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Where to Find the Cash to Build a Last-Minute Emergency Fund

Learn how to build a last-minute emergency fund with cash flow that you can free up in the next month or two.

Probably for most of your adult life, you’ve heard the urgent advice – save money for an emergency fund.

Generally, the goal, which may not feel realistic if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, has been to have three to six months of savings put away. You know, in case you lose your job or develop a health issue.

Or encounter a global pandemic.

The novel coronavirus, just as often called COVID-19, is clearly both an economic and a health issue. It currently threatens our health and financial well-being. And presumably, many of us are wishing we had an emergency fund, or a bigger one, right about now.

Still:

If your emergency fund is lacking, don’t kick yourself too much. You are hardly alone.

With the Fed’s last survey, it found that 39 percent of Americans would have trouble paying for a $400 emergency. That’s 4 out of 10 Americans who would have to take out a payday loan, borrow from friends or family or do nothing, among some of the options surveyors reported.

So if you’re worried about money and looking to build a last-minute emergency fund, we have some practical ideas.

And we promise, we won’t go too lame and suggest things like recycling cans or holding a yard sale, which, of course, would probably not be very well attended right now.

1. Reduce Retirement Contributions

If you've been saving every month in a 401(k) and in your IRAs, consider reducing contributions now – and use that money to put into an emergency fund.

For instance, instead of putting away $400 a month, put in $100. If you were socking away $100 into retirement, maybe you can get away with putting in $50.

If you go that route, you can divert the money you would have spent for your retirement and send it to a separate online savings account.

Even if the interest you’re collecting isn’t much due to rates coming down, at least you’ll be far less likely to spend the money if you keep it separate from your checking account.

Now:

If you receive a 401(k) match, it’s up to you to determine how much risk you'll take by opting to not contribute enough for the match.

Those matching contributions are money that you’d lose out on.

It’s a painful idea, robbing your future to help you get through the present, but the hope is that you can catch up on payments later in the year.

2. Consolidate Debt

If your credit score is healthy, and you’re carrying an unhealthy amount of debt, this may be a good time to consolidate the debt at a lower interest rate.

One popular option is a 0% balance transfer credit card.

As in, you transfer the credit card debt to the new credit card.

Then you’ll avoid interest charges, which will reduce your monthly payments, which would mean you’d have more money every month to help you build an emergency fund.

The same goes for personal loans, which may not have the introductory 0% APR offers, but they have ongoing APRs that are low for a much longer period of time (usually 3 to 5 years).

3. Pause Student Loan Repayment

Hopefully this isn’t news to you, but when the stimulus package recently passed by Congress, student loans were suspended until September 30.

Yes, you can still make your student loan payments if you want to, but there is no penalty or interest if you don’t make them.

So if you are a student loan borrower, and you have student loan payments but no emergency fund, assuming you’re still working and money is coming in, this is your chance to easily create one over the next several months.

4. Use Your Tax Refund

Even though the tax deadline is pushed back from April 15 to July 15, you should file as soon as possible to receive your tax refund, assuming you know you’re getting one.

With online tax prep, electronic filing, and direct deposit, you can get your money 2 to 3 weeks after filing, typically.

On the other hand:

Paper returns with paper checks typically take 6 to 8 weeks.

But whenever your refund comes, that could be a significant influx of cash into your emergency fund.

5. Audit Your Expenses

Ask yourself if there are any bills that you’re regularly paying for that you could drop.

It used to be that financial experts would suggest that people stop their daily coffee habit to save money. Now, everybody suggests dropping a streaming service you don’t use.

In the age of the coronavirus and sheltering-in-place, dropping a streaming service may be the last thing you want to do, but on the other hand, maybe you do have one that you could get rid of?

Perhaps you subscribe to some non-streaming service you could get rid of?

Or maybe you’re still paying for a membership to a gym that you haven’t used in ages and can’t use now because it’s closed?

Not that we want to contribute to your local gym’s financial headaches, but if you need extra money, take a look and see what you’re spending monthly that simply doesn’t make sense.

If not eliminate a bill, you could check in with the bill issuer, like a cable or cell phone company, and discuss reducing what you pay.

If you reduce or eliminate some bills, then you should be able to sidetrack some of that money into an emergency fund.

If nothing else, maybe you’ll improve your cash flow.

6. Look for Missing Money

No, this isn’t the classic but lame searching the couch cushions for coins suggestion.

You probably don’t carry much cash around, anyway. It’s all digital money. But if you’ve never been to MissingMoney.com or Unclaimed.org, check them out. They’re both run by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.

You may find that you left money in a bank account years ago or maybe you’ll find some unclaimed stocks or bond money.

It’s probably a long shot, but it shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes to find out if you do have any lost money owed to you.

That said, you will probably find that the money will be mailed to you slower than normal due to the Covid-19 interruptions.

Applying for a Credit Line

We’re mentioning it because it’s something to consider.

If you have a financial emergency coming up, like losing your job, a line of credit could create a financial emergency later.

But, sure, if your finances seem to be in great shape and you just want to make sure you have a resource of cash you can draw upon, you could apply for a home equity loan or a personal line of credit.

Still, lenders are going to be leery about offering lines of credit right now.

Really:

The best time to get a line of credit is when the economy is healthy – and your own credit score and history is strong. Getting a line of credit during a global pandemic is always going to be a hard reach.

Budget Now

Life has changed temporarily for just about everybody reading this, but on the plus side, that could mean having more money leftover at the end of the month for your emergency fund.

Here’s what we mean.

Gas

Gas prices are currently at a four-year low, thanks to less demand (we’re driving less) and a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia is helping down fuel costs as well. So if you’re still driving to work, you’re paying less for gas than you were a month ago. If you’re working from home, you’re obviously spending much less on gas.

So if you can, put the money you were budgeting for gas into your emergency fund. That’s probably a couple hundred bucks right there.

Food

Your grocery bill has likely gone up, but maybe your restaurant food bill has gone down?

Crunch the numbers for your food expenses and see if you’re likely to have more money left over at the end of the month. If so, that, too, could go into the emergency fund.

Clothing

If you have a clothing allowance, you probably are spending less on it if you are working from home.

Maybe you can reroute some of the money that you would have spent on clothes into an emergency fund.

Insurance

And this is probably a long shot, but if you aren’t commuting to work, maybe your auto insurer will offer you a discount.

Which would put a little extra money in your bank account every month.

Conclusion

The main point is – your life has probably changed in some way since the sheltering-in-place began.

If you are spending less money, and if you had a pretty good handle on your finances in the first place, you may be able to steer some of that excess revenue into your emergency fund.

Of course:

The hope is that you’ll manage to quickly and consistently put a lot of money away – and not have a reason to raid your emergency fund.

If that happens, later, as the threat of the coronavirus diminishes and life gets back to normal, you can always return some of it to the 401(k) or IRA you didn’t pay – or use some of the money to go on a vacation and marvel that you got through this crazy pandemic.

But if you do end up not using your emergency fund, obviously keep some of the money in your fund and continue to keep saving money for a future rainy day.

If the coronavirus means we all come out of this, budgeting more carefully and staying in the habit of saving money, that’s at least one upside.

It’s just too bad that many of us need an actual emergency to serve as a reminder to save for an emergency.