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50 Tips to Help Establish Your Emergency Fund

This article was written by in Saving. 13 comments.


One of the first steps to cleaning up one’s financial situation before embarking on the journey to become financially independent is the establishment of an emergency fund. An emergency fund, in its most basic form, is an accessible savings account where you keep cash for true emergencies, like the loss of a job or a medical emergency. Financial advisers and writers often suggest that emergency funds should contain enough cash to cover all expenses in a three to six month period.

Beyond the basics, I suggest at least five separate components to an complete emergency plan. Getting to that point presents challenges for many people. When one is starting out, it can be difficult to assemble the basis for eventual financial freedom.

Here are 50 tips for the beginner who may be pressed for money.

  1. Open a high-yield online savings account with as little as one dollar.
  2. Sign up for direct deposit.
  3. Empty your pocket change into a jar every night.
  4. Bring your coin jar to the bank every month.
  5. Add to your jar every time you swear.
  6. Have a garage sale.
  7. Whenever you purchase groceries with a coupon, deposit your savings into the bank.
  8. Downgrade your telephone service.
  9. Bring your own lunch to the office.
  10. Ask for a raise (with substantiation).
  11. Drink soda rather than alcohol when you’re dining out.
  12. Drink water rather than soda when you’re dining out.
  13. Switch to store-brand food items.
  14. Switch to generic medication.
  15. Cut back or eliminate your addiction to smoking.
  16. Be aware of your ECRD Factor.
  17. Create an automate deposit to your savings account.
  18. Divert your raise into the bank
  19. Don’t consider your emergency fund part of your spending money and keep it hidden.
  20. Celebrate America Saves Week every week
  21. Tutor a young student in a subject you know.
  22. Get a part-time job at your favorite book store or coffee shop.
  23. Use a cash back rewards credit card and deposit your rebates directly into your emergency fund.
  24. Call the cable company and cancel your service (or agree to a better deal).
  25. Save gas by not driving faster than 65 miles per hour.
  26. Stop using credit cards if you pay interest.
  27. Cancel your Netflix subscription.
  28. Fire your gardener and do the work yourself.
  29. Visit the library rather than your local bookstore.
  30. Stock up on non-perishable groceries when they are on sale.
  31. Consolidate your student loans.
  32. Cancel magazine subscriptions.
  33. Reuse any items you can rather than buying new, and pocket the difference in your emergency fund.
  34. Delay vacations until your emergency fund is complete.
  35. Sign up for online bill payment if your bank offers the service for free.
  36. Shop around to ensure all your your financial accounts do not charge you extraneous fees.
  37. Always know how much you have in the bank so your accounts will never be overdrawn.
  38. Consider switching your land line phone service to an internet (voice over IP/VOIP) service.
  39. Use public transportation rather than driving when possible.
  40. Work a few extra hours at your day job.
  41. Call your insurance provider and ask for an updated quote.
  42. Shop around for a new insurance provider.
  43. Troll the web for abandoned and unclaimed property owed to you.
  44. Negotiate in any retail environment. The more you try, the less you’ll spend (and the more you can save for emergencies).
  45. If you travel, join AAA; the discounts will often pay for the membership fee.
  46. Don’t be an early adopter of new technology.
  47. Cancel your gym membership.
  48. Check your three free credit reports each year from annualcreditreport.com, the official website, for accuracy.
  49. Consider adopting a frugal philosophy, at least until the emergency fund is in place.
  50. While paying attention to small, repetitive expenses, don’t ignore larger decisions like your car, house, and wedding. With smart choices on big-ticket items, you could fully fund an emergency account with the savings.

With a goal to be financially independent, the first step is securing a cash cushion, accessible in emergencies. During this funding phase, it may be beneficial to make sacrifices that in other situations you would not make. A slight decrease in quality of life in the short term will likely outweigh long-term financial devastation when a future emergency arises.

Updated September 14, 2010 and originally published April 14, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar kitty

“11. Drink soda rather than alcohol when you’re dining out.”
Replace “soda” with “water”. Otherwise, this is an extremely unhealthy advice. Soda is full of sugar and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. At least wine has some health benefit.

“40. Work a few extra hours at your day job. ”
a) Only applies to non-exempt employees. b) Those who do get overtime often need to have some justification to work late c) The compensation of those who are “exempt” from overtime pay is often not correlated with the amount of time spent at work. The productivity during work hours is often more important as well as skills like competence, creativity, leadership skills, etc. Also, if you use your brains for your job, being tired isn’t the best time to come up with great ideas; at some point you start making mistakes and get “negative productivity”.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,455 (Platinum)

Kitty: You must have missed number 12, “replace soda with water.”

For number 40, as you see, not all the suggestions pertain to everyone. :-) Someone who works in a retail store, for example, might have a better chance of earning a few extra bucks for the emergency fund by asking for more hours on the schedule.

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avatar gail

great ideas, thank you. i have a few more:

….shop at garage sales; group sales like for club or schools are the cheapest cuz they have so much stuff and don’t want to deal with it afterword. later in the day they also markdown prices even further. went to one last weekend that was all the clothes you can stuff in a bag for $3. i managed to fit in 8 shorts and 10 tops. you can also take the nicer clothes to a consignment shop and have them resold for some profit.

….don’t buy into the idea that certain brands only work with certain products: i steam carpets for some extra cash and get the soap at a dollar store. it works just as well as the brand name soap thats suppose to be the only one that will work with that make of cleaner. just need to take a few minutes and test different brands.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,455 (Platinum)

Gail: Thanks for the suggestions. Those are great ideas for finding extra cash through savings to add to your emergency fund.

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avatar Jeremy

Great tips — thanks for sharing. Your suggestion about visiting the library (#29) should fill in the entertainment vacuum after canceling your Netflix subscription, since many libraries also loan out videos and DVDs (as well as music CDs) for free.

Also, calling to cancel your cable may mean you get transferred to a customer retention specialist who can offer you a better deal than the one you have currently. Often, businesses would rather give you better terms than lose you as a customer altogether.

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avatar kitty

You are right – didn’t see number 40; good point about not all advice being applicable to everyone.

For 45. I have AAA, but I found that many deals on the web – expedia.com, orbitz.com, and similar websites are better that what AAA offers. There is also priceline.

Another item for those who work for large corporations. Check out if your corporation offers some special benefits (shopping discounts, travel discounts, car rental etc.). Some large corporations donate a lot of money to arts which may translate to free entrance to many museums for employees. If you work for such a corporation, taking your badge with you to NYC (for example) can give you free tickets to many museums there for you and your guests.

Learn to value your money. When think about buying something you see think how long it would take you to save this amount, what other potentially more useful things the same amount of money would buy and whether whatever you want to buy really worth it to you.

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avatar Nick Simard

You’ve got a lot of great tips in this piece, Flexo. I recently wrote a piece about emergency funds and linked to this entry of yours. I received a raise last week and am considering doing what you suggest. It’s not much of a raise, but it can add up.

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avatar Robert Woods

Great article. I know it is hard to save money but the emergency fund is something families just should not do without.

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avatar jean ♦125 (Cent)

With a stable job and few household members, who are cooperative in your quest to save much for emergencies, it wouldn’t be so hard to save up at least a few dollars from your daily budget. It’s indeed good to be ready at all times.

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avatar rickypam

Hi!thank you for this advice.we are immigrants from a 3rd world country and just starting with life here in America…and we are discovering how different it is from what we see in the movies.One of the painful things we had to deal with was this credit history thing. People urged us to get credit cards as soon as they start coming in the mail,use these cards then pay it back right away so we can start our credit history sooner.We did not have a PC or internet access then in our home so we could not read online wisdom such as your article.We’ve been here only 3 years and already learning lessons the hard way. I am thankful though that it is not too late. We are now in the process of buying our first house (we are getting new bec. of the green features since our kids are asthmatics) and I wonder what should we prioritize about the upgrades. Any wisdom you can share with us?Thank you!

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avatar Blah Blah Black Sheep

#51 – Use baking soda to bath with, wash your hair, shave, brush your teeth & as deodorant.

A large box of baking soda is cheap, like $2, at the grocery store. You’ll probably go through 1 box a month if you use it for what I suggested. By using it as soap in the shower, it exfoliates your skin and prevents you from putting all kinds of crazy chemicals on your body (from body scrubs, soaps, etc) that can cause psoriasis & other skin problems. Using it as a shampoo (you just toss it in your hair and rub it around, then let it sit for a few minutes), it’ll exfoliate that, too, and prevent dandruff. Baking soda cuts oil and neutralizes odors. Brushing your teeth with it acts as a gentle dentifrice. Shaving with it not only exfoliates your face, but neutralizes bacteria and germs which can get into cuts and infect them. After the shower, toss some in your hand, wet it just a tad and rub the slippery/wet baking soda under your arms. Let it dry, and it’ll act as deodorant and anti-perspirant through-out the day.

Now, if you add up all the savings from what you would normally spend each month on stuff …

$2 soap (more if you use a liquid body soap)
$2 shampoo (more if anti-dandruff)
$2 shave gel
$4 deodorant
============
$10
-$2 baking soda
============
$8 save a month

If you have to use special versions of shampoo and such to control dandruff, you’ll save even more. (I used to have a really bad seahborheaic dandruff that took $10/mo shampooo to control. I switched to baking soda, dandruff went away, no longer spend $10 on weird shampoo).

Folks always look for one “big” thing to change in their life to make a difference, but it really is all the little things that add up, for better or worse.

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avatar caudillcrew10 ♦125 (Cent)

I think these are some great ideas, especially kicking a nicotine addiction, I know I need to cut out the snuff, that alone would save me at least 25-40 dollars a month, and drinking water when dining out, better health and it saves me and my wife around 20 a month when we do. Those don’t seem like huge sums, but I’ll take an extra 60 a month into my savings, I know I need it.

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avatar Georgia

I think people should eat more octopus. Actually, if you eat tuna everyday you can afford to buy more DVD’s. With a huge DVD collection you can stay home which leads to drinking more water thus eliminating the option for dining out and drinking soda :D Also, you can buy used condoms at your local Value Village. This is a great way to save! Just make sure you rinse….

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