Emergency savings aren’t for fun. When you don’t need it, you look at a nice sum in the bank that you could be using for something fun. When you do need it, you’re going through some sort of financial crisis and probably won’t be patting yourself on the back for being prepared.
As a college student you might not have a lot of spare money sitting around, but having some cash set aside is a lot more pleasant than having to ask the Bank of Mom & Dad for funds because you weren’t prepared. Even if you need to ask for some help, you can save a lot of pride if you let them know you’re able to contribute toward whatever emergency you have.
So how much money should a student save for emergencies? There’s no answer to cover everyone other than “it depends”. The best advice is to anticipate what types of emergencies you may need it for. Things like blowing the transmission in your car, unplanned travel to be with a friend, embarrassing personal health situations, or minor legal issues (like tickets) can all be things that you might feel weird asking your parents to help cover. Even asking for help with reasonable things like food and rent can be uncomfortable if they know that you blew the money you were supposed to use.
A good goal is to save around $500 somewhere where you can’t spend it easily, but can access it when you absolutely need it. That might not cover everything, but it’s a good start on most minor situations you will find yourself in.
How do you get that $500 saved up? Here are three ideas:
- If you work, funnel a little bit off each paycheck or from your tips to slowly build it up. Just be sure to keep the money safe from yourself so you don’t use it for impulse purchases. If you treat your emergency fund like a bill and pay yourself first, you won’t miss the money.
- When your disbursement comes from extra scholarship, grant, and loan money, take out the $500 then and set it aside.
- Save up those mini-windfalls you might get from birthdays, tax returns, and holidays.
It might seem like $500 is a lot to save. But it will feel like even more when you have to pay it in a pinch and don’t have it. Whatever your goal is, set it and get after it. Consider making a pledge to save with America Saves Week as extra motivation to get started.
Emergency savings are for emergencies!
Saving money can be hard to do after taking care of bills, groceries, and general living expenses. This is even harder when your idea of saving money is by counting what’s left over in your checking account after paying those monthly expenses. It’s likely you will probably just spend what’s left on a treat for yourself the next month.
While this saving method might work for the rare individual, for most of us we really don’t think about our spending as long as our account stays above a certain number we’ve arbitrarily designated.
The easiest way to create savings and counter our instinct to spend without worry? Save your money automatically.
Saving your money automatically, or as some call it “Pay Yourself First”, is a way to siphon off part of your paycheck every time you’re paid and put it into a savings account before you do anything else. The concept is simple and doing it is quite simple too depending on if you are paid via direct deposit or paycheck. Note: Both of these methods require opening a second bank account if you don’t already have one!
- Direct Deposit: Let whoever is in charge of your payroll know you want to add an account for direct deposit. You will need your savings account’s routing number and account number to do this.
- Paycheck: When you go to deposit your check, you will have to let the bank teller know you would like to deposit some into your savings and the rest into checking. It may not be “saving automatically” this way, but it’ll work better than the old method.
Now that you have started saving you’ll soon join the less-than-50% of Americans who can survive for more than one month off their savings. The key to this is not only putting money into savings, but not pulling it out right away. A savings account does no good if you can use an app on your phone and be 3 clicks away from having it right back in your checking account.
Don’t make it easy to steal from your savings!
If your savings are just a few clicks on an app from being transferred and spent, consider either making it more difficult to access or making yourself wait three days between any plan to withdraw and actually doing it. This should help limit knee-jerk reactions to withdraw and give you time to properly plan how to use your funds.
While saving money isn’t the most intrinsically rewarding thing you can do, you’ll be glad one day that you put away a small portion of your pay rather than making a couple of extra fast food runs a week.