I shared my view on emergency fund in general earlier. At the end that post, I said that EF was a necessary step to start retirement savings and investments, without explaining it. This may seem to be a naïve question. However, I struggled with it when I got started and would like to share my experience here.
Emergency fund gives you a peace of mind which enables you to make better investment decisions. When I started to invest, I got several individual stocks, whose prices vary a lot. I intended to buy-and-hold, which was only possible when you are able to leave the money untouched even in emergency. It was quite tempting to use the emergency fund to buy more stocks. However, without an emergency fund, I realized that I might be forced to sell the stocks at the wrong time. So I need my emergency fund to take that risky investing strategy with individual stocks.
It became clear to me that it’s very important to separate your long-term investment and your cash reserve. When I first worked on my investment strategy, I had so many things in my mind, emergency cash, down-payment for the first house, regular investment, and retirement reinvestment. All these goals have different timeline, thus have different risk tolerance. Without separating them explicitly, I was really making the task much more difficult and even intractable. The good thing was that I was not paralyzed by the complexity, I started anyway; the bad thing was that I got a messy strategy which was not optimal and I had trouble sticking to it. In the end, I ended up selling all my holdings and reshuffled my portfolio in less than two years. I was lucky that I was a graduate student, thus, was not hurt that much in tax.