Should You Have An Emergency "Escape" Fund?

You've probably heard of the classic "emergency fund" — a "safety net" of savings to help you if things go unexpectedly south for you financially (like you have to pay for sudden major care repairs, have medical insurance problems, or run into another unpredictable but crippling expenses). An "escape fund" is similar, but a little bit different. It is a special emergency fund created for the precise purpose of allowing a person to escape their current living situation — so it's money they can use to, say, break a rental agreement, put down a deposit on a new place, hire a moving van, and vanish — without going into debt or feeling trapped by limited financial options. Many economic experts claim that we should all have one — and that women, in particular, benefit from maintaining an "escape" fund.

A recent survey of UK households found that nearly one in ten people in a serious relationship had an escape fund, which would allow them to walk out of the situation without incurring significant financial loss. Many in the press took this as a mass indication of subterfuge (people "admit to a secret escape fund!," the headlines blared), but it's actually a rather practical idea. In a world where financial security is ever more imperiled, the notion of being trapped in a relationship because it offers economic stability is a very real thing. And that's not including the times when relationships require a very real "escape," if abuse becomes involved. An escape fund could prevent you from being stuck in either situation, and frankly, that strikes me as pretty good.

There are arguments for and against maintaining them, but right now, let's look at what escape funds are, and why they might be particularly useful to women.

What Is An Escape Fund?

Experts actually disagree about whether most people need an emergency fund to cover unexpected costs, or how much money they should include. Some, like Suze Orman, advocate that you should have at least six months' worth of earnings squirreled away to keep you safe in the face of the unexpected, like losing your job. (That figure's one of many; other suggestions go from three months to six months' worth.)

In the case of an escape fund, though, the situation for the money's usage is pretty specific. It's used to get out — of a marriage, a relationship or a family home. Being without resources in a relationship is a supremely vulnerable situation, whether you're just financially dependent on your partner (i.e. they earn more, pay the rent or mortgage, or are in any other way "in charge" of your financial security), don't earn enough to live independently, or are actually being abused, financially, physically or emotionally. (Yes, financial abuse is a real thing. We'll get to that in a bit.)

An escape fund can provide many things: a place to stay for a few nights, a few months' rent, the funds for a lawyer. And it may be a particularly good idea for women.

Why A Financial Buffer Can Be A Feminist Issue

To understand why being financially able to walk out of your current situation, with no questions asked, may be a very good idea for women in particular, we need to look at domestic abuse and financial freedom. (Trigger warnings, obviously, for anybody for whom this has been an issue in the past.)

Both men and women experience domestic abuse, but it's estimated that it will affect 25 percent of all women over the course of their lifetimes. Yep. One in four. And it will take an abused woman an average of five attempts before she can leave her abuser for good. This is a tremendous emotional and physical burden, particularly because abuse can take many forms, from the directly physical to the financial (where your control of funds is directly curtailed, making it deeply difficult to leave). If you ever find yourself in that position, an escape fund can be a literal lifeline.

Requests for contributions to emergency escape funds pop up occasionally on GoFundMe and other funding sites. You'll notice several things about them. One: they're usually operated on behalf of somebody else, to avoid tipping off a partner or family that escape is being planned. Two: the amounts being raised aren't usually very big. A few thousand dollars is the average, but that can be a gigantic amount if your money supply is controlled or entirely managed by somebody else. This money can represent the difference between staying and leaving.

"OK," you may be saying, "you're doom-mongering; I am not going to be abused." Which is fine! I dearly hope you're not! But it is necessary to point out that in this area, women are typically more vulnerable than men, and that financial buffers don't just offer the ability to pay off the plumber; they also offer freedom, should it ever become crucially necessary. Emergencies come in all shapes and sizes.

Escape Funds Aren't Just About Emergencies

The freedom of an escape fund isn't just about abuse, either. It's about relationship choice. In 2008, writer Karen Karbo posed an uneasy question in the New York Times : "Is it better for the longevity of a marriage if one party (usually the woman) feels financially trapped?" In other words, perhaps many of us, particularly women, would be less likely to stay in long-term relationships if we had the resources to leave all along. If you're not financially dependent on a partner (and increasingly we're not; a 2013 study found, for example, that a full 40 percent of US households with children had the mother as the main breadwinner), you have more capability to determine your own future.

Yep, thinking about your savings can be feminist. If you'd like to go all in with your partner on all your expenses and savings, that's great! (And also pretty romantic). People with shared bank accounts and assets break up amicably all the time. My advice is to think through all your options; Vogue's 2015 issue featured an article on the increasing popularity of keeping a personal bank account even after marriage, for example.

Is an escape fund a betrayal of your partner? That's a tricky one, and one that you'll have to decide on for yourself. My own opinion is that it's not; after all, nobody knows what's going to happen in the future. This is also why people get prenuptial agreements. You can express faith and hope in the longevity of your match while also being prepared if things go unexpectedly pear-shaped. It's a bit like getting on a plane; it's exceedingly unlikely that it'll crash, but if it does, you'll be very glad you paid attention to the safety instructions.

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