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- Building a solid emergency fund has been a goal of mine for a while now, and the pandemic made saving that money feel even more urgent.
- To add more to my account, I've cut down on eating takeout and save the money I would have otherwise spent.
- I also save loose change and bills I find around my apartment, and save a portion of the interest I earn on my CDs and high-yield savings accounts.
- I also pay myself a "bonus" when I earn more than my target for the month, and save money leftover from my monthly budget.
- See Business Insider's picks for the best high-yield savings accounts »
Having a healthy emergency fund has been a personal finance goal of mine for a while now. I wanted to have that buffer that I could dip into if needed instead of getting into credit card debt or interrupting my retirement savings. And it has come in handy over the years. It was there to help me pay my bills when I got laid off a few years ago, and it stood by my side this year when a significant chunk of my income disappeared because of the pandemic.
During times when I'm not using it, I'm actively trying to find ways to keep building it. Experts recommend having three to six months of expenses in an emergency fund, and while mine isn't quite that large, I do make an effort to contribute at least $150 a month to the account. Most months, I find ways to save even more.
Here are five of the creative ways I added money to my emergency fund every month last year, despite having an income shift in 2020.
1. I traded takeout for leftovers
An easy way to contribute to my emergency fund was making a conscious decision to skip ordering takeout once a week and depositing that cash. If I'd usually spend $15 a week on a takeout meal, I'd trade doing that for eating leftovers (or something homemade) and put that $60 savings into my emergency fund at the end of the month.
At the start of the pandemic, Monday and Wednesday became my go-to takeout nights. Cutting back to just one day a week allowed me to use that extra cash for a better purpose.
2. I use high-yield savings accounts and CDs to earn interest
A major financial change I made in recent years was moving my money from savings accounts with low interest rates to banks that offered a higher APY. Doing that allowed me to make a couple hundred dollars a year in interest. I decided that I'd take 10% of the interest I made every month from these high-yield savings accounts and CDs and deposit it into my emergency fund.
I viewed this interest as "free money," meaning money that I didn't get from working a job. Finding ways to strategically use it to reinvest in my finances felt like a better idea than using it for fun purchases.
3. I pay myself a 'bonus'
As a self-employed freelancer, my income varies every month. I always have a target goal of what I'd like to make, and some months I go under or over that. I decided that, the months I earned more than my goal, I would put the extra money into my emergency account as what I called "paying myself a bonus." Since that money was more than I expected to make, it felt right to put it into the emergency fund so that if there are unexpected twists in life, that money would be put to good use.
4. I save any money leftover from my monthly budget
A more recent financial habit of mine has been to set a budget at the start of every month and track my spending. I am competitive by nature, and trying to achieve the goal of coming in under budget is something I work hard to do. For the past few months, I've been able to stay at least $250 under budget. I decided that the best use of that allocated money that didn't get spent was to deposit it into my emergency fund.
5. I save loose change I find around the house
It might not seem like much, but every month, while doing a deep clean of my apartment, I collect loose change or money that I left in pockets and purses and deposit it into my account. Sometimes I only find $2, and other times I find upwards of $15. Even though it's just a little bit of cash, adding it to the emergency fund makes me feel like it's a safe spot for the money in case I need it later on.
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