Financial advisors generally encourage you to set aside three to six months' worth of living expenses in an emergency fund in case you lose your job, have a medical scare or have to deal with a car breaking down.
Does this rule of thumb still apply today, as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the global economy and is projected to put millions of Americans out of work?
If you're far out from retirement and have a steady job, keeping three to six months' worth of expenses in an emergency fund is fine, says Schwab-Pomerantz. That way, you'll have a sizable buffer in case you need it, but "you won't have so much in cash that you lose the opportunity for growth."
You want your emergency fund to be readily available, which means keeping it in a savings account. But savings accounts, even the high-yield ones, aren't going to allow for as much growth as investing could. By keeping three to six months' worth of expenses in a savings account, you strike a good balance between having enough to cover you in a bind, but not sacrificing potential growth you'd earn from investing your money.
If your income fluctuates depending on commissions, overtime pay or other external factors, ideally you'll save closer to six months' worth of expenses — or more, adds Schwab-Pomerantz.
Regardless of your job, though, having a minimum of three months' worth of expenses saved is especially important right now. "These are unprecedented global economic times," Crane says. "Get real about the chances of losing any or all of your income and plan for at least three months of disruption to that income source."
"The length of this disruption is the big unknown," he says. "The virus could impact us for a few more weeks or, for some industries, for many months. The less stable your income is and the harder it could be to get another job in your industry right now, the more you need to be liquid."
The older you get, the bigger the cash cushion you want to have, says Schwab-Pomerantz. If you're a few years out from retirement, she recommends having at least a years' worth of expenses saved up.
For somebody already in retirement, "they should have two years' worth of cash," she says.
This is a good rule of thumb to follow "in good times and in bad," she says. "The nature of the stock market is that it goes up and it goes down. You never know exactly when that's going to happen, so it's really about being prepared for everything and anything."
There's no one-size-fits-all answer to how much you should have in savings. The amount you need in a rainy day fund varies person-to-person and depends on things like your age, job, when you plan to retire and your tolerance for risk.
Aim to have at least three months' worth of expenses saved, but when setting your specific emergency fund goal, ask yourself: How much do I need to feel comfortable?
"Your comfort level of easy-to-access cash is emotionally important now," says Crane. "This is the amount of money that you personally need to have quick access to in order to feel comfortable." If that number is higher right now than it would be normally, work toward beefing up your savings until you feel secure.