A family consumes resources quickly, from diapers to paper towels, which sometimes makes it difficult to save money for the future. In fact, a family is a lot like a city, in that they can also struggle to save for future expenses like fixes to roads when much of the tax revenue is going toward keeping the city running day-to-day. This is why government administrators use a savings strategy referred to as a rainy day fund. These funds are meant to shore the gap in funding today without compromising the health of the future, and your family can benefit from this approach too.
A rainy day fund can cover the costs of things like home repairs, summer camp, medical deductibles and extra daycare fees. These costs should not be considered emergencies because they’re sometimes inevitable and part of owning a home or having a family. With a little forward planning, you can see these costs coming. Emergencies tend to be financial situations that turn life upside down, like unexpectedly losing a job.
The challenge is that many Americans struggle to save. One reason we struggle to save is because of what behavioral economists refer to as present bias — our tendency to focus on the things affecting us now instead of those that might impact our lives in the future.
One potential way to set aside present bias and add to a rainy day fund is to consider savings strategies that are less intrusive on everyday life:
- Create a plan and timeline: If you own a home and your roof is already 15 years old, price out the cost of a new roof and create a 5-year savings strategy to pay for it. Even if the roof fails after 2 years, the savings will lessen the financial blow.
- Open multiple savings accounts: For many people, it’s hard to view money as allotted to one set of expenses or savings when it’s not physically and visibly in a separate bank account. Fortunately, many banks offer multiple savings account options with no or low monthly fees.
- Start small: Saving can be an acquired taste. Again, it’s hard to break the present bias, so start small by taking a few dollars out of every paycheck. Once you get into a routine of saving, you might find opportunities to increase the amount you set aside.
- Create rules for your rainy day fund: The fund isn’t meant to be a place where you stockpile savings and pull from it every time you need it. Instead, use your plan and timeline as a guide for what can and cannot be a reason to pull from the fund. If it’s not in the plan, it’s not eligible to be paid for by the rainy day fund.
Extra costs sometimes happen when we least expect them, but they don’t have to be a surprise on your wallet. Push forward with a plan to build a rainy day fund you and your family can count on.