Singapore-based financial blog that aims to educate people on personal finance, investments, retirement and their Central Provident Fund (CPF) matters.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Who Pays For Your Credit Rewards?

Cashback, air miles, merchant discounts, other perks, these are the incentives that banks and credit card companies (Financial Institutions - FIs) use to attract you to apply and spend on their cards.
Every transaction you spend using these cards, merchants are charged a fee by the FIs for providing the card facility. The fees (known as interchange fee) are what the FIs earn and use to pay for your rewards.

For example, if you swipe your credit card when you buy a new laptop for $1,500 from Courts, FIs would charge Courts 2% of that money (or $30). That $30 would be used to pay for the FIs operation costs and a portion of it will be channelled back to you as rewards (either cash back or some other form). FIs also use the money from the cards' annual fees and interest for late payment to fund the rewards program.

In order to make up for the fees the FIs charge, shops often have to increase the price of their products/services in order to maintain their profit margins (or profits). That means if you are paying via cash or debit card, you are not earning any rewards AND you are paying for a higher price in order to subsidise those people who spend with credit cards.

"If you are using a debit card or cash for purchases, you are literally leaving points and money on the table. It's like throwing away money every time you use cash."

Here's a video that explains in detail how cards are earning money and giving you the rewards

So, use your credit cards wisely.
1) Always pay your monthly credit card bills on time and in full!
2) If you can, always charge any expenses you can find to your credit card
3) Avoid late fee payment and interest charges
4) Ask for an annual fee waiver if possible - although often times the waiver might result in loss of reward points or air miles.

Recommended Post: Spend $40 and Reach Starbucks Gold Membership

How to get more cashback and miles out of your credit cards
How many of you have this problem where you are always wondering which credit card in your wallet will give the best rewards when you are just about to make a payment? With so many different cards available in Singapore, each with their own set of rewards, bonus categories, minimum spending requirements, and more, it can be a huge challenge to know which card will give the best rewards based on how and where we spend our money. 

To help solve this problem, a team of credit card enthusiasts set up a new community-driven project WhatCard that provides a free tool to help everyone find the best credit card to use at every place. 

The website is a simple search engine, so all you have to do is key in the merchant name in the search bar and it will show all the different credit cards ranked in order of rewards given, with additional filters to see cashback or miles rewards cards and also filter by category (e.g. Groceries in the screenshot). The rewards data that the team used was put together from: 
  1. their own transactions, 
  2. transactions from other personal finance communities like Seedly and the HWZ forum
  3. terms and conditions of the various credit cards. 
The team did share that WhatCard is very much still in beta phase so you can expect more merchants (they are currently at 1,100+ merchants), functions and features to be added over time. Because it is a community-based kind of project, the more people using it and contributing to it, the better the service gets. If you find any new offers by your bank or credit card, you can contribute to this project by letting them know the offer, or you could also report any errors or share feedback and suggestions on what to include next to make this tool even more useful for the community.
We think that this is a good project built by the team as a way of supporting and giving back to the personal finance community in Singapore. It is still a beta so it is not perfect, but it is definitely good enough to use regularly and the team have proven to be really responsive in continuing to improve the product.

Check out their website www.whatcard.sg

And if you want to find more promos and deals, check them out at our new page HERE.

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Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Spend $40 and Reach Starbucks Gold Membership


This is the young adult's symbol of status, and how much we are willing to splurge for coffee.
This Starbucks Gold Card is only available to those who spent $300 per year via their Starbucks card.
That's about $25 per month.
But fret not, here is 1 trick that I have been using for the past several years to maintain my Gold status without burning a hole in my pocket, and here's how you can too!

Most of us are trying to reach Gold status via our own effort. I applaud you for that though I think you have started to realise that you either spent too much on Starbucks or you seem to never be able to reach Gold level although you seem to drink quite a lot of their Frappucino.

The trick here is to rely on the collective effort of the people around you to help you reach that Gold (pun intended).
Here are some ways I use to reach Gold:

1. Buy Starbucks on behalf of friends and colleagues
We all have friends who once in a while wants to drink Starbucks. These are friends who are not die-hard fans but do have their cravings every once in a while.
They don't have the Starbucks card and are not in the business of collecting the stars.
Why not charge their drinks to your Starbucks card?
If 4 friends buy a Venti Frap each, that's $8.30 x 4 = $33.2 charged to your Starbucks card, you are 10% closer to Gold without spending a single dime!

Recommended Post: 5 numbers more important than your income

2. Share a Starbucks Card
Got a partner, sibling, or best friend who is a Starbucks-drinker like you?
2 heads are better than 1, or in this case, 2 person spending is better than 1.
If you can't reach the Gold on your own, find someone to support you along the way.
You can share 1 Starbucks account and charge all your Fraps to that Starbucks account via the Starbucks App.
Of course, you have to decide how you want to share that free drink you get with every 60 stars.


The last tip and I feel this is one of my best tips:
3. TREAT YOUR FRIENDS $1 OFF THEIR VENTI FRAP 
Yes, treat them to $1 off the largest drink, and only the largest-sized drink.
Here's why.
The largest size Frap cost $8.30 each cup (lowest cost Frap).
If you offer a $1 discount, it will cost your friend $7.30, and you have just spent $1 to get 8.3 stars.
But there's more!
You only have to treat 7.3 friends to get 60 stars credited into your Starbucks card.
And that 60 stars entitle you to 1 free drink from Starbucks - YES! You just spent $7.30 to get an $8.30 Frap drink and chalked 60 stars to Gold (20% down!).
And so far, I have rarely seen friends that reject me when I offer or suggest to get Starbucks and give them a $1 off.
And I usually do this towards the last few months of my Gold membership when I'm still short of about 100 stars.
But assuming you did this for all 300 stars, you will reach Starbucks Gold status spending only $36.50.

There you have it, the 3 tips I use to maintain my Starbucks Gold membership year after year.
What other tips do you have for you to reach your Gold status?
Share with us in the comments below!
And if you want to find more tips, tricks, and promos, check them out at our new page HERE.


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Monday, 10 June 2019

Why Budgets Don’t Work—and What Does


As someone who has spent a huge amount of brain cells mulling over money, a well-known pillar of financial wellness is that you need to budget.
Here’s the thing: while budgeting is touted by many in the personal finance blogs as mission critical to getting your finances straight, they don’t always work. Not for long, anyway. For every budget I’ve tried — the 50/30/20 budget, zero-sum budget, spreadsheet, and envelope system — I would start out great.
I would meticulously track every purchase and expense, allocate my income into neat categories, and congratulate myself for creating such a neat, beautifully put-together budget. It felt like magic, at least at first.
Fast forward to a few months’ time, and I would have let my budget fall by the wayside. Why’s that? The reasons may stem from a number of reasons: feeling boxed-in from having too specific spending categories, lapsing into a cycle of shame followed by guilt for going over in X category, or from weaning interest.
Forget the traditional budget. Here’s what works instead:
Track Your ExpensesThis is pretty essential. It’s hard to figure out a long-lasting approach to saving if you don’t know where your money is going. There’s no shortage of free money management apps out there to help you track your spending.  After you have a good idea of how much your living expenses are and anywhere else your money is going, you can create a system.
Create a Money Flow SystemHaving a system for how you save and spend your money will keep things on autopilot. The less “mind time” and work it takes, the more likely you are to stay within your spending limits. Yes, this takes work. It’s not an overnight thing. 
As a self-employed freelancer, I have both a business checking account and a personal checking account. At the end of each month, I’ll automatically transfer a set amount into my personal account for basic living expenses.
I portion out “buckets” of cash that are then transferred to two separate debit cards. There’s a set amount for discretionary expenses or things that change every month. (Think eating out, groceries, gas, etc.) I also allocate any extra cash toward my savings goals. For instance, I put set amounts toward emergencies, a splurge fund, and a vacation fund. I also save for a house when I can.
Why so complicated? After I’ve devised a money flow, it’s pretty much set and I can forget about it. I methodically check my balance and monitor transactions, but that’s it.
AutomateAutomation is a godsend for a lazy money person — no shame.  I automate as much as possible: savings goals, bills, and for a buffer fund in case my checking goes to zero. My bills are paid on time, and I make sure I sock some away some of my income towards retirement. If you’re new to automation, make sure you schedule your transfers so they hit a few days before or after you get paid. You’ll also want to keep an eye on things at first, just to make sure there aren’t any hiccups.
Create a Space for Guilt-Free SpendingJust like guilt-free afternoons binge-watching Netflix while eating ice cream instead of having salads and cycling classes — you need breathing room to do whatever you please with some of your cash. This will prevent you from going hog wild and splurging. Create a separate saving account for some guilt-free spending. Or allow yourself to spend $X of each paycheck on whatever you please. Of course, this is only after you’ve covered your living expenses and savings goals.

Recommended Post: 10 Ways to Save on Insurance
Have a BufferOne of your friends decides to drop in unexpectedly for the weekend and you go on a pricey dinner date and night out. Sure, it’s fun times, but also cry-time for your wallet. You’ll want to have a bit of cushion in your budget for small, unexpected expenses. I like to keep a buffer of a few hundred bucks in my monthly budget, and you may need more or less.
Place Your Money on an Emotional SpectrumTry putting your entire money situation — earning, spending, saving, and investing — on an emotional spectrum. What I mean by this is to think about the things you spend money on. What do you dislike spending money on?
For instance, maybe making payments on your student loans or credit card debt are things that make you groan or ask, “Whyyy?” 

What are you neutral about? That could be utilities, rent, and gas for your car. And last, what types of spending and money goals bring you joy? Perhaps that’s when you get to go out for massages or buy hip clothes, or that subscription box of goodies that you look forward to receiving every month. 

When you categorize your money on an emotional spectrum, it’ll help guide you toward what you want to minimize or remove altogether, and what you want to have or do more of. So if you detest paying off debt (which is more than likely) focus on crushing it as soon as possible. On the flipside, if you love investing in art, try to find ways to put more money into those areas of your life. 
Final ThoughtsWhile budgeting doesn’t always work, creating different systems to make saving and spending as easy and painless as possible, does. What works for me may not work for you. That’s why it’s important to approach it as an experiment. Exploring new ways will help you find a strategy that works best with you.

This article was originally published at HiCharlie.com.



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Sunday, 2 June 2019

5 Numbers More Important Than Your Income


As my friend Mel says, “Numbers are sexy.” We love talking about numbers and tend to fixate on them — particularly when it comes to how much we earn. “I’m a six-figure freelance designer,” or, “If I take this job, I’ll earn $10,000 more.” 

We oftentimes measure our worth based on how much money we rake in. It can be easy to feel like you’re behind, or a grade-A underachiever when your cousin or bestie or partner makes more than you. Sure, your income is important, but there are other numbers that deserve a closer look than how much cash you earn. When it comes to financial wellness, here are five metrics that trump your income.

1. Cost of Living Index
Bottom line: the salary you earn living in one part of the county might not stretch as far living in another part of the country. It's like how we always say "if we earn in Singapore and retire in Malaysia, our money will last us 3 times longer". But if you earn in Singapore and retire in Singapore, the budget might be tighter. The same applies if you earn in Malaysia and retire in Malaysia.

How much you make is relative to a number of things — one being the cost of living in your stomping grounds. So the next time someone says they’re making $120,000 but live in Silicon Valley, chances are they aren’t enjoying the same standard of living, than those in less-expensive parts of the country. 

2. Compensation Package
When it comes to your work salary, it’s also important to look at the entire package, including the benefits you will be getting. Your employee benefits can make up to one-third of total compensation costs. That includes health benefits (medical coverage), corporate discount (mobile plans, gym memberships, etc), and group rates on things like car insurance, life insurance, and even financial and legal advice.

Besides your take-home pay, you’ll want to factor in the full suite of benefits that your employer offers. In turn, that makes a difference as to how much you have to work with each month.

3. Happiness Report
Yes, happiness is a difficult thing to pinpoint. But in recent years metrics have been developed to gauge how happy nations are as a whole, giving us a good idea of wellbeing and work-life balance.
The U.N.’s World happiness report uses data from the Gallup World Poll, which surveys citizens in 156 countries on how happy they feel — to determine the overall well-being of a country’s denizens. The Cantril Ladder, or Cantril’s Self-Anchoring Ladder of Life Satisfaction, is made up of 10 rungs. The bottom of the ladder equals 0 and represents the worst possible life for you. The top of the ladder equals 10 and equates to the best possible life for you.
Per the Gallup World Poll, Finland, Norway, and Denmark, respectively, ranked highest for happiness. The bottom three countries were Afghanistan, Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Where does Singapore fall? 34 out of the 156, not too bad. 

Consider doing your own happiness assessment using the Cantril Ladder. Are you living your best life? What does it exactly mean for you to be living your best life? What steps can you make in the right direction to boost your well-being?

Recommended Post: 10 Ways to Save on Insurance

4. Net Worth 
Remember: Your income isn’t a measure of your wealth, your net worth is. To figure out your net worth, tally up your assets — this includes your investments, how much you have sitting in your savings, and any other assets, like your home or car. Next, tally up your debt. Subtract your debt from your assets and you have your net worth.

Net worth gives a full picture because it factors in how much money you make, how much debt you owe and how quickly you’re paying it off. It’s what you have left at the end of the day that’s for Future You. Having a positive net worth shows that you’re financially healthy. 

5. How You Spend Your Money
Are you putting your paycheck toward paying off debt, helping your family, or are you squandering it? Not only does how you spend your money affect your progress toward net worth, but it’s ultimately an indicator of what you value.

For instance, while I am typically pretty frugal when it comes to clothes, I spend more on good food. There are no right or wrong, it is just a personal preference. Just make sure that you are not overspending or exceeding your budget to indulge in the things that make you happy.

There you have it. Five metrics that are more important than your income. As you can see, while your take-home pay does play a key role in your financial well-being, there are other ways to measure your financial success.

This article was originally published at HiCharlie.com.


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Tuesday, 30 April 2019

10 Ways to Save on Insurance


Having insurance is great when the universe decides it’s time to give you a major (or even minor) problem. But when you can get a policy for practically anything, it’s easy to spend more on protecting your life than living it. Don’t worry, though. We can help you keep these expenses under control while still getting the coverage that you need.

Here are ten ways to be protected for less:

1. Assess Your Needs
Rather than buying coverage simply because you think you should, it’s important to consider your specific situation. Your life today and your future plans should dictate what insurance policies you need and how much coverage is appropriate.
Although there are lots of factors to consider for each type of insurance, you should think about the following to determine your needs:
  • Your assets: More assets (cash, investments, businesses, property, etc.) may mean more insurance
  • Your family: Having dependents typically requires more coverage
  • Your health: Poor health could necessitate a more robust medical policy or more life insurance

2. Shop Around
Before committing to any policy, get pricing from multiple companies. You may be surprised at how much variation you see. And remember — don’t just set it and forget it. It pays to do this before every policy renewal.

3. Bundle Policies
As you get quotes for coverage, ask each company for a bundle price (rider policies) on the types of insurance that you need. You could score big savings and simplify your bill paying process.

4. Get a Discount by Employer
Some employers might be able to get you a better deal on health, life, and disability insurance if you bought them from certain insurance company. Check with your HR department if there are any insurance companies that can offer you such deals.

5. Raise the Deductible
Increasing your policy’s deductible could be an easy way to save a few bucks each month. Be sure, however, that you can cover the higher deductible if you ever need to make a claim.

Recommended Post: Is Whole Life Insurance a Scam?

6. Keep Your Credit Report Clean
Poor credit history can cost you big time. Insurers may assign you an insurance score (similar to a credit score), with lower scores resulting in higher premiums. They believe, right or wrong, that a low score indicates irresponsibility and therefore more risk.

7. Save on Car Insurance
If you want to own a car, you need car insurance. The good news is that you can defray the expense with tons of different discounts. You might be able to save cash by comparing the offers between different insurance companies or driving safely (being an accident-free driver can save you a lot of money on insurance).

8. Save on Homeowners Insurance
If you have a mortgage, you’re probably required to have mortgage insurance - especially if you are buying a HDB. If you are buying a HDB, you probably can't save much since it is a requirement to have a mortgage insurance and they are pretty decently priced. However, if you are buying a private property, you can consider if you want to get a mortgage insurance or a life insurance with higher payout. The logic is: the mortgage insurance is used to pay for your home in the event of anything bad happens (fire, or if the buyer dies). And the insurance is usually required if you have a mortgage loan. Once your mortgage is paid up, you generally do not really need to have a mortgage insurance - that means the money you have paid for it is technically "gone". Rather, you could have just bought a life insurance with a higher payout that can cover both the require expenses for your dependents as well as pay for the mortgage. This is more complicated and best to seek advice from a licensed insurance agent. 
Tip: Use this guide to take an inventory of your belongings and determine the value of your stuff, which gets factored into your insurance requirements.

9. Save on Life Insurance
If you have a family to protect or want to leave loved ones a little something when you’re gone, you may want to purchase life insurance. There are a few different types, each with their own pros and cons, but generally, the most affordable type is term life insurance. Term life insurance will pay your beneficiaries a specified amount if you die within a certain timeframe (usually 10-30 years). There are a number of ways to save on life insurance such as paying the entire year’s worth of premiums upfront or getting a volume discount (aka getting more insurance for less money!).
Tip: Try this calculator to see how much life insurance you may need.

10. Save on Health Insurance
It’s no secret — medical care is crazy expensive. Adequate health insurance can save your wallet from a beating if you become seriously ill or injured.  If you’re in good health, don’t go to the doctor frequently, and have a cash reserve, consider saving money on your monthly premiums by choosing a plan with a high-deductible. You’ll pay the full tab if you go to urgent care with the flu or a sprained ankle, but you’ll (hopefully) pay less overall each year due to premium savings. 
Tip: Although a "all medical expenses paid for by Insurer" is a very happy thing to have, the premiums will also be exceptional high, which might not be that much of a happy thing afterall.

Final Thoughts
Insurance can be a significant line item on your budget, but there are many ways to minimize the expense. While this article isn’t an exhaustive list of ways to save, it gives you a good start to being covered affordably.

This article was originally published at HiCharlie.com.
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Thursday, 4 April 2019

How to Save Money Each Month While Paying Off Debt

You have tons of debt that you want gone. But you also have other important financial goals, like saving money, that need your attention. These competing priorities can make you feel like you’re trapped in a chicken or the egg cycle. If you pay down your credit card debt, you’ll have more wiggle room in your budget and can save that extra cash. But, if you save more money, you won’t have to whip out your credit card next time an unplanned expense pops up. So do you pay off debt or save? The short answer is: it depends
Here’s your plan of attack to slay debt and pad your bank account:

Divide and Conquer

To work on both goals simultaneously, you’ll have to split your available resources between them. But, you need a clear plan to ensure that you allocate your dollars in the most effective way.
To get started, prioritise your debts and savings goals, keeping these things in mind:
  • High-interest debt will sink you. If you only make the minimum payments on your credit cards, you’ll be in the debt for years and pay potentially thousands extra in interest. Get rid of this debt first.
  • Lower interest debt isn’t as urgent. While you definitely want to pay off all of your obligations, “good” debt like student loans and your mortgage do less damage to your financial health - as long as you pay them on time.
  • An emergency fund will save you in a pinch. A cash reserve will keep you from going further in the hole when something breaks or you lose your job.
  • Start saving for time-sensitive goals ASAP. The holidays, your sister’s destination wedding, and your car COE renewal are all known events. Save away a little bit here and there in the months leading up, and you’ll be able to pay for them in cash with ease.
  • Don’t ignore retirement. It may seem like a million years away, but delaying saving for retirement will have long term negative effects. You’ll miss out on the compounding interest that actually works in your favor. 

Choose the Right Mix

Once you’ve got your priorities in order, you need to divide up your funds in a way that makes the most sense for you. For example, from your monthly salary, you could put 5% into retirement, 20% toward your credit card debt, 10% toward your savings goals, and the rest to cover your monthly expenses. As you pay off debt and your goals are completed or change, be sure to adjust your mix accordingly.
Remember: While there are some good guiding rules of thumb, how you manage your money is up to you. Personal finance is personal!

Find the Dollars

To make faster progress toward your financial goals, try freeing up more of your existing resources, increasing your cash flow, or both. Here are some steps you can take today:
  • Review your spending. Is there anything you can scale back on or remove? (Netflix, Spotify, Magazine subscriptions, etc)
  • Buy smarter. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting groceriesclothing, or shopping online, there are countless ways to get what you need and come in under budget. Be it buying on big days like double 11, or using the credit card that gives you the best rewards for your purchase.
  • Earn more money. Consider picking up extra shifts at work, getting a second job, taking on freelance clients, or selling some of your unwanted stuff.
Remember: While it’s tempting to spend or reward yourself for paying down your debts, be sure to use the bulk of your budget savings and side income for your debt pay off and savings goals. 

Final Thoughts

It can be overwhelming to juggle multiple, seemingly-competing financial goals. But if you proactively map out what you need your money to do, you can strike a balance that allows you to live your best life.
This article was originally published at HiCharlie.com.
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Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Build an Emergency Fund: Avoid Financial Disaster

Life’s usually pretty amazing. But when it throws an emergency at you, can your wallet handle it? According to a recent study by the Urban Institute, nearly 22% of adults struggled to cover a $400 unexpected expense. People between ages 18-34 were hit the hardest and were more prone to using risky, high-interest means like credit cards to make ends meet, resulting in greater financial stress.
To avoid facing the same fate, you need to build and maintain a healthy emergency fund. What’s that? It’s a pool of money that’s only gets used when life throws you a major curveball. That way, when your car breaks down, your pet gets sick, or you lose your job, you’ll have the cash stashed away to deal with it without taking on more debt.
Follow the steps below and you’ll be well on your way to dealing with the unexpected with ease.

Determine Your Needs

Since everyone’s situation is different, there is no hard and fast rule about how much you need to have in your emergency fund. However, the collective personal finance mind says that you should strive to save 3-6 months of living expenses. If you’re the breadwinner for your family or your income fluctuates, it doesn’t hurt to save more than 6 months just in case.
To gauge your essential monthly expenses, take a look at your budget (or create one) and add up all of your must-haves like shelter, food, transportation, utilities, medicine, minimum debt payments, etc.
Remember, since some of your expenses can vary month to month, be sure to save yourself some extra money for those variables. Next, multiply your monthly budget by the number of months that you want to cover. The total is your emergency fund savings goal.

Open an Account

Your emergency fund should have its own account that you can tap into when needed, but that you won’t see or touch regularly. This will make it tougher to spend the money on other, less dire situations. And, although it may be tempting, avoid putting the funds into risky investments like stocks because you could lose money if the market declines. To get the best results, consider putting this cash into a flexible asset like Singapore Government Savings Bond (SSB) or a high-yield savings account. It will be safe, separate from your day to day finances, and will actually grow a little due to the slightly higher interest.

Stockpile the Cash

The first two steps are quick and easy to complete. However, depending on your needs and your means, you could be in this phase for a long time. Saving thousands (maybe even tens of thousands) of dollars is a daunting prospect.
Don’t be discouraged! Start small and initially aim to get a few hundred in the bank. Then, work your way up and celebrate each milestone. What you’re doing isn’t easy. But when life inevitably throws a tantrum, it will be worth it.
Here are several ways that you can expedite the stockpiling process:
  • Cut expenses and bank the savings. Tight budget? Check out these tips.
  • Automate your savings. Set up a regular transfer from your normal account to your emergency fund account.
  • Earn more cash. Think about starting a side hustle, working overtime, or selling your unused stuff.
  • Put windfalls to good use. Gifts, bonuses, and tax refunds can make your emergency fund balance soar.
Remember: Don’t stick your hand in the cookie jar unless it’s a true emergency. (Getting a last minute invite to go on a cruise doesn’t count!)
Tip: While building an emergency fund needs to be a priority, it’s OK to juggle more than one financial goal. For example, if you have high-interest credit card debt, it’s a good idea to get that paid off ASAP. It’s important to find the right mix of saving and debt pay off for your situation.

Move on to the Next

Now that you've saved up your emergency fund, you’re in a great position to ramp up (or start) saving for retirement, put money aside for planned home repairs or upgrades, or open an account to fund the vacation of your dreams. You can also put more money toward your mortgage, student loans, or other debts. Of course, if you take money from the emergency fund, you should replenish it as soon as possible.

Conclusion

Building a solid emergency fund doesn’t happen overnight. Just like with retirement, it takes discipline and patience to save a large amount of money for “someday.” But — having that well-inflated cushion will allow you to rest easy and fully focus on living your best life.
This article was originally published at HiCharlie.com.
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