The Ultimate Guide to Building Your Emergency Fund

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What’s worse than an unexpected car repair, some urgent dental work, or losing your job? Not having enough of a financial cushion to get through this rough patch.

This is why you need an emergency fund. And we get it: It’s super hard to save up for unknown future expenses. Why is that? It may be that you’re staving off the uncontrollable impulse to spend until your bank account balance hits zero. Or maybe you’re inclined to cave in to FOMO. Or perhaps you simply don’t earn enough to save a ton. Whatever your reason, starting and maintaining an e-fund is a tall order.

However, it’s entirely possible to start an emergency fund. In this ultimate guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about creating an emergency fund, including how to start, when to contribute, and how to keep it going.

Create a Designated Account

First things first: Set up a different savings account for your emergency fund. This can be linked to your main bank account, or an entirely separate account designated for long-term savings only. It will most likely take you a mere 10 minutes to set this up, but will help you big-time in the long run.

FYI: I’ve found it most useful to create an emergency fund and then pretend it doesn’t exist. Conveniently forgetting the money is sitting in an account ups your odds of not touching it.

Drum Up “Use Rules” for Your Spends

It may be useful to think of your emergency fund as guarded by a prudent, stringent warden, who only permits you to access this special account for dire emergencies.

So what makes up this elitist squad of “VIP emergency scenarios?” Start by thinking about what truly constitutes an emergency. Is it governed by amount or cluster of circumstances? For instance, does an emergency has to be over $200 for it to be a true 911 situation? What kind of situations have cropped up in the past where cash could have saved the day?

In the past year I’ve had to tap into my e-fund to replace a laptop that died, purchase a new cell phone that suffered water damage, pay for moving expenses after being forced to relocate, and cover $1,500 in car repairs. Without a healthy rainy day fund, I’d be drowning.

Pay Yourself Forward

The best way to save is to pay yourself. Commit to setting aside a given amount for each paycheck. It doesn’t have to be a large amount. If you’re a Chime member, you can set up an automatic transfer each time you get paid. (FYI: You first need to establish direct deposit.) Even 10 percent adds up quickly over time. If your take-home pay is $1,000 for each bi-weekly paycheck, that’s $200 a month, or $2,400 a year. Not too shabby, right?

It’s All About Auto-Saving, Baby

This is a classic money tip, but I can’t stress enough how automating your goals can save your behind. You can read countless money blogs until the cows come to pasture. But IMHO, no matter how much knowledge you gather about financial wellness, auto-saving is the easiest thing you can do to help your emergency fund grow. The beauty of it? You only have to set it up once. Then you can blissfully forget about it. If you want to save $500 in three months’ time, auto-transfer $42 a week. Easy-peasy.

If you’re a Chime member, you can also round up transactions. Each round up amount can then be deposited right into your Savings Account.

Create Milestones

So, how much should you aim to save for your emergency fund? The more you can sock away, the better. But when you’ve got bills to pay and other money goals to juggle, it’s generally recommended to save three to six months worth of your living expenses.

No need to get overwhelmed. I say start small and create milestones along the way. A recent survey by EARN reveals that the average shortfall of cash in a given month is typically anywhere from $250 to $500. So start by committing to saving $250, then $500, $1,000, and so forth. Each time you hit one of these milestones, treat yourself. I’m all about feeling good about my money decisions, and rewarding myself with small, reasonable splurges (and I do mean small), when I hit every little goal.

Top It Off As Necessary

Once you saved enough for your emergency fund, give yourself a big pat on the back and do a happy dance. But you’ll also want to monitor it and make sure it stays in the flush. So let’s say you needed to take out $500 for some 911 dental work. Turn your auto-transfers back on, round up transactions, and set aside a portion from cash that may “fall into your lap,” such as work bonuses, tax refunds, and cash gifts.

Systems Override Habits

No doubt that being disciplined about your money is the key to financial health. But developing solid habits takes time — and a ton of effort. In fact, it typically takes 66 days to form a new habit. And just like I can easily cave in to a carb-loading binge, you may also lapse into old, unhealthy habits.

In my case, I rely on systems that I’ve set in place for my savings. For example, auto-saving and creating rules to bolster my emergency fund have come in handy. This way I don’t beat myself up if I choose to spend on other things. Instead, I set up auto-pay and pay myself first when I receive income . This helps me feel good about where my money is primarily going.

Ready to kick-start your emergency fund? You got this!

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