have no savings at all

If you’re already living pretty close to the bone, that Saturday matinee or the weekly six-pack of craft beer might be your only luxury. I get it. It’s so nice to have even a small indulgence now and then.

But you know what else is nice? Solvency. Peace of mind. A good night’s sleep. Hard to have those things when you’re busy robbing Peter to pay Paul (while dodging your ol’ friend Overdue Bill).

Put another way: A friend of mine never answers her phone before 9 p.m., because it might be a collections agency. Some fun, huh?

Why, yes, I do have the moral high ground!

Years ago I was a single mom in a big city, employed on a “permanent part-time” basis (30 to 35 hours per week — that way they didn’t have to pay full benefits). I didn’t receive child support, food stamps or rent assistance. We got by, barely, but without much wiggle room.

Yet I automated a weekly withdrawal through our employee credit union and then learned to live on what was left. It was a grown-up kind of thing. You should try it.

Some of my survival tactics were extreme, especially the hand-washing of all our laundry (even the cloth diapers). But most of the ways I trimmed expenses remain timeless:

Picking up extra work. I babysat, proofread for a friend’s alternative newspaper, stuffed envelopes for another friend’s small business and, when times were really tight, sold my blood for $6 a pint (and the cheap bastards at the for-profit blood center didn’t even give you as much as a saltine afterward — leave your liquid and hit the road, willya?).

Cooking at home: We ate a lot of homemade bean soup, spaghetti, chili and eggs, plus the cheapest fruits and veg from Philly’s numerous produce stands. Once a week or so I’d buy a single chicken leg quarter from a nearby market. The guy behind the counter used to kid me: “Come on, live it up — buy two!” He would never know how I hoarded change just to be able to buy one. (It was for the baby, incidentally. However, I did use a piece of bread to wipe the fat from the baking pan for myself.)

Using coupons: Although this was back in the late 1970s, both a supermarket and a regional drugstore doubled coupons, which meant I paid little or nothing for toiletries and certain foodstuffs. This was also the heyday of manufacturer refunds; I actually subscribed to a refund newsletter because it paid for itself almost immediately, and those $1 and $2 checks were a huge help.

Eschewing brand loyalty: Generic apple juice (which I diluted with water) for the baby. Store-brand pasta because it was 20 percent cheaper than Ronzoni. Whatever toothpaste matched my coupon.

Selling stuff. In my case that was blood (see above) and books — I worked at a newspaper and the book editor, who felt sorry for me, loaded me up with paperbacks. Every so often I’d take them to a used-books emporium that paid me a dime apiece.

Knowing that I had savings was a great comfort because I felt that I was getting ahead (however slowly) despite whatever life threw at me. My small EF was a godsend when my baby needed an expensive (to me) medicine, or when the price of even a thrift-shop toddler snowsuit torpedoed my weekly budget.

I hope you never have to hand-wash diapers or sell your blood. But I do hope you’ll make it your business to automate some savings for yourself. If there’s one thing that’s certain in life, it’s that life is utterly uncertain.

So get real, get smart and save that damned EF. The future you will be glad you did. Your credit card company will probably mope, though.

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There are 81 comments to "Don’t have savings? Quit making excuses".

  1. Andrew Wise says 25 February 2014 at 04:55

    I don’t disagree with the general content of the article, but is all the cursing really necessary? It’s just bad writing – putting a “dammit” on the end of a statement doesn’t make it more urgent, although it may seem so to the poor writer.

    • Beth says 25 February 2014 at 05:30

      I enjoy her writing style! Kind of channeling Gail Vax Oxlade 🙂 Made me laugh.

      I get it though — not all writing styles engage with all readers.

      • Money Saving says 25 February 2014 at 14:36

        I liked her style… damnit!

    • Diane C says 25 February 2014 at 12:15

      Those of us who also hang out at MMM are used to it. I found it refreshing coming from Donna. Andrew, please do not insult her by calling her a poor writer because it’s simply not true.

    • Another Beth says 25 February 2014 at 12:33

      I’ve been reading Donna Freedman’s work off and on over the years, and while I think she’s many things (knowledgeable about the topic and has an engaging writing style for starters), she is definitely not a poor writer.

      • Julie says 25 February 2014 at 18:29

        I have been following Donna for years as well and also generally love her writing. But I have to say that this article had a few too many swear words for my taste and it was more than she generally uses. I could have done without them. Regardless of what “El Nerdo” might think, the women in my family don’t use such language, and I am raising my daughter with the same values. So I hope you enjoyed your good chuckle at our expense.

        • Katelyn says 14 March 2014 at 17:57

          Why do you have different standards for the men vs the women in your family?

  2. lmoot says 25 February 2014 at 04:56

    Welcome back Donna! I miss your posts…they are always straight and true.

    In my opinion if you say you cannot save anything and have any of the following then you are not doing enough (I have gone without most of these myself):

    – Cable (including Netflix or other subscriptions…it doesn’t matter if it’s only $10 or whatever. That’s $10 you don’t have.

    – A landline AND a cell phone. Pick one. Cell phone would be best, but it would depend on your habits for what’s the better deal.

    – Pets: this is not for those who already have pets but if you are even CONSIDERING getting a pet…just hold off.

    – Kids: See ‘pets’

    – Any miscellaneous subscriptions (newspaper, security, magazine, online subscriptions, gym membership (exercising is free). I don’t include internet here just because a lot of public libraries don’t have internet access for the public. HOWEVER, if you have a way to access internet, be it at work or at friends or family’s homes, consider cutting it. You won’t really have time to do much other than check email if you have a 2nd job.

    – More bedrooms than there are people in the house. If it’s just you, you don’t need that 2nd bedroom unless you are going to get a roommate.


    – Get a 2nd job. Most people have enough free time for a second job. Even if it is just working somewhere once per week

    – Get a roommate. Likely you know someone who needs a temporary place to stay. It really makes a difference.

    – Concerning debt: I’m fortunate to not have ever have experienced crushing, interest-accruing debt before so I can’t imagine how demoralizing it must be to know you’re saving just to pay off debt. So save a slice of your savings for just you and your future. Pick an amount you’re comfortable with not sending to debtors, and then just funnel everything else towards the debt. But always save something for your future, while paying down your past.

    – When you get a decent amount saved, put that sucker in a CD. You will forget about it.

    • Dave @ The New York Budget says 25 February 2014 at 06:33

      Excellent additional advice here!

    • Laraba says 25 February 2014 at 07:10

      Great advice, though I chuckle a bit about the “kids”. I presume you mean, don’t have kids if you can’t afford them. If you’ve already got them — well, they are your responsibility. Though I do wonder if many people get more responsible when they have children. I find it relatively easy to give up many luxuries because I want the kids to be cared for well, both now and in the future.

  3. Meari says 25 February 2014 at 05:07

    Amen! No matter how small, every little bit helps toward building that EF. When I made next to nothing, I saved a little. Now, it’s just part of my budget. If it’s automatically deducted, you don’t miss it.

  4. M says 25 February 2014 at 05:20

    Dammit, I liked the cursing!

    • BD says 25 February 2014 at 13:15

      Yeesh, the internet has jaded me. I didn’t even NOTICE any “cursing”. 😉

  5. Beth says 25 February 2014 at 05:38

    Funny you should mention tires… I had one go on me this winter. The way the tow truck driver was carrying on, I was expecting a huge repair. He was actually quite rude to me when I was relieved it was going to be $200 max!

    Embarrassed, I tried to explain that I drive a 12 year old car, so I have money set aside for potential repairs.

    “Must be nice to have an emergency fund,” he sneered at me.

    Must be nice? My emergency fund didn’t fall out of the sky one day. I’ve given up a lot over the years to build savings, and I’ve faced a lot of challenges.

    There was no need for him to be rude, but it was jarring to think that to some people, even a $200 buffer is a luxury.

    • lmoot says 25 February 2014 at 11:00

      If ever I found myself not being able to swing $200 I’d probably develop ulcers overnight. I don’t know how people live on the edge like that. I’m sure it causes a lot of stress-related health problems for many but some people seem (and probably are) adapted to that situation.

      I’ve experienced similar comments when having to spend “surprise” money. Well geez, it’s not like I WANT to spend it. But I have to, and luckily I can. Maybe next time just start wailing and yell “God, no! Whyyyy??!!!” before plopping down the cash. You might avoid the judgement, but you might get a whole other king of side-eye. Oh well, hataz gonna hate.

    • Donna Freedman says 25 February 2014 at 11:17

      This guy sounds like a tool, but for some it could have been a teachable moment: “It took me quite a while of putting aside a few dollars here and a few dollars there, but this kind of situation is exactly why I did it. No stressing about how I’ll pay the bill. Totally worth packing my lunch three times a week.”
      Not everyone wants to hear it, obviously, but you may plant a seed.

      • Beth says 25 February 2014 at 16:07

        I did mention that it took me a while to build up an emergency reserve and it took a lot of sacrifice. It wasn’t to be self-righteous — frankly I was embarrassed and felt the need to justify the “luxury”.

        A little while later, I got angry. Not sure whether I was angry with him or my reaction, but it was a wake up call for me. I’d been feeling guilty about money a lot lately. When I silently fumed to myself that he had no right to make me feel guilty, I realized I had no right to make myself feel guilty either!

        You never know where people are coming from, and I realized I should be grateful for what I have, not feel guilty. I think it’s a healthier attitude towards money.

  6. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life says 25 February 2014 at 06:10

    Ever since I started blogging about finance, I find people coming up to me and finding the need to justify all their purchases to me. Chances are, if you need to justify it, you can cut it out.

    • phoenix1920 says 25 February 2014 at 08:04

      Or you have a parent that instilled too much guilt even over buying necessities 😉

  7. Brian@ Debt Discipline says 25 February 2014 at 06:41

    Murphy comes knocking eventually. We have a $1k emergency fund now and we increase that after our debt repayment. We just got hit with a $600 auto bill and had not stress because we had the savings to pay for it in cash.

    • Donna Freedman says 25 February 2014 at 11:13

      What Brian said.

  8. Den says 25 February 2014 at 06:46

    Amen Donna!

    We drive old cars and it’s not a question of “IF” we’ll need a repair but “WHEN” we’ll need a repair, so our EF is so important!

    Love your writing (and the swearing – hee hee)!

    • Donna Freedman says 25 February 2014 at 11:23

      My partner drives a 1999 Subaru, and he’ll continue to drive it until it no longer makes sense to spend money on repairs. In the meantime, our one-car household has no car payment and cheaper insurance. Works for me!

      • Another Beth says 25 February 2014 at 12:36

        A Subaru? As long as he takes good care of it, he’ll be driving it for a LONG time.

      • cathy says 26 February 2014 at 23:05

        Your partner’s Subaru is newer than mine. I love my ’96. Gets us everywhere we need to go (through snow & ice, camping off-road) and has been paid off for a long time. One more thing to feel secure about.

  9. jane savers @ solving the money puzzle says 25 February 2014 at 07:13

    I purposely scuttled my emergency fund last year because I am concentrating on paying off my HELOC and I am getting close.

    Some of my HELOC debt is credit card debt that I rolled in. I always relied on my credit cards when things got rough. I am a single mom too but I am lazy and not as ambitious as you and now I have the debt to show for it.

  10. Cookster says 25 February 2014 at 07:20

    When I graduated from college during the Stone Age, I had $4,000 in student debt and made only $450 a month on my principal paycheck. I took on 3 jobs: the primary paid for housing, food, etc. The second, babysitting, was for my gas, entertainment, and clothing. The 3rd, working on weekends in a meat cutting factory, paid 50% each on loan and into savings.
    Exhausting and the social life was nil. By the time I was married, I owed $2000 on my loan and had $2000 in savings.
    I truly lived on prayers…$10 per week for food, a rather dumpy apartment I made nice for next to nothing, $30 for gas weekly (I commuted), and no vacations or nights out. I also was exhausted and burned out by the 6th month.
    I have to say I married a wealthy person and he paid off the outstanding debt plus financed a new wardrobe. I have never had to watch pennies since then, but I have saved. Always.


  11. Vicki says 25 February 2014 at 07:23

    As we finish slogging our way through Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, we look forward to saving more…6 month emergency fund would be nice, vacation fund, car replacement fund. Just sighing about how little will be left after we max out retirement savings…which, at age 51, we need to do.

    Great article, thank you.

  12. Becky @ RunFunDone says 25 February 2014 at 07:46

    To be honest, your stats about Americans’ saving habits are better than I expected. It is a bit confusing though: How are 72% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck while 51% have specific savings goals? Are they making goals that they just don’t keep, which puts them into the paycheck-to-paycheck category????

  13. El Nerdo says 25 February 2014 at 07:51

    YAY! DONNA!!!

    It was a grown-up kind of thing. You should try it.

    <3 this, dammit!

    • Andrew Wise says 25 February 2014 at 07:53

      Actually, it’s a rather childish thing to do.

      • El Nerdo says 25 February 2014 at 07:54


      • Donna Freedman says 25 February 2014 at 11:27

        What’s childish about automating savings and learning to live on what’s left? Especially since back then I didn’t have a credit card and thus had to use cash to deal with emergencies?

  14. Scooze says 25 February 2014 at 07:56

    I find your story very interesting and inspiring. I didn’t follow you “back when” so I don’t know the whole thing, but your story shows it can be done, almost no matter how bad it gets.

    If I didn’t have an emergency fund already, I’d definitely be having a wake-up call!

  15. phoenix1920 says 25 February 2014 at 08:12

    I realize there’s a lot of different styles, but I stopped reading this one. I felt like my mother was nagging me, except with added curse words. I realize that the author was intentionally going for this, but I wonder if the only people who read this article are people who already have an EF and find humor in a nagging mother. (I have an EF but just can’t stand a nagging mom)

    On a different note, recently, stopped working on Chrome, which is where I keep this site on my favorites. Does anybody else use Chrome and have difficulties?

    • Samantha says 25 February 2014 at 08:19

      I have Chrome and its working fine.

    • El Nerdo says 25 February 2014 at 08:32

      I have an emergency fund but the cat recently ate most of it, and then some, and I found the nagging a great reminder to get back on track on rebuilding the thing. So this article speaks to me. I appreciate the nagging.

      Plus, I think some of the people mentioned in yesterday’s article & comments could use a little nagging– I mean, it’s not like Donna doesn’t walk her talk– she’s not a college graduate, she keeps a freezer in her bedroom, she made a desk out of the yellow pages, washed diapers in the sink, and managed to send a kid to college– and then the kid got sick in college and she had to care for her for a while.

      If anyone is equipped to write the survival manual for those with the odds stacked against them, that would definitely be Donna.

      Lastly, it makes me chuckle a little that people would consider the word “dammit” offensive. I get it that different people have different standards, but I fail to find anything obscene or indecent about it. I mean, according to the late George Carlin, “dammit” isn’t even one of the seven words you can’t say on television.

      • Donna Freedman says 25 February 2014 at 11:32

        Update: I did finish my college degree in December 2009, at the age of 52. Better late than REALLY late.
        (And I did it with zero debt. Otherwise I wouldn’t have done it at all.)

        • El Nerdo says 25 February 2014 at 11:46

          Didn’t know about the college thing. Congrats!

        • Carla says 25 February 2014 at 11:50

          Now I would LOVE to read an article about how you did that! I’m in the process of completing my degree, zero debt, out of pocket, 1-2 classes at a time. I would like to finish before retirement age though!

      • phoenix1920 says 26 February 2014 at 11:26

        It’s interesting seeing other POVs. Truthfully, I am surprised how many people like nagging tones and find them inspiring. In my experience, I’ve seen them generate a mostly defensive response or be completely ignored. Years ago, I read a NYT article “What Shamu Taught me about a Happy Marriage” and realized that for both me and my husband, nagging never works.

        For the record, I’m not offended by cursing and “dammit” is rather mild. I mentioned the no cursing thing only in reference to my mom; Donna’s tone in this article is SOO much like my mom’s, but my mom is so anti-cursing, it’s funny. (In her opinion, insulting another person is perfectly fine because it’s the “truth”; cursing, however, is “poor taste”. That seems backwards to me, but what do I know . . .)

        • mysticaltyger says 19 June 2014 at 12:48

          The key here is YOU don’t find nagging to be motivational. But it does work for other people. Not everyone is the same. The underlying message is the same, regardless of the tone, and it’s one that Americans as a whole aren’t listening to, no matter how it’s put to them.

    • Carla says 25 February 2014 at 08:36

      Last year GRS wasn’t working on my Chrome so I switched to reading it on Firefox. Suddenly I wasn’t able to see the “Like” thumb so I switched browsers again. Last week whenever I posted a comment it would give me a server error, I switched to a different browser and it works. I’m back at Chrome.

      I’ve been dealing with this for years now on GRS, so its not just you.

    • mysticaltyger says 19 June 2014 at 11:59

      I find most financial blogs are read by people who often have their financial act together, and that’s regardless of the writing style. It’s the old “preaching to the choir” problem. The people who need to hear the message most aren’t reading and don’t want to take the advice even if it really is good for them. The people most interested in reading are the ones who are already taking the appropriate steps.

      • Donna Freedman says 19 June 2014 at 12:30

        Maybe, maybe not. The folks who already know this stuff will just skip to the next post — and if there’s a chance that even ONE person will see advice, heed it and change his/her life, I say it’s worth the effort to write and post the stuff.
        I’ve gotten e-mails from people who say “I’m out of debt because of (your MSN Money writings).” One woman’s story stands out in particular: She and her husband were in some fairly serious consumer debt. (Toys, toys, toys.) It never bothered her, somehow.
        That is, until the night she sat down to pay the bills and realized that making just minimum payments on all their obligations had eaten up everything they earned for the first two weeks of that month — and she needed to buy groceries, which of course meant putting them on a credit card.
        She went online in search of “how to save money” or something like that, found the Smart Spending blog and started reading. She ultimately got her husband on board with the idea and they made it sort of a challenge: How fast can we get rid of this albatross?
        Within a couple of years they were debt-free except for their mortgage. Not too long after that he was in a car wreck that killed him. Had they been in serious debt still, she wouldn’t have been able to cover even minimum payments.
        Recovering from the loss took time. She was very, very glad that creditors weren’t calling to demand money she didn’t have.
        So yes, sometimes an article DOES make a difference.
        I also think that some people, after reading enough of these pieces, will finally face facts: “I need to take control of my finances.” That’s one reason why blogs like this one have stayed in business for so long — once people decide to get smarter about how they handle funds, they need to find help with doing so.

        • Alice says 19 June 2014 at 12:51

          Donna, thanks for sticking up for those of us who have found a good financial freedom site and learned from it. We keep coming back to glean more info and yes, to learn what to do with the savings we have acquired after debt repayment. I for one could never save because my income was never the same from month to month. I learned to pay myself first and then work with what was left. I also learned to do without many things I thought I needed. Now days I watch my emergency fund grow and smile knowing I can handle almost anything that comes up unexpectedly. I’m happy I found GRS and a couple other sites like it to teach me what I needed to do.

        • mysticaltyger says 19 June 2014 at 12:58

          Wow! Thank you for sharing that story.

          I always try to stress the whole savings thing with people I know, and for the most part it’s an uphill battle. Not to say I’ve had no effect on anyone, but like I said, an uphill battle. Take a look at America as a whole. Despite wonderful blogs like yours, our savings rate is a measly 4%. It was actually in the 6%+ range a few years ago when the economy was worse. That says to me the overall mentality of America hasn’t changed much….as soon as things get a little bit better, people fall right back into their bad habits. I reaaaaaly, reaaaaaly hope I am wrong, but I think it’s going to take something really horrible to wake people up and make them more disciplined about their finances (and a lot of other things).

          I appreciate your blog nonetheless. I certainly agree the frugalistas in the population have to keep trying! Love your blog!

  16. Samantha says 25 February 2014 at 08:33

    I have an EF – but this was a nice reminder. I remember what it was like to have no money in the bank. I had a flat tire and put it on the Visa. (When you don’t have a plan, Visa does.)

    I remember how horrible a feeling it was to not be able to pay my balance off that month. I vowed to never be in that situation again – and the hard work paid off.

  17. kroger says 25 February 2014 at 08:46

    Damned EF

  18. Sarah @ Little Bus on the Prairie says 25 February 2014 at 09:23

    How appropriate that this is savings week in america – this is the week we finish the bus we’re going to move into as we build our house and save ourselves over $1000 a month in rent! Wooo!

    • lmoot says 25 February 2014 at 12:17

      What a cool thing to do! Good luck. I think this is awesome; a little sacrifice for a HUGE reward. I’m sure it will be a bit of a fun adventure too. I’ll have to check out your blog when I’m home, it sounds interesting.

      • Sarah @ Little Bus on the Prairie says 25 February 2014 at 18:16

        Thanks! We are really excited about it. We just have some trim and finish left to do and then we’re going to post pictures. We have to be out of our rental by the 15th because the landlord is selling, so it’s a bit of a time crunch. Oy!

  19. Alice says 25 February 2014 at 09:55

    Say what you will, my emergency fund allowed me to pay all of my bills and have a small amount left over when I was very ill and could not work for over 4 months. Of course, it’s almost depleted now, but I am able to work again and will be replacing the money I had to withdraw from it.

    Had I not had an EF in place I’m not sure what would have happend to me or my homes. I had just bought a new (to me) house and was in the process of selling the one I was living in. The sale didn’t go as fast as it was supposed to so I had utilities at each house to pay plus the payments on the new house. That’s not so easy for a single lady like me but it’s doable if one makes the choice to save before leaping into buying anything with payments.

    Moving is expensive just for your furniture. I was fortunate enough to have a lot of help from my children and a couple of big strong grandsons, but I also had to move my business equipment and get a new network set up. Part of the equipment had to be moved and reinstalled by the company that provides service for it so that was an another huge expense.

    Now that I’m settling into the new location for my business and my home I’m thankful that the sale of the previous home has been completed and I can start feeding money into the EF again and get back on level ground. I’m also thankfupl that I don’t have credit card debt that requires years to pay off of even pay down some. I pay it off every month.

    There was a time when that could not have happened but that’s another story for later when I have finished establishing my new blog.

  20. Kim P says 25 February 2014 at 10:05

    Amen sister! About 2 years ago I finally came to my senses about finance and started saving for my EF-I finally have about 6 months of living expenses saved and what a relief it is to have that in those times. I have numerous friends who cant pay bills but everyone in the home has a cell phone and they have every cable channel you can get. Time for reality. Love this post!

  21. Tyler Karaszewski says 25 February 2014 at 10:08

    The condescension has brought out the choir but I doubt it made a whole ton of new believers.

    • Carla says 25 February 2014 at 11:23

      Yes, nagging never worked for me, ever.

  22. Kristin Wong says 25 February 2014 at 11:28

    Donna’s back? Awwyeah! Welcome 🙂

  23. Diane C says 25 February 2014 at 12:30

    Hey Tyler, I always enjoy your thoughtful and thought-provoking comments. I have been rooting for you and your daughter since your life changed so drastically when your wife was ill and then passed away, so know that I’m a fan when I ask this:

    What, exactly, makes you find this post condescending?

    Or are you referring to Andrew’s comments?

    • Tyler Karaszewski says 25 February 2014 at 19:04

      Hey, thanks, I appreciate your support!

      Here’s Google’s definition:

      1. having or showing a feeling of patronizing superiority.

      Here are some things Donna wrote:

      You’re the ones who gripe about being “broke” while eating chicken wings at a sports bar. The folks who spend a ton on concerts, sporting events, movies or other recreation without considering future needs.

      Hope the memory of those shiny nails or your team’s surprise win can tide you over during your scramble to meet the unexpected obligation.

      Why, yes, I do have the moral high ground!

      I don’t see how anyone in the position that she’s talking about is actually going to be convinced, rather than offended, by the way she’s making her point. People who already believe that can say, “yeah, great, woohoo Donna!” but people who don’t know why they should have an emergency fund are going to feel belittled and lectured.

      • Beth says 25 February 2014 at 19:39

        True, and they’re not likely reading this blog anyway.

        I think many of us enjoyed this post because it’s cathartic. “Here’s what I would really love to say to some of the people I know…” But can’t.

        • Diane C says 26 February 2014 at 14:04

          Hey Tyler, what Beth said, lol.

          Okay, seriously, I thank you for taking the time to respond and I do see your point. I read the same article and wasn’t bothered by it in the least, for a number of reasons. I have followed Donna since she went back to school, so I respect her creds. I have a sister who is just like what Donna describes, so instead of seeing patronization, I was literally seeing my sister. I do agree that she is unlikely to read a financial blog, despite encouragement from her big sister, but someone else who is closer to enlightenment may see this and use it to get off their ass (sorry Andrew) and start saving. Which was the whole point of the article.

          So glad you have re-discovered sailing and have a new source of happiness in your life!

  24. Teinegurl says 25 February 2014 at 12:31

    Hey Donna! I enjoy your reading. One day i googled living with X amount of dollars and i found you. It lead me to your site and to here & MSN Money so i just followed you no matter you write. Honestly i found the article fun and funny! People always say money is so serious its nice to make “light” of the situation once in a while sheesh people dont take yourselves to seriously!

    It a reminder that i needed i’ve been eating out way to much recently something that always in the back of my mind so let get back on track. This inspires me!

    • Donna Freedman says 26 February 2014 at 11:48

      Thanks! And I’m glad you’re getting yourself back on track. I think money habits do change from time to time, until it bothers us enough to take control once more. (Or, maybe, to give ourselves a break when it’s warranted.)

  25. Emily21 says 25 February 2014 at 13:12

    Great article! The question of how much to have in an emergency fund, which the author points out above, is one I keep thinking about – I currently have 3 months, and when I reached that goal, I made the decision to put the rest of my reg monthly savings into my Roth IRA each month. A few reasons:
    – I don’t have kids, and I have a small mortgage and minimal expenses (ie. if I lost my job tomorrow, I could reasonably replace it with something within 3 months, worst case – waitress etc, if need be, and still be able to pay my bills).
    – Additionally, the major home emergencies would still be reasonably covered (I have a small condo, my EF could cover a new furnace); if my car explodes tomorrow, I’m on a bus line and can get to work.
    – I HATE letting my money rot in a savings account, when I could be making more money on it in an IRA.

    Am I crazy/irresponsible/stupid for thinking this way? Any more knowledgeable folks have opinions!?

    • Jen says 02 March 2014 at 07:39

      1) I believe you can take out your principle at any time without penalty with a ROTH. If this is true then I think you should be okay. However, emergency funds aren’t just if your unemployed. What if you are sick and can’t work? I’m just returned to FT last week after 7 months of medical leave, PT, unpaid medical leave, and more PT. I estimate I’m out about 7k in salary. Since I have an emergeny fund (mine was about 14 months of expenses when I first got sick) I’m still doing okay fincially. I just have to watch the extras as I concentrate on paying back my emergency fund.

  26. Marie says 25 February 2014 at 15:29

    I feel like so much saving advice assumes that people who struggle are always wasteful and poor at budgeting. I don’t guzzle Starbucks or have cable, I haven’t gotten a manicure since my own wedding a decade ago, and yet despite working two jobs I still haven’t been able to fund my IRA for the past three years. Most days it seems like the more I manage to save in an emergency fund, the faster stuff breaks to suck up the money.

    • BD says 25 February 2014 at 17:55

      To be fair, the author did say “Understand: I am not berating those of you who really can’t save anything due to desperate times. You know who you are.”

      I would have written a comment similar to yours, but that clause was in there for people like us, who don’t have cable or guzzle Starbucks (I also do not own a car or a TV or any “pad” or smartphone), but the author did acknowledge that some of us just do not earn enough for anything past basic survival.

      • Marie says 26 February 2014 at 21:47

        No, I get that. I meant more generally. In the world of personal finance at large, it just seems like an easy solution when writing an article about how to improve your personal finances. It’s much harder to write an article called “You’re living on beans and thrift store cast-offs while working sixty-hour weeks, here’s how to get wealthy”. Plus, that title just doesn’t flow. :p

  27. NoNonsenseLandlord says 25 February 2014 at 17:39

    All great tips. I was a millionaire and still mowing grass in the evenings and weekends to make extra money. Now I am a multi-millionaire, and still do things that many people would think beneath them. Change my own oil, plow snow, do my own property management, etc.

    On my rentals I even do my own turns.

  28. Rose says 25 February 2014 at 18:03

    Even if you have a good EF & insurance, some emergencies go way beyond what you have, & you end up in a bad spot. Hurricane Sandy was our Waterloo. We have flood insurance – the max we could get – plus homeowner insurance. But tFEMA gave $0 to anyone with flood insurance, yet the insurers wiggled out of so much. We bought “contents” insurance, only to find that a) if the contents were in the basement, only the furnace, hot water heater, washer/dryer, & air conditioner were covered, and b) they only paid depreciated value, so for our 8 year old furnace, we got $100, though it cost $3000 to replace. As for the labor, they reimbursed only at national average costs, not actual NY costs. We got $24,000. Our house sustained over $80,000 damage, not counting the furniture, books, music, gym equipment, etc. no, we did not have a $50,000 emergency fund. We emptied a recent small inheritance, the tax refund, everything. Luckily, we didn’t have to go too far into debt, but I still have $5,000 to pay off. Happily, this year’s tax refund should cover that. My point is just that there are predictable emergencies – and then there are huge, not so predictable ones. My neighborhood had not flooded in 103 years before Sandy. Sigh. I’m just glad we weren’t in debt, except for a mortgage, before this.

    • Donna Freedman says 25 February 2014 at 18:10

      That sounds pretty awful — but, as you note, it was a rather extraordinary situation. Most of us are fortunate enough not to be hit by terrible circumstances. Our EFs get us through things like car trouble, medical co-pays, veterinarian bills and minor household repairs.
      I hope that your finances are back on an even keel.

    • Wendy says 01 March 2014 at 14:38

      I had to reply and thankyou for such an inspiring post. We have just had the worst flooding in the UK for 200 years (there were houses completely underwater) and the stoicism and positivity you show towards such a nightmare situation is incredible. I am so glad that you ‘only’ have $5000 worth of debt left after all that damage and that it will soon be paid off.

  29. Alice says 25 February 2014 at 21:39

    Donna, as you can plainly see, everyoene is glad you are back. I enjoy you style of writing and think it’s right up there with JD Roth and a few others that write about finance. Keep up the good work.

    I would have never had an EF if not for reading GRS and one other finance blog that really hammers home the need for one. I was one of those people that lived from paycheck to paycheck for many years before I got the big picture.

    Kim P. I was one of those people that never had any training about money so I didn’t even think about saving until I worked for a company that offered to match up to 5% of what co workers put into their 401K. When I got the picture I put in 15% of my gross pay. The company matched the first 5% so I had 20% of my pay saved every month.

    As I said above, I am starting a blog and will elaberate on some of this in the near future.

    • Donna Freedman says 25 February 2014 at 21:53

      I never had any real education about money, either. All I learned was what I saw around me: Work hard, pay your bills and if there’s any left over put it in the bank.
      Fortunately the HR department at my second major job (17 years) had us sign up for a 401(k) with matching. That account is now the centerpiece of my retirement (although I have several other elements as well).
      As for being “back” — I’m not signing on as a staff writer but I do hope to contribute from time to time. Thanks to you (and others) for the words of welcome.

  30. Nick says 26 February 2014 at 03:40

    Payday loans are the worst, any kind of bad debt that takes money out of your pocket is a recipe for disaster. Great post, enjoyed the content.

  31. M says 26 February 2014 at 09:57

    The WOMEN in your family?

    • Julie says 26 February 2014 at 20:28

      Thanks for pointing that out. The men in my family don’t swear either. That being said, I still believe swearing sounds worse coming from a woman. It just isn’t very classy.

  32. Donna W says 26 February 2014 at 11:05

    I agree with this article 100%. No matter how much or how little I made, I always put something aside. Even when I was a kid with an allowance. This allowed me to retire early and be totally debt free.

  33. sue says 10 March 2014 at 13:23

    I just read this post again & had to comment…

    I work as manufacture’s representative calling on retail locations. I was suddenly down sized last year and unemployed for 3 months. We had an emergency fund and although my husband’s hours had been cut we did not have to use our savings.

    I have found a new job but making about 40% less than my previous job. I feel blessed to have found this opportunity.

    Last week I was walking back to my car after a sales call on a large retailer when a 50ish year old woman asked if I might spare some money. Although my answer is almost always no, for some reason I gave her a dollar. Just as I handed her the money her cell phone rang, which I could see as she answered it.

    It was MUCH nicer than my own phone!!

    I could have gotten angry but it made me chuckle.

    Here I was working a 10 hour day, walking back to my 12 year old suv and the lady panhandling in the Wal Mart parking had a fancier phone than me!!

    Saving works, even a little at a time!

    • Donna Freedman says 10 March 2014 at 14:36

      I applaud your positive attitude toward the new job — some would have said “no thanks” to a job that paid less than a previous post.
      However, keep in mind that this woman might be in the same boat as you or even in a more desperate situation. Her “nicer” phone could have been purchased when she was making decent money and then she got laid off. Maybe she’s been unemployed for a long time, without even the chance at a job that pays 40% less.
      Or maybe she’s a total scammer. Who knows? Just asking you to keep in mind that someone with what looks like a luxury item might not actually be living the luxe life.
      To me, ALL cell phones look fancy. Even those pay-as-you-go smartphones are pretty high-tech. But that’s because I’m using a pay-as-you-go flip phone, the cheapest model I could find. Dogs bark at me on the street when I use it.

    • Piet says 03 January 2016 at 01:30

      Maybe someone gave her that phone??

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