Personal Finance

These five lifestyle changes can make it easier to bulk up on emergency savings

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Key Points
  • Having emergency savings set aside can help cushion an unexpected financial blow.
  • But reaching the three- to six-months' worth of living expenses advisors recommend may sound like a high hurdle.
  • Smaller habit changes can lead to big savings over time. These tips can help you get started.
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For millions of Americans, the Covid-19 pandemic was a financial shock.

While the federal government stepped in to help, those who were best poised to weather the crisis had emergency cash set aside.

Experts say having an emergency savings fund should be a top goal in order to be able to cushion an unexpected financial blow without going broke.

The ideal number to shoot for is at least three months to six months' worth of living expenses, according to certified financial planner Ted Jenkin, CEO at Atlanta-based Oxygen Financial. If you're more financially conservative, you may want to put a year's worth away.

Yet finding that extra income may sound like a high hurdle, especially in an uncertain economy. The good news is that you may be able to set cash aside just by changing how you handle the resources you already have.

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1. Reassess your credit card habits

Credit card balances can cost you north of 20%, if you're not careful.

The truth is you do not need more than two credit cards, unless you're a business owner, Jenkin said.

As such, Jenkin recommends starting with what he calls "plastic surgery" — cutting up your cards until there are just two left.

Then, reassess any rewards you've accumulated to see how you can turn them into extra funds.

That could include an Amazon gift card or points to help whittle down your credit card bill. Many people have unused perks that they have not tapped into during the coronavirus.

"I don't think people are looking at it," Jenkin said. "It's found money."

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2. Reduce your monthly bills

Chances are, big savings can be found by reassessing your day-to-day expenses.

Jenkin, who co-wrote a book called "The 21-Day Budget Cleanse," recommends people take a detox approach to their household budgets.

Look at the 21 largest bills you have — if you have that many — and try to shop around or change them.

Take your bundled internet, phone and cable bill, for example. Ask your provider if there is an opportunity for a better package or rate. Also investigate the other options available to you through other companies.

"Most people really haven't taken the time to see where they're overspending and size up what the difference is," Jenkin said.

3. Put your money somewhere safe

Even with interest rates still at record lows, a savings account at an online bank or local community bank is still the best place to go to make sure you'll be able to access the money when you need it, Jenkin said.

If you lose your job or start a business, you're going to want quick access to your cash.

"You can't afford to put it into crypto or the stock market," Jenkin said. "Doing that over three or six months is gambling."

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4. Sell what you aren't using

If you haven't used something in a year — aside from family heirlooms or holiday decorations — it's time to sell it, Jenkin said.

If you haven't worn a shirt in a year, for example, you can unload it on a website like Poshmark. Electronics you're not using can be sold on sites like Decluttr or Facebook, Jenkin said.

"There's many, many apps and websites to basically sell your stuff," Jenkin said.

If you're not ready to part with an item forever — such as an extra car, for example — you may want to consider renting it out instead on a website like Turo.

5. Pick up a side hustle

Generating more money doesn't have to stop at selling your things; you can also sell your skills, Jenkin said.

Websites like Fiverr will let you list your services so you can generate extra money.

"If you have a hustle, skill or talent, try to earn that extra income to build up a cash reserve," Jenkin said.