Friday, October 9, 2009

Reserve Cash vs Investing

As I discussed awhile back, here, I have a primary E*TRADE Complete Savings account, and a reserve E*TRADE Complete Savings account. I set up a $200/month automatic transfer from my Complete Savings account to my Reserve Cash account quite awhile ago. This was in addition to a sizable initial funding.

So far, this has worked very well at keeping me from investing this cash in (riskier) stocks. For the most part, I think this has worked because the balance of each account is relatively small, so it doesn't feel like I have that much extra to invest. You'll notice that I don't say spend - I have an automatic transfer of $1200/month to my checking account, which covers all credit card transactions plus those utilities not charged to the credit card. This has been more than enough to cover my limited expenses so far. It also helps me keep the few bigger purchases I make, such as buying a new camera, well spaced throughout the year. My main problem in keeping a cash reserve is that I feel that money is wasted just sitting there, when it could be averaging 8% per year sitting in the stock market.

I think this feeling will become a larger issue very soon, when my Reserve Cash account will surpass my Complete Savings account. At that point, I fear it will suddenly appear to be a much larger chunk of money than it is. To combat this feeling, I think I need a specific goal. For example, MyMoneyBlog's author keeps $100K in reserve, which is way too much cash to have on hand (at least for me). If I take my $1200 spending money plus $1400 mortgage payment, I get monthly expenses of $2600. In an emergency, I can take off more than $100 from my mortgage payment, and can easily cut down spending. But, to be conservative, let's leave one month's expenses at $2500 (a small adjustment for nice round numbers).

My first thought is to keep $10K in my reserve account. This would be at least 4 months of expenses, and is a nice round number. Combined with the fact that I always keep at least $3K in my Complete Savings account just in case there's a problem with my direct deposit for a month, this seems like a more than adequate cash reserve. However, never having had an emergency in my life, I'd be interested to hear other perspectives. Is 4 months of expenses a stupidly low cushion, despite most places recommending 3-6 months? How many months expenses do you keep on hand?

1 comment:

Lord Hughes said...

4 months is most likely plenty. The whole point of the 6 month buffer deals more with the money being locked away for retirement. Most of the money you are referring to is not locked in retirement accounts, but in taxable stocks and funds. In this case, you still need a cash buffer, but I feel it can be smaller as you always have some time for say a major hospital bill or some other huge expense to withdrawal money from your taxable accounts. Taking money from taxable accounts may not be ideal (loss of earnings on the money if pulled at a bad time) it's not a total loss since we're talking about funding an emergency. But having not had any serious unexpected expenses yet, I cannot attest to whether this works in practice.