50 Tips to Help Establish Your Emergency Fund

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Last updated on August 27, 2022 Comments: 15

50 Ways to build an emergency fund. Tips, tricks and strategies on saving more for emergencies and where to keep your rainy day money.

There’s a reason Dave Ramsey’s famous Baby Step #1 is to build an emergency fund. It helps people get on track for becoming financially independent.

I don’t agree with everything Ramsey says. But having at least a small emergency fund to begin with can be helpful. A basic emergency fund is a place where you keep cash for true emergencies, such as job loss or a broken-down car that would prevent you from going to work.

Ultimately, you’ll want enough cash in your emergency fund to cover all of your necessary expenses for a 3 to 6 month period. But any amount of money saved is a start.

Beyond the basics, I suggest at least five separate components to a complete emergency plan. Getting to that point presents challenges for many people. When you’re starting out, it can be difficult to assemble even the basics for eventual financial freedom.

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But even if you’re hard-pressed for cash, you can still start an emergency fund. Here are fifty different ways to start saving today:

  1. Open a high-yield online savings account with as little as one dollar. This gives you somewhere to put your emergency funds, which is essential. And you might as well protect against inflation while you’re at it.
  2. Sign up for direct deposit. When you do, have part of your paycheck–as little as a few bucks–deposited right into your new online savings account. You won’t spend it if it doesn’t hit your checking account in the first place!
  3. Empty your pocket change into a jar every night. Then, put the change into your savings account every couple of months. Don’t spend much in cash? Try an app like Acorns that automatically rounds up your transactions to save your virtual change for you.
  4. Add to your jar every time you swear. Trying to break a bad habit? Tax yourself every time you do it. You’ll break your habit more quickly and save money while you’re at it.
  5. Have a garage sale. Selling off things you no longer want or need can get you started on the road to saving. Plus, it’s nice to de-clutter the house once in a while!
  6. Sell on Craigslist or Facebook groups. Bigger-ticket items may net a better price sold individually on Craigslist or your local Facebook garage sale group.
  7. Whenever you purchase groceries with a coupon, deposit your savings into the bank. This works especially well if you aren’t already in the habit of using coupons. Whenever you cut a few bucks off of your typical grocery bill, save the extra. You’ll never even miss it.
  8. Downgrade your cell phone or cable serviceThe best ways to save are options that let you keep saving money, month after month. Just be sure you put the money saved into your emergency fund every month!
  9. Bring your own lunch to the office. Say you typically spend $10 for lunch at work, but you can make a salad at home for $2.50. Every day you bring your lunch to work, put $7.50 into your emergency fund.
  10. Ask for a raise. Pull together your work performance stats for the past year or two. Then, get together with your supervisor, and lobby for a raise.
  11. Save your raise. If you do get a raise, don’t let lifestyle inflation eat it all up. Instead, have it automatically deposited to your savings account rather than your checking account.
  12. Drink soda rather than alcohol when you’re dining out. Buying even one drink at dinner can set you back $5 or more. Every time you downgrade your drink, throw the money you’ve saved into your emergency fund.
  13. Switch to store-brand food items. Get a feel for how much this cuts from your weekly grocery budget. Then save the extra cash.
  14. Switch to generic medication. Many times, doctors don’t mention generics, but you can switch to them if you ask. Again, keep track of how much you’ve saved, and add it to your bank account.
  15. Cut back or eliminate your addiction to smoking. Smoking has up-front costs, of course. But you’ll also save money on healthcare over time if you quit.
  16. Be aware of your ECRD FactorWhat are you spending money on that you could eliminate or cut back on? Find those areas, and then leverage them to save more money.
  17. Start a side gigWhatever your side gig, put any profit from it directly into your savings account.
  18. Use a cash back rewards credit card. Instead of putting the rewards towards extra spending, put them into your savings account.
  19. Save gas by not driving faster than 65 miles per hour. You can also save gas and be easier on your car by not braking too hard and by following other safe driving practices.
  20. Stop using credit cards if you pay interest. If you have trouble not carrying a balance, just stop using your credit cards.
  21. Cancel your Netflix subscription. Actually, look at all of the subscriptions you’re charged for monthly or annually–Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Spotify, etc. If you don’t use them enough to justify the costs, just cancel them.
  22. Do your own yard work. If you’re currently paying someone to do your yard work, start doing it yourself. You’ll get a workout and save some money.
  23. Visit the library rather than your local bookstore. Bookstores are great. But you can save so much money on reading material by renting it from the local library!
  24. Stock up on non-perishable groceries when they are on sale. Having a well-stocked pantry is essential to keeping your grocery spending lean. Get familiar with your local stores’ sales cycles, and stock up when you can.
  25. Cancel magazine subscriptions. If you have some must-read magazines, subscribing is better than paying more at the newsstand. But if you’re not reading those magazines cover to cover every month, cancel them.
  26. Reuse or repair things instead of replacing them. Then, take the money that you saved by not purchasing new, and put it into your savings account.
  27. Delay vacations until your emergency fund is complete. This is a tough one. But you should have at least some part of your emergency fund saved before leaving on vacation.
  28. Sign up for online bill payment if your bank offers the service for free. This will keep you from missing bills and paying late fees.
  29. Shop around to ensure all your your financial accounts do not charge you extraneous fees. In this day and age, you shouldn’t pay for the privilege of using a checking or savings account!
  30. Always know how much you have in the bank so your accounts will never be overdrawn. Money management and budgeting apps are a great option for helping your manage this.
  31. Use public transportation rather than driving when possible. Alternatively, consider biking to work.
  32. Work a few extra hours at your day job. If you’re paid hourly, you can earn extra to put into savings. If you’re salaried, impressing the bosses could net you a raise sooner rather than later.
  33. Call your insurance provider and ask for an updated quote. In face, you should shop around for insurance once a year. You never know when you’ll get a better offer!
  34. Crawl the web for abandoned and unclaimed property owed to youYou never know what you’ll find. Put any unclaimed cash straight into savings.
  35. If you travel, join AAA; the discounts will often pay for the membership fee.
  36. Cancel your gym membership. You can get a great workout at home with some free weights. And you can always get your cardio in by walking or running outdoors.
  37. Consider refinancing your mortgageIf you haven’t taken advantage of low interest rates, now is the time. You could save hundreds per month, depending on your circumstances.
  38. Cook and brew coffee at home. Cutting out a latte a day may not make you a millionaire. But cooking and brewing your coffee at home can save you a few bucks a day.
  39. Find opportunities for one-time income. Don’t have time for an ongoing side gig? Consider doing one-time income-earning opportunities like babysitting or house sitting.
  40. Check out your memberships. Are you a member of a professional club you don’t get much use out of? A local country club? Consider cutting out memberships that don’t really benefit you.
  41. Save your tax refund. In fact, you can have your tax refund direct deposited to your savings account.
  42. Adjust your withholding. Don’t want to wait until tax time to beef up your emergency fund? If you always get a refund, you could be having too much withheld from your paycheck. Talk to your HR department about adjusting your withholding. Then, put that extra cash from your paycheck right to your emergency fund.
  43. Stop eating out. Commit to only eating out for truly special occasions, such as birthdays. You’ll be surprised how much this could save over the course of a year.
  44. Consider a no-spend month. This Pinteresty trend is actually a great way to save money. You basically eliminate all but your essential spending for a full month. It can be an eye opening way to cut unnecessary spending long-term, too.
  45. Keep track of all of your spending. Sometimes you spend money without actually realizing it. Keeping track of all your spending, either with an app or by writing it all down, can help you pinpoint where you’re over-spending.
  46. Negotiate on everything. Whether it’s a retail store or your cable company, pretty much everything is negotiable.
  47. Share your home. Getting a roommate can really boost your savings. Or you can use Airbnb or VRBO to rent part or all of your house part-time.
  48. Save on energy. Take steps to make your home more energy efficient, and it’ll save you money month after month.
  49. Shop secondhand. Sometimes, you just have to buy stuff, whether it’s new cups to replace the ones your kids broke or a new pair of jeans. But these things don’t have to be brand new. Try shopping at online secondhand stores or your local Goodwill to save some serious cash.
  50. Celebrate milestones. Saving three to six months’ worth of expenses can take a while. So set some milestones–like your first $500 or $1,000–worth celebrating. (Just don’t blow a bunch of money on a fancy dinner out while you’re at it!)

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.

Original published on April 14, 2008, this article was updated by the Consumerism Commentary editorial team (five of us to be precise) on November 15, 2017.

Article comments

Tom says:

Hey!, I’m just putting some feelers out there to see if there’s anyone interested in making a pretty substantial amount of cash in a short amount of time. Only thing this requires is that you have an active bank account or credit card. No cash is required up front to start. Which means your account can be on a zero balance and that’s completely fine. Text +1(314) 856 1730, lets talk about the next deal

Anonymous says:

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 😀 Also, you can buy used condoms at your local Value Village. This is a great way to save! Just make sure you rinse….

Anonymous says:

Health Canada recommends no more than two servings of seafood a week due to the heavy metal poisonimg from the fish.

The FDA has approved EDTA as a “preservative” for canned fish. EDTA helps your body shed heavy metal poisoning – and has not been proven to preserve anything.

Tuna is cheap, however… We live in the age of information, and cannot claim ignorance as an excuse for poisoning ourselves or our children – especially to save a few pennies that likely won’t improve the quality of your life in any measureable manner – other than peace of mind when the inevitable car repair occurs.

Anonymous says:

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.

Anonymous says:

#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
-$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.

Anonymous says:

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!

Anonymous says:

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

Anonymous says:

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.

Anonymous says:

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.

Anonymous says:

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.

Anonymous says:

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.

Luke Landes says:

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

Anonymous says:

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.

Luke Landes says:

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.

Anonymous says:

“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”.