Nothing tops experience as a means of learning. And the global financial challenges plaguing us for the past few years have certainly offered plenty of lessons, none more fundamental than the importance of saving money in an emergency fund. Setting aside cash is not a luxury; it's a necessity in today's economic environment. High unemployment continues, with no sign of easing. If you had to go without a paycheck, would you be ready?
For many Americans, saving money in an emergency fund has made the difference between financially sinking and staying afloat. Many more have been caught short, unable to make ends meet, in part for lack of this critical component in their financial plan. A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that half of Americans would struggle to come up with $2,000 for an unexpected expense.
Ordinarily, I recommend that this stash cover three to six months of living expenses. But if you think a pink slip could be coming your way, it probably makes sense to have nine to 12 months of cash set aside, given today's job outlook. I suspect to many of you, nine to 12 months of cash in the bank seems like a bridge too far. Not so fast! It may not happen overnight, but it definitely isn't possible unless you get started. Below, I've mapped out some ideas on how I could scrape together $1,000 in 30 days – a good start to saving money:
Dining out for lunch typically runs about $8. If I take my lunch to work and eat at home on the weekends, I cut costs to about $2 per day. Savings = $180
Brew my own joe
I grind my own organic coffee beans every morning and bring a cup to work. This costs me 50 cents per day. A cup of java at a coffee shop costs about $3. Savings = $75
Tap the tap
Bottled water costs anywhere from $1.50 to $5. If I do buy bottled water, I choose the lower-end variety because I'm a cheapskate. Instead of purchasing three bottles per day, I drink tap water. Savings = $135
Going to the dog wash
I have two German shepherds and a border collie. They like my shower as much as I do. Clean the dogs at home once a month instead of taking them to the groomer. Savings = $200
Skip the car wash
Once a month, I wash my car in the driveway and turn off the water when it's not in use (kind of like taking a Navy shower). Savings = $20
Lose the landline
The average cost for a home phone is about $50. I dropped mine and only use my cell phone. Savings = $50
Get my news online
Drop the local daily newspaper. Savings = $15
Instead of paying someone else each time, do it yourself. I do. Savings = $50 (at least)
In the weeds
The commercial company that sprays my lawn charges $75 per month. I can put up with a few weeds at that price and save money. Savings = $75
Ditch the satellite radio
The local DJs need love, too. Savings = $30
Streamline the cable package
Skip the premium channels. I don't miss them a bit. Savings = $85
Iron(ing) is good for you
I iron four blouses per month instead of taking them to the cleaners. Savings = $20 (Question: Why does a woman's blouse cost so much more to iron than a man's shirt?)
Trim dining out
Imagine an enjoyable evening out with friends ... wine, an appetizer and a nice dinner. That's about $65. I forgo that pleasure once a month and cook instead. Savings = $65
Snap! I've saved $1,000. I've upped my to-do list, but a little yardwork, nail-painting and ironing never hurt anybody.
To add to my savings, I ask for military discounts (don't be shy; they can be significant), and I might consider saving money by dropping my gym membership (I can do push-ups, sit-ups, and run/power-walk anywhere). Plus, about every two months, I highlight my own hair to save another $100 to $125.
Your spending habits may be a bit different from mine, but everyone can come up with their own ways to save money. Here are just a few more ideas: shop for groceries with a list; buy in bulk; use generic products; avoid paying ATM fees and bank charges; check out movies and books at the library; or set your thermostat higher. Where can you cut back? Start building your fallback fund today.
This article was originally written for The Motley Fool.