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How to Build an Emergency Fund

In the past couple of years, extreme weather such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, extreme heat, and wildfires have wreaked havoc on consumers’ lives and finances. According to a recent poll by Bankrate.com, more and more people are using credit cards as an emergency fund and only 51 percent of Americans say they have more emergency savings than credit card debt.

Our credit counseling advice is to start building an emergency fund.

Our credit counseling advice is to start building an emergency fund.

To build awareness of the importance of Severe Weather Preparedness Week 2014, this week at Talking Cents we will be discussing how to prepare financially for an emergency and what to do after disaster strikes.

An emergency doesn’t always come in the form of a natural disaster. You never know what life might throw your way. It could mean the loss of a job, an unexpected car expense or home repair, or an illness. No matter the situation, it’s important to be prepared financially by building an emergency fund so you don’t have to rely on credit cards and increase your debt load.

The general rule of thumb is to have an emergency savings equal to six to nine months’ worth of living expenses. The first step in building an emergency fund is to figure out how much you spend on average over the course of one month. ACCC’s Household Budgeting Worksheet is designed to help you do this.

Since this is your emergency fund, you should only focus on expenses that you absolutely need to live.  You should include:

  • Mortgage or rent payments
  • Utilities
  • Food and groceries
  • Debt payments including car, minimum credit card, and loan payments
  • Prescriptions

Once you’ve determined how much you spend, multiply that number by six and you will have a rough estimate of how much you need to save for your emergency fund.

Now that you’ve done that, it’s time to start saving. Saving a large sum of money may seem overwhelming, but there are lots of tricks to save small amounts of money without even noticing.

  • Set your initial goal low and set milestones along the way. Saving $50 a week is much more manageable than saving six to nine months’ worth of living expenses.
  • Save by cutting back. ACCC’s How to Build Savings by Cutting Back guide offers tips on how to make small changes to your spending on housing and utilities, personal insurance and retirement , food, transportation, health care, and clothing and services.
  • Also consider unique saving plans such as a fiscal fast, keep the change saving, grocery challenge, or the envelope system.

Set up an account for your emergency fund at a bank that you don’t normally do business with so you are not tempted to make withdrawals from it. Look for an account with a decent interest rate. Be sure to set up online banking and make transfers and withdrawals automatic. An automatic transfer will make it seem like you never had the money to begin with and won’t tempt you to spend it on something more exciting than an emergency fund.  For more information, visit ACCC’s Budgeting for Emergencies center.

If you’re struggling to pay off debt, ACCC can help. Schedule a free credit counseling session with us today. 


Madison is a Marketing Communications & Programs Associate at ACCC. She is excited to share her tips on saving money and being financially responsible here on the Talking Cents blog!

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