How to Prepare for an Income Emergency

More than half of Americans are ill-prepared to deal with even small financial disruptions, never mind a sudden loss of income. If that's you, here's how to turn it around.

If a financial calamity like a layoff or illness hit you today, would you be ready?

Most Americans — if they were honest — would have to answer “no” to that question. Bankrate recently reported that just 39 percent of Americans say they have enough cash in reserve to cover a $1,000 emergency.

But you can do better. founder Stacy Johnson recommends taking three crucial steps toward building an emergency fund:

Step 1: Assess your situation

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Take stock of your income, bills and savings. Create a baseline budget — the absolute minimum required for food, shelter, utilities and debts, such as auto loan payments or minimum balances due on credit cards.

Compare this with your household’s current income. If you see you’re not going to make it, turn to a nonprofit credit counseling agency for some free help. Counselors can help you develop a workable budget, and maybe negotiate with your existing creditors.

Step 2: Track your spending /

See where your money is going now. Our partner YouNeedABudget can help you build a budget that will ensure more of your money ends up in your emergency fund.

(Here’ an article about how it works.)

Once you have established a solid budget, look for ways to save. For example, take a bite out of food bills by cooking at home, bringing lunch to work and scheduling potlucks with friends instead of going out to restaurants.

Also, trim your transportation costs with a carpool, or walk or ride your bike more. “Do whatever you can to use that car less,” Stacy says.

Step 3: Trim your monthly expenses

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Take a look at your utilities, cable and phone bills. These may be small, but they add up. Look at each one individually, and see where you can cut.

For example, there is plenty you can do to cut the cost of cooling a home, from using awnings to turning up the temperature setting on your air conditioner. You also can cut the cable cord and find easy ways to save on your cellphone bill.

Step 4: Plan ahead

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You can also take steps now to prepare for any financial crisis that might lie ahead. For example:

  • Pay down debt so you can redirect your income toward savings.
  • Save any windfalls for a rainy day.
  • Refinance your debt to increase your cash flow so you can save more.

How have you built up your emergency savings? Share your tips in comments below or on our .

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.


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