Oct 14, 2020

Question of the Day: What percentage of Americans can not cover a $400 emergency with cash/savings account emergency fund*?

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Answer: 37%

*Ways of payment include cash, funds from savings account, or credit card transaction paid off next statement.

Click here for the ready-to-go slides for this Question of the Day that you can use in your classroom.


⟶ Our DATA CRUNCH: How Would Americans Cover a $400 Emergency? from our Savings unit fits perfectly with this post.


Behind the numbers (Federal Reserve Board):

"Relatively small, unexpected expenses, such as a car repair or a modest medical bill, can be a hardship for many families. When faced with a hypothetical expense of $400, 63 percent of adults in 2019 said they would cover it exclusively using cash, savings, or a credit card paid off at the next statement (referred to, altogether, as “cash or it's equivalent”)—a 2 percentage point increase from 2018. In 2013, half of adults would have covered such an expense in this way."

 It is important to note that of the 37% who said they did not have an emergency fund prepared to pay for a $400 unexpected expense, only 12% stated they were completely unable to pay for the expense. That being said, those adults who cover the $400 expense from credit cards paid off over time or using a payday loan, line of credit or overdraft will incur additional interest/fees as well, making their financial situation even more difficult.

COVID-19 Update:

"...for adults overall in April, the share who reported they would pay an unexpected $400 emergency expense entirely using cash, savings, or a credit card paid off at the next statement was essentially unchanged from the fall of 2019. Yet those who experienced the loss of a job or work hours were less likely to report they would pay an unexpected $400 expense in these ways."



  1. Are you surprised by this number? Why or why not?

  2. What are some emergency expenses that could amount to $400?

  3. How do you think the 37% cover this emergency cost if they don’t have money saved to cover it?

  4. Your friend says “Why would you want to save money when interest rates that banks pay for savings are so low?” Convince him that saving money is a good idea.  



Your students can play NGPF Arcade Game Spent to experience what it means to live "paycheck to paycheck" and one unexpected expense away from financial difficulties. 


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About the Author

Mason Butts

After graduating from UCLA with a Master's in Education, Mason spent 5 years as a science educator in a South Los Angeles public high school. He is committed to supporting the holistic growth of all students and empowering them to live a life of relational, academic, and financial success. Now settled in the Bay Area, Mason enjoys facilitating professional developments and partnering with educators as they prepare students for a bright financial future. When Mason is not building curriculum or planning a training, he can be found cycling, trying new foods, and exploring the outdoors.

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