What to Do if Your Emergency Fund Gets Down to $0

by Maurie Backman | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on April 21, 2021

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Man with one arm wrapped around empty money jar.

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Depleted your emergency savings? Here's your game plan.

It's important to have money on hand for unplanned expenses. Ideally, your emergency fund should have enough money to cover three to six months' worth of living costs.

But what if you did amass a nice emergency fund, and now it's gone because you had to cover a major home repair, or your savings ran dry during a period of unemployment? If your cash reserves have been wiped out, here's how to replenish.

1. Get on a tight budget

Having no money in savings is stressful. To rebuild, you may need to make some near-term sacrifices. Set up a budget limiting most of your spending to essential expenses like rent and food. You can work luxuries like cable, restaurant meals, and entertainment back into the budget once you have some money in the bank.

2. Get a second job

There may only be so much money you can eke out for savings from each paycheck. If you're replenishing your emergency fund, it may require a second job. Your best bet may be to find work you can increase or decrease at your discretion. For example, if you drive for a ride share company, you can pick up as many fares as you can handle. If you need a night off, that's your call, but if you want to work every night to score more cash, that's an option as well.

3. Sell items you can part with

You may not be able to sell your dining room set -- eating dinner on the floor every night just isn't reasonable -- but if you have furniture that doesn't get a lot of use, selling it is a good way to get some cash for your emergency fund. Similarly, you may be able to sell some older electronics. You might even consider selling nicer clothes that have barely been worn.

4. Bank any windfalls that come your way

There may come a point when you find yourself receiving a chunk of money. Your boss may decide to reward you with a bonus. Your credit card company might mail you a check for the cash back you accrued. Or, you may get a sizable tax refund. Sticking that money into savings will help you build back up to where you started.

Slow and steady wins the race

Unfortunately, it can take a lot longer to build an emergency fund than to deplete one. If you've exhausted your savings, keep your head up. It will take time to replenish those funds, so don't put undue pressure on yourself. Take things one week at a time, and focus on restoring your emergency fund so it's there for you the next time you need it.

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