Confession: I didn’t have an emergency fund until I turned 29.
Up until then, I’d relied on crossed fingers, good deeds equalling good karma and, when all else failed, a credit card.
I knew I needed one. Anytime my checking account dipped to the double digits and anytime I realized that my car needed (yet another) tire replaced, I kicked myself for not having allotted savings to stuff like this. Still, it never seemed like there was enough money to go around. And the truth was, I never saw myself as the kind of person who was good enough at money to have extra laying around.
That all changed when I finally faced how high that credit card balance had climbed and had something you might describe as a major mental breakthrough: I was tired of feeling scared about my finances.
It’s been about nine months since I started plugging away at financial security, and I’ve got four months of expenses sitting in an account collecting interest. Just writing that makes me feel like a superhuman, but honestly? It wasn’t as hard as I’d assumed it would be—not once I let go of the anxiety. Over those nine months, I read about and tried pretty much everything (I’m one of those people who loves to make herself a human guinea pig).
Here are the ones that worked and worked quickly. Because summer’s for barbecuing and rosé hangs, but it’s also a great time to prioritize some financial self-care. Try these, and you might be surprised by the state of your accounts over the next few months.
1. FIND HOW MUCH YOU NEED FOR ONE MONTH OF EMERGENCY SAVINGS
OK, so all the experts out there on the internet will tell you that every emergency savings fund should have three- to six-months of expenses in it. Sounds great in theory, but when I sat down to calculate how much that would be, then figured out how long it would take me to get there, I was floored. As in anxiety-attack-worthy floored.
In the end, I decided on a solution: I parsed the process up. One month’s worth of emergency savings is much better than none, so why not focus on that first? You can also calculate a three-month mark just to keep a motivating goal out there in the distance. Each time I hit a new “month” milestone, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment. It’s sort of like a glass half full approach to the process.
I’ve interviewed Ashley Feinstein Gerstley of The Fiscal Femme multiple times, and I even took her 30-Day Money Cleanse course last year. She’s full of incredible insights, but I’d say the most useful one she ever gave me was the “pay yourself first” principle.
The idea is this: you will spend the money in your checking account if it’s there, meaning that when the time comes to put money in savings you’ll find yourself thinking you don’t have enough. Sound familiar? But somehow, you manage to pay your rent and bills each month, right? Feinstein suggests you treat paying yourself similarly to paying your bills. Set up automatic withdrawals into an emergency savings account as soon as you get paid. You’ll never miss it, and you’ll find your savings fund grows rapidly.
3. THEN AUTOMATE SOME MORE
Those automatic transfers to my savings have proven incredibly useful, but what actually blew my mind was when I used Digit for the first time.
This is an app that connects to your accounts, analyzes your spending, then pilfers $3 here, $12.72 there into a Digit savings account. There’s overdraft protection (meaning Digit will never take money you don’t have—it even learns to hold off when you have recurring bills coming soon) and you can withdraw the money anytime. There was a period of a few weeks where I forgot about Digit completely. And when I came back to it, I found something like $413 in there, which I promptly transferred to my emergency savings fund (well, mostly…to be honest, I definitely spent some of it at Sephora).
This is not an ad. I just really like it. But other friends have a had great luck with other apps like Qapital. Find one that’s your speed and give it a shot for the next few months.
4. PLAN A NO SPEND WEEK
The idea is simple: you buy the must-haves like groceries, gas, toilet paper on a Sunday, then you commit to not spending any additional money during the week. That means packing lunches, skipping happy hour, and not hitting “buy” on your Amazon cart. At the end of the week, you can transfer some of the money you saved into your emergency savings account. But actually, this works even better if you’ve got Digit set up (because Digit will see you’re extra flush that week compared to normal and transfer more money than usual).
I know, easier said than done. But over the last nine months, I’ve consistently agreed to take on more freelance work, and I committed to putting the bulk of those checks into my emergency savings account. Ultimately, that made the biggest difference. Summer is usually pretty slow around most offices, so if you feel like you’re not as exhausted coming home at night, consider getting a side hustle. I wrote about approximately 700 (almost) sid gigs you can try here.
Listen, I’m a big believer that not everyone needs a side gig and that many people don’t have the bandwidth for one. But I also would argue that committing to doing extra work at night or on weekends while you’re working hard on a hugely important goal (ahem, financial security) is both temporary and doable especially if it’s just for a few months.
6. CUT THREE THINGS OUT
Just three. Analyze your spending and see what those might be. Maybe it’s deciding to only buy one glass of wine at happy hour or dinner (or cutting out your weekly happy hour in exchange for a coffee date or a get-together at home). Maybe it’s committing to drinking coffee instead of a $4 daily latte. For me, I scratched these three things for just a month, and the results were noticeable:
- No lunchtime kombucha saved me roughly $15/a week
- Coffee at home saved me $28/a week (eesh—that almond milk capp adds up)
- I also committed to no weekday dinners out. I’m not sure how much I saved exactly, but given my tendency to eat most dinners on the move, let’s just say it was a lot
7. TRY INTUITIVE SPENDING
For those of you who aren’t familiar, this is my play off a concept called “intuitive eating,” which essentially boils down to rejecting any diet mentalities you have and tuning back into your body and what it truly wants. The idea is that if you listen to your hunger and honor what your body is trying to tell you, you’ll overcome the issues you have with food and (finally) achieve balance.
So, what’s my point. One of the steps that helped me hugely—and that, frankly, I’m still working on everyday—is that I realigned how I approached spending.
I love beautiful things. I love the experience of dining out and taking weekend getaways. All of those things are totally OK, and I don’t let myself feel guilty or ashamed of them. But now, before I spend, I ask myself if what I’m buying truly fits into my priorities. Before swiping a card, I use some questions like these:
- Why am I buying this/why do I want this?
- How am I feeling right now (stressed, lonely, bored?), and is that affecting my desire to buy?
- How much joy will this purchase bring me? Will it make me happy?
And last, but not least, I use another technique Feinstein’s 30-Day Money Cleanse taught me: if I’m about to hit buy on a $23 jade roller on Amazon, I think about my other savings/spending goals, such as that weekend getaway to Palm Springs I’m planning. Then I try some perspective. The hotel room in Palm Springs is $240 for the weekend, right? So am I OK with spending 10% of what that room would cost for that jade roller?