One of the most common questions about budgeting is, ‘How do you budget for big unplanned expenses?’ Here’s the unfortunate answer: you can’t. But don’t abandon all hope just yet…
4 simple steps to start an emergency fund
I remember this one particularly expensive time when we owned an Audi (bad purchase, but that’s another story) – a horrible noise was coming from the engine, so we took it to the shop. The timing belt was hanging by a thread and needed to be replaced. With a $1,100 swipe of my Visa, they fixed it. Like many Americans, our 17.99% APR credit card was our emergency fund.
And since we had no money to pay it off, that $1,100 repair was actually more like $1,300 or $1,400 once the finance charges were tacked on.
This is how so many Americans live; it is no secret that the average American household is living with almost $16,000 in credit card debt. Credit card companies LOVE the idea of being America’s ‘safety net’, because they are getting paid big bucks in interest payments.
Here’s another idea – instead of borrowing from MasterCard and Visa, what if you could borrow FROM YOURSELF?
The best way to do this is to get some cash in a savings account, and just leave it there. When something happens and you need money fast, it doesn’t have to screw up your budget, and you don’t have to go further in debt. Then take the next few months to ‘pay yourself back’ by replenishing the account.
And something funny happens when you are borrowing the money from yourself – you tend to spend less. Here’s another quick story:
When Lauren and I finally understood the value of an emergency fund and had $1,000 set aside, the very next month our washing machine broke. The feeling was… RELIEF! Not stress, not anxiety. We had it covered.
We withdrew a few hundred dollars from our emergency fund and set out to our local Lowes to shop for washing machines. If we had a credit card, I know for a fact that we would have bought a nice middle-of-the-road machine, and paid about $600. But no. This was our cash, and we wanted to stretch it as far as we could.
So we asked if they had any scratched or dented items in the back, and sure enough… they did. There was a dent on the side which would be hidden when set up in our apartment. This was a basic model with a regular price of $400. We asked if he would take $200. The guy replied, ‘how about $250?’ We had a deal.
And it wasn’t too difficult to repay the $250 to our savings account over the next couple months.
So how can you get $1,000 into a savings account when you might be having trouble meeting your current expenses?
Here are 4 ways:
1.) Go around your house and think about what you can sell immediately. When working with a couple a few days ago, we looked around their house and found $1,500 worth of items that they could sell on eBay or Craigslist. If they follow our advice, they can get that $1,000 put into savings immediately. They’ll have some extra cash to pay off debt too!
2.) Have a garage sale. Having a garage sale is a great way to make extra cash. Every spring, we host a garage sale at our house and invite all of our friends to sell at it too. The larger the sale, the better. Our house is de-cluttered, and we always make at least $500.
3.) Cancel your cable. You could easily save up $800 per year if you cancelled your cable and put that money into an emergency savings account. Think about what that small sacrifice could do for your financial situation over the course of the year. Try this – cancel it now, but keep the savings as a line item in your budget – simply redirect the money to a savings account and watch it grow over the course of a year.
4.) Make extra cash. There are so many surprising ways to make extra cash to put towards an emergency fund. Here are some ideas:
- Look into doing reviews on Amazon Mechanical Turk. On Mechanical Turk you will do reviews or provide feedback for cash. You can do things like listen to podcasts and offer your review for $2.00, or read an ebook and leave an Amazon review! You can earn as little at $0.25 per review and up – depending on the task.
- Take home surveys through Opinion Outpost, Valued Opinions, or Pinecone Research. You can easily earn a couple hundred dollars per year doing these at night while watching TV.
- Become a Peek User Tester. You will have to do 5 minute blog reviews that they offer on their website to bloggers for free. They will pay you up to $10 per review.
- Start delivering newspapers in the morning before work.
- Become a Virtual Assistant. There are many sites like Odesk and Elance which allow you to post your job skills and get hired for them.
- Take on a part-time job as a waitress working one to two nights per week. You may be able to bring in an extra few hundred dollars per month!
Any time you make extra money, put it in your emergency fund.
That feeling of security knowing you can handle those bumps in the road without going into further debt is MUCH more valuable than the stuff you might need to sell in order to set up your emergency fund. That first time that something breaks and you actually have the money to fix it you will no longer feel like the world is ending.