Using Your Emergency Fund for Non Emergencies

by Kelly · 15 comments

in Money & Spending

What are emergency funds really for? Who draws the line on what is or isn’t an emergency? You had some interesting comments on last week’s post about using an emergency fund to replace a broken dishwasher.

Lots of people said that they live or have lived without a dishwasher and it really wasn’t such a bad thing. Many suggested ways of coping with piles of dishes, such as pre-rinsing or soaking the dishes in a dishpan. Several of you suggested that if the supply of hot water was too great an issue, we could always boil water in the kettle and then use that to wash the dishes.

A few people felt that the time convenience of a dishwasher definitely made having one worth the expense. Others looked on the bright side of things and suggested ways to make doing the dishes more attractive and less of a chore: do them together with my husband or, better yet, make my kids do them (sorry- they’re too young!).

Almost unanimously, you agree that a broken dishwasher is not an emergency, and we shouldn’t use our emergency fund to replace it.

Before I share what we ended up doing, I’d like to show you a photo of our kitchen with a day’s worth of dishes.dsc04036

and in case that wasn’t enough, here’s a close-up.


As you can see (and what you see is what you get), our kitchen is tiny. We have two burners, a small workspace and draining board, and a sink which barely holds a 9×13 baking pan. The fridge is to the right in the first photo; the door to the left of the second photo leads to the toilet. Two people can’t fit in the kitchen at the same time unless they’re married or very good friends, and when the door to the dishwasher is open, it touches the fridge.

Because of the physical limitations of our kitchen, many of your suggestions unfortunately just aren’t practical, although I would use them, were we to have a larger space. Finally, after considering the time, energy and practical implications (ie, the hot water issues) of not replacing the dishwasher, we decided that, given the constraints, we needed to replace our dishwasher.

We were ready to empty the emergency fund and use it to pay cash for a new dishwasher although we recognized that it wasn’t the best solution. Fortunately, we found a better one: a store with a good quality brand and model that we liked, at an excellent price, where we were able to pay in 10 payments, with no interest and no charges.

Paying over a period of time might be like taking on debt (OK, it is) but I feel that this was the best choice for us for three reasons.

First, we won’t empty our emergency fund, but we do have the cash to pay in whole if we needed or wanted to. Second, our money is earning interest in the bank account, but we aren’t paying interest on our purchase. Finally, we were able to buy a better quality machine than if we had paid all at once. And, as one of my friends said, this is why I’m only almost frugal!

We all make different choices in life, based on what is best for us, our family and our lifestyle. For which appliances would you empty an emergency fund to replace?


1 autumnesf February 25, 2009

Sounds like the perfect solution to me.

And being frugal is personal. A dishwasher would be emergency fund worthy in our house. NO question about it. We also have a small kitchen and it is worth having the dishwasher to put dishes in all day as we go.

As long as this debt doesn’t kick off a string of other debt it sounds great to me.

autumnesf´s last blog post..Autumn Asks: Have you ever wanted to do a family cookbook?

2 Nancy February 25, 2009

Honey, if I had known about the space/size limitations in your kitchens my answer would have been different! Glad you have a new dishwasher. It will save your sanity, I’m sure.

Nancy´s last blog post..Tomato and Chickpea Curry

3 Ben February 25, 2009

I think what you did is a great example of being frugal. If you are diligent enough to pay off this debt in the 0% interest period then this is better than emptying your E-fund.

4 dixie February 25, 2009

I think you made a good choice considering your limitations and options and the no interest payments work out great for you. I probably couldn’t live without a dishwasher in that small space, either.

dixie´s last blog post..I made my first sale!

5 Meegan February 25, 2009

OK, now seeing the size of your kitchen, you NEED that dishwasher!!!!

6 Sherry February 26, 2009

I know many see a dishwasher as a luxury & I count myself fortunate to have one. Replacing ours would not be an “emergency” such as a hotwater heater but it would be very high on the list of “we need to find a great deal QUICKLY!” I work outside of the home & my time is limited…a dishwasher is a “tool” which allows me to get thru my day & accomplish much more with the time I have alloted. I have found my “perception” of our “emergency fund” to be very narrow i.e. it would have to be a MAJOR issue to tap that fund. I had MAJOR heartburn everytime my dh would pull $500 out to pay a unexpected car repair or $$ for Christmas. So…I divided the funds…keeping an account of “savings” for “anticipated” emergencies (if such a thing exists??). I would define appliances breaking, car repairs, minor health bills, etc. Not necessarily emergencies but expected events that occur without notice. No appliance or car is going to last forever without some form of repair. So, our “emergency fund” is truly that & now our “Rainy Day” fund is for those areas such as a broken appliance. Mentally, I don’t get so freaked out when we have to pull $$ out of this fund, I feel like I have “planned” for use of this fund as needs arise……

I know it all sounds like psycho babble, but it helps me with decisions of this nature.

And if I had your kitchen….I wouldn’t have thought twice about buying a new dishwasher with a interest free payment plan. In your case, it’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity!! 🙂

7 Andy @ Retire at 40 February 26, 2009

Heh, well that's fair enough. Maybe we didn't see it as an emergency but you know your own situation better than anyone. Gee, and I thought my kitchen was small. Good that you got it all on interest free anyway 🙂

<abbr>Andy @ Retire at 40´s last blog post..Personal Finance is Not a Destination, it's a Journey</abbr>

8 Saver Queen February 26, 2009

Don’t get me wrong, not having a dishwasher sucks, and obviously with your tiny kitchen, it’s important for your own sanity to have one! And it sounds like you got a reasonable deal.

If I were in your position, I probably would have done the exact same thing. But I stand by my previous comment, that you should have separate accounts – one for real emergencies (covering basic NEEDS like food, rent and transportation to work) and one for the “rainy day” fund as Sherry describes.

The biggest problem is that when you pull money out of your emergency fund, you blur the line between emergencies and non-emergencies. What happens if you pull the money for something non-essential and then someone loses a job, or you have a major health care expense to attend to?

The rainy day expenses happen all the time. I just got a big bill for a $1200 car repair. While it is “unexpected”, in a way you can expect and plan for big expenses to happen almost every month.

Bottom line: I like Sherry’s idea of keeping the accounts separate or at least keeping a running total (a mental divide) of what the accounts can be used for.

Saver Queen´s last blog post..Reusing plastic bags

9 Sherry February 27, 2009

Thanx Saver Queen for your comments. For me, having a greater “awareness” or stewardship of “where” our money goes has allowed me to “prepare” for those unexpected “rainy days”…the car, the appliance, a tax bill, maybe even a speeding ticket (ooops!). I think if we can annotate/track “where” our money goes, we can see trends & then those unexpected events are not so stressful.

For us, there is no blurring between the lines of non-emergent vs. emergent. As I write this, I have lost 50% of my hours @ work over the last 3 weeks (and I’m a RN!!). But I would not even consider touching that emergency fund unless we were starving or they were going to take away the house… just wouldn’t happen. I think much of my anxiety as well as conviction comes from having struggled many years ago..I just don’t EVER want to feel that again….it was pure hell & I won’t ever go there again. Which is the driving force which keeps me from touching that $$$.

10 Kristy @ Master Your Card February 27, 2009

I stand by my original argument that a dishwasher isn’t an emergency and therefore, I would not consider the use of emergency funds to replace it. However, I think your solution is perfect. You get to make interest free payments for a better quality product AND you get to keep your emergency fund.

Personally, the only appliance I would use my emergency funds for is the refrigerator. I don’t have a cooler that could sustain the refrigerator and freezer contents and I would end up spending more to replace the food when I did get around to getting a new refrigerator. Also, since I live in Texas where the heat stays in triple digits like 7 months of the year, my AC would be another emergency fund usage – though fortunately, apartment living offers me the grace of not having to pay for ANY of these appliances myself. Another joy of apartment living.

Kristy @ Master Your Card´s last blog post..The Customer-Centric Culture

11 Dana @ Letters to Elijah February 27, 2009

That’s a tiny kitchen!

Congrats on your new dishwasher. I think it’s good that you asked if it was an emergency and thought outside the box. The key here is that you paused and thought 🙂

Dana @ Letters to Elijah´s last blog post..What 6 months of snow looks like…..

12 Gina February 27, 2009

This rationalization is a bit difficult for me to swallow – I suspect that it is what gets most of us in debt in the first place. I really really need a whatchamagig, so it is ok to finance it – chances are very good that you will end up paying finance charges for that dishwasher, that is how companies can afford to offer that ‘deal’. Slippery slope, or not so slippery, this is more debt plain and simple for an unnecessary item that you could not afford.

13 Lucie @ Unconventional Origins February 28, 2009

I think you found the perfect solution. Yay for having a new dishwasher!

Lucie @ Unconventional Origins´s last blog post..Hoping babies get AIDS (or, how NOT to win back voters)

14 Stacey March 2, 2009

I’m so glad to hear your solution. We recently learned that our 13-year-old car will need some major repairs in the near future and it caused us to ask how much longer we are willing to put into a car that old with over 130k miles. (Although I had been telling myself I wanted it to make it to 200k!) I would love to find a car of good value for $10k but that would almost empty our EF. I LOVE the idea that we could finance a car with a 0% interest loan and keep our money in our EF. Now that I’ve set this intention I think I will be more willing to look for this deal. Thanks again!

15 Payday Loans December 8, 2009

I never used to save… luckily I have started to now. So I now have one of these funds to blow.. I mean save! 🙂

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