Sometimes your emergency fund can't cover a large unexpected expense alone. Here’s what to do if this happens to you.

An emergency fund is the bedrock of a healthy financial picture. But even if you have a solid emergency fund, sometimes it’s not enough to cover the major issue your budget is unexpectedly facing.  

Are you facing a big expense that your emergency fund can’t cover? Let’s take a closer look at what you should do next. 

Call to negotiate

What If Your Emergency Fund Doesn't Cover Your Emergency? - Call to negotiate

A big expense can come out of the blue. Whether you have to foot the bill for a medical emergency or deal with a major car repair – large expenses can be a surprise for you and your budget

Even if you are prepared with a solid emergency fund, you might not have all of the cash you need on hand to cover the unexpected costs. If that’s the case, the first step is to call the provider to negotiate the cost. 

It is normal to assume that the final price on the bill is the final price. But it never hurts to negotiate. You could potentially save yourself thousands simply by asking for a discount. 

Not sure where to get started? Here are some questions to ask when you make the call:

  • Do you offer any prepayment discounts?
  • Is there a discount for paying in cash?
  • Are there any discounts available for clubs or associations? 
  • Are there any payment plans available?

In an ideal situation, you’ll call up and ask for a discount while explaining your situation in detail. Then, the person on the other end of the line says they are able to do something that could help you. Although you might not get the exact discount you were hoping for, any discount is better than nothing. 

You might be surprised to find that they are willing to work with you. They might offer a prompt payment discount or a payment plan to fit into your budget. 

When you make the call, remember that there is another human being on the other end of the line. Take the time to be considerate when making your discount request. The right attitude could make all the difference. 

Look for assistance

If you are facing an emergency that is affecting others in your community, then you should look for assistance programs. Let’s say you are facing the costs related to a natural disaster, large-scale economic crisis, or a pandemic. If that’s the case, there might be government assistance programs set up to help you navigate these difficult times. 

Here are some of the best places to start looking:

  • Mortgage relief options for federally backed loans (check with your lender).
  • State social services agency.
  • Contact your local government offices.
  • Natural disaster relief through FEMA.
  • COVID-19 tax relief.

Shop around for the right loan

If you aren’t able to find assistance or reduce the expense to a manageable level, then taking out a loan might be the right option. Although taking on debt is not enjoyable, it can provide the immediate financial relief that your budget needs. 

You might not have too much time to find the funding you need. However, it is important to take a few minutes to choose the right loan. 

What should you look for when picking your loan?

  • Low APRs. A low APR can help you keep the total cost of the loan low. A higher APR will lead to higher interest payments, which can add up quickly. 
  • Check out the fees. Hidden fees can be a deal killer when it comes to personal loans. Make sure you won’t be on the hook for outrageous fees. 
  • Prepayment penalties. You don’t want to be locked into a loan that you don’t have the option to pay off early. 

Luckily, you can explore all of the best options within minutes with the help of Credible, an online loan marketplace. You’ll be able to see all your loan options in one place, including actual rates, starting at 5.40% APR (with autopay),  See Terms.

Fiona is another way to compare your loan options quickly. In fact, you’ll find your loan offers (organized by credit score needed) in a matter of seconds from one of the largest networks of lenders available. 

Credible Credit Disclosure - To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Credible or our partner lender(s) conduct a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, when you apply for credit, your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies will be requested, which is considered a hard credit pull and will affect your credit.

Pull back on other bills where you can

What If Your Emergency Fund Doesn't Cover Your Emergency? - Cut back on other bills

When you are facing a major expense, you’ll need to take a close look at your budget. If possible, find ways to cut back where you can. 

A few ways to pull back on your spending include:

  • Drop to minimum debt payments. Trying to pay off your debts early? That is a great goal, but you may need to put it on pause until you handle this emergency. 
  • Cut your takeout costs.  Your food bill can add up quickly – especially if you pick up takeout often. Try cutting out takeout for now
  • Stick to the pantry. An additional way to cut your food costs is to stick to your pantry foods. Many of us have some food hidden in our cabinets, eat that before heading to the grocery store. 
  • Skip streaming. Streaming services can add entertainment to your life, but you could save some cash each month to help cover your emergency by paring down on the number of subscriptions you have. 

Get creative when it comes to cutting expenses out of your budget. Don’t worry about what everyone else thinks – give anything a try to cut back during this lean time.

For example, you might start biking to work to save on gas or temporarily cancel your home internet service to immediately start squeezing cash out of your budget. 

Look for extra income

Bringing in extra income could solve the financial problem. But this is often easier said than done – especially if you want to do so quickly. If you are looking for ideas to bring in extra income fast, here are a few to consider:

  • Pick up extra shifts. You might not have time to find another job, but can you work more hours at your current job? 
  • Pawn your stuff. Have anything around the house? You might be able to turn it into cash at a pawn shop. 
  • Sell plasma. Not the most glamorous way to bring in cash, but it could provide a small boost of cash when you need it. 
  • Sell unused gift cards. Have leftover gift cards? Sell them through a site like Gift Card Granny to turn the value into cash quickly. 

Luckily, there is no shortage of ideas for bringing in extra income. The bad news is that most side hustles take time to get off the ground. But selling your things and your plasma can help you add some extra income to throw towards your emergency.

Request a payroll advance

If you have a regular paycheck coming in from your employer, consider asking for a payroll advance. Although not all companies are open to this, it could provide the influx of cash you need right away. 

Talk to your supervisor or a Human Resources representative to determine if this is an option for you. 

Cash in your credit card points

What If Your Emergency Fund Doesn't Cover Your Emergency? - Cash in your credit card rewards points

Do you regularly spend with rewards credit cards? Check the balance of your points. If you have enough points on the table, you might be able to cash out with a gift card or statement credit. This could help you fund basic expenses while you throw the rest of your income towards your emergency expense. 

Crack open your piggy bank

Most of us don’t regularly use paper money – after all plastic is easier. But some of us still have a jar of coins hanging around our house to collect stray nickels and dimes. 

A jar of coins might seem like a dust collector, but it could come in handy in an emergency. If you have a pile of coins, deposit them into your bank account at your local branch. You might be surprised how quickly the coins can add up. 

My tip is to avoid doing this at the grocery store kiosk. You’ll likely pay around 8% to 10% of the total value of your coins as a fee to turn them into paper currency. Most banks don’t have a similar fee, which allows you to funnel more of these coins towards your emergency. 

Keep moving forward

When you are facing a major expense, it can be an emotionally devastating experience. This is especially true if you have built an emergency fund that was intended to help you avoid this type of financial distress. But it is important to maintain a positive attitude and an open mindset as you look for ways to handle this expense. 

Remind yourself that one financial obstacle is not the end of the world. Use the challenge of this emergency to prove to yourself exactly how resilient you are. No matter what is facing you – you are a strong individual that can find a way to handle the situation. 

Take the time to get yourself mental pep talks when you need to. Also, creating a positive money mantra, such as I will handle this financial emergency effectively or I am good with money, can keep your mind heading in the right direction. 

Don’t let this one financial hurdle keep you from reaching your long-term financial goals. Instead, try it as a bump in the long road to financial freedom. Take action to handle the expense and move on to your next financial goal. 


An unexpected expense can drain even the most robust emergency funds. Look for opportunities in your situation to deal with your expense as quickly as possible. 

In the best-case scenario, you might be able to find an assistance program or receive a discount quickly. If not, a personal loan could be the solution you are looking for. Once you obtain your personal loan to cover the cost, use the strategies to lower your expenses and increase your income to erase this financial burden from your books.

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About the author

Total Articles: 56
Sarah Sharkey is a personal finance writer covering retirement, investing, debt, savings, credit cards, mortgages, and student loans. Additionally, she is the founder of Adventurous Adulting, a personal finance blog dedicated to helping readers tackle their money and take control of the adventure of life. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.