We all need money on hand for unplanned expenses, yet a frightening 27% of Americans have no savings at all. Without cash in the bank, you risk racking up scores of debt the next time a financial emergency strikes. That debt, in turn, can cost you money in accrued interest, damage your credit score, and make it harder for you to borrow again when you need to.

If you don't have any savings, it's imperative that you take steps to build a modest emergency fund -- one with enough money to cover at least three months of living expenses. Here are a few moves that'll help you accomplish that.

Empty wallet being held open


1. Get on a budget

Saving money is really difficult when you don't have a handle on your expenses. That's why it helps to have a budget. That way, you can see where your money is really going and identify ways to cut back on spending.

To set up a budget, list your recurring monthly expenses, factor in once-a-year expenses, and compare your total spending to your total earnings. If you find that you're not leaving yourself any room to save, you'll need to cut corners -- immediately.

2. Identify one large expense to reduce

You'll often hear that to save money, you'll need to go on a major expense-slashing spree. While that can certainly help, it's also no way to live. A better, and more realistic bet, therefore, is to choose one larger expense to cut, and free up cash for savings that way. That could mean downsizing to a smaller living space to save money on rent, or it could mean unloading a car you enjoy having but can technically get around town without. The choice is yours, and if you commit to targeting a single expense rather than every single line item in your budget, you're more apt to be successful.

3. Increase your income with a second job

If your savings are in a truly sorry state, it pays to consider getting a side job on top of your regular one. The money you earn from it won't already be earmarked for existing bills, so you should, in theory, be able to send all of it directly into savings. Furthermore, that second gig doesn't have to be something you hate. If you have a hobby with the potential to make you money, whether it's baking, gardening, or crafting, use it as a means of generating cash.

4. Automate the savings process

Saving money becomes a whole lot easier when you don't even realize you're doing it. If you're without savings, it pays to set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account so that money gets put away on a regular basis. You might start by sending as little as $20 or $30 from each paycheck into savings, and then increasing that number as you're able to. But if you automate your savings, you'll remove the temptation to spend at least a portion of your earnings, even if it's a small one.

If you don't have any money in savings, you're not going to suddenly find yourself with thousands socked away in a couple of months. But you can build savings slowly but surely if you make the above moves, and also commit to making it a top priority.