6 Examples of When to Use Your Emergency Fund

By Jacqueline DeMarco · July 14, 2022 · 7 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right.

6 Examples of When to Use Your Emergency Fund

No doubt, it’s important to save money for a rainy day. But once you’ve stashed some cash away, it can be hard to know what exactly qualifies as a rainy day and gives you license to dip into your savings.

Most of us would agree that being hit with a large, unexpected expense like a medical bill or car repair would be a good reason to tap an emergency fund. But what about a great deal on a used car, which you could really use? Or the opportunity to replace your old fridge at a steep discount? Do those qualify as reasons to dip into your savings?

What Are Things to Avoid Spending My Emergency Savings on?

Let’s say you’ve done a good job creating an emergency fund but aren’t sure when to dip into it. The question is: What types of expenses are valid uses of your emergency fund savings? Here are examples of when not to access that stash of cash.

•   Fun purchases. If you want but don’t need something and it isn’t in your budget, don’t pull from your emergency fund. Entertainment, dining out, tech gadgets, and designer clothes (even if on final sale) are all examples of wants, not needs. Set aside some funds for such buys if you like, but don’t even think about depleting your emergency fund savings. It’s always best to ask questions before making an impulse buy. Spend time thinking about a purchase carefully before making it. You may find that new bike you thought you desperately needed doesn’t seem so vital a day or two later.

•   Vacations. It’s very tempting to get away for a little R&R when things get tough, but a vacation isn’t a worthwhile emergency fund expense. If you want to have that week at the beach, go ahead and create a savings plan and a separate savings account to make it a reality. But it’s not a wise spending strategy to pull the money out of your rainy day funds.

•   Debt. Paying down debt is a great goal. It’s also a great use of any extra money you may have, but not at the expense of draining an emergency fund completely. If you’re chipping away at debt, keep at it but continue to keep some emergency funds aside. If you lose your job or an unexpected expense hits and you don’t have emergency savings, you might end up turning to more expensive forms of credit as a result. This underscores the importance of having an emergency fund.

Earn up to 4.60% APY with a high-yield savings account from SoFi.

Open a SoFi Checking and Savings account and earn up to 4.60% APY - with no minimum balance and no account fees.

How to Know When an Expense Counts as an Emergency

Now, it’s time to consider when to go ahead and use that money you saved for a rainy day. If you’re on the fence about whether an expense counts as an emergency, ask yourself the following six questions to determine if you should tap your emergency funds. Your answers will provide guidance on whether to access your savings.

1. Is This Absolutely Necessary?

There’s a difference between things we want and things we need. If someone starts a new job and they have to buy a uniform for it, that’s a necessity. If, however, someone starts a new job and simply wants some new outfits, that isn’t a necessity. Similarly, pining for a new stove with a commercial-style cooktop is a want; replacing a stove that conked out is a necessity.

2. Is This the Only Way That I Can Pay for This?

Before pulling money from this account, it can be helpful to ask, is the emergency fund the only source of money that can cover this expense? Would it be possible to wait a week until payday and to use that income instead? Gift cards, coupons, and sale discount codes can make it easier to pay for purchases without draining your emergency fund.

Your goal here is to determine the lowest possible price for a purchase and then seeing if there’s another (non emergency fund) way to pay for it.

3. Is This an Unexpected Event?

Emergency funds can be a great way to cover unexpected and necessary purchases, but they aren’t supposed to replace poor planning. If you know a major expense is coming your way (say, the hot-water heater is coming to the end of its lifespan), it’s best to save for it instead of reaching into your rainy day fund.

4. Is This Urgent or Can It Wait?

Even if an expense feels like something that must be dealt with at the moment, there’s a good chance it can be put off. Ask yourself if it can wait until you have saved enough money to pay for it without accessing emergency funds.

5. How Much of My Emergency Fund Will I Be Using?

An emergency fund exists as a safety valve when you unexpectedly need funds. However, before pulling money from an emergency fund, it can be helpful to consider just how much of the emergency fund the purchase will take up. If it’s going to drain the fund and the purchase can wait, it’s likely best to wait. Or maybe you can buy a less pricey version of the item in question.

6. How Long Will It Take To Rebuild My Savings?

If the purchase will take up a big chunk of the emergency savings fund, it can be a good idea to map out how long it will take to rebuild those savings. If it will take more than six months, then it may be best to hold off on making that purchase until the emergency fund is more substantial. It may be better to cut back on spending to cover this expense now without having to touch emergency savings.

Of course, sometimes an emergency is really an emergency, and you can’t hold off. If you are hit with, say, a major medical bill, you may have to use up that emergency fund and work hard to rebuild it later. But it will have done its job and seen you through a tough time.

Banking With SoFi

Before pulling savings from an emergency fund, it’s important to determine if the purchase really is imperative. When deciding what to use emergency funds for, it’s helpful to focus on necessities, not wants. Sometimes, truly urgent needs crop up, and you’ll be glad you had that money saved. Other times, you may realize that the expense that seemed so desperately needed one minute is really not so vital the next. Emergency savings can be a real lifesaver, so you want to protect those funds and make sure you use them properly.

One way to build up an emergency fund faster is to put your money in a savings account that earns interest. When you open an online bank account (SoFi Checking and Savings, to be precise) with direct deposit, you’ll earn a competitive APY that can really help your savings grow! Not to mention, you won’t have to pay any account fees, which can make it easier to save even more for that rainy day.

Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall.* Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.


What should you ask yourself before using your emergency fund?

Before you pull money from an emergency fund, ask yourself questions like, Is this expense absolutely necessary? Is this the only way I can pay for it? Is it urgent or can it wait? How much of my emergency savings will I be using up? The answers should guide you towards whether or not it’s worth tapping into your emergency fund.

What should you spend your emergency fund on?

What constitutes an emergency purchase for one person may look quite different for another. That being said, it’s usually best to only spend emergency fund savings on necessities, not wants. These financial emergencies are usually unexpected and may include home repairs, medical bills, and car repairs—or day-to-day expenses after, say, a job loss.

What should you not put in your emergency fund?

While it’s a good idea to put extra money towards an emergency fund instead of spending it on frivolities, there are some types of savings it’s best to leave out of an emergency fund. For example, it’s not a good idea to use 401(k) contributions or other retirement savings to build an emergency fund. Saving for retirement is super important and employers often match 401(k) contributions, which is basically like getting free money. It’s may be wise to focus on maxing out retirement contributions before building an emergency fund.

Photo credit: iStock/szefei

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.

SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a recurring deposit of regular income to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government benefit payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, or are non-recurring in nature (e.g., IRS tax refunds), do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

As an alternative to direct deposit, SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender