How to build up an emergency fund

By Sheryl Smolkin

You have an accident and your car is totaled. A parent or close friend is very ill and you need to fly to her side. You lose your job. Your furnace conks out in the middle of a Canadian winter. These are genuine emergencies when a little spare cash will go a long way to making your life easier.

That’s why along with paying yourself first and paying off debt, having an emergency fund of three to six months pay is part of the “holy trinity” of personal financial advice.  But if you are like almost half of Canadians polled late last year who said they are living paycheque to paycheque and would find it difficult to meet their financial obligations if their pay was delayed by just a week, where are you going to find the money to build up an emergency fund?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Take baby steps: Set low initial targets like $500 or $1000 and save $50 from each paycheck. You will have over $2,500 in a year.
  2. Automatic withdrawal: Have the savings you commit to automatically transferred into a separate account. You’ll never miss it.
  3. Extra money: If you have a good month and there are still a few dollars in the bank before your next pay cheque is deposited, transfer it to your emergency account.
  4. Review your budget: Few of us have cut all the fat out of our budgets or our spending habits. Whether it is forgoing your morning latte or packing a lunch a few days a week there are always ways to reduce expenses. Where feasible walking instead of driving is good for your health and your wallet.
  5. Better rates: When is the last time you checked to see if the amounts you are paying for car or house insurance are competitive? Can you live with higher deductibles? If you don’t do the research you could be leaving hundreds of dollars that belong in your emergency fund on the table.
  6. Quit smoking: If the average cost of a package of cigarettes is $12 and you smoke a pack a day you are burning up $4,380 a year. Save your health and save your money by quitting – not an easy task, but a worthwhile challenge.
  7. Save loonies and toonies: If you get one and two dollar coins in change when you break a larger bill, don’t spend them. When you get home put the money in an envelope and take it to the bank at regular intervals.
  8. Freelance: What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? Think about how you can boost your emergency savings by doing something you love after work.
  9. Sell stuff: Clean out your closets. Have a garage sale or sell your oldies but goodies online. You will have less clutter and more money in the bank.
  10. Rent a room: Do you live near a university or college campus? If you are an empty nester, consider renting out a to a student room to help generate savings to top up your emergency account.

Whatever it takes to reach your goal of three to six months net pay in the bank, remember it is for a true emergency. That probably doesn’t include a new dress for an upcoming wedding when you have a close full of clothes or upgrading to the latest and greatest iPhone. When disaster hits, you will be glad you did.

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