How did you save your first emergency fund?

A lot of folks I talk to are baffled about how to get that first emergency fund - be it $500, $1000, or a 6-month emergency fund. Especially a 6 month emergency fund, that’s a lot of money for many people.

So if you saved one, how did you do it? Did you slow and steady wins the race put money aside? Did you hide it in a separate account? Did you use an app like Digit that automagically hides it from you?

Did you use a tax refund or a student loan refund check? Did you sell a guitar? Were you gifted money or ended up with a windfall?

Did you track progress in any way?

If you are working on saving your first emergency fund or rebuilding one, what’s your strategy? What’s your goal amount?

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When I was a student money came in super irregularly. It was impossible to plan for, other than being cheap slightly past the point of pain. So every time new money came in I took whatever was left in my account from the last deposit and turned it into cash and hid it in a box. Often it was nothing, sometimes it was a few hundred. By the end of my undergrad I had enough to pay for my divorce and a chunk of a house in my lcol city.
After that I got approved for a $25k heloc that I didn’t tap, ever, but was there if I needed it. Any spare money I threw at my mortgage.
That box of money in the rafters of my basement turned into a ton of financial security.


After I got a full-time job around age 23, I started trying to save $20 a month and completely failed. I kept withdrawing it to keep up with my going-out-to-eat habit.

I finally started saving money when my husband moved from self-employment to traditional employment, so we had more income, AND he was interested in where the money was going, and we actually put a limit on things like eating out. So I guess my answer is accountability?


Back when I got a regular full time job I also started saving $20/month. I set up a high yield savings account (ING Orange anyone?) and set my checking account to auto deposit to it. Then I never looked at it. Once I had an even better paying job I switched it to $100/month, and then $200/month (actually $100 every two weeks). After many years of never having to use it, it achieved a stately sum of $10,000. I stopped the $200 deposit, but still put $50/month into it, just because. :wink:


I started working at a supermarket when I was at high school and saved a lot of what I earned because I didn’t have many real expenses.

I think I had $3000 when I finished high school (2003) and never let my savings go below that.

This is probably not particularly helpful information to people who are not high school students living with their parents. I am forever grateful to past me for making some good saving choices early in life.


In college, I put any significant earnings I had (eg from summers) into a semester’s payment. Part time job covered ongoing incidentals snacks/groceries, outings w/friends, travel home, clothes. Long term savings weren’t on my radar.

Between college and grad school I worked at a summer camp and banked most income to cover “startup costs” at grad school. Good thing I did: “fees” ate a good chunk of that. :frowning:

Grad school was my first steady paycheck, and it was pretty good that first year, on a fellowship, with incredibly low rent. I also still had really cheap habits/expectations from college. I’m pretty sure I saved $1k from that first paycheck and never dipped into it. Funny thing is, no one had taught me this (yet), it just seemed like the right buffer!


In envelopes! I was mostly working cash jobs like waitressing and bartending so it was easier to save money in envelopes than by depositing it in an account. I was also paying rent and shared utilities in cash at the time, so I had a different envelope for each life expense, including savings.

At first I could only put in a few dollars at a time, sporadically, $5 one day, nothing the next, whatever I had left that I felt I could spare went in the envelope. My only rule was I couldn’t take money out unless it was an emergency. I didn’t make very much so I did have to dip into it a few times, but after about a year I had saved around $3,000.


I set up an automatic transfer from my bank to take 10% of my pay and put it into an emergency fund, as my pay increased I just left it at 10% and now I have a nice buffer


I always had savings as a kid and student. But when I got divorced… I didn’t. I would get paid, and shuffle money between accounts and rent. Anything extra ($25, 200) went in my high interest savings account. Eventually, after my career change, I set up an automatic withdrawal, and then a retirement account. I still dip into to my e fund regularly, and it’s also my sinking fund. But at least it’s something


I was working 2 part-time jobs and adjunct-teaching 1 or 2 courses at a time; then-spouse was in school and working 0 jobs. We were couldn’t-afford-health-insurance broke. I adjuncted an extra summer school session to get that first emergency fund and it was maybe the most exhausted I’ve ever been.


I’m working on saving my emergency fund. It’s been a work in progress since the beginning of the year, and I’m 76.75% of the way there (exact percentages make me feel more accomplished). My goal is $2000 in a bare minimum emergency fund, then $12,000 eventually as cushy six months’ worth of living expenses.

My strategy has been:

  1. Minimum debt repayment (including transferring credit card debt to a 0% intro APY card)
  2. Throw maximum amount of money that would otherwise go to debt payment into emergency fund. Also, transferred all my savings money into high-interest savings accounts.
  3. When emergency fund hits $2000, focus on aggressive debt repayment (but keep saving!)

Working a freelance job helped my savings, though I’ve since quit because it was too much with everything else going on at the time. Looking back into working a second job again, eek! Other than that, using the Digit app has been very helpful. I use my debit card a lot for small purchases, and the sneaky automated savings do add up.

I could maybe be at my goal by now if I were a hairshirt-wearing superbudgeter, but I am a simple sinner and still struggle to spend money wisely. I do think that I’ll be able to meet my initial goal by the end of July at the latest, especially now that I’m not hacking my way through an insurance copay (like I was until the end of April).


I always had a savings account as a kid, because I started working early, and was still living at home of course until college. In college I spent most of my savings on groceries/life/bikes, so I only had like…$500 left when I graduated (even after working 3 jobs my last two years.) After college I started working in a incredibly fun, fulfilling and incredibly low paying industry. For about 6 years after college I hovered around having $500-$1k in savings, but never really taking it seriously since I much preferred to spend any extra money on bikes/racing, etc. I didn’t have debt or anything, but pretty much was just living paycheck to paycheck.

Last year I had some serious (expensive) medical issues, and started taking saving money/being frugal extremely seriously. Since then, I’ve managed to save almost $5k in an emergency fund. It helped that I got a few raises, and now actually make what I consider to be a lot of money (like…$36k a year, woohoo!) Basically every month I make a savings goal, and IRA investment goal, and then decide what the rest of my expenses can be (outside of my fixed expenses of course) So I take the savings/investments out first, then spend what’s left. This has helped me immensely, because I used to just save what was leftover…but often there wouldn’t be anything left because I wasn’t planning to save. My savings goal changes every month, and some months I know will be expensive, like 6 months of car insurance is due, etc…but I still try to save at least $200/month, and anything more is a bonus!


I first started saving as a kid – my money from mowing lawns and working in the local pharmacy. I saved up enough to pay for my first semester of college, and then that was it for my four digit savings for a long while. :wink: I always had a small amount of money in savings throughout college (a few hundred dollars or so), and in grad school I usually had somewhere between $1k-2k in savings at any given time.

My savings really only exploded (I now have six months of expenses in my savings account) when I both got a higher paying job and got really serious about retirement and upping my savings and paying off debt. However, the strategy I’ve used is the same throughout: Work out my budget for the pay period (which include retirement funding now), and then transfer everything else into savings (or my IRA, if my savings are fully funded).