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How long does it take to save a month's worth of expenses?

Saving just a single month of expenses may take longer than you think. See how your savings rate affects how quickly you can build a solid emergency fund.

By Dough Roller Apr 18, 2014 4:59PM
This post comes from Rob Berger at partner site the Dough Roller.

The Dough Roller on MSN MoneyWe often talk about the importance of saving an emergency fund.  Many financial experts suggest building an emergency fund that is equal to three to six months' worth of expenses.  Have you ever thought about just how long it takes to save even one month of expenses?

Office worker marking calendar with red pen © Image Source, Image Source, Getty ImagesThe formula to figure out just how long it will take is very simple.  It's also eye-opening.

First, let's start with your after-tax income. Take this amount and divide it into two buckets - how much you spend and how much you save.

Don't forget to include savings and spending that come directly out of your paycheck -- e.g., 401k contributions (saving) and health insurance premiums (spending).

Once you know how much you spend and how much you save, it's easy to figure how long it'll take to save your month's worth of expenses.

Take the percentage that you spend, and divide it by the percentage that you save
For example, let's say that you're able to save 5 percent of your after-tax income. That would mean that you spend 95%. Ninety-five divided by five equals 19 months. So it would take you over one and a half years to save just one month's worth of expenses.  Let that sink in for a minute.

Of course, that doesn't include any interest you might earn on that savings, perhaps in a high yield savings account from one of the better online banks. But as you know, rates today are so low that you're not going to get much help from interest. In fact, it's less than the rate of inflation.

Regardless, 19 months is a long time to save a month's worth of expenses. Do the math, and you'll realize that saving six months' worth of expenses will take you nearly 10 years.

So what if you doubled your savings rate to 10 percent while spending 90 percent of your take-home pay? Well, 90 divided by 10 is nine months.

As you can see, the interesting thing here is that as you save more, you spend less. And since you spend less, you need less money, in total, to equal one month's worth of expenses. So as you increase your savings rate, you're getting a double bump. That's why it takes less than half the time to save a month's worth of expenses when you jump from a 5 percent savings rate to a 10% savings rate.

And it gets even better as you go. At a 20 percent savings rate, it would take you just four months to save a month's worth of expenses. And at 50 percent? It'll only take you one month to save a month's worth of expenses.

(Think that can't be done? Just check out this podcast where I interview Pete from Mr. Money Mustache who saved more than half his income and retired at age 30.)
Now all of this can be a little discouraging. Maybe you aren't saving anything, or you're only saving 5 percent. You may be stuck thinking about how long it'll take to save an emergency fund.

That's the bad news. The good news is that if you can get your savings rate up - even a little bit -- those months needed to reach your goal drop quickly.  That's why the one-n-done method of saving money is so important.

This really underscores the important of saving. It's not easy, but if you can ratchet up the savings, the amount of emergency fund you can set aside increases significantly. Of course, this also works for other types of savings. Whether it's retirement or a child's education, bringing your savings rate from 5 or 10 percent to just 10 or 15 percent helps tremendously. And if you can become a super-saver, putting away 20 percent or more of your income, you'll really build wealth and achieve financial freedom very quickly.

More from the Dough Roller
1Comment
Apr 19, 2014 12:22PM
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I think that its better to have an emergency fund with a year's worth of expenses in there. Many people are out of jobs for years in this economy. Nothing is guaranteed.  I think just 3 months worth is not enough, by a long shot.
If you start to run out of cash just start living below your means for a while... (but of course that's easier said than done.) Here are some of my tips:
1) Start by selling everything you don't need.  You probably have a bunch of antiques or collectibles that you could sell for big money.
2) Cut eating out as much as possible.. aim for eating on less than $2/day (definitely possible).
3) Cut back on transportation costs. Drive a cheap car (Honda Civic), get cheap $25/month insurance (check Insurance Panda), use GasBuddy for gas.
4) Don't bite off more than you can chew with rent/mortgage/assist​ed living or whatever house cost you have.  Hopefully it's already paid off...
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