The bad news: Last year the Federal Reserve Board reported that 40% of Americans didn’t even have $400 set aside for emergencies.

The good news: You can do something, today, to help build both your savings and checking account balances and put you firmly into the 60% of prepared Americans.

The best news: You don’t have to stop at $400. You can continue applying these tactics to build an even bigger emergency fund, put more money towards your retirement, or any number of other uses.

Instead of putting emergency expenses on the credit card once again—which just adds to their total cost as well as your overall debt load—or pulling money from your long-term investments—which might cost you a tax hit; bring some of the five following tips into play.

First: Build a Budget

We know. Building a budget is the least sexy thing ever, but it has to be done. If you don’t know where your income is going, everything else is stalled in the water.

And it’s not just un-sexy, it can be intimidating. What with all the math, digging through online spreadsheets, and maybe also the realization that you’re spending way too much on cable sports packages, and not enough on your Health Savings Account.

Online and phone-based budgeting apps are super useful, but don’t stress over finding the “best” one. They all do pretty much the same thing in the same way, and you only need the basics when you’re getting started.

Second: Cut Out the Waste

We love a non-fat double-mocha Frappuccino with extra whip as much as the next person, but are they an every-morning necessity? What about making them a Monday/Friday treat, and pocketing the Tuesday-Thursday savings?

You might also discover while you’re going through your budget that you’re still paying for a subscription that you thought you canceled months ago. That’s like finding free money.

Importantly, these cuts don’t have to be huge. A few dollars here and there can still add up, and it’s a lot easier to cut expenses than to find a higher-paying job.

BONUS TIP: Use cash. Debit and credit cards may make life easier, but studies have found they also make it easier for people to spend today and pay for it tomorrow.

Third: Set a Goal

Americans love games. On our phones. On the weekends. We love challenges, strategies, and winning.

So use this instinct to your benefit. Set an easily achievable first goal. Say, $50. Watch with anticipation as each step you make—each alteration in your thinking and habits—brings you closer and closer to your number.

And when you hit it, give yourself a high-five and set a new number.

Success is the best motivator.

Fourth: Pay Yourself First

Again, you can, and should, start small. Set up an automatic deposit—or have your employer do it through direct deposit—of a set amount of money into your savings account (not your checking account) each payday.

Waiting until the end of the month will only find you without any money to spare again and again.

And again also, once you’ve started, you’ll quickly figure out it’s just as easy to save $10 a week as it is to save $5. And once you’re saving $10…

Fifth: Keep Tabs on Your Progress

Do a quick pass of your bank and investment accounts a couple of times a week. If you give into temptation and splurge, you’ll want to reinforce the awareness that your available funds for the week or month are that much less.

The math is simple, but does need occasional reinforcement:

Stick to your budget. Reach your goals. Profit.

Bonus Sixth: Side Gigs

Finding a new, better-paying job is tough even in a hot market, and maybe you’re happy with your current one.

But a side gig is a whole ‘nother thing. Social media management. Web coding. Teaching English online. Dog walking. Even if it’s just a few hours a week, a side gig can bring in hundreds or thousands of dollars a year. And it’s not uncommon for side gigs to grow into full-blown, better-paying full-time jobs.

And even if your side gig stays on the side, it can help you build new skill sets which might pave the way to a better-paying job or better-paying position at your current one.

Rainy Days or Sunny

We can all use a bit more money. And with these tips and changes in thinking, you can quickly find yourself able to weather a surprise car repair or home expense. Or both.

Want to learn more tactics for saving money? Learn more about Northpointe Bank’s UltimateAccount today!

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