According to a survey by Bankrate.com, 66 million Americans have zero dollars saved in an emergency fund. One-third of those were ages 36-51. Common sense would tell us many major emergencies occur during that prime time in our life, and yet, a large majority were completely unready. So where do you start? Perhaps the most important thing to remember when beginning this savings account is exactly what this account is designed for. What type of emergencies is this money being saved for? Think of this as a separate account that can only be used when a true crisis occurs. We’re not talking about buying a new pair of golf clubs or an Apple watch, but true emergencies.
By following these steps to start an emergency fund you’re giving yourself the safety of knowing you can cover unexpected expenses whenever they - unfortunately arise.
Set a Reasonable Target Number: Research shows you will be more successful when you set moderately challenging and reasonably attainable goals. Opinions vary on how much you should have saved in your emergency fund, but most agree the minimum should be around three months’ worth of your salary or six months’ worth of expenses. For those with an emergency fund of zero, saving thousands of dollars can seem daunting. Approach your savings by shooting for progress. Calculate what three months’ worth of your salary would be, so you have a number to aim for. Then divide that amount into smaller weekly figures that you can work towards, little by little. Progress can happen one day, or one week, at a time.
Know the Difference Between Want & Need: Take an honest assessment of what you spend your money on each month and then ask yourself these two defining questions: “Where does my money go each month and If I lost my job, could I still afford this?” If you answer no to either of these questions, then it’s a want—not a need. Once you have identified all the items in your life that aren’t as vital as others, rank them on a scale of importance, in reference to their payoff. For example, if going out to eat is the highest on your list of expenses with a high emotional payoff for you, in other words, it’s the one thing you look forward to all week, then keep it. You can still save money by managing what you spend when going out to eat by ordering water instead of a soda or skipping that appetizer. Most restaurants also feature happy hour specials so why not try making dinner plans around those times to achieve additional savings. You’ll learn quickly how much fun you can still have going out without spending too much money. It’s called Happy Hour for a reason.
Track Your Goals Each Week: If you set your goal to spend $20 less each week you will have saved $1,000 in a years’ time. The key is staying committed, focused and having a plan. Make a weekly savings goal and track your savings each week just as you would track your spending. By packing a brown lunch, skipping a beer after work, clustering your errands all in one to reduce fuel, you could easily hit your goal of saving $20 dollars a week. Track your progress anytime and anywhere with a budgeting app. There are so many great and free apps to use such as Collins Community Credit Union’s Money Meter. Money Meter allows you to quickly view all your banking, investment, mortgage and credit card accounts in one place, regardless of the financial institution, and the best part, it's free! The key with a budget app is it will alert you when you are at your budget so you don’t overspend. Now that’s a way to stay on target!
Make Contributions Automatically: When you start your emergency fund, set aside a certain amount of your take-home pay each month and put it directly into your account. You can set up either an automatic deposit on each of your paydays or a separate direct deposit with your company. By having the funds automatically deposited you don’t have to remember to do so and you also don’t ‘miss it’ as much as having to physically deposit it in the account yourself. Make every dollar count.
An emergency fund can save you financially.
Take these steps now, one at a time, and you’ll have more money saved than you ever thought possible. It only takes that first step.