12 (Non-Rich) 20-Somethings On Exactly How They Saved Their Emergency Fund

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The path to a healthy emergency fund looks different for everyone depending on their income, spending habits, budget capabilities, and ability to find consistent work. Whatever strategy you need to develop and execute on is fine, so long as you actually have a strategy. The emergency fund might seem like a level of financial comfort you don’t need to focus on and build up, but trust me, in desperate times, you’ll be beyond thankful it’s there. Whether it’s pairing up with a financial buddy to keep you honest, setting alerts on your calendar when you know you’re paycheck is coming, or automatically transferring a set percentage, do something to make saving a priority.

Below, I’ve rounded up 12 different ways that 20-somethings manage to build their own emergency fund. It goes to show you that no matter your job, income level, or age, it is possible to take small steps forward. Check it out!

1. “Confession: I wasted a huge portion of my twenties doing nothing to save up for an emergency fund, and I want to cringe when I look back on my attitude and behavior. Ever since I turned 30 in September of last year, I feel like I’ve become incredibly more self-aware of the milestones I should be reaching/should have reached. I do not want to spend the next few crucial years of my thirties wasting money on things that aren’t smart — I want them to be investments in my future. Since then, I’ve opened up a totally separate savings account and religiously put 15% of every paycheck into it. I call it my ‘rainy day fund,’ but in reality, it’s forming the much-needed chunk of savings that will give me the flexibility and freedom to pursue the kind of future I want for myself. I don’t want to have to rely on anyone, and I’ve become much more intentional about where my money goes these days.” — Jessica, Accountant, Age 30.

2.  “I’m a full-time student, which means I don’t have a lot of time to work at a desk job. When I’m not in class, I’m doing homework or running to practice. Having an emergency fund IS important to me, but for a long time, I felt like if I couldn’t put a lot of money away, it wasn’t worth it to save at all. After I got myself into a sticky situation with my car last year, and I panicked when I had to family-crowd-fund the payments needed to fix it, I’ve come to realize how necessary emergency funds are. Now, I put a little away every time I work a job, and I’ve got around $500 saved up. It’s definitely not a lot of money, but at least I know if I ever NEEDED to pay for something important, I wouldn’t have to run back to my parents to beg for a bailout (which was mortifying the last time.)  — Steph, Full-Time Student, Age 22.

3. “I work a few towns over from a very close friend of mine, and our working hours are fairly similar. She’s a teacher, and I work the morning/afternoon shift at a local coffee shop. Since I don’t make a ton of money, and I was struggling to make ends meet, I had to take a hard look to see where I had to cut spending if I was going to start saving more. I looked at my car and decided it was time to sell it, let it go, and get creative with how I got around. I ended up creating a carpool system with that close friend of mine, and it allowed me to get rid of the car and start saving more. We carpool to work together each day, and she drops me off at 7:30 and picks me back up at 3:30. I pay her back by babysitting her son every other Saturday night for free, so she and her husband can have date nights. She saves a ton of money by not having to pay a sitter, and I save a ton by not having to make monthly lease payments. It’s saved money that I can now funnel directly into savings, and I’m in a much better financial place these days. It might sound like an unusual arrangement, but it works for us!” — Laura, Barista, Age 28.

4. “Well, I actually felt like I wasn’t saving enough in my emergency fund, so I started this 30-day challenge where my girlfriend and I pledged not to buy coffee/drinks out during the workday. We obviously still go out drinking on nights and weekends, because you’ve gotta cut back slowly, but taking the challenge was a huge eye opener for me. I transfer $20 per week (which is roughly about $4 per day) into my savings account to represent the money I’m saving on coffee. By the end of the challenge, I’ll have greater control over my money. By making small changes here and there, I’ve learned that saving is more realistic than I ever thought.” — Ryan, Finance professional, Age 28.

5. “Honestly, an emergency fund? I don’t really have one. I simply have a straight up savings account that I don’t ever access. I guess you can see it as an emergency fund, but to me, it’s my savings for long-term goals for things like buying property and being able to switch jobs if I need to. If something ever did happen where I was in a desperate situation and needed money, it’s a comfort to know the money is there to tap into. It’s a huge relief, and it gives me peace of mind when I think about the state of my finances.” — Alex, Teacher, Age 27.

6. “Since I’m a freelancer, my money comes in waves and at all different times. This mean that I can’t afford not to be strict about savings, and my routine is very regimented. I religiously put away 1/4 of every check I get and distribute it among my retirement savings, 401(k), and emergency fund. I have to pretend I’m not even getting paid the money because otherwise, I’ll spend it and fall totally off track.” — Jenna, Freelance Designer, Age 28.

7. “I was a financial mess for a long time, and I’m just starting to get my life on the right path in terms of my career and finances. My boyfriend helps me a lot, and without him reminding me to save (and sometimes actually taking my money, and depositing it for me) I wouldn’t stay on top of it. Sometimes, I’ll tell people our dynamic and they immediately think my boyfriend is controlling me or over-stepping his bounds, but it’s not like that. We are a mutual support system for one another, and we’re there for each other in the ways we need to be. I help him write term papers since he sucks at grammar (if I’m being completely candid here), and he helps me with my finances. It’s what works for us, and all that matters in the end is that I’m the one who has complete control over my money, and I do.” — J, Joanne, Nanny & Teacher’s Aid, Age 23

8. “This might seem silly, but I’ve implemented a strategy of ‘delayed spending’ which has really taught me self-control. Whenever I feel like I want to buy something, I force myself to wait 48 hours before doing so. That time forces me to really consider whether I actually need (instead of just want) the item in question. A majority of the time, I find myself feeling ‘meh’ about it over the next day or so. I feel like my finances are healthier because I’m not stretching myself as thin as I was before. Now, I have more flexibility and more money to throw into my emergency fund account for when I ACTUALLY need it.” — Jo, HR assistant, Age 25.

9. “Every year, I get a pretty sizable bonus at work, and I always use a portion of it to top up my savings account/emergency fund. I save here and there all year long, but for the last three years, I’ve been putting roughly 30% of my bonus straight into savings. I’ve built up a nice little chunk for myself at this point, and the process has felt pretty painless. For me, it’s easier to save a big amount all at once than being super diligent about in every. single. paycheck. It some ways, it feels like ripping a band-aid off.” — Matt, Sales, Age 30.

10. “I suck at managing my own money, and I had to be honest with myself and get someone to help me go through my budget to tell me where to cut back. I enlisted the help of my aunt (who is fantastic with money) to sit down with me and figure out a plan of action. She suggested that I reduce my spending in certain areas by as little as like 5-10%  telling me it’s enough to make a huge difference over the long run. When you have a fresh set of eyes review your lifestyle, it can really shift your attention to the problem areas which are somewhat difficult to see on your own. Personally, I cut out my weekly yoga class in lieu of following a YouTube yoga class, and that’s $60 a month I’m now throwing directly into savings.”  — Erin, Administration Assistant, Age 22. 

11. “I’m a graduate student at the moment, going to school full time, and taking work on the side wherever I can get it. I’m relying on student loans right now, so I don’t have the pressure to make ends meet and pay bills. However, I can’t not work at all — I feel compelled to bring in money so I don’t lose out on two years of savings. Sometimes, I’ll take a crap job doing something easy like waitressing at a catering company, walking dogs, nannying, or working at a temp job here and there. It allows me to put some money away in an account for savings, and take comfort in knowing I have something reserved and waiting for me when I get out of school.” — Jamie, Graduate Student, Age 29.

12. “My best friend and I made a pact at the beginning of last year, and we promised each other we’d save 10-15% of our annual income. We both had entry-level jobs coming straight out of school (I realize how fortunate we both are), and starting making around 35k a year. We promised each other that we were going to start our adult lives on the right foot, and take our shit seriously. The end of 2015 rolled around, and believe it or not, we both met our savings goals. We kept each other accountable the whole time, and we celebrated the milestone by taking our significant others out to a fancy dinner. We sat back, looked at each other, and said, ‘Wow, we did it.’ It was a really great feeling, and I’m on track to do it again in 2016.” — Erica, Account Coordinator, Age 24. 

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