Last week Lee left the following comment:

This is a great topic! I’ve been trying to save up an emergency fund for a while now and not getting very far. My family’s income is variable, also, with my husband in the ministry and me at home with 3 children. Lynnae, I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog for several months now…can you tell me how you’ve managed to build up the emergency fund? It seems we are either behind on bills or else we have enough for groceries and not much else…where can I find the money for emergencies when there doesn’t seem to be any extra?

That’s a really good question, and I’d like to address that today. It seems that Lee and I are in similar life situations, as a one income family with a variable income. I figure there must be more people in the same situation out there, so this question is worth some thought.

Truth be told, the only reason our emergency fund was enough to sustain us this year is that my husband and I received a small inheritance when my father-in-law passed away last year. Initially, we were going to use that money to pay off most of our debt. As it worked out, we needed it for living expenses.

Still, I don’t think you need to have a financial windfall come your way to save an emergency fund. There are several things you can do to make an emergency fund a reality in your life.

Pay yourself first. I know you’ve all heard that one before, but I’ll say it again. Actually, in my life it’s more like “pay yourself second”. I told you before that my husband and I tithe first. Then we put some money into savings, even if just a little. I think it’s important to save at least a little income, so you get into the habit of savings. Even if it’s only $10 a month, eventually it adds up over time.

In addition, seeing your small savings grow can often serve as encouragement to try to save more. It’s easy to convince yourself not to save, when you have nothing in savings in the first place. Believe me, I’ve been there. But once your savings reaches $100, it motivates you to try to get to $200.

Use financial windfalls to build up your savings. Tax returns, inheritance money, unexpected gifts…..when you receive “extra” income, deposit it straight into savings. It’s tempting to want to blow the extra, but don’t do it. You will feel much better knowing you can afford to have the car repaired if it breaks down.

Snowflake toward your emergency fund. Do online surveys for a little extra cash. Sell a few things on eBay or Craigslist. Sell your books on Amazon or You could even pledge to only spend paper dollars. Put any change toward your emergency fund. There are lots of ways to “find” extra money.

Finally, don’t dilute your goals. What I mean is, don’t have too many goals at once. If you want to get out of debt, that’s a great goal. But if you don’t have a good emergency fund, put your debt repayment efforts on hold and focus on the emergency fund first. When you’re emergency fund reaches a satisfactory level for you, then focus all of your efforts toward debt repayment. You will find it easier to meet each goal if you focus on them one at a time, than if you try to accomplish both at once.

Do you have any other ideas for building up an emergency fund if you don’t have a lot of extra cash to spare? Please leave a comment and share your ideas!