Job loss? Illness? Buying a house? Planning a wedding. Unexpected expenses? These are all stressful, often expensive events. You might think they spell financial ruin, at least temporarily. But I’ve seen people come up with thousands of dollars in a matter of days or weeks to meet unexpected financial challenges.
It starts with a budget and a (temporary) change in your attitude toward spending money. Follow these steps to dig yourself out of a financial hole. You may even find you like your new, frugal lifestyle.
1. Make A Budget
Any financial plan must start with a budget, where you write down your living expenses and your income. For the purpose of this temporary, emergency budget, leave off entertainment (including dining out), expensive habits that you can forego (like designer coffee or even smoking!), and new clothing purchases. Now, look at your income. Any money that you have above and beyond your necessary expenses should go into a savings account; online accounts often offer the best interest rates.
2. Reduce Expenses
We’ve already eliminated the clothing and entertainment budgets and reduced the food and gas budgets. Now, look at all your bills. Can you change your cell phone plan (even temporarily) to reduce costs? Can you cancel cable for the next few months, freeing up a few hundred dollars? If you’re paying high interest rates on your credit cards, call and see if you can reduce rates.
3. Set Your Goals
Do you need $20,000 to close on a home? Do you need to make it to your next unemployment check, which could be half the salary you were accustomed to? Or maybe you just want to tuck away $3,000 for a vacation, and it’s not happening in the conventional ways of setting aside 10 percent of your salary in a savings account. Whatever your immediate goal, write it down and place it somewhere you’ll see it every day. Keeping your goal in mind makes it easier to make the tough decisions to save money.
4. Take Inventory
How much liquid cash do you have right now? Assessing where you are will help you feel closer to your goal, because you probably have more cash and assets than you think. This includes all the change and extra cash you have lying around your house. You may find a few hundred dollars toward your goal just by wrapping change. Wrap it yourself to avoid fees collected by CoinStar.
Also think about, and possibly liquidate, money you can access that may not be liquid, including stocks or bonds, gold, or silver. Experts recommend not borrowing against your retirement account, but this depends on your personal situation.
5. Find Money
Check your state’s Financial Comptroller (just Google [your state], comptroller) Office of Unclaimed Funds website to see if you have any money available you didn’t know about. Also enter the names of parents and other close relatives into the database. You can’t claim their money, (that would be stealing!) but you can let them know about it. They might offer you a finder’s fee. Also enter the names of deceased relatives. If you are the surviving next-of-kin, you may be able to claim these funds. One woman I know found $5,000 in unclaimed life insurance years after her mother died.
Finally, does anyone you know owe you money? It’s time to collect on those loans.
6. Create Money
Have you made recent purchases that you regret? Clothing sitting in your closet with the tags still on? An appliance that you’ve used once? See if you can return it to the store. Even if you can only get store credit, you may be able to use that credit on necessities to stretch your emergency budget further. Of course, if you can get cash back, put it straight into your savings fund.
Sell anything you no longer use, including, potentially, collections that have value but aren’t necessary, on eBay. You’ll command better prices and have a broader audience than with a garage sale. Hold a garage sale for anything that’s left; expect to earn at least a few hundred, depending on what you sell.
7. Earn More Money
If you’re not ill or unemployed, but are practicing extreme savings for a specific financial goal, it may be time to find (or create) a second job. Think about things you like to do. If you’re a foodie, you might enjoy working in a gourmet or health food store. Love to read? Think about a part-time job at a bookstore. Just make sure not to spend your paycheck before you leave the building! Set up direct deposit for your second job and deposit the money directly into your savings account; watching the money pile up as you approach your goal will give you the discipline and desire to keep going.
You may also decide to start a business selling crafts or jewelry on Etsy, design t-shirts through Zazzle or CafePress, or launch a blog. Remember, though, starting a business can cost money and the goal right now is to spend as little as possible. If you already have the materials you need on hand, though, this is a great way to take the first step to financial freedom.
8. Change Your Mindset
This may be the toughest part of tucking away a lot of cash in a short amount of time. For the next few weeks or month, or however long it takes, you will work with what you have in your home. This is when you get creative with recipes to cook with what you have in your pantry, recognize that you won’t be having “treats” for the next few weeks, and put your focus on saving and making money. Set a strict grocery budget and clip coupons to stick to it. Limit driving long distances to save money on gas. And find fun, family entertainment by playing games you already own, downloading free books to enjoy or borrowing movies from the library.
Many people live a frugal lifestyle every day. For others, it can be harder. Remind yourself that this lifestyle change is temporary, and that the reward — a new house, getting out of debt, or not running up your credit cards — is worth it.