The first thing to go wrong was the washing machine. I couldn’t do any laundry: every time I turned on the washing machine, the fuses tripped. My husband is a skilled manual labourer and my toddler is potty training, so it doesn’t take long for our laundry basket to turn into a grotty laundry tower. Google said there could be a problem with the machine’s pump.
“Leave it with me,” I said to my husband. “I’ll get us a sweet deal on a new washing machine.”
I said this because I was having a little daydream about sussing out the craziest good-value-for-money washing machine in the sales, then haggling for a further discount. The other day, in a naice department store in Harrogate, I got an additional 15% off a reduced-price polka dot dress, just by asking. Haggler with a swagger.
My husband gave me a withering look.
“We aren’t going to buy a new machine. We are going to replace the broken part.”
Our local washing machine repairman said he would come and take a look. My husband arrived home from work early to let him in.
The house reeked of gas.
The gas people came out, traced the gas leak to the hobs in the kitchen, slapped this lovely triangle sign (above) on our cooker and toodled off again.
The washing machine repairman came out, tinkered with the machine for a while – and then announced that the motor had blown, and that we were best off buying a new machine. In memorium, Indesit model WIA111 (2007 – 2014). You gave us your all.
So I arrived home from work to find the washing machine declared dead, Northern Gas Networks notices hung up in the kitchen, and the hobs disconnected.
And do you know what? I FELT FINE.
And not just because the washing machine repairman only charged £30 for the callout (good old Yorkshire prices.)
I felt fine partly because we have a Homecare 200 policy with British Gas, which covers the boiler, central heating and hobs. In essence: I pay £20 every month and get free call-outs, boiler servicing and replacement parts and labour. I should post separately about British Gas Homecare: it isn’t the most cost-effective option for everyone, but if your appliances are a certain age or are beginning to creak, that policy is worth its weight in gold. At this point, I have had a number of leaking radiators replaced and suspect I own the boiler equivalent of Trigger’s Broom.
But I also felt fine because I knew I had an emergency fund to cover the mess. No stress, no fuss: I stumped up £250 for a new washing machine, and slapped down the additional fee for British Gas to make the cooker safe again (my Homecare policy comes with a £50 excess for hob “work”) like it was no big deal.
You know what they say: bad things always happen in threes.
So I waited, nervously, to see what the next domestic apocalypse was going to be. Then at the weekend, this happened:
Yep: some delightful ne’er-do-well elected to spend his Saturday night walking up and down the streets in our area, stabbing the cars’ tyres as he went.
Result: one wrecked tyre, one shiny new replacement tyre and a £60 bill from Kwik-Fit.
Again: it came out of my emergency fund, so no biggie.
I’m writing all this down not to sound smug, but to show an emergency fund in use. Lights, camera, action! Because sometimes, crap happens.
Your emergency fund is supposed to be three to six months of living expenses. In other words: if your employer went bust tomorrow, you’d be swimming, not sinking.
If you read personal finance blogs, you’ll have come across emergency funds: particularly in America, where they have been popularised by a money-saving guru called Dave Ramsey, the emergency fund is promoted as an essential piece of kit for the fiscally responsible.
Here in the UK, 43% of families would be unable to pay the rent or mortgage for more than a month if their income dried up. Think that sounds bad? Nearly a quarter wouldn’t even be able to make it to the end of the first month. How many could keep going for three months? Or six months? I suspect the number is horribly small.
Let’s face it: the economy has been hitting the skids for the last six years now. For many of us, there isn’t much pay cheque left at the end of the month and the idea of an emergency funds sounds, well… difficult, inconvenient and not a priority when there are so many immediate demands on our cash.
The truth is that sometimes, stuff goes wrong – expensively wrong – and you can’t do a damned thing about it. In the old days, if I’d had a double disaster with the washing machine and gas hobs, I’d probably have wrung my hands, then bunged the costs on credit cards and fretted about paying them off.
I must admit that despite reading lots over the years about the importance of an emergency fund, it has taken me bloody ages to build one of my own. It has taken years of putting a little aside every month. But now I’m here, it’s a sweet spot and I’d recommend it. It takes so much worry out of life. It is liberating.
If you would like to build an emergency fund, but are not sure how to get started and you would benefit from a good ol’ dose of American can-do, here is some further reading for you: