Experts agree: Everyone should have an emergency fund with enough money to cover six to eight months of living expenses. This is money you set aside in case of a major life-changing event, such as a job loss.
If you haven’t saved up the recommended amount, you aren’t alone. A recent survey from Bankrate found that only 29 percent of Americans have saved six months’ worth of expenses. Another 23 percent have saved nothing at all.
While those statistics may make you feel better about your own situation, you don’t want to get complacent. If you lost your job tomorrow, would you be able to make rent next month? If you had a major medical emergency and couldn’t work for three months, could you afford groceries?
If you answered “No” to those questions, it’s time to build that emergency fund—quickly. Here are a few ways to get started.
- Slow your spending. It goes without saying that the first thing you should do is to take a good, hard look at your budget and determine where you can cut back. One of the first items on the chopping block is always cable and other forms of entertainment. You don’t have to deprive yourself, but do you really need both Netflix and Amazon Prime? Other easy places to cut include gym memberships, subscriptions and eating out.
- Sell your stuff. If you have a lot of unused items in your house, this is a good time to clear out space and get a little extra cash at the same time. You can sell the clothes your kids have outgrown at a garage sale. You can find those collectible toys gathering dust in the attic and post them on eBay. You can take that bread maker you’ve used twice and list it on Craigslist. Just be sure to stay safe when selling items online.
- Get a part-time job. Assuming you have the time, you may want to look into getting a part-time job while you build up your reserves. You don’t have to relive your teenage days and work the drive-thru at the fast food restaurant down the joint, but you may be able to pick up some hours at the local bookstore. If you’re a fitness fanatic, perhaps you could work the front desk at your gym or teach some group classes. If you have a reliable vehicle, you could get earn a little extra money as a rideshare driver.
- Bill yourself. Sometimes you just need to change your mindset. Consider your emergency fund to be a monthly bill, and make sure you pay that bill just like you would any other. You can set the amount and due date and make it a part of your monthly budget. Even better, set it up as an automatic payment so you don’t even have to think about it. Alternatively, you could vow to transfer a set amount of cash—say $20—into your savings account every Friday. It may seem like a small step, but it all adds up.
- Save any bonus money. If you get a bonus at work or a tax refund, put that money in your savings account immediately. You may be tempted to spend it, but try to think about the long-term benefits. The same goes for a raise: Instead of budgeting that extra 2–3 percent into your regular spending, move the amount over to savings. You’re already getting by without it, after all, so you won’t even miss it.
After you’ve got a good chunk of change set aside, you might want to look into moving it to a high-yield savings account. You don’t want to invest it because you want it to be readily available, but you don’t want it sitting in an account earning next to nothing in interest either. Be sure to store your bank’s information along with your other important documents on InsureYouKnow.org so you and your loved ones know how to access the money if and when you need it.