You’re a college student. You don’t make much money. And you want to build an emergency fund anyway. We hear you! If you’re like most students, you probably discovered the hard way that it’s not easy to save money when you’re in college and aren’t rolling in extra cash. Fortunately, there are ways to start building your emergency fund while you’re still a student—regardless of how much money you have or don’t have at any given time. In this article, we’ll walk through some of our favorite strategies for building an emergency fund as a college student so that any unexpected expenses won’t find their way onto your credit card statement or into an empty wallet.
Save $100 before moving on to bigger goals
If you’re like most people, your emergency fund is one of the first goals on your list. And why wouldn’t it be? You want to accumulate as much money as possible in case something goes unexpectedly wrong, and an emergency fund is like a safety net.
It’s important to remember that saving $100 before moving on to bigger goals won’t just help build up your savings account; it will also look great on a resume down the line. For example: “I saved $100 before buying my first car,” or “I saved $100 before moving out of my parent’s house.” These accomplishments can make all the difference when applying for jobs or internships that require references and proof of experience!
What are some ways to build up an emergency fund?
One way to start building your emergency fund is to set aside a small amount every month. You can do this by setting up automatic deposits or transfers from your checking account every month. The best place for it? A separate savings account that’s connected to your checking but earns interest at a higher rate than the checking account does (the best banks will offer 0.50% interest on savings accounts). Your goal should be to make sure that you have about three months’ worth of living expenses saved for emergencies—so if you think you spend $500 per month, aim for $15,000 in total saved up!
There are some things that are definitely not good ideas when it comes to building up your emergency fund:
- Don’t use credit cards if at all possible—they’re extremely expensive because they charge high-interest rates, which means they’ll eat into any savings faster than necessary
- Don’t use debt as an excuse not to save; paying off debts with money that could be better used elsewhere is counterproductive and will end up costing more in the long run
1. Start small
The first step to building an emergency fund is to start small. You don’t have to have $10,000 in the bank just yet. In fact, it’s better if you don’t! Start by setting a goal and sticking with it—even if that means putting aside as little as twenty dollars each month. As long as there is something in the bank for emergencies, no matter how small or short-term those emergencies may be, then you’re on your way!
The next step is not overthinking things. Don’t worry about what other people are doing and what their goals are; don’t worry about what you don’t have or can’t do; don’t concern yourself with how much progress others seem to be making toward their own financial goals (and remember: they are working hard too!). Remember: there will always be reasons why saving money isn’t possible right now—but these reasons aren’t valid excuses for not starting at all.
2. Know your limit
Once you’ve figured out the amount of money you want to save and the number of months it’ll take, it’s time to set a goal for yourself. You can’t put away $1,000 in one month if your limit is only $100 a month! Instead, start small and build up from there. Setting a realistic goal that also takes into account how much money you have now, what bills are coming up soon (and which ones aren’t), and any other factors that might affect your situation such as whether or not you’ll be taking out loans or working at a part-time job you’ll be able to keep track of how far along your emergency fund is as well as how long it’ll take before complete.
That said, know when enough is enough! Having an emergency fund isn’t just about having money on hand for emergencies; it’s also about making sure that any emergency doesn’t spiral out of control because of lackadaisical spending habits. If someone has a habit of overspending on eating out or going shopping every day after work—or worse yet: running up their credit card balance every week—then they may not have enough left over once they reach their limit each month so they can still cover all their other bills without dipping into their savings account at all!
3. Create a budget with apps like Mint
Mint is a free budgeting app that helps you track your spending and save money. It also connects to your bank accounts to show you what’s going on with your finances.
With Mint, you can create different budgets for different categories of expenses like rent, food, entertainment, and student loan payments.
Mint makes it easy for users to add their credit cards into the app so they can easily keep track of their spending habits as well as try to pay down debt without incurring interest charges or late fees from credit card companies if they don’t pay their bills on time.
Open dedicated savings account for your emergency fund.
You’ve got the right idea: saving money takes a lot of willpower. That’s why it’s important to make it as easy as possible for yourself by opening a dedicated savings account and putting in place an automatic transfer from your checking account every month. This way, you won’t even have to think about it—the money will be there when you need it with no effort on your part.
You can open a savings account at most banks or credit unions (or both). When you pick one, keep these things in mind:
- Find one with low fees and excellent customer service; they’re out there! You’ll want to use this account as much as possible, so don’t choose one that makes depositing and withdrawing money inconvenient (and definitely avoid going into branches if possible).
- Consider opening an online bank account instead—they usually have extremely low fees, and higher interest rates than traditional banks, and may offer free bill pay services for direct deposit payments into other accounts that belong to YOU!
Don’t dip into your emergency fund, even for emergencies.
While it’s tempting to use your emergency fund for “emergencies,” you should avoid doing so at all costs. After all, the whole point of having an emergency fund is to protect yourself from financial emergencies! If you do dip into your emergency fund in a true emergency, it’s important to replenish it as soon as possible.
If you’re going to use your emergency fund for non-emergencies or otherwise, don’t expect me to be happy about it—and don’t expect me not to call out what an awful idea this is. Please try not to do this.
Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account each week and treat it like another bill.
Setting up a regular transfer from your checking account to your savings account is the easiest way to make sure you have enough money in there. The more often you transfer money, the less likely it is that you’ll spend it on frivolous things.
Setting up an automatic transfer each week will help you build up an emergency fund faster and make sure that when something comes up in life, like the car breaking down or needing new shoes for work, you won’t have to worry about where the extra money is going to come from.
Work toward $1,000 in savings.
Building an emergency fund is a great way to save money and have peace of mind. The amount that you need to save depends on your living expenses, but $1,000 is a good starting point. If you can’t save $1,000 right now, don’t worry! Just do what you can each month and build up your emergency fund as much as possible over time.
Pay off debts or build a student loan safety net.
Pay off debts or build a student loan safety net.
Your emergency fund should be a separate, non-college account that can’t be used to pay anything else. If you have existing debt, focus on paying that down before saving for an emergency — especially if it will take years to repay. There are two reasons why this is important: First, by not carrying any credit card or student loan debt, you will avoid interest payments and prevent further accrual of the principal balance; second, the money in your emergency fund won’t be eaten up by these debts.
But what if you have no choice but to use part of your emergency fund? In this case (and only under certain circumstances), consider using it as an interim source of income until your tax refund arrives from Uncle Sam at tax time—which could result in more than $2K coming back into your pocket!
An emergency fund is crucial to cover unexpected costs while you’re in college.
In college, you have to be ready for anything. Your roommate’s cat has a habit of running around unattended and knocking over all your possessions. The power goes out at the worst possible moment during an exam. A rogue bus driver drops his lunch right on top of where you’d been sitting so that now there’s no way for anyone else to sit in your section of seats without getting some sort of awful food smell or stain on them.
When something like this happens, the last thing you want is to have to reach into your pockets and start pulling out change from your wallet “just in case.” Having an emergency fund makes sure that it doesn’t matter how much money you were going to spend on groceries or laundry detergent or whatever else—you’ll still have enough money left over to get through any emergency situation as smoothly as possible!
Hopefully, these tips have been helpful to you and will allow you to start building your emergency fund. This is a great plan for any college student, but it can take some time. Remember that only you know what’s right for your finances, so be sure to review your budget regularly and make adjustments as necessary.