How to Build a Financial Safety Net for Financial Security

June 5, 2023

In Marvin Gaye’s cool jam, “Trouble Man”, he sings, “There are only three things for sure, taxes, death, and trouble, oh this I know.” Financial advisors help us avoid taxes, and life insurance policies protect our families’ finances from unexpected death, but how do we prepare for trouble? I start every financial plan with the Safety Net because it is the foundation upon which the rest of the plan is built, and it is also the foundation upon which we can confidently stand and take wealth-building risks in other parts of our portfolio. Let’s explore the appropriate size of the Safety Net and its potential components.

The general rule of thumb measures the size of a proper emergency fund as six to twelve months’ worth of expenses. For example, if your mortgage payment, car payment, utilities groceries, and miscellaneous spending add up to $10,000/month, your emergency fund should have somewhere between $60,000 and $120,000. Like all personal finance, determining the size of an emergency fund is a combination of mathematical formulas and personal reflection.

Risk-averse people may want twelve months or more whereas a risk seeker may only want six months. Investors should also consider how reliable and consistent their sources of income are. For example, a salesperson with little or no base salary and inconsistent commissions should opt for a much larger emergency fund. A federal employee with a steady paycheck and future pension may opt for a lower emergency fund.

Let’s assume you work with your financial advisor and together you determine that your emergency fund should be 10 months, or $100,000. That does not mean that you let $100,000 sit in your checking account earning zero interest. In fact, I recommend only keeping two, or three months at most, worth of expenses in a checking account to smooth out the variability in month-to-month spending. We would use the remaining $70,0000 to $80,000 to buy safe and easily accessible assets, such as short-term US treasuries and CDs, which, at the time of this writing yield over 5%.

Having sufficient safe, liquid assets in your Safety Net will cover unexpected expenses and losses of income when trouble inevitably comes. It will also give you the necessary cushion so you do not have to dip into your long-term investments, which will almost certainly be down when you face trouble personally. Now is a great time to get your Safety Net in order, and you may feel like Marvin Gaye at the end of the song, “Don't care what the weather. Don't care 'bout no trouble, got me together, I feel the kind of protection that's all around me.”

Tune in next month when we explore another component of the Safety Net, a HELOC!

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