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Does an Emergency Fund Invite Emergencies?

This article was written by in Saving. 10 comments.


I was reading comments on older Consumerism Commentary articles and I came across an interesting statement. A reader, who had otherwise good advice to provide another reader who was pondering whether to use an unexpected $100,000 inheritance to pay off a mortgage or invest in the stock market, said the money or a portion of the inheritance should not be used for an emergency fund.

He did concede a “contingency” fund might be a better idea, but I’m not sure I understand the reader’s intended difference between an emergency fund and a contingency fund. Perhaps it’s only in the word choice. Specifically, he said the following:

Emergency fund? Law of attraction at work. If you have an “emergency” fund, I guarantee you will have a lot of emergencies in your life. Let’s have a “contingency” fund instead. Even after paying off the mortgage, she will have a good amount of money left over for BOTH contingency and investing.

Perhaps “emergency fund” isn’t the best name for money set aside, not invested, and available to handle unexpected situations.

Nevertheless, I disagree with this reader. Having an emergency fund doesn’t guarantee emergencies. I can see why one might think that, though.

A feeling of security encourages risky behavior. By having money available for emergencies, whether in a liquid savings account or stashed under the mattress, you have a psychological cushion. You know that you’re relatively secure financially and could handle, at least to a limit, financial emergencies. When you feel secure, you are more apt to take risks, whether with your life decisions or your money directly. With the an increased number of risky choices you make or with an increased level of risks for your actions, you could increase the chance of needing to dip into your emergency fund.

I’m no stranger to this concept. By building up savings, I felt comfortable enough to quit my relatively secure day job in favor of putting all of my time into a risky business based around nothing more a website and the advertising revenue it generated. Having money in the bank encouraged this risky behavior, and it could have gone horribly wrong.

Now, I like to think that my human capital is at such a level that had I needed to find a secure form of income, I would have been able to find a job quickly. But I know pretty intelligent and experienced people who had been unemployed for a long time; there’s no guarantee I would have been able to replace lost income quickly.

With an emergency fund, everything becomes an emergency. There should be self-imposed limits on what constitutes an emergency and necessitates a withdrawal from an emergency fund. Failure to plan for events within reasonable expectations does not really constitute an emergency. Realizing at the last minute you didn’t save to buy presents for your kids is not an emergency, even if their crying makes you believe that giving into their demands is the only way to soothe them. Having a rough day at the office and deciding to take a last-minute vacation consisting of a weekend getaway is not an emergency, either.

You can certainly use your accumulated savings to pay for these two types of expenses, but if you have money set aside in a fund designated for emergencies, you’d be better off keeping that cash where it is and looking for a different savings source. Money is fungible, and there’s nothing concrete that separates one type of savings from another assuming the funds are all kept in a similar type of savings account, but emergency savings should be prioritized differently and set aside, untouchable only in certain situations. It may be the case that you’ve only been able to save a little bit of money at this point in your life. Without a fully-funded emergency fund and with no other savings, you have to be careful about your decisions that affect your money.

There’s a chance that an emergency fund turns into a regular savings account, accessible for the smaller so-called emergencies that appear on a regular basis. If they aren’t true emergencies, find another way to pay, the best choices being either other savings or excess cash flow.

The reader seems to give the impression that because of the “law of attraction,” having an emergency fund will invite real emergencies. According to this so-called “law,” focusing on negative thoughts brings about negative circumstances. Of course this isn’t a “law” at all. In fact, it has no basis in reality. Yet it is an observable phenomenon on an individual basis if someone is actively looking to see the “law” at play. I could attribute bad things that happen to me to my negative thoughts as easily as I can attribute good things that happen to me to my positive thoughts because, like most human beings, I have both negative and positive thoughts at varying times. Thus, the “law” is rendered meaningless.

If, however, you primarily have a negative attitude, you’re more likely to interpret events as negative. That’s normal, and it doesn’t need a fancy name. The good news is by having an emergency fund, you are thinking positively about your financial situation. Emergency funds do not cause people to fixate on the negative possibilities. Being able to afford to handle financial uncertainly or what would otherwise be devastation is one of the most positive aspects of a financial life.

If you believe in the “law of attraction,” the positive change in your life brought about by a fully-funded emergency plan, or by thinking about such things like being financially protected, could lead to most positive financial decisions, like paying off your debt and increasing your net worth.

To address the reader’s word choice of “contingency” rather than “emergency,” wouldn’t this interpretation of the “law of attraction” specify that one with a contingency fund has more contingencies?

Do you believe that the state of having an emergency fund invites the incidence of more emergencies?

Published or updated March 7, 2013. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Anne & Matt

Eh, to each their own I guess. I feel much better having several months’ of expenses tucked away, should we need them. Our “emergency fund” is designated for use in the event of job loss, needing a car or house insurance deductible, or a car/house repair that cannot wait for us to save up out of regular cash flow.

We’re also in the process of saving up for house/car repairs separate from the e-fund, but until we get to that point, the cash is there.

I don’t think having an e-fund invites bad things to happen. I think it helps most situations from becoming emergencies in the first place.

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avatar Yana

I don’t have a fund that I label Emergency. We have money that we don’t touch, which represents security for retirement or drastic lifestyle change. If money is considered “spendable”, which we do not consider the funds I’m referring to, there will always be an invitation to spend it.

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avatar Ceecee ♦796 (Dime)

It seems that this is all a question of semantics. Potato, potah-to. I feel more comfortable having an emergency fund, and therefore I am relaxed and expect no big emergencies. How does that play with the Law of Attraction?

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avatar Christian L.

Luke,
I don’t give my emergency fund this much thought. I put money in it and leave it there. That’s about it.

I guess for people who look to their emergency fund to pay for things such as gifts or brief getaways, I’d tell them to get more disciplined with your spending and saving.

-Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

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avatar Steve

The flip side of the law of attraction is Murphy’s law. if you have an emergency you’ll never have an emergency; and if you don’t have a fund, you’ll be hit with emergencies. Make sure you have a big one though, because if you have a fund that can handle one emergency, fate will hit you with two. This thinking is at least as valid as anything based on the law of attraction (at least in the mathematical sense, meaning, strictly equal or better.)

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avatar jim

The ‘law of attraction’ is just superstition. Its that belief hat if you have positive thoughts that positive things will happen and vice versa. I interpret the commenter to mean this kind of belief as thats the term ‘law of attraction’ is used for.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,371 (Platinum)

I agree that’s what’s the commenter intended, I just think it’s wrong. Positive thinking leads to positive interpretations of events (and negative thinking leads to negative interpretations of events), in my opinion, and thinking does not *cause* events. There’s something to be said for a positive attitude, but it doesn’t actually manifest anything.

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avatar One Frugal Girl

I believe that positive thoughts lead to positive events. It’s not that positive events occur just because of your attitude, but rather that when you are in that frame of mind you simply find the good in things that others would overlook. If you are looking for misery then you will be miserable and vice versa.

You don’t have to call an emergency fund an emergency fund. You can simply call it a savings account. The key is to have money set aside that can be tapped when you need it. Your commenter might want to call it a happy fund, because he sure will be happy if he runs into a problem and knows he has money set aside to pay for it.

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avatar KB

I guess that all could happen. But for most people, having an emergency fund teaches you good financial habits – saving, knowing when to spend, knowing when use the fund, things like that. And these are all good habits. So, sure, some people will just think of it as another spending account, and look for reasons to use it. But many people will use it properly. If you are the type who is easily tempted, “hide” the money – not literally (although isn’t a bad idea), but hide the paperwork or statements so its out of sight/out of mind.

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avatar Jenny

I agree with you here. I think of my bank account being empty when the balance draws near the emergency fund. It doesn’t matter how many zeroes there are–if it’s an emergency fund, it’s for real emergencies.

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