Life can be full of surprises—some good surprises, and some not so welcome ones, like when your car breaks down, the washing machine stops working, or a family member falls ill and you need to buy a last-minute airline ticket. These additional expenses can bring on unnecessary stress when you aren’t financially prepared for them.

According to a 2015 Federal Reserve report, nearly half of Americans can’t cover an emergency expense of $400 without borrowing the money or selling something. And more than half of households have less than one month’s worth of income in a readily available savings account.

Starting an emergency fund might seem daunting when you feel like you are barely making ends meet, but putting away even $50 a month can add up fast if you stick with it. There is no better time than now to pledge to save. During Military Saves Week, February 27 – March 4, 2017, and throughout the year, we encourage you to try these five tips to help build an emergency fund.

  1. Save a portion of your tax refund. Saving a portion of your tax refund can be a big step toward meeting your emergency savings goals. This tax season, build your emergency fund by splitting a portion your tax refund into savings, and then reward yourself by entering the SaveYourRefund contest where you could win one of 101 prizes.
  2. Do some early spring cleaning and sell your old stuff for cash. These days the options are endless for selling your old, but still-in-good-condition items for cash. From free websites, to apps, to online yard sale groups, you’d be surprised how easy it is to sell your old stuff and earn some cash simply by snapping a picture of an item and posting it online for sale. Consignment shops are another option. Check to see if your base has a consignment shop and consider selling items that way.
  3. Cut the cord—the cable cord that is. When considering this option, remind yourself that cable TV is a luxury, not a necessity. There are many alternatives to cable that are less costly and will allow you to still enjoy your favorite programs and channels.
  4. Save your change. Use only cash whenever you buy something and then take the change and small bills and sock them away. You’d be surprised how quickly this can add up. If you don’t know where to begin, check out this great article on using an envelope system to manage your budget.
  5. Bring your lunch instead of eating out. Bringing your lunch to work is probably one of the simplest ways to begin saving money for an emergency fund. It may require some effort and a big change of routine in the beginning, but you will soon realize just how much money you were spending, or rather wasting, by eating lunch out every day. Take some time each Sunday to plan out your lunches, then look for sales at your base commissary. Get creative when packing your lunch and make it fun. Bringing lunch to work doesn’t have to mean a sandwich and chips every day.

For more tips on ways to save, keep an eye out for our Tips of the Week found on our website’s homepage.

By Lani Poblete, Military Saves

Military Saves Week is coordinated by Military Saves. The Week is an annual opportunity for organizations to promote good savings behavior and a chance for individuals to assess their own saving status.