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I was making great progress on my student loans until the first of several large, money-sucking emergencies smashed into my life like the Kool-Aid man.

3 Times I Was Damn Grateful for My Emergency Fund (and Side Income)

Here at Our Lady of Financial Solvency (AKA the church we definitely didn’t start exclusively for that sweet, sweet tax-exempt dark money), there are two ways to be Saved:

  1. Having some kind of emergency fund.
  2. Having multiple streams of income.

An emergency fund is, of course, a lump sum of cash you set aside for emergencies. Break your leg? BOOM, emergency funded. Break your phone? BOOM, emergency funded. Break your heart? Sorry kid, no amount of money can fix that break. But you’ll still be glad you saved an emergency fund if your brokenhearted ice cream binge cuts into your rent payment for next month!

Having multiple streams of income means that in addition to your day job, you’re making extra money on the side. Whether it’s through a second job, selling shit on Craigslist, or passive income from investments, having that extra income stream means that you won’t be left high and dry if your primary source of income goes away. And in the meantime, you can do with that sweet, sweet extra money whatever you damn well please.

Our church is built upon these cornerstones for the literal reason that they will save your fucking ass in the event of an unforeseen disaster. For without them, you will have nothing to save you if you wind up with an expensive emergency, landing yourself squarely in the Ninth Circle of Debt (if I may stretch this recovering Catholic’s metaphor to its absolute breaking point).

So I am here to testify to the importance of emergency funds and side gigs! Bow your heads and listen as I tell you my tales of being grateful af that I had an emergency fund and an extra stream of income at hand.

Let us pray…

When my car broke down

My first grownup car was a 2003 Subaru Forester.

If you drove over 45 miles per hour, the wind whistled through the window seals thanks to a manufacturing defect. The interior was the same color as my dog, which necessitated traveling around with a lint roller if I didn’t want to walk into the office decorated in the fur of a golden brown mutt. It did great on the snow, great on dirt roads, and was the kind of vehicle I’d park three blocks away if I was heading to an important business meeting.

My partner referred to it as my “lesbian soccer mom car” and I was damn proud of the moniker!

Yet as with all old, used cars… its lifespan left a lot to be desired. And one day, while driving home from airport parking after a business trip… the damn thing died. Catastrophically.

CONTENT WARNING: MISUNDERSTOOD, INACCURATE AUTOMOTIVE EXPLANATION AHEAD.

Apparently while I was zooming along the highway, something called the “timing belt” blew, whipping around through my engine like a gd morningstar and smashing everything it came into contact with.

On a scale of one to ten, the damage was expensive.

How I used my emergency fund

At this point I had a pretty emaciated emergency fund. I was prioritizing paying off my student loans at the time, and had bet on paying them off before any large, money-sucking emergency smashed into my life like the Kool-Aid Man.

It was exactly this optimistic assumption that probably killed my poor Subaru. For when it died, I found myself in the awkward position of having only about $4k left on my student loans… and only $1k in my emergency fund.

That wouldn’t be enough to fix my car, and it wasn’t enough to buy a new car. (Or at least it wouldn’t pay for the kind of car I wanted: something used, but in great shape, that I could drive for another twelve to fifteen years without requiring major repairs. For I believe in driving cars into the ground before even thinking about replacing them!)

But what I could afford was a bus pass for a few months.

How I used my second income

At the time I was commuting twenty miles one-way to work every day. (Worry not, bikevangelists, we were living barely two miles from my husband’s office, so at least one of us wasn’t committing gross crimes against the environment. And since then I’ve ditched car commuting altogether to work from home full-time. #winning) The trip typically took 35-45 minutes by car… or two hours by bus.

So I paid to ride the bus for a few months while I saved up for a new car. Fortunately, I had already built a side business to make extra money to throw at my student loans. Instead of hustling to make extra debt payments, I just hustled to save up a car down payment instead.

It delayed my freedom from student loans for a few months while I saved and rode the bus. But in the end my emergency fund, the sale of my broken down Subaru, and the money I made freelancing while riding the bus to and from my day job formed the basis of a down payment on a new car. And that baby’s still going strong!

More on our complicated relationship with cars:

When I ended up in the hospital… twice

There are a few things you don’t want to hear from medical professionals. “The tumor is inoperable,” is up there, along with “You have six months to live” and “Your baby has the shoulders of a linebacker, now push.”

For me, it was the nurses and doctor arguing over which was more painful—a broken femur, childbirth, or second-degree burns—as they were diagnosing me with second and third degree burns over most of my dominant hand and forearm.

I’ve never given birth nor broken a femur, but I can confirm: second degree burns hurt like a motherfucker.

How I used my emergency fund

While I was lying on a gurney in the emergency room processing the pain of my boiled flesh and wishing desperately for unconsciousness, one thing I didn’t worry about was money.

For while American healthcare is notoriously expensive, I knew that a) I had health insurance, b) I had an emergency fund, and c) I was going to put my copay on my credit card and get mad travel points out of that mess.

So while I gobbled painkillers and cracked wise at the poor nurse debriding my Deadpool skin, my husband just handed over the credit card. Two days later, when I could see my banking app through the drug-induced haze, I paid that shit off with my emergency fund. It barely made a dent.

Clearly, I’d learned my lesson from the car incident.

… and again…

Rinse and repeat for a few months ago when I horribly sprained my ankle in a rock climbing accident. The injury wasn’t nearly as gross, but by now you guys should know the term “accident prone” was invented for yours truly.

“But Piggy, if you’re so accident prone, why do you do extreme sports like rock climbing?”

While I got X-rays and a prescription for physical therapy, I rested secure in the knowledge that my emergency fund could handle the charges. Even though I was technically unemployed at the time…

When I lost my job

Roger Ebert says getting laid off from my full-time job was an “emotional tour de force! Zero stars!”

Losing my job at the beginning of a global pandemic and recession wasn’t exactly… ideal. But it could have been much, much worse. And for many people, it was.

How I used my emergency fund

Fortunately for me, I had my trusty emergency fund when my company gave me the boot. I panicked about money for about five minutes before I realized I really didn’t need to.

Since learning the value of an emergency fund way back when my car broke down, the lesson had been reinforced time and time again.

When my dog needed an expensive visit from the vet, or my husband lost his glasses, or our house was damaged in a hail storm… every time the shit hit the proverbial fan, I knew my emergency fund would shield me from the centrifugal poo.

By that point in my life, I had a comfortable six months of living expenses sitting in a high interest savings account. What did this mean for me in a post-job life? Not that I planned to, but I could sit on my ass and do fuck-all for quite some time while my emergency fund took care of me.

Here’s more on emergency funds:

How I used my second income

Yet as it happened, I didn’t even need to rely on my emergency fund when I lost my day job. Because I had my second job to fall back on.

For years, I’ve been freelancing on top of my full-time work. Freelancing was my secret weapon, my trump in the hole, my ace card (my internal metaphor generator is running out of juice by this point in the article). I’d always used it to fund my emergency fund, or save up for vacations and gifts. It was a key part of my student debt pay-off strategy. Let me be abundantly clear: most of my financial wins can be attributed to working two jobs for most of my adult life.

So when I got laid off, I just… made my second job my first job. Literally, the day after my last day of full-time employment, I started working full time on a freelance project. No down time, no interruption in my income.

I built this emergency-funded, side-hustled safety net for myself, though it was long and hard in the building. And like other things that are long and hard, I was grateful for it when it finally landed in my hands.

Progress update

Holy. Shit.

Last week we asked for your help with getting to 500 Patreon donors. We thought this was a ridiculous, pie-in-the-sky goal.

… AND 84 OF YOU CAME THROUGH LIKE HURRICANES DO!!!

I should really just post the screenshots of Kitty and I texting each other as the week went on, totally blown away by our readers’ trust and generosity. But that wouldn’t be appropriate, as it would reveal us to be drippy, weepy, inefficient non-robots who care about some things more than money. And we just can’t have that.

I AM NOT CRYING. IT IS THOU WHO ART CRYING.

We did not expect to have so many step up so quickly. This means we’re nearly halfway to our goal to fund season 3 of the podcast! Jeebus Cripes. Y’all rock.

That said, we still need 122 more people to join our Patreon community. You could be one of them! You’ll get access to lots of great extra content in a private community of extremely cool fellow bitches—and don’t get me wrong, that stuff is real neat!

But the real value you’re adding by becoming a Patreon donor is subsidizing this content for people who genuinely cannot afford to give us anything. We could probably make boatloads of moolah hiding our best content behind paywalls, but that’s ain’t our game. We’re here to provide guidance to as many struggling and underserved people as we can. Charging money is a barrier that would keep those people out. We’d rather be funded by the people who’ve reached independence and financial stability because of our help.

If that mission vibes with you, c’mon and get in here!

Our lowest tier is just $1 per month. Times are tough, and some of y’all can’t manage even that. If that’s your case, don’t sweat it, sweeties! Read our advice, get yourself right, and join us when you’re in a better place. You can thank us fo’ free by leaving a nice review for the podcast, or sharing Bitches Get Riches with a couple of friends.

Help us get to 500 Patrons!

20 thoughts to “3 Times I Was Damn Grateful for My Emergency Fund (and Side Income)”

  1. I have a tendency of calling my emergency fund my “fuck off fund” – lifted from some article I read ages ago, advising that you should always have a financial cushion for when you need to tell your boss/boyfriend/landlord to fuck off. And look, I know that it’s not the same as an emergency fund, but… I live in a place with socialized healthcare and robust public transport, so most emergencies genuinely do have to do with losing/quitting jobs, getting kicked out of a flat, hating your flat, or romantic/flatmate relationships breaking down. And it’s so much easier to save up if you keep telling yourself: “I’m doing this so that I can tell my job to fuck off if it gets really bad”.

    (It still blows my mind that you guys have to pay for GETTING SECOND DEGREE BURNS TREATED. I have a chronic hormonal problem that I will never be rid of, and because of it, I’m exempt from paying for medication. Any medication. I get asthma inhalers for free, just because of this chronic condition that’s completely unrelated to asthma. I literally walk into a farmacy, wave a piece of plastic, and walk out with meds without paying. That is on top of free doctor and hospital appointments that absolutely everyone in the country is getting. The only medical costs I have are 1) over the counter stuff when I get a sniffle; 2) a flu shot once a year.

    I know this rant kind of off topic, but ffs, I’ve been watching US election coverage and the medical bills part is SO BIZARRE.)

      1. I’m in the UK, but I think most (if not all?) European countries have some form of free healthcare. There are some regional differences. When I lived in another country, my medication was out of pocket, but it cost something like the price of a cappuccino for 3 months’ worth of medicine, so I didn’t mind having to pay.

          1. I also didn’t pay a dime for university.

            (I swear I had a mature answer typed up, but it was so full of screaming that I gave up.)

  2. The PEACE that comes from having any kind of emergency fund is just…*chef’s kiss*. Whether it’s allowing you to make wiser decisions that are rational and not fear-based, or just not adding any more stress to already hellish circumstances (gurney-based or otherwise).

    Bookmarking this to share far and wide with anyone who doesn’t think an emergency fund is top priority when getting your finances in shape. Congratulations, you’re playing yourself.

  3. Having a fully funded emergency fund is a massive weight off your shoulders. I call it my Eff Off Fund because my HYSA doesn’t allow swear words for account names. XD

    I got laid off 2 years ago and had enough in my emergency fund to cast my job searching net far and wide and ended up moving to a different state. I’ve since fully funded it back and then some since I moved to a more expensive area. The peace of knowing that you can take care of something, whether it be an unexpected expense like replacing your only car key because it broke in half to something more dire like a lay off, is indescribable.

  4. Is that Bruce Campbell in the gif of the guy polishing the car? What’s that from? It’s driving me bananas…..and brilliantly written article per uzh

  5. I work for a small business and not sure how much longer we can last during this pandemic, so I’m trying to squirrel away as much money as possible just in case of the worst. I also have side freelance jobs, so since you went through this, wondering if you were able to claim partial unemployment when laid off from your “main” job, even if you started working more freelance hours? I’m sure it depends on the state you’re in, but just trying to plan if I have to solely rely on my own savings + side hustles or what role Uncle Sam can play in this scenario.

    1. Yes, I was able to claim unemployment for a while! I recommend you apply for UI as soon as you can if your company goes under. We wrote a how-to guide to applying for unemployment a few months ago, which you can find in the Grand List of All Articles.

  6. I am always late to the party because I only have time to read and comment on Monday mornings – but – This whole piece 100%.

    I think an emergency fund is the most important thing you can do financially. It isn’t glamourous, and it isn’t fun, but it is CLUTCH when you need it.

    We had a three year run where we drew down our E fund annually. I gave birth, had major complications and hit our Max Out of Pocket AND Out of Network on our insurance. The next year DH had an emergency appendectomy, sepsis and emergency transport and we hit our Max Out of Pocket again. And then the next year daycare for our littles cost more than DH was making as an adjunct and we slowly whittled down our savings again to pay for childcare while DH found a job (and then a tree fell on our house).

    Each disaster we had to resave our e-fund. It was exhausting and it would have been so much more fun to take a vacation or something instead of refilling it, but in the US you never know when the next financial disaster is going to hit. Eventually we were finally able to get ahead (through luck, privilege, and hard-ass work and hustling). The emergency fund keeps you from falling behind (from whence you might never recover) and maybe (fingers crossed) allows you to take advantage of good opportunities if they present themselves.

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