4 Ways to Build an Emergency Fund as a College Student

by Maurie Backman | July 20, 2019

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We often read about the importance of having an emergency fund. Without money in the bank, you risk racking up loads of debt when unplanned expenses sneak up on you. And that can happen at any age -- even when you're in college. That's why being a student doesn't exempt you from building emergency savings.

The challenge, of course, is that it's hard to save money when your full-time job is to be in school and do well academically. But if you're willing to hustle and get a little creative, you can build some cash reserves while you're in college.

How much emergency savings should college students have?

Working adults are told to set aside at least three months of essential living expenses in a savings account. But since your primary expense is tuition, your best bet is to also think about the essential non-college-related bills you tend to incur, and save enough to cover at least three months of those as well.

Let's say you currently spend $300 a month to have a car, another $100 a month on your cell phone, and another $300 a month on food and personal supplies. Let's also assume that your other costs -- housing, utilities, and so forth -- are covered under the umbrella of college expenses, and that your parents cover your health insurance. In that case, your total monthly non-college spending is $700, because again, we're talking about essential expenses. If you spend another $200 a month to go out and an additional $100 on clothing, those are things you can afford to give up if money becomes an issue.

Therefore, in this example, aiming for a $2,100 emergency fund is a good bet. And the following steps will help you build it.

1. Work on the side while taking classes

As a student, your primary job is to pass your classes with flying colors -- but that doesn't mean you can't take on a little part-time work. If you're willing to pick up some shifts at a local business, or find a job on campus, you can slowly but surely build some savings so that you're protected from any unplanned bills you're forced to tackle without your parents' help.

If you can't find a job on campus and don't have a car, try finding work you can do from the comfort of your home or dorm room. For example, you can sign up to produce content for websites, or design websites if you're tech-savvy enough. Some companies also make it possible to do bookkeeping from home, so if you're good with numbers, that's an option to explore.

2. Get a summer job

Unless you're planning to take summer classes, you have a solid two to three months off every year in between your studies. Rather than spend that time lounging around, get yourself hired somewhere. Plenty of businesses need seasonal help, and if you play your cards right, the money you earn in those few months could be enough to build your entire emergency fund, thereby sparing you from having to work while in the midst of classes.

3. Sell old textbooks for cash

Those hundred-dollar textbooks your professors keep forcing you to buy? Chances are, somebody needs them once you're done with them, so rather than toss them or keep them around as paperweights, try selling them for cash. You won't get the same amount you paid for them, but even $20 here or $30 there could help you reach your savings goal.

4. Bank your gifts

Chances are, you'll be getting your share of cash gifts in the course of your studies, between your birthday, the holidays, and other milestones. Rather than spend that money on gadgets or vacations, put it in the bank. Or, at least put most of it into savings. The people who give you that money no doubt want to see you get some enjoyment out of it, so there's nothing wrong with retaining a little for yourself.

Just because you're in college doesn't mean you don't need emergency savings to fall back on. A modest effort on your part could spell the difference between having the cash to cover a surprise bill and feeling the strain when you realize you have no idea how you'll pay for one.

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