Less than 38 percent of Americans have at least $1,000 in savings. Yeah, I know. As a statistic it’s painful to read. If it’s your life, it’s brutal to live. Financial emergencies happen all. the. time. Sometimes they come in clusters, sometimes one at a time. Sometimes they cost a few hundred bucks, sometimes they cost thousands upon thousands. At least 62 percent of Americans are susceptible to major financial trauma if an emergency arises. You need a financial triage plan. Immediately.
I’m not going to tell you to save more money. If you have less than a $1,000 in savings you know you need to save money. The problem is you don’t know how. This is because you’ve probably never understood margin.
Margin is what is created in the gap between how much you earn and how much you spend. After reading this definition, you may now recognize margin as what you formerly called “spending money.” What often happens when there is money left over after your obligations is you exhale and spend through it. Considering you only have a $1,000 to your name, you are living in stressful financial environment. Any margin is a sweet relief you savor and enjoy in the moment. This short-term relief is what is keeping you in the cycle of financial stress.
Another way people are generally unprepared for emergencies is lack of planning. Your car will need a repair eventually. Your appliances will die at some point. What’s your plan? If you have none, it’s generally code for “I’ll borrow money if I have to.” Let’s remember, at this point you have only $1,000 to your name, borrowing money to solve a problem will only created more problems for you. It’s the beginning a financial death spiral.
You could read this and feel bad about your situation (or more likely feel angry at me for writing it) OR you could take action. I highly recommend the latter. TAKE ACTION. Best case scenario, you take action now and gain some momentum before an emergency happens. Second best case scenario, you use a current emergency to kick yourself into gear. Take advantage of margin. Use it to save for emergencies and/or pay off existing debt. Make an emergency plan. If X happens we’ll solve it by doing Y.
Emergencies are inevitably going to put a strain on your financial life. Your reaction doesn’t have to make it worse.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.