Which would describe your next course of action?
A) Pop the hood and immediatly diagnose the problem. Run to the auto parts store (in this scenerio, you are an Ironman Triathlon alumni, and running five miles is no sweat) to pick up a new thingamabob needed to fix the problem. Run back to the car, and fix it with enough time to get home by dinner.
B) Call your spouse or friend to come pick you up. You are concerned, but not too worried because you have some money saved up for emergencies such as this.
C) Call your spouse or friend to come pick you up and try to remember if all your credit cards are maxed out because you know you have $3.75 left until your next paycheck, which you might not get if you don’t have transportation to work.
Life is full of uncertainties. If you chose answer C to this question, it might be time to start thinking about starting an emergency fund. It is hard to know how much you might need to cover life’s little hiccups like an injury, illness, car repair, or home emergency (ever come home to a broken water heater?). Most experts will tell you to keep a minimum of three to six months worth of basic expenses on hand, sometimes even more. That can sound very daunting to someone who is living paycheck to paycheck with no apparent room to cut back.
If you haven’t started you emergency fund because it seems too overwhelming. Make it a goal to save $100. There are many ways to achieve that, but to name a few:
Make every meal for a month come out of your kitchen. You might be surprised how much money you are wasting on the extra value menu. Probably at least $5-$7 a day. You can make a turkey sandwich and apple for under $2.
Drink water. You might also need milk if you have kids, or coffee if you can’t speak in complete sentences in the morning without it. Make it at home, though, and cut out soda, sports drinks, or energy drinks.
Cut your cable. My husband would go into withdrawal, but if you have no savings, this is a surefire way to save up a few hundred dollars pretty quickly. When you are fully funded, you can add it back again.
Don’t go to the store. If you don’t go to stores, you won’t spend money. If you have to buy groceries, make a list, buy what you came for, and leave. Put on the blinders and don’t look around.
Stop smoking. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they can’t afford this or that, but smoke a pack a day. I know it is a hard habit to kick, but choose cigarettes or an emergency fund. If you choose the former, don’t complain that you can’t afford something else. You are choosing not to afford it.
Make a budget. This is probably the most important one and something I have struggled with. Honestly, though, if you don’t know where your money is going, it’s hard to know where you can save. You should know where every penny goes.
It might take some plannning, but I believe anyone can save $100. When you reach that goal, increase the fund to $500. You’ll find that once you start saving, it gets easier. $500 can give you enough breathing room to cover a doctor visit or most car repairs. I promise you will sleep better at night knowing you won’t have to sell your plasma or pawn you wedding ring to get the car running again. Once you have a small emergency fund, you can work on planning for a catastropic problem like a long term illness or lay off, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Start with $100 if you have no emergency fund, and work up from there.