So what's it gonna be -- Christmas on credit or cash-and-carry? 'Tis the season when savings takes a backseat to shopping. We think that you deserve a little something, too.

Before heading (back) to the mall, take 60 seconds to shop for the perfect container for your short-term stash of emergency cash. Knowing you've got some backup cash may even prevent you from splurging on cashmere dishtowels and diamond-studded dog collars.

0:60 Figure out how much you need to stash.
How much do you spend each month on necessities such as food, shelter, transportation to work, and anything that you've promised your kids? Bump up this number a tad to account for things like job-hunting expenses should you suddenly find yourself in need of a new gig. Multiply it by three or six (for the number of months that you want to cover), factoring in other available monetary resources and how many people you're financially responsible for.

0:48 Figure out how much you can afford to contribute each month to meet this goal.
Make sure that this amount fits into your budget. Make it one of those must-pay expenses -- just like your electric bill and grocery money.

0:37 Pick the right kind of account.
Since we're talking about your emergency savings here, you should put that money somewhere you'll be able to get your hands on it quickly... in case of, well, an emergency. It should also be in a "safe" investment -- meaning one that won't tank when Alan Greenspan sneezes. That narrows it down to:

  • High-yield savings accounts
  • Money market deposit accounts
  • Money market mutual funds

0:29 Comparison shop.
Look at bank ads in newspapers, check out, see what the brokers are offering using The Motley Fool's Broker Center, and visit iMoneyNet for information on money market funds. Want a point of comparison? Check out the special rates offered by our Savings Center partner, MBNA. Then find out:

  • What interest rates are available.
  • What are the comparable yields over identical time periods.
  • What (if anything) will it cost to purchase and maintain the investment.
  • The minimum investment required to get favorable interest rates. (Investor beware: Some institutions will offer aggressive rates in order to lure your dinero, only to lower the rates within the same quarter. Check historical rates at to test the interest rate over time.)

0:17 Just do it.
Go ahead. Get started with whatever you can spare. Knowing the account is already set up will do wonders for your savings resolve. If you're having trouble saving, we highly recommend an automatic transfer program. You can also see if your employer will split your paycheck (direct deposit) between your ordinary account and your short-term savings account.

Got a few minutes to spare? Our Short-Term Savings Center offers a deeper look at emergency savings.