Whether it’s an emergency room trip, a roof repair, or a car replacement, a major unexpected expense can be a tremendous setback. But when you take the time to build your savings, it’ll be far less damaging. Having a solid emergency savings fund to fall back on can help you avoid borrowing at high rates or maxing out credit cards. If you’re worried about being behind, you’re not the only one; according to Bankrate, about 28% of U.S. adults don’t have emergency savings. This important financial buffer can be difficult to build, but here are some tips to make it easier.
Most financial advisors suggest accumulating three to six months’ worth of living expenses to set aside for your emergency savings. The final number will look different for everyone, depending on your costs, lifestyle, and other factors, but this is generally a good rule to follow. This will give you a solid base in case you face an unexpected expense or job loss, and it’ll buy you some time until you can figure out a more long-term solution.
Once you know the total savings that you’ll need, it’ll be easy to divide it up into manageable chunks. Part of the process of setting a goal for your emergency savings fund should include learning about budgeting and living within your means, if you haven't done so already. When you have a budget that makes sense, covers your expenses, and leaves you a bit extra to save, the process becomes easier. Rather than having to guess at what’s in your account, what bills are coming up, and what you’ll have left, you’ll have a definitive answer to rely on. As a result, the payments that are going toward your savings won’t take away from other expenses or cause you to overdraft.
If you have money left over at the end of each paycheck, you already have the start of your emergency fund. Just move the excess funds into a savings account (preferably a high-yield one), and repeat each time you get paid. If you’re worried that you’ll forget, or if it’s too much work to manually move money every week or two, you can automate the process. Have a portion of each paycheck direct-deposited into your savings account, or set a recurring transfer on your bank’s website or app.
If this process is new to you, there are plenty of ways to save money that are beginner-friendly, like eating out less and taking advantage of 401(K) plans. Sending tax returns and birthday gifts straight to your savings account are other great ways to save more, too, especially if you don’t have debts to pay off. When you run out of ways to save, see if you can cut any of your expenses, and reallocate those funds to your savings account. Common examples of cutting expenses are switching from cable to a cheaper subscription streaming service, canceling a gym membership to work out at home or outside, and making coffee at home instead of buying it at a coffee shop.
This category allows you to get really creative. If you have a part or full-time job already, ask for extra hours, offer to get overtime, or see if they’ll let you complete tasks on the weekends in addition to what you’re doing throughout the week. When this isn’t an option, or you’ve tapped out all of the extra hours you can get, there are countless ways to make money in your spare time, like selling things online and working as a freelancer. Some of these cash-making methods, like taking surveys, can even be done while you’re watching TV or completing other tasks.
The best way to fund your emergency savings account is to find ways to save and make money. If you have debts, work on paying them off, too, so you’re spending less on interest and monthly payments. Even if your savings accumulates slowly, remember that it’s still accumulating. A sufficient emergency savings fund won’t come together overnight, but there are plenty of steps you can take, big and small, to put yourself in a much better position moving forward.