Though millennials are often pegged as reckless spenders, the reality is that a large chunk of young adults are doing their part to get to a financially secure place. In fact, 23% of millennials are actively saving to build an emergency fund, according to a new survey by Money Under 30.
Of course, this also means that 77% of millennials aren't working on their emergency funds, and chances are, it's not because they're already set in that regard. In fact, 54% of millennials aged 18 to 24 and 57% of those aged 25 to 34 reported having less than $1,000 in savings earlier this year in a GOBankingRates study, which is well below the three to six months' worth of living expenses all workers are advised to have on hand.
If you're in a similar boat, it's imperative that you bump your emergency fund to the top of your list. Otherwise, you risk taking on serious debt the next time an unplanned expense lands in your lap, whether it's a car repair, a medical emergency, or a layoff. Here are a few easy steps you can take to boost your cash reserves and join the ranks of the 23% of millennials who are working to protect themselves from dangerous debt.
1. Cut back on one or two big expenses
While it's true that saving any amount of money on a regular basis is better than saving none at all, if you want to make a dent in that emergency fund quickly, you'll need to think beyond tactics like cutting back on a few morning lattes a week or giving up the occasional taxi ride. Rather, you should aim to reduce one or two larger expenses that eat up much of your income, like housing and transportation.
If downsizing to a smaller apartment or moving to a less trendy neighborhood saves you $300 a month, that's a far more efficient way to save than by banking $8 a week from unpurchased lattes. Similarly, AAA estimates that it costs about $737 a month, on average, to own a car. If you have a vehicle you can technically do without -- say, by buying a $150 monthly transit pass instead -- you'll bank a lot of cash quickly.
2. Get a side hustle
Many of us max out our paychecks month after month. If you really don't want to cut any expenses (or truly feel there's not much to cut), you'll need to come up with cash for your emergency fund some other way. Enter the side hustle. The beauty of a second gig is that the money you make from it won't already be allocated to existing bills, so you should have no problem sticking all of your posttax earnings into the bank.
Best of all, that side job can be anything you want it to be. If you enjoy photography, do family photo shoots on weekends to drum up extra cash. If you've got a knack for web design, find some freelance clients. Working even just a few extra hours a week could get you significantly closer to your savings goals.
3. Automate your savings
A big reason so many of us don't save consistently (or at all) is that we have good intentions to bank some earnings but get thrown off course when life's temptations get in the way. To prevent that from happening to you, sign up to have a portion of each paycheck sent directly into your savings account before it lands in your checking account. This way, you'll forget you have it to spend and will therefore be less likely to blow it frivolously.
These are just a few tactics you can use to build your emergency fund. You can also try banking your annual bonus (if you get one) and doing the same with holiday and birthday gifts. Explore different ideas and see what works for you, because the sooner you build that safety net, the less long-term financial upheaval you'll face when an emergency inevitably strikes.