The most important thing you can do to make your personal economy strong is to have an umbrella—an emergency fund with enough money in it to pay all of your bills for six months. And it needs to be safe and secure in a bank account. You read that right—half a year’s income! Wait. You can’t even imagine being able to save that much? No worries. The secret to getting there is to start small. Let’s say you make $1,000 your emergency fund goal.
Weekly, or as you get paid, save 10% of your paycheck. Too much? OK, start with 5% or even 1% and build up from there. Just start!
Make it automatic
This is going to be hard, but I know you can do it: Make feeding your emergency fund—whatever the amount—the very first bill you pay, before anything else.
While you are opening that account, set up an automatic deposit authorization. This will give your bank authorization to automatically transfer the amount you designate from your checking account straight to your emergency fund. Here’s a secret: You won’t miss what you don’t see in the first place. Okay, you’ll miss it for the first few paychecks, but soon you really will not miss it.
Get rid of non-essentials
Give up the little things such as cable TV, eating out, and gym membership and that landline phone you have but never use. That’s a start, you’ll know instinctively how to add to this list.
Cut variable expenses
You can’t cut off your utilities, stop eating or give up driving. But you can reduce the cost of the food, energy, and fuel you buy. Opt for the cheapest supermarket and gas station. Turn out the lights; run only full dishwasher loads. Every little bit counts—it all adds up!
This suggestion requires no explanation. Although it does beg the question: Who can even afford to smoke these days? At about $5.51 for a pack of 20 smokes (U.S. average) that’s a $2,000-a-year habit. And in New York City it’s more than double that. Yeah, $12.85 a pack, on average.
In every state the cost to buy cigarettes for 20 years is over $38,000; that is enough money to buy a new car or in some areas a down payment on a house.
Stop paying bank fees
If you’re paying a $7.95 (or higher) per month fee for the privilege of maintaining an account, stop! Open an account at an online bank (they pay better interest rates, too), like Ally Bank , that doesn’t charge a monthly maintenance fee for checking or savings accounts. Or check with a local credit union for free personal checking accounts. Some banks, like U.S. Bank, even offer free basic business accounts.
Stop sending more money than required each month to your credit-card companies, mortgage lender or any other creditor. It’s admirable that you’re being diligent in repaying the debts, but if you continue to do this while living without money in the bank, you’re setting yourself up to fall even deeper into debt.
Take a look through your cupboards and closets. Identify everything you haven’t used in the past six months. Turn what you don’t need into cash using a website like eBay or Craigslist. Or hold a yard sale. Add every nickel of the proceeds to your emergency fund savings.
Use the 2019 Federal Withholding Tax Calculator to make sure you aren’t having too much income tax withheld from your pay. You’ll see more money in each paycheck. Don’t spend it—save it!
Increase your income
Get a second job. Or third. Work more hours at your current job. Get a side gig. Get creative by making money doing things you already love to do, like dog walking or selling handmade items.
Take lunch to work
Have you figured out what you’re spending per year on eating lunch out? Even at $10 a day, you’re spending $2,500 after-tax dollars on lunch! Just think of all the dinner leftovers you throw out that could easily be tomorrow’s lunch.
Stop at the match
If you are contributing to a retirement account like a 401(k) or 403(b), don’t stop but adjust your contribution to the amount your employer matches. Now you are not leaving free money on the table, but you will see more money in your paycheck that you can immediately direct to savings.
Put these money-saving tactics into play and you’ll be able to save $1,000 in record time. But don’t stop there. First, let me know so I can celebrate with you, then keep going, one paycheck at a time. Soon you’ll have $5,000; then $10,000 or more set aside to keep you afloat during times of financial distress.