Money Basics – 11 Ways to Grow your Emergency Fund 

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Sometimes you have a little emergency and it really helps to have a stash of money in your emergency fund to pay an unexpected bill.  Our refrigerator died a couple of months ago, may it rest in peace. There wasn’t much warning. One night I noticed was that the ice cream didn’t seem quite as hard as usual, but the next night it was normal.

I thought maybe we had just not quite shut the door tight enough or something. But no, the following day the stuff in the refrigerator section wasn’t very cold either and – lo and behold our refrigerator was dead.

We only have one fridge. There’s no extra chest freezer or “beer fridge” in the basement. And our refrigerator was well stocked because we had just done a “big” grocery shopping. We were about to lose a lot of money if we didn’t do something fast.

The saving grace was that it was a particularly cold and stormy (as in snow stormy) April where I live and we were able to keep things cold enough in the garage and use snow from the yard to pack around frozen goods and leave them in a cooler on the deck. The timing at least was good.

The other thing that was good is that we have an emergency fund for when things like this happen. And if you own a house or a car, as you probably already know – things like this will happen.  

But according to Bankrate’s latest financial security index survey, only 39% of Americans would be able to pay for even a $1000 emergency with cash from their savings.

That means that 61% of Americans don’t have $1000 in savings to tap into if something unexpected happens. And that suddenly dead refrigerator, which is a very basic model, set us back $1200 plus tax. 

So if you happen to be part of the 61% who don’t have $1000 in savings to cover an emergency, then you are not alone. But wouldn’t you rather be part of the 39%?

I want to help you get that $1000 emergency fund started and then help you grow it to a solid emergency fund that will help you feel more secure financially. And that, to me, is one really important part of simplifying your life, relieving anxiety and worry about money.

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What is a “solid emergency fund”? A reserve of funds that will cover 3-6 months of your expenses is generally considered a good rule of thumb.  But don’t worry about that right now. One step at a time, right?   

So let’s get you on your way to saving that $1000.  

emergency fund money

1) Just do it!

Go ahead and quit cable and other subscriptions. We just did this not too long ago (after talking about it for about 9 months!) O.K., to be absolutely honest we didn’t quite quit entirely. But we did scale back on the channels we are subscribed to A LOT and are now saving over $100 a month.

Why didn’t we cut the cord all together? We get our internet service through our cable company. Both my husband and I earn our living online so we need good internet service. When we called the cable company to tell them we were thinking of leaving they offered us this great package at a much lower price (funny they never mentioned it before!) where we would keep our internet, and even get faster download speeds and also be able to choose 12 of our favorite cable channels to stream for an additional $15.

So we picked 12 and they even threw in some bonuses and music channels that we didn’t expect.  We ended up getting to keep what we liked most about cable and still save over $100 a month.  It’s worth giving the cable company a call to see if they have a better offer for you.  

If you’ve already quit cable and are using subscription services like Netflix and Hulu and Amazon, think about if you really watch all of them. Sure the lowest priced Hulu subscription is only $7.99 a month, but if you’re not using it, why not throw that money into your emergency fund every month instead?   

Save money for your emergency fund by switching your cell phone provider

2) Review your cell phone plan

How much do you pay for your cell phone talk and data plan? Are you on a contract? Are you using all your data or mostly using the talk and text? There may be a cheaper option. What discount carrier would be best for you varies based on how much data you use, what speeds you need, how many phones you have on the plan, and where you live. So I can’t suggest a one size fits all carrier because one size doesn’t fit all. But here are a couple carriers to check out and compare:  

Straight Talk

Virgin Mobile – Unlimited everything for $50/month. They offer special deals as well sometimes, like bring your own iPhone and get 6 months for $1/month 

Sprint Over 55? Sprint has an offer of unlimited everything (voice, text & data) for 2 phones for $70/month. That’s only $35/month per phone. Sometimes they offer new customers an even better deal like unlimited everything for $15/month. So it’s worth taking a look from time to time to see what’s on offer.  

Cricket Wireless

Total Wireless 

Republic Wireless

3) Sell something – (Or a lot of things!) 

If you are in the process of simplifying your life and decluttering your space, you probably have quite a few things you are getting rid of. Sure, many may only be worth a dollar or two, but there are probably a few things you could list on Craigslist or eBay to sell and stack up a little cash.  I might suggest a garage sale, and if you have the time and the willingness, and a good location to do it, go for it. But I’ve sworn off those since our last one when people actually stole from us!!!  If you have better luck at this than we did, by all means, have a sale!  

If you are interested in selling online check out Craigslist and eBay of course. But depending on what you are selling you may also want to try sites like:  

Etsy.com:

(for handmade items that you made, but also for vintage goods or craft supplies – By the way, vintage items are considered items from the 1950s to the 1980s – I didn’t know I was SO vintage!!) You can find out all about how to sell on Etsy here   This could even become a great side gig if you are crafty or have a lot of vintage items to sell (or a good eye at rummage sales and thrift stores). 

Ruby Lane.com:

Focuses on vintage items and antiques: https://www.rubylane.com/ 

Bonanza.com:

A newer kid on the online selling block that’s growing very quickly. It’s a fixed price marketplace with free listings and you only pay a commission if you make a sale.   

Depending on what you have to sell you might be able to fund a good portion of your emergency fund. Selling things this way does take a little time and effort, taking pictures, uploading them to the internet, signing up for the selling platform. But I look at it as a mini part-time job that I can set my own hours with. The results can definitely be worth it, both in terms of more money in your emergency fund and in terms of simplifying your living space. 

Want a way to sell your electronics and tech stuff with a little less effort? Check out Decluttr.com. You type in the bar codes of the items you want to sell like CDs, DVDs, books, electronic games, LEGOs or cell phones and they’ll make you an offer. (For the LEGOs you just need to weigh them.) Or you can scan in an item if you download their app. Then if you like their offer, just agree and they send you a pre-paid shipping label. Package up your stuff and send it off. Once Decluttr.com receives your items they’ll send you a check or deposit the money into your Paypal account or regular bank account. How you want to receive your money is up to you.  

 4) Coupons

Couponing in the usual way doesn’t really work for me. We don’t eat or use a lot of the products that coupons are generally offered for. We don’t have kids in diapers and we don’t drink soda or eat a lot of the common “snack foods” so many of the coupons we run across aren’t actually for things that we use. And, of course, if you use a coupon to buy something you don’t normally use or need then that’s not going to save you money.

There are a couple of things I’ve found that do work for me with couponing. One thing is to go straight to the source. If there is a product you use consistently in your household go straight to the website for the company that makes it and see if there’s a way to get a coupon for it. You may have to enter an email address so that they can mail you other offers. But that’s O.K., you may actually want those offers. (Too much stuff in your regular email already? If you want you can make a separate email account that you use for couponing and other things like that that you don’t necessarily want in your regular email.)  

Here’s an example:

In our house, we don’t use dairy milk because I’m allergic. So we like plant-based milks. My favorite brand is Silk. We buy something from Silk every week.  So I Googled Silk and went to their site. Gave them my email address, immediately got a $1.00 coupon for 1 half gallon sized beverage and now get additional offers through email or by visiting their site. With other items that I like specific brands of I do the same. If you have a favorite toilet paper (my dad doesn’t want anything other than Northern), or a favorite paper towel or whatever just go to the manufacturer’s site and see what kind of coupons you can nab. 

Another great thing I’ve found is store coupons that you get by signing up for your grocery store’s loyalty program. Some we get in the mail and others we get printed out with our receipt at the register. Those are good because the store is able to profile you when you enter your discount card or phone number and a lot of times the coupons they give you include things that you’ve been buying already. I also love it when they give the produce coupons. Buy $15 worth of produce and get $5 off was a recent coupon we got and used.  

So check to see if your local grocery store has a website.

They may have coupons right there ready to be loaded to a digital app or to print out on your printer.  

Do I save a ton of money like this? No. But I do probably save at least $10 to $15 a month and if you are trying to fund an emergency fund, that cash adds up. Also, don’t forget to actually put that money you save from couponing into your emergency fund.  If I take coupons to the store in the amount of $3.00 and use them, I throw $3.00 in the emergency fund change jar. Which brings me to my next tip: 

Save dollar bills for your emergency fund

5) Spare change (and ones)  

If you commit to throwing all your spare change and all your one-dollar bills into a change jar, you may be surprised at how quickly this adds up without you even missing that money. 

Pet sit to save money for your emergency fund

6) Pet Sitter 

If you love pets you might be able to earn extra cash as a pet sitter. Don’t know how to go about advertising yourself and getting jobs? Try joining a service like Rover.com. They do the advertising for you if you get listed as one of their sitters. There are sitters all over the country. This is how we found Coco’s sitter, Elyse, and she’s been great! Believe me, no one is fussier and more careful than I am when it comes to who gets to spend time with my dog. 

7) Plasma donation  

O.K., this might sound a little strange if you aren’t familiar with it, but you can get paid for donating blood plasma. This isn’t quite the same as donating blood. The process is a bit different and takes a little longer. Plasma donation is often done at for-profit companies. If you are willing to donate plasma to help save people’s lives and if you meet the health criteria then you may be able to earn $20-$40 dollars per donation depending on your location and your size. (At some clinics your weight range determines how much plasma you can donate at one time – thus how much you can earn).

Unlike donating blood, which you can only do once every 28 days, you can donate plasma up to two times in a 7 day period at most centers.  So potentially you could earn $100-$400 a month (again depending on the clinic). There are even bonuses at some clinics if you donate a certain number of times in a month. Grifols, for example, has a bonus plan that allows new donors to earn $325 in their first 5 visits.  

I’m not a medical person and I can’t tell you if this is a good idea for you or if you would qualify. But I’ve known people who do this because they want to help other people in need and also earn a little extra money on the side.  

Here are a couple of websites to check out if you want to learn more: 

https://www.donatingplasma.org/ 

https://www.grifolsplasma.com/en/web/plasma/home 

https://biolifeplasma.com/us/#/ 

https://www.cslplasma.com/ 

https://octapharmaplasma.com/ 

8) Be a landlord with Airbnb.

If you’ve got a nice spare bedroom and you’re willing to rent it out you might find that Airbnb is a good way to get your emergency fund funded.  Find out how to become a host here 

read to earn money for your emergency fund

9) Love to read?

You might be able to get paid a bit of money for it by reviewing books. Two sites to check out are Online Book Club: https://onlinebookclub.org/free-books-for-reviews.php and Booklist online https://www.booklistonline.com/writing-for-booklist 

10) Enjoy shopping and browsing online? 

You could get paid cash for reviewing websites through Peek User Testing. For this testing site you go to a website or app, complete a series of tasks and record your experience as you go through the process. Every 20-minute recording you create as you do this you make $10. For more details visit: https://www.usertesting.com/be-a-user-tester

11) Parttime job for a month or two to earn extra money

One relatively fast way to get your $1000 emergency fund going is to get a part-time job. Whoa, wait, hold on, you might be thinking. I’m trying to simplify my life not make it busier and full of more “have-tos.” That’s very true. I agree this isn’t for everyone. But if you have cut your spending substantially and still don’t have a way to save $1000 for an emergency fund then maybe getting a part-time job, even for just one month, might help. Seasonal work such as holiday retail jobs are one great possibility. Or if you live in an area that gets a lot of tourists in the summer, places that cater to those tourists might have openings as well. You work a month or two, save your money and are done. Back to a simpler life! 

Here are a few ideas. One of them might be right for you. 

Amazon – work from home. Amazon frequently hires for seasonal workers during the holidays. Check them out at: https://www.amazon.jobs/en/locations/virtual-locations 

American Express also has work from home positions. You can find out more at: https://jobs.americanexpress.com/virtual? 

For more ideas of companies that offer work at home positions you can check out this list from Forbes:  

https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2018/01/17/work-from-home-2018-the-top-100-companies-for-remote-jobs/#410014e476f0 

Lyft or Uber – Like to drive and have a car that’s economical to operate? Depending on where you live you might be able to add to your emergency fund by becoming a driver for one of these companies for a little while.

Lyft: https://www.lyft.com/ 

Uber: https://www.uber.com/  

How about a couple more part-time jobs to earn extra money?

Postmates – Like to drive but don’t want to pick up and drop of people? Postmates is a delivery company that works a bit like Lyft and Uber only you deliver products instead of people. It’s only in a few large metropolitan areas but you might want to see if it’s available where you are: https://postmates.com/  and to sign up:   https://fleet.postmates.com/ 

Fiverr – Have a skill you want to use to make a little extra cash. Are you talented in graphic design, or translation or proofreading? Maybe you’ve got a great voice for doing singing or voice-over work. Fiverr may be the place to market those skills. https://www.fiverr.com/ Visit their site to see what others are offering and maybe you’ll recognize something you are great at and could offer as well. No, the money isn’t huge, but if it’s something that comes naturally to you that you enjoy doing it might be worth checking out.  

Standardized patient – Have a little bit of acting skill or acting experience. A medical college may hire you as a standardized patient. You’ll be carefully trained to act out certain medical conditions for students to hone their skills. Your schedule will likely need to be flexible for this one. Standardized patients usually earn about $15-$20/hour. Just Google standardized patient to see if there are jobs in your area.  

Don’t want to get so formal with a part-time job

You might want to try Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. This Amazon program connects you with people/firms who hire you to do small tasks that humans are better at than computers. When I say small I mean that some tasks will take less than a minute and only pay you a couple of cents. But if you have a computer and a little spare time you can make a little extra cash. This definitely isn’t a get rich quick scheme. But all your little tasks can add up and could earn you $10 – $20 extra dollars a week depending on how much time you have and how fast you are. I think of a job like this as being on par with couponing or saving your spare change and dollar bills as far as how much you can earn. But again, it all adds up! Once you reach $10 Amazon will directly deposit the money into a bank account you specify. 

Will all these options work for everyone? No, of course not. Everyone’s circumstances are different. This list is just to get you started thinking of ways you can save up $1000 to start an emergency fund.  

Keep your emergency fund accessible but not too accessible

Where to keep your emergency fund 

Your emergency fund needs to be readily available to you. You don’t want to tie it up in an investment that you can’t tap into right away if you need it.  

A savings account that pays you interest and allows you to use a debit card or ATM to access your money is probably a good way to go.  That way you can get to it 24/7 from many different places.

Two online banks I have used and can recommend are Ally Bank which is offering a 2.2% APR on savings accounts, no minimum to start and Synchrony Bank which is offering 2.25% APR on savings accounts, also no minimum to start. 

Why not just keep your emergency fund in your checking account with your other money?

In your everyday checking account it’s just too easy to use that money on something else. You want your emergency fund to be available if you need it but not so available that you can use it on the spur of the moment for a splurge. Also, if you can earn a little interest by having your emergency money in a savings account, why not? It’s free money! That could save you a little coupon clipping or a few Mechanical Turk tasks! 

Adding more work to your day for a short period of time may not simplify your life. But having a little cushion in the bank in case of an emergency can ease your mind and relieve some stress. And that’s certainly a win to me. Try two or three of these ideas for a couple of months. You may well find that yourself a part of the 39% who do have a $1000 emergency fund in case they need it.  You can do it! I’m cheering for you! 

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Want to start a savings habit? Check out this post on the first 3 steps you can take to start a savings habit!

Need more ideas on saving money and getting out of debt. Check out 50 Powerful Tips for Saving More & Getting Out of Debt!

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P.S. Rightsizing and simplifying your life can really help you save money as well! If you’re not sure where to start with the “simplifying process” and would like an action plan, check out The Seven Days of Simplicity.

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