When life happens, it pays to have a stash of cash at your disposal. Otherwise, you could scramble to find someone who can loan you the funds you need. Even worse, you may have to resort to a personal loan from the bank, high-interest credit card debt, a cash advance if you have less than perfect credit or an auto title loan.
Stressful, but this doesn’t have to be you. A better idea: build an emergency fund right away so you’ll have a stash when the unthinkable happens.
But how do you go about building an emergency fund fast if you don’t yet have one? Don’t fret. Here are some simple strategies to help you out:
1. Establish a Target
It’s not enough to tell yourself that you want to build an emergency fund. You need to figure out exactly how much you need to save and set a deadline. Once you’ve done so, break this figure down into monthly amounts so you know exactly how much extra disposable income you need to meet your savings goal.
Does this pose a challenge as you don’t quite know how much you need? Start with one month of expenses equal to your needs and work your way up to three months, six months, and so on.
Seems too daunting considering all your other financial priorities? No worries. Set a goal to save $1,000 as it’s a lot more do-able in a short span of time, particularly if you have a heavy debt load or other pressing expense that has your attention. Not sure how to establish a target? Check out our financial planning guide.
2. Get an Accountability Partner
The moment you get serious about building an emergency fund fast is when temptation kicks in. You may notice more sales in the mall on items you love or steeper discounts at the grocery store. Or maybe the lunch invites from coworkers will ramp up. And while it’s tempting to live a little because you work hard and believe you deserve to treat yourself, be careful not to give in.
Otherwise, one small splurge session in the mall could turn into a $200 shopping spree, you could end up buying five steaks that will sit in your already overloaded freezer for months, or you will go out to lunch three times a week instead of one. You get the idea.
So how do you stay on track and avoid temptation? By getting an accountability partner that will check in with you weekly and provide encouragement when you struggle.
In the meantime, you can also hold yourself accountable by implementing the 24-hour rule. If you really want something but it isn’t in your spending plan, give it 24 hours to decide where the funds will come from (meaning adjust your budget) or ditch the purchase altogether.
3. Revisit Your Budget
Now that you’ve adopted the right mindset and have someone that will hold you accountable until you reach your goal, it’s time to revisit your budget.
First things first, are all your actual expenses accounted for? It’s not unusual for individuals to spend a few extra dollars here or there without blowing up their budget, especially if they pull funds from another category. However, to build your emergency fund as quickly as possible, you want to ensure every expense listed is accounted for and accurate so all the disposable income can be allocated to your cash stash.
It may be helpful to view projected expenses from the past three months and compare them to the actuals from your account register to confirm their accuracy. And if there are expenses that you paid for in cash, be sure to include those as well.
Next, go through each expense, line by line, and make cuts wherever you can. This could mean cutting the cord on cable and going for Netflix or a Firestick instead. Or maybe you can use a meal planner and ax your grocery bill by $100 or commit to eating in this month. Remember, short-term pain for long-term gain.
When was the last time you reached out to your service providers and creditors to determine if more competitive rates were available? If it’s been a while, now’s the time to do so to free up additional cash.
Start by calling your utility provider to determine if budget or flat-rate billing is available. Also, reach out to the cable, internet, and phone companies to ensure you’re enrolled in a plan that best suits your needs. You may determine that there’s a lower rate or you’re paying for services you don’t need. And don’t forget to reach out to your insurance providers to review your policies and inquire about discounts that may be available to you.
By taking all these actions, you could trim your expenses drastically and reach the finish line faster.
4. Only Use Cash
Are you familiar with the envelope system? In a nutshell, it’s used to keep your spending under control as you only spend the cash that’s available in the envelopes and when the well runs dry, stop until the next payday. It’s also a surefire way to meet your savings goal on time as you won’t be permitted to dip back into your budget to pay for something once the envelope is empty.
To illustrate, assume you have the following expenses:
- Giving- $100
- Saving- $400
- Needs- $1,400
- Wants- $100
The moment your direct deposit hits your bank account, you’ll take care of the giving, transfer $400 to your savings account, pay the $1,400 worth of bills, and place $100 into labeled envelopes.
Some individuals also use the envelope system for groceries, which is technically a need. Why so? Well, it eliminates the temptation to overspend in the grocery store, only to order a pizza on the way home because you’re too tired to cook. Sound familiar?
5. Clear The Clutter
Want to kill two birds with one stone? While building an emergency fund, why not do a little cleaning and decluttering as well to roll in some extra dough and hit your goal faster?
To pull this off, carve time out of your busy schedule and ruthlessly purge all the extra stuff lying around your home. But instead of dropping them off at the local Goodwill or community dumpster, host a yard sale or put them up for sale online.
Depending on how much stuff you have at your disposal, you could rake in anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand dollars. Plus, you’ll have a clutter-free home once you’re all done. That’s a win-win situation for you.
6. Earn More
If you’re really committed to speeding up the process to build an emergency fund fast, focus on earning more. Why so? Well, if you already earn enough to cover your monthly expenses, any extra income that comes in can be deposited directly to your savings account. A few ideas to get you started:
The thought of freelancing may creep you out if you’ve been employed in a full-time capacity your entire adult life. But here’s the thing: you can put your creative talents to work and start making money on the side right away. No need to quit your full-time job.
Wondering where to start? Think about the things people always tell you that you’re good at and go from there. Or maybe you can use some of the skills developed on the job to serve others on a freelance basis. For example, if you’re a grant writer, maybe you could help smaller nonprofits that are just getting off the ground. Or if you’re an accountant, you may be able to keep the books for a small company or prepare individual tax returns during the busy season. And if you like to write or have an eye for graphic design, the opportunities online are endless and they aren’t hard to find.
Another option is to take on a side gig that doesn’t have a steep learning curb or require a ton of skill, like taking online surveys, becoming an Uber Driver or delivering groceries through Shipt, or meals with Postmates. Or you can check Craigslist or Task Rabbit daily for odd jobs available in your local area.
It’s also not a bad idea to ask around because someone in your network may know of an opportunity to make some extra cash through a one-off side gig that doesn’t require too much commitment on your part.
Have a little spare time after work or on the weekends? Consider picking up a part-time job until you meet your savings goal. And it doesn’t have to be a job at the local pizza parlor or fast-food chain unless you’re fine with that. Look for opportunities in your line of work that only require a part-time commitment.
Is there overtime available at your job? Jump on the opportunity to beef up your paycheck and build your emergency fund fast. If you have the time, it’s also a no-brainer as it’s the easiest way to reach the finish line without finding new opportunities or pulling your hair out.
The moment overtime becomes available, inform your supervisor that you’re interested in working. And take things a step further by letting them know that you can be their go-to in the future when other pressing tasks that require extra hours come up so you’ll be at the top of their list.
7. Use Financial Windfalls Wisely
Did you recently or anticipate receiving an unexpected cash infusion? Instead of blowing it on a lavish dinner, retail therapy session, or however else you see fit, stash the entire amount away for your emergency fund.
This includes gifts from relatives or friends, inheritances, tax refunds, and work bonuses. While it’s tempting to spend the money right away, you’ll feel better knowing you have it at your disposal if a financial emergency does come up because you’ll be prepared and not have to scramble to sort things out.
8. Adjust Withholding and Retirement Contributions
Do you receive a large tax refund each year? If so, it may be worthwhile to use the Withholding Calculator from the IRS to determine where the issue lies and adjust Form W-4 with your employer, accordingly. That way, you’ll have more disposable income that can be saved each pay period.
Also, consider scaling back on your retirement contributions for a short period of time until you have some money in the bank. While you will forgo the opportunity to allow compounding interest to work in your favor on the amount you cut back, it’s better to have money saved then to have to incur penalties when making early withdrawals from your nest egg when something comes up.
9. Keep The Change
If you really want to ramp up your saving efforts, keep the change each time you break a bill. So, if you use a $5 bill to pay for a slushie that costs $3.50, you’ll place the $1.50 in a jar. While this means you’ll have less at your disposal to spend, the money will add up quickly.
Where to Stash Your Cash
Thinking of stashing your emergency fund in a shoebox and tucking it away in your closet? That’s probably not a good idea as the funds will be too easily accessible, which only fuels the “temptation” fire.
A better idea: open up a savings account at a separate financial institution from where your bank and stow the funds away there. This forces you to think twice before you make a withdrawal and makes it harder to just transfer between accounts when you want to purchase something you don’t need.
And if you really want to get the best bang for your buck, consider an online savings account that pays high dividends.
What other tips have you used to save money fast? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.