37% of Americans Worry Their Emergency Funds Aren't Adequate: How to Build Yours Fast

by Maurie Backman | Published on Oct. 19, 2021

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A woman packing moving boxes in a sunny apartment.

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Shy on emergency savings? Here's how you can boost your cash reserves in a flash.

If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it's the importance of being prepared for financial upheaval. Millions of people lost their jobs in the past 19 months or saw their income take a hit. Now more than ever, it's clear that building an emergency fund should be a priority.

But 37% of Americans aren't confident they've stashed away enough cash for emergencies, according to a recent survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education. Ideally, a solid emergency fund has enough money to cover three to six months of essential bills. You can use this calculator to figure out how much money to aim for.

If you don't have a fully loaded emergency fund, here are some steps you can take to build one quickly.

1. Sell items you no longer need

Unloading items you don't need for cash is a good way to boost your savings account balance. Comb through every room in your home and take inventory. Then, round up those hardly-used kitchen tools, electronics, and toys your kids never took out of the box, and do your best to find buyers.

You can advertise on social media, post your sale items to local neighborhood groups, or use sites like eBay (though you'll pay a fee for going the latter route). You can even hold an old-fashioned yard sale.

2. Get a side hustle

The bulk of your paycheck may be earmarked for recurring bills. But if you pick up a side hustle, you can use the money you earn from it to boost your emergency fund.

If you're not sure how to choose the right side hustle, think about your schedule. Is it pretty open outside of your normal working hours? Or do you need a gig you can do at your own pace, like data entry from home? Spend a little time mapping out the ideal gig so your side hustle winds up being a success.

3. Cut back on a few substantial expenses temporarily

Many of us pay for things that technically aren't needs, but that make life enjoyable. These include things like cable, streaming services, restaurant meals, and getaways or vacations. Cutting out these treats is something you may not want to do forever -- and you shouldn't have to. But if you're low on emergency savings and want to build some quickly, you may need to cut back temporarily.

Figure out how much money your emergency savings are missing. From there, see if slashing your spending will make a reasonable dent.

Say you currently spend $300 a month on the aforementioned items and your emergency fund is short $1,000. If you can find a way to cut that $300 from your monthly budget, you could reach your savings goal in just over three months. And once you meet that goal, you'll be free to go back to spending as usual.

4. Try becoming a landlord

If your home is large enough or set up accordingly, it may be feasible to rent out a portion of it temporarily. You can use the money your tenant pays you to boost your emergency fund.

That said, you'll need to make sure your local zoning laws allow you to convert part of your home to a rental. Contact your city or town's zoning or building department for more information.

There's also a drawback to taking in a tenant -- namely, having to share your space and having to play the role of landlord. But collecting rent is a good way to boost your savings quickly, so it may be worth the sacrifice.

Get the peace of mind you need

Having a solid emergency fund could help you sleep better at night and go about your days with less stress. If your savings need work, employ these tips to give them that essential boost.

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