Establishing an Emergency Reserve

By Eric Tyson

You never know what life will bring, so having a readily accessible reserve of cash to meet unexpected expenses makes good financial sense. If you have a sister who works on Wall Street as an investment banker or a wealthy and understanding parent, you can use one of them as your emergency reserve. (Although you should ask them how they feel about that before you count on receiving funding from them!)

If you don’t have a wealthy family member, the ball’s in your court to establish a reserve.

Make sure you have quick access to at least three months’ to as much as six months’ worth of living expenses. Keep this emergency money in a savings account or a money market fund. You may also be able to borrow against your employer-based retirement account or against your home equity should you find yourself in a bind, but these options are much less desirable.

If you don’t have a financial safety net, you may be forced into selling an investment that you’ve worked hard for. And selling some investments, such as real estate, costs big money (because of transaction costs, taxes, and so on).

Consider the case of Warren, who owned his home and owned and rented out an investment property in the Pacific Northwest. He felt, and appeared to be, financially successful. But then Warren lost his job, accumulated sizable medical expenses, and had to sell his investment property to come up with cash for living expenses. Warren didn’t have enough equity in his home to borrow. He didn’t have other sources — a wealthy relative, for example — to borrow from, either, so he was stuck selling his investment property. Warren wasn’t able to purchase another investment property and missed out on the large appreciation the property earned over the subsequent two decades. Between the costs of selling and taxes, getting rid of the investment property cost Warren about 15 percent of its sales price. Ouch!