A recent Bankrate.com survey found that 76 percent of Americans don't have six months' worth of emergency savings. Despite the recession's lesson that things can go wildly wrong, people aren't socking away cash for a rainy day.
There are no real excuses. Think small until you can think big. Here's how to get going:
Keep it simple. Use the 50-30-20 plan: 50 percent of every paycheck for bills and expenses, 30 percent for your wants and 20 percent for the rainy day. "If 20 percent isn't possible, pick a smaller amount and have it taken from your paycheck and automatically deposited," says Elle Kaplan, CEO of Lexion Capital Management in Manhattan.
Save your grocery savings. If you have a grocery store savings card, you'll see the savings the card accrues for you on your receipts. Take the amount of those savings each time you visit the store and actually save them, says Kevin Gallegos, a vice president at Freedom Financial Network. Likewise, if you recently refinanced, put the difference you are saving toward your emergency fund, says Michael Hartzman, president of Bristol Financial Services in Plainview.
Buy generic. Private-label foods can be up to 25 percent more expensive.
Look at your bills. Reduce or eliminate expenses. "If you can chain saw your cable bill by about $42 a month, you'll save another $500 a year. Find three other areas to trim and you could save $2,000 a year," says Jon Ulin, managing principal of Ulin & Co. Wealth Management in Boca Raton, Fla. Remember, small amounts are better than zero, and they add up over time.