7 Practical Tips for Starting an Emergency Fund Today
Everyone knows that it’s a good idea to have an emergency fund, right? And it makes sense. Life is full of unexpected surprises, and having some money tucked away and readily accessible is incredibly helpful when you have unplanned situations arise.
Why You Need an Emergency Fund
1. Losing a job
If you lose your job, most likely it will take you a while to find another one. If you don’t have an emergency fund, you may fall behind on bills or be tempted to put expenses on a credit card (not a good idea, by the way). Having an emergency fund gives you the ability to pay bills and take care of your family until you’re able to secure another job.
Accidents are unpredictable, of course, which is why we call them accidents. They happen when we least expect it and can lead to major financial setbacks. If you’re injured and unable to work for a while (and you don’t have disability benefits), you may worry about how you’ll pay your bills. This is the purpose of an emergency fund.
3. Unexpected Expenses
We all have unexpected expenses from time to time, so why are we so surprised (and unprepared) when they come? Starting an emergency fund helps us be prepared for unforeseen incidents such as an emergency room visit, a car repair, or a tax payment.
4. Avoid Going Into Debt
We all know what a trap debt can be. There’s nothing worse than having an unexpected expense and no way to pay it.
Without an emergency fund, you may feel like your only choice is to go into debt to take care of an unexpected expense.
An emergency fund keeps you free from going into debt. And freedom is good!
5. Peace of Mind
When you have an emergency fund, it’s amazing how much better you sleep at night. Really! And it’s equally amazing how much better you feel about your marriage, your kids, and life too. Money can be a real joy stealer, especially if you feel like you don’t have enough. Starting an emergency fund can help you to feel more secure and peaceful overall.
1. Be Intentional
Put a plan in place and intentionally begin building your emergency fund. Get creative and be disciplined. An emergency fund doesn’t just happen; you need to make a plan and stick to it. Telling yourself “Suck it up, Buttercup” may help keep you on track as you’re starting your emergency fund.
2. How Much?
Experts have different opinions on how much your emergency fund should be, but at a minimum, $1,000 or two weeks’ pay (whichever is more) is a great place to start. For many people, having an extra grand available to tackle unanticipated costs can be the difference between filing for bankruptcy and staying in the clear.
After you have your first $1,000 saved, you’ll want to work toward putting enough aside for three to six months’ worth of living expenses. This will help you get through a job loss, injury due to an accident, or other unforeseen events.
3. Baby steps!
Don’t think that an extra $25 per week isn’t significant. If you put $25 per week into your emergency fund for six months, you’ll have over $600 saved up! Baby steps are better than no steps at all.
How to Start an Emergency Fund
1. Live Below Your Means
If you spend everything you make, you’ll have a difficult time starting your emergency fund.
Take an honest look at your spending, and decide what you can do without such as eating out less, forgoing music lessons, or doing your own yard work. Consider getting rid of cable or switching phone plans to free up more money for your emergency fund.
This would be a good time to tell yourself “Suck it up, Buttercup!” The bottom line: spend less.
2. Get an Extra Job
You may not be very excited about this one, but it’s one of the fastest ways to build up your emergency fund. From delivering pizzas to doing handyman work to tutoring to cleaning a few houses, there are all kinds of ways to earn extra money that can be directly added to your emergency fund. Get creative, tap into your talents, and earn some extra cash!
3. Sell unneeded items
If you’re like me, then you have lots of perfectly fine junk — I mean treasures — that someone else may pay to own because you don’t need or want them anymore. What about the golf clubs in the garage that you don’t use anymore? How about tools or kitchen appliances that you can do without? Have a yard sale or sell items online, and deposit the money directly into your emergency fund.
4. Buy With Cash and Save Your Change
This may not sound like a big deal, but when you buy something with cash and put the change in a jar, it’s amazing how much you can save without even really trying. And every little bit helps. What’s great about this strategy is that anyone can do it, and it’s easy to do! All it requires is a new habit.
5. Deposit Your Bonus or Tax Refund
Maybe you get a bonus from your job each quarter or each year, or maybe you’re expecting a tax refund. Instead of spending it, start your emergency fund and give it a big jump-start.
6. Shop Used
Who doesn’t like a new dress or pair of jeans every so often? Of course, we all do! But buying new is way more expensive than buying used. If you truly need something, consider visiting thrift stores or pawnshops first to see if you can get a great deal. Put the money you saved in your emergency fund.
7. Ditch your Habits
Whether it’s cigarettes, cappuccinos, or shoes, just say no to your indulgences. Consider this: instead of spending $4 on a specialty coffee five days a week, you can increase your emergency fund by $80 per month!
The Bottom Line
Some of these tips may seem small or insignificant, but when you add them all together, you have a recipe for success in starting your emergency fund. You’ll be glad that you put forth the effort and discipline when you face the next unexpected situation in your life.