Why you should set up an emergency fund today

Managing your finances can be difficult, but a few quality tips and tricks can go a long way. Each week we'll be featuring a new tip on anything from daily spending to retirement planning from a member of the Finance Collective. This week's tip comes from Investment Conversations and is great advice on how to prepare yourself for unexpected expenses, along with tips for setting up your emergency fund:

"Emergency savings, Rainy day fund, Safety net – whatever you choose to call it – are a necessity for a healthy life; not just financially, but also mentally. With this in mind, it is surprising that about 60% of individuals do not have savings to cover a $500 (or equivalent) emergency (You may say, "Not me", but I'm not talking about the stash under you mattress or in that shoe-box). On the other hand, as a result of reaching adult age during the sub-prime mortgage crisis, more millennials are saving and or investing compared to previous generations. Good as that may be, we are skipping the essential step of setting up for emergencies.

How Do I Start?

There is no fixed formula for how much you should have in an emergency fund. Some school of thoughts say 6 months' worth is sufficient, some say a year's worth. Everyone's situation is different and as such, each strategy should differ. To start however, I would suggest understanding your spending habits, and then implementing a 3-6-9 guideline.

3 Months: If you are single without kids, renting, no car, partially dependent on parents for income or any combination of these factors, start off with a target of 3 months' worth of expenses for a rainy-day fund.

6 Months: Married, kids under 18, own a house or condo, own at least one car, or any of these combined, the base target should be 6 months' worth of expenses (if married, base it off the income of the highest earner).

9 months: Self-employed, freelancers, anyone with a volatile job or unpredictable paycheck, 9 months' worth should be the benchmark.

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This is my personal favorite! Think of yourself as a regular monthly bill you have to pay. All you have to do is arrange to have a set amount of money directly deposited from your paycheck into a savings account each month.

I recommend using a separate savings account because if you have access to your funds in your checking account, you're more likely to spend them. Again, it might hurt a bit at first to take home a little less every month, but trust me, after a while you won't even notice it's gone. Here's a moment when the "set it and forget it" strategy works wonders.

It feels great to be rewarded for your hard work. And it feels even better to spend that hard-earned bonus on something you’ll enjoy, like a trip to France or an iPad. At the same time, the pleasure of a vacation or new gadget is short-lived compared to financial security.

So make a pact with yourself to put every bonus you get from here on out to good use. If you direct 90 percent of your bonuses straight into your savings account as a rule, you’ll still have 10 percent to treat yourself with (plus the comfort of knowing that you're building a well-earned safety net). I live by this rule.

OK, OK, this seems like an obvious one -- and easier said than done. Actually, most people spend money on more unnecessary items than they think. So take time to look at where your money is going in detail and begin to cut back. Saving $10 here and there could help you put a lot away in the long run.
Many banks offer seasonal accounts meant to save for holidays like Christmas. These accounts give you reduced access to your accounts, charging a hefty penalty each time you withdraw more than permitted. Since emergencies don't occur often, a seasonal account could make sure you're touching it only when needed (just make sure you're not tempted to blow it all on Christmas gifts).
I love this one. Chalk it up to my massive craving for organization, but I'm all about getting rid of things I no longer use. Rather than throwing these unused goods away, start selling them, and put that money into your emergency fund. All you need to do is post them to a site like eBay or Craigslist or Amazon and you can get rid of items from the comfort of your home. You can also take your clothes to a consignment shop to have them sold for you.
Instead of saving your pennies, put aside any $5 bills that come your way. Never spend a $5 bill again, and you'll be surprised by how quickly this silly trick will help you come up with a few hundred dollars to add to an emergency fund.
You could pick up odd jobs via websites like TaskRabbit.com, DoMyStuff.com, Elance.com, FreelanceSwitch.com or Sitters.com.
If you get a cash-back reward for any spending on your credit card, just make it a rule that those dollars will be dedicated to your freedom fund. It may only add up to $100 extra each year, depending on your spending, but every little bit counts.
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If you noticed, I specified the worth in terms of expenses not paycheck. This is best especially for those just starting. By understanding your spending and calculating your basic expenses, you can have a general idea of how much to put into this fund. If you decide to determine the monthly worth in terms of paychecks, kudos to you. Key to this however, is to start out with small monthly (even better, bi-weekly) deposits till you reach your goal. If you are just starting out saving, set up this emergency fund before any long-term savings – or at the most, simultaneously. To help, make it an automatic withdrawal from your main account; think of it as a bill with the knowledge that every withdrawal from the fund has to be replaced." -Investment Conversations

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Making your budget work for your lifestyle

"Are you on a laptop all day? Would keeping an excel file or Google doc file help you track your expenses easier? Would it be more convenient to keep an old fashioned pen and paper type of budget? How about keeping a running tab on the fridge so that you are tracking all expenses?

The bottom line is do whatever works for you! Make it as easy as possible for you to stick to your budget by fitting your budget-keeping into your lifestyle." -Everything Finance

Revisiting your goals

"For the few that actually look at their goals again, it’s common to revisit them only at the end of the year. This is a crucial error.  As our circumstances may change day to day and month to month, so will our goals. A lot can change in twelve months, which is why I propose reviewing once a month, or at the very least every three months.

Revisiting also keeps our desires relevant.  It’s helps us remember that we even have them.  Ideas aren’t enough, we must execute.

As the great Thomas Edison said, 'Vision without execution is hallucination.' " -Jiu-Jitsu Finance

Increasing your income

"After you have lowered your expenses, it is time to bring in more income. There are many ways to bring in more income especially during the holiday season. Maybe your full-time gig will let you work extra hours for overtime. In addition, retail stores typically hire for the holiday season. That part time holiday gig could turn into a longer gig...

Retail jobs aren't the only part-time jobs available. There are plenty of other side hustles you can pick up right at home to make extra money like: Freelance Writing, Virtual Assistant, Social Media Management." -Financially Fit & Fab

Turn on your automatic savings

"Another no-hassle way to save is by setting up an automatic transfer to your savings account. By automating your transfer, you're making sure that you don't forget or pay your savings last–and as a bonus–automating your savings means you never "see" that money and subsequently makes it sting a little less.

Two new apps that I am loving lately are Digit (which has a cult following). It automatically transfers money from your checking account you won't miss. I also love Qapital, which has rules you can set to "save the change" from your purchases. I saved over $75 my first month of Qapital, which was really astonishing to me. Click here to give it a try." -Financial Best Life

Develop the habit to spend with cash than card

"To spend with cash is also an actionable way to get out of debt. According to the research on peoples spending with credit cards; it was revealed that those who shop with credit card are impelled to spend more on luxury items because they feel they are paying with “play or fun money”. In other words, people who shop with credit card spends more than required.

Evidently, finance advisors hold a strong stand on this. They strongly advise that people who are working on eliminating their debt should cultivate the habit of spending cash, to avoid being tempted to spend on irrelevant items." -MoneyMiniBlog

Leave your wallet in the car when shopping
"This trick is simple but impactful. When doing any kind of shopping, use cash, and only take the amount of money you want to spend in the store with you. Leave all other cash, credit cards, and debit cards in the car.

This is very powerful, especially when grocery shopping. In addition to the amount you plan to spend, you can consider bringing in a small cushion of a few dollars (in case there are hiccups at the register). You will shop (and spend) completely differently when you only have a hundred dollar bill with you versus a hundred dollar bill and your debit and credit cards.

Don’t give yourself a way to spend more money than you want to — and you won’t." -Hope + Cents

Start and maintain an emergency fund

"There is no fixed formula for how much you should have in an emergency fund. Some school of thoughts say 6 months’ worth is sufficient, some say a year’s worth. Everyone’s situation is different and as such, each strategy should differ. To start however, I would suggest understanding your spending habits, and then implementing a 3-6-9 guideline.

3 Months: If you are single without kids, renting, no car, partially dependent on parents for income or any combination of these factors, start off with a target of 3 months’ worth of expenses for a rainy-day fund.

6 Months: Married, kids under 18, own a house or condo, own at least one car, or any of these combined, the base target should be 6 months’ worth of expenses (if married, base it off the income of the highest earner).

9 months: Self-employed, freelancers, anyone with a volatile job or unpredictable paycheck, 9 months’ worth should be the benchmark." -Investment Conversations

How students should avoid the debt trap
"The easiest way to prevent yourself from falling into the debt-trap is by living within or below your means (that is, not overspending). In addition, it is necessary to do research before getting credit cards (or signing any contract to take on loan/ debt) so that you really understand how it works. As a student, you must learn to treat your credit card with respect.-Investment Conversations
Build a budget and stick to it
"There are many free apps available to help you track expenses, but I always prefer using my own spreadsheets. That enables me to have the most control over what I’m doing. I understand that being able to access your spreadsheet on your phone makes tracking significantly easier, which is why I prefer Google Sheets over Excel. You can download the Google Sheets app and pull up your expense tracker wherever you are to input a transaction or monitor your spending. By combining the expense tracker as separate tabs within the same spreadsheet as the bill tracker, you can have all your finances in one easy-to-access location." -The Budget Boy
Create an automatic savings account for travel.
"Here's how this automated system specifically works for you and your travel fund. Once it's set up, it goes like this:

-Your checking account receives income.

-The next day, your checking account automatically transfers money to a separate (different bank) savings account—aka your travel fund.

-Transfers repeat every month.

-You end up with a big, fat travel fund to see the world." -Take Your Success

Know your interest rates and then lower them
Know Your Interest Rates
If you have anything that you are making payments on every month, you need to know how much interest you're paying. Make sure you know these numbers, too. Ideally, you'll want to pay debts down that have a higher interest rate first. However, there is another school of thought out there that suggests paying the bill with the lowest balance first. I'd say either way is fine as long as you're making progress and as long as the higher interest rate stuff isn't astronomical.

Action: Look at your statements or call the companies to get your current interest rates on all monthly obligations.

Negotiate Lower Interest Rates
If, by chance, you ARE paying astronomical interest rates on any of your liabilities, call and try to negotiate a lower rate. Oftentimes, if you've demonstrated a history of paying on time, the company will work with you to reduce your rate. The only trick is, you have to ask.

Action: Know your numbers and call the companies to negotiate if you're paying high interest rates.
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More from the Finance Collective
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10 ways to save cash without changing your habits
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