Why we all need an emergency fund

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Happy New Year 2018!

January’s blog post theme

During the month of January, I’m going to be thinking about money, as we have set some specific financial goals for our family in 2018.

It follows that my blog posts may follow a bit of a financial theme in this first month of the new year.

Holiday listening

In particular, I’ve been listening to Dave Ramsey’s podcast over the holidays. Ramsey’s consistent, straight-talking and sound advice has benefited thousands of people worldwide and his simple series of Baby Steps has helped his readers, listeners and YouTube watchers get a grip on their finances and – in Ramsey’s words – “Change their family tree.”

Baby Steps

The Baby Steps help break down Ramsey’s plan into manageable chunks and build momentum. Indeed, the small wins that can be achieved early on in the programme through these Baby Steps help psychologically with motivation.

Baby Step 1

The very first of the Baby Steps is to start an emergency fund of $1000 (or, in the case of us Brits, £1000).

This should be done as fast as you can.

If you’re already a seasoned declutterer, you may find this easier than you think. A good rummage through your garage, wardrobe or loft may yield some excess stuff you no longer need, so you may soon be able to pull together the funds to get started.

If, like me, you’ve already learned to let go of stuff, freeing up unwanted items to contribute to this initial £1k may not be too much of a challenge. It may take only the effort of cleaning them up, photographing them, then listing them online on sites such as ‘Things for Sale in Kenilworth’ (our local community site on Facebook) or eBay.

Why Baby Step 1?

Ramsey’s approach is to establish this beginner’s emergency fund so that if you have a genuine and unforeseen expense, you won’t have to go into debt to pay for it. In a later Baby Step (#3), a fully-funded emergency fund of 3-6 months worth of expenses is put in place, but this starter fund is where we begin.

When you need an emergency fund

Between Christmas and New Year, we had a sudden and unwelcome fall of slushy, grey snow. We came down for breakfast the morning after Boxing Day and noticed something was odd about the hedge that usually sits against the wall by the side of our kitchen window. The supports to the hedge had given way in the wind and snow, so the prickly shrub had lowered itself forward over the border, covering all of the smaller plants and herbaceous perennials beneath.

Thankfully, with some significant effort (and 6 hours’ commitment), my lovely husband managed to shore up the woody stems, drill new supports into the wall, and push the hedge back into place.

However, this unexpected job reminded me that we weren’t quite as lucky when the fence blew down.

When the fence blew down

On the other side of the garden, we share a boundary with our next door neighbours.

One very stormy night two or three years ago, our shared fence decided it was no longer fit for purpose, leading to an unexpected but essential replacement. This cost about £375 per family, which our emergency fund was able to cover easily.

The point of this is that, whilst you’re taking steps to get your finances into good shape, the last thing you need is a mini-emergency to set you back.

In 2016, research by the charity Shelter found that 37% of working families in England could not cover housing costs for more than a month in event of job loss. Ramsey’s approach is designed to mitigate against this and putting an emergency fund in place is a first step in the right direction.

Do you have your emergency fund in place?

If you haven’t done so already, I’d encourage you to get your emergency fund in place.

So, when the metaphorical fence blows down, you’ll have the financial resources to deal with it. Plus, there’ll be no call on your emotional reserves either, as you won’t be stressed about how you’re going to pay for it.


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Budgets and teens: controlling impulses

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As responsible parents, we are not only ‘mum and dad’, we are educators. We may directly – or indirectly – set an example to our young people that informs their approach on a variety of things: how to cooperate with others; how to handle difficult situations; or how to weigh up choices they have to make in life.

Personal, Social and Health Education

Life skills discussions at school are delivered on a variety of topics, many of which are also on the school curriculum. These include philosophical/ethical discussions or practical advice on issues such as staying safe online. These lessons spark follow-on conversations at home and form a useful part of every teenager’s personal development.

What about money management?

However, none (so far) has dealt with the matter of personal finance. As parents, how do we set an example to our teens on how they can manage their finances? Where do we begin in showing our young people how to manage their hard-earned money?

How to manage money becomes more pressing when our teens start making a little pocket money of their own, either through a part-time job or perhaps by earning a bit of commission on tasks they might do to help at home (Dave Ramsey’s preferred approach).

Lots of parents I know also provide a monthly allowance, so that their teenagers can make decisions on how to spend their own cash. This begins to instil some self-discipline; our own daughter commented that having a pot of money for which she was responsible helped control her ‘impulses’.

Under 19’s account

We found that opening a bank account was a great first step towards our teen developing financial literacy. There are some great accounts around, such as TSB’s under 19’s account. Opening a ‘proper’ bank account (as opposed to a savings account over which a ‘controlling adult’ still has full oversight) was a key milestone. A meeting with the bank manager was necessary and the formality surrounding the account-opening event signalled a step-change in the financial life of our teen.

Do apps help?

As well as the online banking app provided, I suggested that an app like Spending would be useful. By using the app, our daughter could immediately record transactions she had done. She soon realised that a transaction could take a few days to show on her actual account, so being able to keep a record that was bang up to date was incredibly useful. Now that she is more accustomed to checking her own bank’s app, she has let go of the need to do this cross-check but it can be useful at first.

Controlling those impulses

Amy from More Time than Money wrote a really good post on impulse buying, which links really well with these thoughts. As adults who care about sticking to a budget, we already know it’s important to be super-intentional with our spending.

It’s no different for teens: they soon begin to appreciate the value of things when they have to pay for it themselves. The cost of eating out, for example, (something our girl’s group enjoys), can be expensive. Choosing to go out to eat might mean passing up another opportunity or deciding not to purchase something new for a party.

So, when I think about teens and spending, there are a number of things I’d say:

  • Keep some for a rainy day
  • Be intentional with your cash
  • Know that buying X may preclude you from buying Y
  • Just because everyone else is buying one doesn’t mean you have to
  • Do you really need it?
  • How useful will it be?
  • Would you buy it at full price, if it wasn’t on offer now?
  • Would a lower-priced item do just as well?
  • Can you get it at a lower price second hand?
  • Can you borrow one?
  • Do you already have one that would do just as well?

Hmm. Maybe this is good advice for all of us – for kids of all ages – as we enter the ‘season of acquisition’.

What advice would you give your teenage self on money matters? Do let me know by replying to this post, below.


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Minimalism and the dual account budget

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I’ve written before that I’m going to be conducting a ‘Life Energy Experiment’ in November. For everything I buy, I’m going to ask if the value and fulfillment derived from that purchase are worth the ‘life energy’ (time, work effort) spent. Say I earned £10 per hour, it would take a whole hour of my ‘life energy’ to earn the money to pay for a £10 item. That’s going to make me think a whole lot more about what I buy. Follow my experiment using the hashtag #LifeEnergyExperiment and feel free to join in!

Different approaches to money management

I have been thinking (and reading) about money for a few months now. There are some great ideas and minimalist approaches to managing money that are well worth a read. Check out caitflanders.com, daveramsey.com and posts such as this from The Minimalists.

Set up two accounts

One thing that definitely works for me is something I haven’t seen anyone write about in the books or blog posts I’ve read. You may have come across it or even tried it yourself.

Instead of trying to manage all of your bills and monthly outgoings from a single account, set up two accounts.

The first account is the one we use to pay our regular bills (via direct debit and standing orders). We never have to worry about remembering to make these payments, as they happen automatically. Each payday, we transfer the required amount of money into that account and let the technology do the work. We monitor the account, but we don’t have to watch our spending, as we anticipate the bills that are to come and make sure there’s enough money in there to cover them (plus a bit more).

The second account is where the money we’ll need throughout the month sits. This money is for our actual spending e.g. our weekly shopping, groceries, fuel etc. For this account, I establish a flexible, monthly budget in anticipation of the expenditure we’ll have during that period.

Concern yourself with your discretionary spends

Because the household bills are dealt with in the first account, we only have to concern ourselves with the spending we control during the month. That makes budgeting and tracking our spending so much more straightforward and simple. The amounts and categories are up to you, but the principle is always the same.
Throughout the month, we keep a track of what’s in the account and what’s due to go out.
That way, we always know what we *really* have left! We also track expenditure against our pre-established budget.

Keep on top of your finances

Managing our finances this way really helps to track our spending during the month and ensures we keep on top of our finances, rather than our finances getting on top of us.

Ask me for a copy of the dual account budget spreadsheet

If you’d like a working copy of the spreadsheet we use, just drop me a line via my contact form and I’ll send it to you. You can paste your own amounts into the relevant cells and set up your budget for the month. Add in new columns to expand your categories, but make sure the totals all add up. There are lots of ways to manage your finances and some great apps, if you prefer to work that way. If you’re new to budgeting, however, maybe this ‘dual account’ approach will be of use.


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