pinching pennies

How much money you need to save for an emergency fund in Houston — and how long it takes

How much money you need to save for an emergency fund in Houston

Saving money piggy bank
It would take years for the average Houstonian to build up a full emergency fund, a new study finds. boonchai wedmakawand/Getty Images

The cost of living in Houston is severely hampering residents' ability to save money — so much so that it takes years to build an ample emergency fund, according to a new study.

Financial site Bankrate.com crunched the numbers on how much Americans in the 50 largest metros need in their emergency funds — and how long it will take to save up. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land ranks No. 32 out of 50, making it one of the worst metros for savers.

In Houston, residents need $22,449 in the bank to cover six months of expenses. But those earning the median income can only save $11,039 annually after covering housing costs and other necessities, according to Bankrate.com's analysis. It would take a Houston resident earning the median income 24.4 months — more than two years — to save the necessary funds.

For its calculation, Bankrate started with the metro area's 2017 household median income provided by U.S. Census Bureau data. The study then subtracted the mortgage payments and property taxes on a median-priced home; estimated state and federal income taxes; and percentages spent on other essentials, like groceries, transportation, health costs, and utilities. Bankrate assumed the remaining funds would be put into savings.

"People living in areas with high housing costs could forgo all nonessential expenses for three years, religiously saving their extra dollars month after month, and still not accumulate enough cash for their recommended emergency fund," the study says.

This is the case in Austin-Round Rock, which is the worst spot for savers in Texas, at No. 38. Median income earners there need $26,712 to cover six months of expenses but can only save $7,770 a year. That means it takes Austinites 41.3 months, or more than three years, to save up a full fund.

How much someone needs to save and how long it takes varies greatly by location.

The San Antonio-New Braunfels area ranks No. 30 on the list, the best showing of any Texas metro. Median income earners need $20,151 to cover six months of expenses. That will take 22.7 months of saving to achieve, as they can afford to set aside $10,664 a year.

Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington ranks No. 36, slightly better than Austin. Those residents need $23,484 in their emergency funds, but median income earners can only set aside $9,704 a year. That means if DFW residents pinched every penny they could, it would take 29 months to save up a full fund.

Folks don't live like that, though, the study acknowledges. "Most of us don’t shove every extra dollar into the piggy bank, because we make 'nonessential' purchases for haircuts, toothbrushes, and other goods and services," the study says. 

The best place to save money is Memphis, Tennessee, where the median income earner can set aside up to $15,761 a year, more than the $15,208 needed for a six-month emergency fund. California is home to the four worst metros for savers — it's "nearly impossible" to build savings in San Diego (No. 47), Los Angeles (No. 48), San Francisco (No. 49), and San Jose (No. 50).

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