Building an emergency fund can be a crisis in itself for plenty of Americans.
Although financial advisors typically recommend consumers stash away at least three months' worth of living expenses, and ideally, six months' worth, few have hit the mark. More than a quarter have no emergency savings, according to a Bankrate.com study released earlier this year. Of those who do, two-thirds have less than that the six-month target.
Eking out more savings can be a dismaying prospect, with budgets already stretched entering the holiday season and credit card debts mounting. "People tell me they can't afford to save," said Gail Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. "You can't afford not to."
But it's not so easy to make a dramatic shift. "A lot of times, people are sharing obvious advice about savings, like setting aside 10 percent of what you make," said Trae Bodge, senior lifestyle editor for RetailMeNot.com. "What if you can't do that?"
Reassessing big expenses can yield payouts to slot into savings (watch the above video for a few key line-items), but little luxuries can add up, too. Aim to scale back small purchases, said Bodge—make your own coffee instead of buying it an extra day each week, and stretch time between services such as manicures and car washes. "It's incredible how much you could save in a month," she said.
If you received a tax refund this year, talk to your employer about amending your W-4. The typical taxpayer who gets a refund receives about $3,000; spread out over a year, that's an extra $250 in each paycheck, said Cunningham. (More reasons to consider amending: If you got married or divorced this year, or had a baby.) "That's real savings," she said.