By Larry Buhl
Coinciding with the tightening job market is a gloomy statistic: Few American workers are saving for potential layoffs. According to an Adecco USA Workplace Insights survey, only one-quarter of workers claimed to be saving for unemployment, and 58 percent had no plans to put money aside for a job loss.
You've probably heard that you should have at least six months of living expenses on hand. But how can you save for a rainy day when it's already drizzling? If you're fully employed and you've been living paycheck-to-paycheck, you might not be looking for savings everywhere you can, according to Dayana Yochim, consumer finance expert at The Motley Fool. Yochim recommended six ways to begin starting that emergency fund today, no matter what your salary.
Sweat the Big Stuff First
Before you start pinching pennies, look at the largest budget expenditures, such as car and vacations. "You can cut your car insurance significantly by raising the deductible," Yochim says. You can also downgrade your car. Even if you're upside-down on payments, trading in the new luxury car for a beater would put hundreds of dollars in your pocket per month, Yochim says. Likewise, if you must travel, look at ways to creatively downsize the trip: Do a house swap or stay at a bed and breakfast, for example.
Ditch the Plastic
"Cash hurts, and you're less likely to be conscientious if you're always using plastic," Yochim says. Likewise, if you're really strapped, use your credit card to make essential purchases only as a last resort. Yochim recommends making one withdrawal on Monday and spending no more than that all week.
Cut Back on Your 401k -- Temporarily
Normally, you should sock away the maximum in your retirement plan, especially if your employer is matching it. But if you're falling short each month and making up the difference with a credit card, cut back on the contributions until your finances are back in shape. "You must pinkie-swear you will start contributing the maximum as soon as your financial rough patch is over," Yochim says.
Don't Spend Found Money
If you had a lucky streak at a casino or received an inheritance, save it, preferably in a high-yield savings account. Even if a layoff is not looming, think hard about automatically boosting your lifestyle if you received a raise or promotion.
Don't Give Uncle Sam a Free Loan
"Ideally you want to owe nothing and get nothing back on April 15," Yochim says. "If your tax [refund] was more than $2,000 last year, you're withholding too much, so you should adjust your withholdings to keep more of it now." Check out the withholding calculator on IRS.gov, and then ask HR for a W-4 form if you think you're paying the government too much, too early.
Don't Mingle the Emergency Fund with Everyday Cash
If you put your rainy day fund in a separate bank, you're not so likely to dip into it, according to Yochim. If you have direct deposit, your company may even be able to put part of your paycheck in a separate account.
Having enough money in an emergency fund can make the difference between discomfort and outright panic if you're laid off. However, some of these tips -- particularly the no-plastic rule -- can be effective ways to save even if you never see a pink slip, Yochim says.
"Everyone should have an emergency fund," she says. "And remember that a line of credit should never be considered an emergency fund."