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.
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Here are 50 tips for the beginner who may be pressed for money.
- Open a high-yield online savings account with as little as one dollar.
- Sign up for direct deposit.
- Empty your pocket change into a jar every night.
- Bring your coin jar to the bank every month.
- Add to your jar every time you swear.
- Have a garage sale.
- Whenever you purchase groceries with a coupon, deposit your savings into the bank.
- Downgrade your telephone service.
- Bring your own lunch to the office.
- Ask for a raise (with substantiation).
- Drink soda rather than alcohol when you’re dining out.
- Drink water rather than soda when you’re dining out.
- Switch to store-brand food items.
- Switch to generic medication.
- Cut back or eliminate your addiction to smoking.
- Be aware of your ECRD Factor.
- Create an automate deposit to your savings account.
- Divert your raise into the bank
- Don’t consider your emergency fund part of your spending money and keep it hidden.
- Celebrate America Saves Week every week
- Tutor a young student in a subject you know.
- Get a part-time job at your favorite book store or coffee shop.
- Use a cash back rewards credit card and deposit your rebates directly into your emergency fund.
- Call the cable company and cancel your service (or agree to a better deal).
- Save gas by not driving faster than 65 miles per hour.
- Stop using credit cards if you pay interest.
- Cancel your Netflix subscription.
- Fire your gardener and do the work yourself.
- Visit the library rather than your local bookstore.
- Stock up on non-perishable groceries when they are on sale.
- Consolidate your student loans.
- Cancel magazine subscriptions.
- Reuse any items you can rather than buying new, and pocket the difference in your emergency fund.
- Delay vacations until your emergency fund is complete.
- Sign up for online bill payment if your bank offers the service for free.
- Shop around to ensure all your your financial accounts do not charge you extraneous fees.
- Always know how much you have in the bank so your accounts will never be overdrawn.
- Consider switching your land line phone service to an internet (voice over IP/VOIP) service.
- Use public transportation rather than driving when possible.
- Work a few extra hours at your day job.
- Call your insurance provider and ask for an updated quote.
- Shop around for a new insurance provider.
- Troll the web for abandoned and unclaimed property owed to you.
- Negotiate in any retail environment. The more you try, the less you’ll spend (and the more you can save for emergencies).
- If you travel, join AAA; the discounts will often pay for the membership fee.
- Don’t be an early adopter of new technology.
- Cancel your gym membership.
- Check your three free credit reports each year from annualcreditreport.com, the official website, for accuracy.
- Consider adopting a frugal philosophy, at least until the emergency fund is in place.
- 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 June 24, 2016 and originally published April 14, 2008.