Credit card balances have dropped during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now financial experts are hoping Americans can find the wiggle room to reach another financial goal: bulking up their emergency savings.
Total credit card debt in the U.S. dropped by 13% by the end of the third quarter of 2020, according to the Federal Reserve, bringing outstanding balances down to $807 billion from almost $930 billion.
Still, many people have not accumulated a stash of cash to cover them in emergencies. In fact, only 39% of people can pay for an unexpected $1,000 expense through savings, a Bankrate.com survey found.
The ideal number to shoot for when it comes to emergency savings is at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses, according to certified financial planner Ted Jenkin, CEO at Atlanta-based Oxygen Financial. If you’re more financially conservative, you may want to put a year’s worth away.
Still, it’s important to focus on the goal — not necessarily the numbers, he said.
“You just need enough time that if you lose your job or you’re unable to earn income, then that cash can help you pay your monthly expenses until you’re able to find another job,” Jenkin said.
To be sure, as millions of Americans are still grappling with record unemployment — with 29% having been unemployed for more than a year — starting an emergency fund now may be out of reach.
These tips can help you find extra funds, whether you’re able to stash the money in savings or need to make your assets stretch farther now.
1. Reduce your monthly bills
Chances are, big savings can be found by reassessing your day-to-day expenses.
Jenkin, who co-wrote a book called “The 21-Day Budget Cleanse,” recommends people take a detox approach to their household budgets.
Look at the 21 largest bills you have — if you have that many — and try to shop around or change them.
Take your bundled internet, phone and cable bill, for example. Ask your provider if there is an opportunity for a better package or rate. Also investigate the other options available to you through other companies.
“Most people really haven’t taken the time to see where they’re overspending and size up what the difference is,” Jenkin said.
2. Reassess your credit card habits
Credit card balances can cost you north of 20%, if you’re not careful.
The truth is you do not need more than two credit cards, unless you’re a business owner, Jenkin said.
As such, Jenkin recommends starting with what he calls “plastic surgery” — cutting up your cards until there are just two left.
Then, reassess any rewards you’ve accumulated to see how you can turn them into extra funds.
That could include an Amazon gift card or points to help whittle down your credit card bill. Many people have unused perks that they have not tapped into during the coronavirus.
“I don’t think people are looking at it,” Jenkin said. “It’s found money.”
3. Sell what you aren’t using
If you haven’t used something in a year — aside from family heirlooms or holiday decorations — it’s time to sell it, Jenkin said.
“There’s many, many apps and websites to basically sell your stuff,” Jenkin said.
If you’re not ready to part with an item forever — such as an extra car, for example — you may want to consider renting it out instead on a website like Turo.
4. Pick up a side hustle
Generating more money doesn’t have to stop at selling your things; you can also sell your skills, Jenkin said.
Websites like Fiverr will let you list your services so you can generate extra money.
“If you have a hustle, skill or talent, try to earn that extra income to build up a cash reserve,” Jenkin said.
5. Put your money somewhere safe
Even with interest rates still at record lows, a savings account at an online bank or local community bank is still the best place to go to make sure you’ll be able to access the money when you need it, Jenkin said.
If you lose your job or start a business, you’re going to want quick access to your cash.
“You can’t afford to put it into crypto or the stock market,” Jenkin said. “Doing that over three or six months is gambling.”