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Nothing tops experience as a means to learn. And the global financial challenges plaguing us for the last few years have certainly offered up lessons aplenty. None of them any more fundamental than the importance of an emergency fund. Setting aside cash is not a luxury, it's a necessity in today's economic environment.

And for our Military Fools, whose paychecks have been threatened twice this year so far, it's no less important. With a new fiscal year starting in October, another nail-biting battle over the budget may be right around the corner. If you had to go without a paycheck, would you be ready?

For many Americans, an emergency fund has made the difference between financially sinking and swimming. Many more have been caught short, unable to make ends meet, in part for lack of this critical component in their financial plan. A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that half of Americans would struggle to come up with $2,000 for an unexpected expense.

Ordinarily, I recommend this stash should cover three to six months of living expenses. But if you plan to transition out of the military given today's job outlook, it probably makes sense to have nine to 12 months of living cash set aside.

I suspect many of you think the idea of nine to 12 months of cash in the bank seems like a bridge too far. Not so fast! It may not happen overnight, but it definitely isn't possible unless you get started. Below, I've mapped out some ideas on how I could scrape together $1,000 in 30 days -- and that's a good start:

Brown bag it: Eating lunch in our commissary typically runs about $8. If I take my lunch instead, I cut costs to about $2 per day. Savings = $180.

Brew my own joe: I grind my own organic coffee beans every morning and bring a cup to work. Costs $0.50 per day. Savings = $75.

Tap the tap: Bottled water runs anywhere between $5 and $1.50. I buy the lower-end variety since I'm a cheapskate. If I drink three bottles per day, savings = $135.

Goin' to the dog wash: I have two German shepherds and a border collie. They like my shower as much as I do. Clean dogs once a month, and savings = $200.

And skippin' the car wash: Once a month (whether it needs it not), I wash my car in the driveway. Turning off the water when not in use (kind of like taking a Navy shower), the most it costs is $5. Savings = $20.

Lose the landline: An average cost for a home phone is about $50. I dropped mine and use only my cell phone. Savings = $50.

Get my news online: Drop the local daily paper. Savings = $15.

DIY pedicure: Sure, you have to be a contortionist to do a decent job, but every time, I save at least $50.

In the weeds: The commercial company that sprays my lawn charges $75 per month. I can put up with a few weeds at that price! Savings = $75.

Ditch the satellite radio: The local DJs need love, too. Why not save $30 per month?

Streamline the cable package: Skip the premium channels and easily save $85. I don't miss them a bit.

Iron(ing) is good for you: If I iron four blouses per month, I save $20. (Curious question: Why does a woman's blouse cost so much more to iron than a man's shirt?)

Trim dining out: Imagine an enjoyable evening out with friends ... wine, an appetizer, and a nice dinner. That's about $75. If once a month I forgo that pleasure and cook instead, savings = $65.

Snap! I've saved $1,000. I've upped my to-do list, but a little yard work, nail painting and ironing never hurt anybody. To add to my savings, I ask for military discounts (Fools, don't be shy, they can be significant), and I might consider dropping my gym membership (I can do push-ups, sit-ups, run/power walk anywhere). Plus, about every two months, I highlight my own hair, saving another $100 to $125.

Your spending habits may be a bit different from mine, but everyone has room to save more! Here are just a few more ideas: grocery and back-to-school shop with a list, buy in bulk, use generic products, avoid paying ATM fees and bank charges, check out movies and books at the library, or set your thermostat higher. Where can you cut back? Start building your fallback fund today.

June Lantz Walbert is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER practitioner with USAA Financial Planning Services. She is also a lieu­tenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve with 20 years of service. Walbert's basic branch is Air Defense Artillery. She writes a weekly advice column, "Ask June" on Follow June @AskJune_usaa.

USAA or its affiliates do not provide tax advice. Taxpayers should seek advice based upon their own particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor.

This material is for informational purposes. Consider your own financial circumstances carefully before making a decision and consult with your tax, legal or estate planning professional.

USAA Financial Planning Services is a service mark of USAA that refers to the financial planning services and financial advice provided by USAA Financial Planning Services Insurance Agency, (known as USAA Financial Insurance Company in California, Lic. No. 0E36312), a registered investment advisor and insurance agency and its wholly owned subsidiary. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards,, owns the certification marks CFP ® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER TM in the U.S. which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements.

The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 29, 2011, at 10:14 PM, atarheelfool wrote:

    Are you serious? Only an idiot would actually pay for everything listed in this article. The only thing I pay for on this list is a landline for my phone only because it's bundled with my cable & internet and locked in at a competitive rate. If you can't wash your own car and dog, pack your own lunch and make your own pot of coffee everyday then you pretty much deserve to wasting your money. Oh, and four years in the US Army taught me how to iron.

  • Report this Comment On September 04, 2011, at 10:14 PM, sarahk99 wrote:

    I am glad to see I already follow most of the suggestions on your list. The land line stays because of the bundle package with cable/internet/phone. The gym membership I am also keeping. I have seriously considered the advice to drop the membership, but I look at how much I exercised before the gym membership and how much I now exercise. I exercise way more since joining the gym and more regularly. To me, the membership is worth keeping. Sure I can pop in a DVD, jog or do sit-ups and push ups at home - but will I? NO. Been there, didn't do that. The energy at the gym spurs me on. The accountability of going with a friend (or at least reporting my attendance to my friend) helps. Going to make sure my money is well spent spurs me on. For now, the gym is worth the cost.

  • Report this Comment On September 18, 2012, at 3:29 AM, 1realfool wrote:

    Why do all the articles we see these days about saving money involve not paying for things most of us do not pay for in the first place?

    This may have been valid advice back in 2007, but since the '08 economic decline, most people who need to save the most are already doing these things.

    My budget has no frivolties at the moment; car payment, insurances, utilities, and food. (I guess I could cancel that auto club roadside assistance, but for 14.50 a month it's paid for itself for a few years the few times I've used it.)

    I don't drink coffee, so I've never wasted $5 a day at Starbucks. I never fell for Apples's hype, so I don't own an i-Anything. My cell phone makes calls and sends texts, anything more complicated than that I can use my laptop. ;)

    My house is paid for, I paid off my credit card and a loan this summer, and by the end of the year I will be debt free except for the car payment. And the car will be paid off years earlier than the loan requires (I just bought it in December) because the money I freed up by paying off the other debts early will be split between the car loan and building up my savings and emergency fund.

    The best advice to help someone save money/eliminate debt, is to help them learn the difference between 'want' and 'need'.

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