No, a rainy day fund is not an emergency fund. Here’s the real difference


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A rainy day fund is money that’s set aside to cover lower cost expenses that invariably come up but you weren’t necessarily planning on having to cover, such as your microwave breaking or needing new tires.

A rainy day fund is not the same thing as an emergency fund. The main differences are the size of the funds and what they are intended for. A rainy day fund is meant for extra midsize expenses that often come up, whereas an emergency fund is earmarked for major, unexpected expenses and events (like needing a new roof or losing your job) that can have a lasting negative impact on your finances. It’s wise to have both a rainy day fund and an emergency fund. 

Read on for a closer look at how rainy day funds work, how to set up your rainy day fund, and how much you should keep in the account.

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What Is a Rainy Day Fund?

A rainy day fund is a relatively small amount of savings that is earmarked for occasional expenses that may come up but aren’t part of your regular budget, such as car maintenance or taking your pet to the vet. Having money for a so-called “rainy day” can help keep you from running up expensive credit card debt to cover a cost that is outside of your usual monthly spending.

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How Does a Rainy Day Fund Work?

A rainy day fund is usually kept in a liquid account (meaning the money is accessible), such as a savings account. That way, if the fridge goes on the fritz or you need to come up with an annual insurance premium, you have a safety net that is quick and easy to access. You won’t have to deplete your checking account or run up credit card debt to cover the bill. You can simply take the money from your rainy day fund.

Once you deplete your rainy day fund, you’ll want to fund it again, so it’s there when you (inevitably) need it again.

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What Can a Rainy Day Fund Be Used For?

A rainy day fund can be used to cover any extra expenses that come up throughout the year, whether expected or unexpected. Some examples include:

  • Doctor visits
  • Vet visits
  • Dental procedures
  • Fixing or replacing a broken appliance
  • Car maintenance
  • Fixing a broken window
  • Home gutter cleanings
  • School shopping
  • Annual subscriptions
  • Emergency childcare
  • Emergency room visits
  • Parking tickets
  • Accountant/tax bills

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Rainy Day Fund vs Emergency Fund

A rainy day fund is separate from your emergency fund. An emergency fund is designed to cover a significant financial setback. This might include a major home repair, a large medical expense, or income replacement if you lose your job.

Financial experts often recommend setting aside at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses in your emergency fund. If you are a single-income family or self-employed, however, you may want to put aside nine to 12 months’ worth of living expenses in your emergency fund.

By contrast, a rainy day fund is designed to cover a one-time, smaller expenditure. This might be paying for summer camp for your child, replacing a broken home or car window, or any other short-term, out-of-the-ordinary expenses. While these expenses might not seem like a big deal, they could throw your budget off kilter and possibly put you into debt if you’re not prepared. 

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What Amount to Have in Your Rainy Day Fund

You don’t need to worry about keeping multiple months of expenses in your rainy day fund. It’s meant to be easy to achieve. The right amount is highly individual but, if you’re just getting started, you might consider setting a goal of $500 for your rainy day fund. As time progresses, you could try saving up to $1,000 or maybe even $2,000.

Something in that range gives you a good amount of cash to work with in case you need new tires or need to have an unexpected dental expense. It’s not meant to cover nonessential expenses like a weekend getaway. Instead, you want to reserve your rainy day funds for true necessities that you don’t have to cover on a regular basis. 

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Starting Your Rainy Day Fund

Once you determine how much you want to have in your rainy day fund, you’ll want to consider how much cash you can afford to put into the fund each month. 

Ideally, you want to keep a rainy day fund in a savings account that pays a competitive annual percentage yield (APY) to help it to grow over time, such as a high-yield savings account or money market account. 

When considering where to put your fund, keep in mind that you don’t have to keep your rainy day fund at the same bank where you have your checking account. It’s generally easy to transfer funds from a savings account to a checking account online, even if the accounts are at two different banks.

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Saving Money For a Rainy Day Fund

Once you decide how much you want to keep in your rainy day fund and have a designated account, it’s time to start saving. Here are some strategies that can help you reach your rain day savings goal quickly and painlessly.

Automate your savings. Establishing an automatic transfer from your checking account into your rainy day savings account on a set day each month (perhaps on the day your paycheck clears) can be one of the most effective ways to grow this fund. Even if the amount is small, it will add up quickly because the transfer will happen every month no matter what. 

Take advantage of windfalls. Consider using a windfall, such as a bonus at work, tax return, or cash gift, to fund some or all of your rainy day fund in one fell swoop.

Temporarily tighten your budget. Consider making some spending cuts for a few months and diverting that extra savings into your rainy day fund. To get some savings inspiration, consider doing a 52-week savings challenge or using these 7 proven ways to save.

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The Takeaway

Having a rainy day savings account can help you manage those annoying extra expenses that can crop up throughout the year that might otherwise throw you off balance. Unlike an emergency fund, which is designed to help you through a significant financial upheaval, a rainy day fund can help you handle midsize expenses when they crop up without having to turn to costly ways of borrowing money, such as high-interest credit cards.

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