Hurricane Ian offered a brutal reminder of nature’s fury — and of the need for an emergency fund. When people build emergency savings, they usually do so to prepare for things like an unexpected job loss or a medical catastrophe.
But from hurricanes in the East to deadly wildfires in the West, some emergencies are so intense that they force you to flee your home with whatever you can carry — and in a lot of cases, staying put isn’t an option.
Depending on the scope of the catastrophe, hundreds of thousands or even millions of people can find themselves under mandatory evacuation — and scores more often flee of their own volition. In some cases — as with Hurricane Sandy in 2012 — the devastation is so severe that evacuated residents can’t return for weeks.
The exodus out of the danger zone leaves shelves empty and hotels booked in neighboring areas, which pushes up the price of accommodations and supplies nearby. According to the CRC Group insurance company, the end result is that the average evacuation can cost a family $5,000.
The very nature of disasters leaves those they impact little time to prepare, so now is the time to build an emergency fund that you one day literally might not be able to live without. Here’s how to do it.
Choose a High-Yield Savings Account
You might be tempted to build your emergency evacuation fund in an investment account so you can grow your money more quickly than you could by depositing your money in a bank.
The problem here is twofold.
First, your investments very well might move in the wrong direction and shrink your fund instead of growing it. Second, you’d have to sell securities and transfer your funds from your brokerage to your bank to access your cash. That’s an extra step you’ll certainly want to avoid once the waters start rising.
The good news is that rising interest rates have been good for savings accounts. The average yield was stuck at around 0.06% for months on end, but the Fed’s actions have nearly quadrupled that number to 0.21%, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis — and that’s just the average.
According to CNBC, many banks are now offering yields of 3% or more — up to 5% with online banks like Varo for those who qualify.
In short, it’s a good time to open a savings account — yields haven’t been this high in years. That’s excellent timing for you because a savings account is where your emergency evacuation fund should be anyway.
Keep Your Evacuation Funds Separate
Don’t make the mistake of mixing your emergency evacuation money with your other household cash. Set up a separate account just for that and don’t link it to your checking account for overdraft protection.
This part is always easier said than done, but pretend it isn’t there. If you tap it for manufactured emergencies, you won’t have it when a real one rolls in.
Automate Your Savings
The key is to make regular, consistent contributions as you work your way toward your $5,000 goal. If you decide you can swing $100 per month, for example, consider weekly installments of $25. Those smaller payments will seem more manageable than the maximum you can afford. If you break it up into smaller chunks, you’ll be less likely to skip a month when money is tight.
The trick to consistency is automatic transfers, which you can set up with just about every bank in the country. By switching your weekly contributions to autopilot, you’ll remove human error and guarantee a slow, steady build over time.
Treat It Like a Bill and Celebrate Milestones
You’ll be at $5,000 in no time if you treat your emergency evacuation fund like a bill that you have to pay. If you think of it as being less important than your mortgage or utilities, you’ll neglect your contributions and your fund will wither and die.
If money is tight, you don’t skip paying your rent — you skip eating out and you put off buying the latest tchotchke on Amazon. Assign your emergency evacuation fund the same level of importance and your little bit will soon become a lot.
On the way from a little to a lot, you should establish milestones, maybe once every $500 you bank. When you hit one, celebrate — and even splurge a little — by treating yourself to some of the things you sacrificed along the way.
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