As all LEOs know, it’s essential to have a backup plan. You need to be able to call on other officers in your time of need, or to have that extra magazine or weapon to ensure your safety if the worst should happen. Because you never know what each day will bring, you always make sure you’re prepared, but have you been applying the same principle to your finances?

The most effective backup plan for finances is the emergency fund. There are a lot of different schools of thought on how much should go in one. Some experts recommend 3 to 6 months worth of income, others, 3 to 6 months worth of expenses, while some recommend a set amount like $500 or $1,000.

My personal philosophy is this: while 3 to 6 months worth of income or expenses is ideal, it’s really too daunting to think about initially. Therefore, I recommend that you immediately create an emergency fund in the amount of your lowest insurance deductible, whether that is $500, $1,000, or $2,500. Make sure that this is cash you can access on not a limit on credit card.

Why cash, and not credit? Most obviously and importantly, sometimes service providers do not accept credit. When I had an insurance claim on my roof last year, the restoration company did not accept plastic. Having that money available in a savings account made it possible for me to pay my deductible without defaulting on any of my regular bills.

The second reason is this: using a credit card to pay a deductible adds to your debt load, which adds stress to your life.  Also, putting such a large expense on a credit card means that you likely won’t be able to pay is off immediately, and will end up paying expensive interest charges, which again, add to your debt load. Having the money you need in an emergency fund can turn an emergency into an inconvenience.

So how do you get the money in this all-important emergency fund?  Coming up with the extra cash may be crucial, but it’s not always so easy. There are many things you can do to get this money as quickly as possible. You can work a little overtime. You can have a yard sale, or sell some items on eBay or Craiglist. Look around your house – you may find items you don’t need that are of some value, such as old electronics, books, video games and movies, clothing, or household appliances.

You can tighten your belt on your discretionary spending for a month or two while you save up the money by forgoing date night, your Friday night drinks with friends, or your Saturday golf game until you have the cash put away.  If you can’t get the amount you need right away – don’t despair. Put away as much as you can and keep adding to it until you have the amount that matches your highest insurance deductible.

Once your emergency fund is in place, leave it alone. Learn to recognize a true emergency from a want. A car accident is a true emergency. New tires on your car are not – that’s something for which you should have budgeted. A hail damaged roof or a broken heater in January are emergencies. A broken TV, or a longed-for vacation, no matter how well-deserved, is NOT an emergency. If you want those things, you should save up for them separately from your emergency fund. You wouldn’t use your back-up service weapon to go skeet shooting (I hope); don’t spend your emergency fund on something equally as frivolous.

It may seem daunting now, but having an emergency fund will provide you the same sense of relief as having a good backup plan on the streets. Save yourself the stress, and get your safety net in place before the next crisis arises.

Kate is a military wife turned LEO wife, a former preschool teacher, and a marketing student at McKendree University. Kate’s interests are blogging, reading, writing, personal finance, and social consciousness. She lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband, their two cats, King Solomon and Millie, and their dog, Spartacus. View her personal blog at http://katestrophe.blogspot.com/, or contact her confidentially through the Law Enforcement Today website or at [email protected] Kate does not receive any form of compensation for any product or service mentioned in her articles.