An emergency fund can turn a crisis into an inconvenience. Having a big pad of liquid cash available ensures that when life throws its wrenches and curveballs your way, you and your family will be prepared.
This is a sensical conclusion. Yet most Americans have little in emergency savings. One survey found that only 39% of Americans have enough in savings to cover a $1,000 emergency, and life can throw emergencies our way far pricier than that.
Having an emergency fund is a wise idea, but it is also a Biblical one (that shouldn’t come as a surprise). In fact, we have a great example in the book of Genesis about how an emergency fund saved almost the entire known world from mass starvation.
Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt during his youth, and after being falsely accused of seducing Potiphar’s wife while in Egypt, he was thrown in prison for two years.
While Joseph was in prison, Pharaoh had several dreams which caused him severe angst. Unable to discern the meaning of the dreams, his servants called on Joseph, who could allegedly interpret dreams.
After describing the dreams of the skinny cows and the fat cows (recounted in Genesis 41), and hearing that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, Pharaoh put 30-year-old Joseph into the second-highest office in Egypt.
With wisdom beyond his years, he began to save food from the years of plenty in Egypt’s storehouses.
During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully. Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it. Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure. (Genesis 41:47-49 NIV)
Rather than using this time to indulge and cast aside plans for the future, Joseph put off immediate gratification and prepared for the hard times he knew were coming. After the seven years of abundance were over, then came the famine.
The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end, and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.” When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt. And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere. (Genesis 41:53-57)
As a result, Egypt’s wealth and power greatly grew as other nations came to buy food. Even Joseph’s older brothers came to Egypt, and sought out the renowned leader for food.
Because of Joseph’s foresight and wisdom, the known world could eat. Back in ancient times, famines were particularly dangerous because the world did not have international trade the way we do today. Joseph was aware of this, and knew that the good times in Egypt would not last forever. As a result, he created an emergency fund for the entire nation and arguably saved the known world from catastrophic starvation.
Times were still tough, but it would have been worse absent Joseph’s intentional planning. This principle also applies to our personal lives.
In good times, it is important that we prepare for the inevitable downturns and emergencies that happen in this life. It is only a matter of time before the economy takes a dip again, or some big emergency hits your household.
The question is what you are doing to prepare for those times. Whether it’s a job loss, medical event, or big repair, life will throw such situations at us.
I teach having 3-6 months of expenses in cash in a savings account that is not directly connected to your checking account for overdraft protection. This account is only to be used for true emergencies (sales on clothes and furniture are not emergencies, contrary to some store ads).
This fund is for when your family needs money immediately to pay for an expense suddenly thrust upon you. If you lose your job, this pays your housing, food, and utilities until you are employed again; it pays for the $3,000 repair to your car’s engine; it pays your $5,000 medical bills when someone in your household has a critical illness.
Without an emergency fund, your only other option is debt, and the borrower is a slave to the lender. Keep yourself free, insure yourself against life’s inevitable emergencies.