According to a new study, nearly half of all Americans definitely or probably couldn’t come up with $2,000 in 30 days if they faced a financial emergency. Financial experts recommend keeping an emergency fund with enough cash to cover at least three to six months of expenses. Based on this research, it seems almost half of Americans would struggle to cover even one month in the event of a job loss or other emergency.
Considering the state of the economy over the past several years, this doesn’t surprise me. I have lived paycheck to paycheck in the past, and I know what it’s like when the money seems to leave your savings account more quickly than you can save it.
I truly believe that with some advance planning, though, most of these families wouldn’t be nearly as financially fragile. We were earning less than half of our current income when we finally began saving money. We went from barely squeaking by to saving a small amount of money every month without increasing our income.
By saving or earning an extra $160 a month, you could build a bare bones emergency fund of $2,000 (plus a little extra with interest) in one year. But how? Through a combination of spending less and/or earning more. Here are some ideas.
Line-dry your clothing. The clothes dryer is one of the most expensive appliances in your home. By line-drying some or all of your clothing, you could noticeably reduce your electric bill.
Weatherproof your home. Seal drafty doors and windows with weather strips, update window treatments to insulating curtains or blinds, and take other steps to better insulate your home to cut your heating or cooling costs.
Add one or two vegetarian meals to your weekly menu plan. Reducing your meat consumption can make a huge difference in your grocery bill.
Lower monthly payments. If you have a lot of minutes left on your cell phone plan every month, you might be able to save some money by reducing your plan. Call insurance and utility companies to see if you qualify for any discounts.
Use Netflix, Hulu, and Redbox instead of cable for entertainment. Hulu costs anywhere from $0 to $8 per month. Netflix can cost as little as $9 a month. Cable costs $40 and up. You might be surprised how little you miss cable.
Downsize. Move to a smaller, less expensive house or apartment. Trade your fancy car for a reliable used vehicle with a lower (or no) payment. Become a one-car household.
Use cash for weekly expenses. This was the easiest thing I’ve ever done to cut spending fast. Set your weekly budget for daily expenses like gas, groceries, etc. At the beginning of the week, withdraw the amount of cash you’ll need. You’ll be amazed at how little you spend when you’re not unconsciously swiping your debit card several times a day.
Sell your stuff. Do you have shelves and shelves of DVDs and books and you don’t watch or read anymore? What about clothing you haven’t worn in years? Jewelry you don’t wear? Have a rummage sale or start liquidating your unnecessary assets at consignment shops, resale stores, or online.
Think like a teen. Clean houses, mow lawns, babysit. Start thinking of the ways you used to earn money as a teen. They may still be viable sources of income even as an adult.
Sell crafts on Etsy.
Find a part-time job for evenings and weekends.
I realize it’s easier said than done, but even if you can’t get to $160 or more per month, cutting expenses and earning more can help you start saving something, and that’s the first step to building your emergency fund.
What suggestions do you have for people who want to start saving to protect themselves from financial emergencies?