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The most basic of financial tenets -- the "emergency account" -- is making a strong comeback. It's no wonder: The old-fashioned way of patching over surprise expenses -- a.k.a. putting it on plastic -- is becoming less tenable as lenders continue to slash spending limits, and actual emergencies fail to cooperate by putting themselves on hold.
If you need to amass a cash cushion quickly, you've got three choices:
- Increase the amount of money coming in (by getting a second job, selling your beloved collectibles, or asking your kids to pay rent).
- Decrease the amount of money flowing out (by downsizing expenses in your major budget categories, such as food, entertainment, or hair products).
- Trick yourself and your loved ones into stashing money into an only-for-emergencies account.
That last option sounds pretty good, right? Here's how to save in a back-door, sneaky kind of way:
Step 1: Take a pay cut. Yup, you read that right. Successful saving requires giving yourself less money to spend. Unless you already live a monastic way of life, you can probably get by on less without even noticing. As they say, out of sight, out of mind.
Right now, pick a dollar amount you can bear to part with every paycheck -- don't overthink, just come up with a figure (and don't be stingy). There you have it! You're one-third of the way through your savings plan.
Step 2: Make saving automatic. Set up a savings account that's separate from your regular checking account. Now set up a recurring monthly automatic transfer from your checking account into this new account, in the amount you picked just a moment ago. And, no, keeping that money in your checking account and promising not to spend it is not acceptable. You want a completely separate account -- even better if it's inaccessible by debit card. That way, it'll be less tempting to break in and blow the balance.
Step 3 (extra credit!): Supersize your balance. Find a savings account that earns the most interest. Depending on when you need to access the money, we're talking about a high-yield savings/checking account, a money market account or fund, a certificate of deposit, or bonds, the pros and cons of each which are described in "Where to Park Your Cash."
Now sit back and let your emergency account bloom.
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