Money Saving Tip: Strengthen Your Emergency Fund

Reduce Stress Associated with Financial Emergencies.

There’s no getting around it. Financial emergencies are stressful. It could be the loss of a job, a work slowdown because of a pandemic, an unexpected home repair, a medical bill or a car breaking down. Simply dealing with the impacts of these things is stressful enough, let alone the fact that trying to figure out how to pay for them often leads to a cascading financial fallout. The state of chronic stress that results not only makes it hard to make good decisions, it’s also bad for our health. That’s where an emergency fund comes in and why strengthening it as soon as possible will save us money in the long run and is imperative for our overall wellbeing. 

**Important note: The information given here is not meant to be financial advice. I am not a financial advisor. This information is based on 25 years of personal money management experience. There’s no doubt that maintaining an emergency fund at all times has saved us what’s sure to have been tens of thousands of dollars and prevented us from what would have been plenty of sleepless nights. If you have specific questions about your particular situation, I highly recommend contacting a financial advisor. 

Photo of white piggy bank with emergency fund written on it in red ink beside stacks of money

Please Note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through some of the links included in this post. You can read my disclosure policy here.

What is an Emergency Fund?

An emergency fund is meant to be cash that you can access quickly if needed. It’s not a nest egg, and it’s not a vehicle for necessarily making money. (Although any interest it’s making while hopefully just sitting there is a welcome addition.) It’s meant to pay for essential household repairs, doctor’s bills, to help cover costs while looking for a new job, or any other “unexpected” expenses that might otherwise have you turning to credit cards or taking out loans. 

You’ll notice that I put unexpected in quotes. That’s because these things are all part of life. Life happens, and we know it’s going to. We may not know what form these emergencies will take, but the fact that they’re going to happen at one point or another is just the way it works. We can plan for them to some extent by having an emergency fund. 

Because this money should be easy, but not too easy, to get to, money market or savings accounts are among the best and most accessible ways to save. That way it’s kept separate from your regular money but can easily be moved over and withdrawn if an emergency comes up. It’s also easy to put the money back when you’re able to do that. 

How Much do You Need in an Emergency Fund?

The general rule of thumb for the amount to have in an emergency fund is enough to cover 3-6 months of expenses. If you’re starting at nothing or if the recent economic downturn has left you with little to no extra money each month, that can seem fairly overwhelming. Remember, 3-6 months is the ideal goal. The reality though is to start where you can. $500 – $1,000 is definitely better than nothing. If it means the difference between being able to pay for a car repair in cash rather than putting it on a high interest credit card, it can mean everything. 

In fact, personal finance expert Rachel Cruze and money guru Dave Ramsey both suggest that if you have debt, start with an emergency fund of $1,000. Once you’ve paid off your debt, you can fully fund your emergency fund. 

Ways to Save

Here are some of the many things that we’ve done over the years to give you some ideas on how to get started. 

  1. Determine how much you need and what a reasonable amount of time is that it would take to save for it, then divide by that many months. The result is the amount of money that you need to put away each month to reach your goal.
  2. Skip buying coffee out. Invest in a good travel mug (affiliate link), make your coffee at home and take it with you.
  3. Take your lunch.
  4. Reduce the number of times that you eat out to once or twice a month. 
  5. Go through your monthly expenses and find any other seemingly small ways that you can cut costs. It adds up!
  6. Treat your contribution to your emergency fund like a regular bill. Create a line item in your budget for it. 
  7. Move money into your emergency fund automatically. You may notice it at first, but once you’ve adjusted your spending to only what you have coming in, you won’t miss it. 
  8. If you have to use some of the money from your emergency fund, develop a plan right away for paying your fund back. While this doesn’t need to be a cause for stress, it should be one of the first things that you do once you’re out of the emergency situation. 
  9. If you have an influx of money such as with a tax refund or for a birthday or Christmas, deposit most of it into your emergency fund. This will help you reach your goal faster. **Pro tip: Be sure and keep out a little for a small treat for yourself. You don’t won’t to feel deprived. 

Bottom Line

As we’ve seen here. Having an emergency fund has everything to do with fostering good health and taking care of yourself. It doesn’t mean being pessimistic and only expecting the worst. It means being realistic and knowing that things are going to happen. Your health and mental wellbeing will thank you if you’re prepared.  


Money Saving Tip: Reduce Your Portion Size

Good for Your Wallet and Your Health.

When it comes to food, there are very few of us who can say that our portion sizes are currently too small (except maybe when it comes to vegetables…). In fact, when we’re eating out, our average portion sizes have increased 2-3 times or more from where they were 20 yearsago1. This, in turn, has played a big part in normalizing what we think of as a normal portion, whether we’re eating at home or eating out. So, for most of us, when it comes to saving money while eating healthier, reducing our portion size is one of the easiest and healthiest things that we can do. 

Portion Size vs. Serving Size

According to the National Institutes of Health, a portion is the amount of food that we choose to eat for a meal or snack2. In other words, it’s completely up to us how big or small our portion sizes are. 

Portions often get confused with serving sizes. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that a serving is a standardized or measured amount of food3. It may be stated in tablespoons, ounces or cups but is a standard amount that can easily be measured. 

Take for instance a 16-ounce bag of chips. I could easily eat half the bag in one sitting on a really stressful day. In that case, half the bag or 8 ounces would be my portion size. On the other hand, the bag’s nutrition label says that there are about 16 servings in the bag or 1 ounce or about 11 chips per serving. So, if I eat half the bag, I’ve eaten 8 servings and an outrageous number of chips. Hmmm…. 

As another example, if I have an 8-ounce box of pasta, and I fix half the box as one serving, I’ve had a 4-ounce portion of pasta. If you look at this amount compared to what you get for a dinner serving in many restaurants, it’s about the same. The catch though is that the nutrition label on my box of pasta tells me that 2 ounces is a serving size, so I now have to double all of the values listed. Ouch! 

This is where the National Institutes of Health’s idea of “portion distortion1” comes in. If you want an interesting look at how portion sizes have increased over the past 20 years, be sure and check out their interactive quizzes on that here.

Benefits of Reducing Portion Size

Given the increase in the size of portions over the years, when we talk about reducing them, we’re not talking about unhealthy food restriction. We’re talking about getting back to a healthier way of looking at the amount of food we eat. In general, we simply do not need as much food as many of us are currently consuming. Two of the most significant benefits to reducing our portion sizes come in terms of saving our health and our money.

Health benefits

Regularly eating portions that are larger than what our bodies need takes its toll on our health over time. That’s due in large part because consuming more calories than we burn causes the excess calories to be stored as fat. In turn, too much body fat may cause us to become overweight or obese4. In addition, too many simple carbs and too much sugar can wreak havoc on our blood sugar levels, also resulting in many health problems5. Here are just some of the risks associated with being overweight, obese or simply eating more food than we need. 

  • Eating too much food requires your organs to work harder4
  • Type 2 diabetes6
  • High blood pressure6
  • Heart disease and strokes6
  • Certain types of cancer6
  • Fatty liver disease6

While reducing portion size won’t prevent all of these issues, it will go a long way toward making sure that we’re not needlessly overloading our bodies with food it really doesn’t need or want. It will also enable us to eat a reasonable amount of something that’s not-so-healthy if that’s what we want while at the same time leaving plenty of room for healthy food. 

Money saving benefits

This one is fairly straightforward. If we eat less, our food bill isn’t as high. Again, the idea here isn’t to starve ourselves by any means. That is absolutely not the point. But, if we get back to eating reasonable amounts of food, we can stretch our food budget even further or invest in healthy foods that we might have otherwise thought were too expensive.

Take my bag of chips. What would have been two servings on a couple of really tough days or even 4-5 servings in amounts that many of us would regularly eat, could actually be up to 16 servings. That means that instead of going through a bag of chips a week, one bag may last two weeks. 

The same holds true with my pasta. If you go by the serving size listed on the box, instead of needing two boxes to feed four people, you only need one box to feed four. That’s half the cost in both cases. 

How to Limit Portion Size

The concept of reducing portion sizes is fairly easy. Putting it into practice is where things can get more challenging. Here are some ideas to help get you started.

  • Learn how much of the healthiest foods to eat at different calorie levels by following the  NIH Guidelines.
  • Weigh and/or measure your food at least in the beginning until you learn what an appropriate portion looks like. 
  • Learn what a reasonable serving size looks like without measuring cups or a scale by following the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Serving Size Card.
  • Drink water about an hour to half hour before you eat. Water is something that most of us need more of, and it will make you feel more full while you’re eating. 
  • Don’t eat from the bag. Set out a serving size or a serving and a half if that seems like a more reasonable amount and put the bag away.
  • Eat healthy snacks at regular intervals throughout the day so that you’re not ravenous  when you sit down for a meal. 
  • Go by the nutrition labels on packages. 
  • If you’re making a recipe from a blog, follow the recommended serving sizes that are usually included. Most blog recipe creators are home cooks. You can normally rely on them to include very reasonable serving sizes as well as the associated nutrition information. 

Bottom Line on Reducing Portion Size

The bottom line on reducing portion size is that we’re not talking about depravation here. We’re talking about eating more intentionally and intuitively as to what your body needs to nourish it. That’s opposed to what your emotions may be making you think they want as well as what may just be habit or conditioned eating. When it comes to portion size, you’re in the driver’s seat, and you’re the one in control. Let that be empowering for you – whatever you decide to eat. 

Sources

  1. National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/eat-right/portion-distortion.htm
  2. National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/eat-right/distortion.htm
  3. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Eat Right. Serving Size vs Portion Size is There a Differencehttps://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/nutrition-facts-and-food-labels/serving-size-vs-portion-size-is-there-a-difference
  4. The University of Texas. MD Anderson Cancer Center. What Happens When You Overeat? https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/What-happens-when-you-overeat.h23Z1592202.html
  5. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/
  6. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Health Risks of Being Overweight. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/health-risks-overweight


Money Saving Tip: Freezing Bananas

How to Save Money and Reduce Waste by Freezing Them.

Let’s be honest, no one likes to eat an even sort of mushy banana. BUT! There’s still so much that you can do with ripe bananas, and it’s a shame to let them go to waste. That’s true from both a food waste and money-saving perspective. By freezing bananas, you can save what you might normally throw away and use another day. 

Photo of ripe bananas with brown spots as example of how freezing bananas can reduce waste and save money

What to Do with Frozen Bananas

My favorite way of using frozen bananas is to put them in smoothies. In fact, I prefer them in my smoothie. They give it a thicker and creamier consistency, which I love. 

You can also use frozen bananas for baking, and we’re not just talking about banana bread.  You can use them in pancakes, cookies, muffins, cakes and the list goes on. If you’re looking for ideas on how to bake with bananas, Crazy for Crust offers 66 Banana Recipes that give some delicious options. 

Bananas can also be used as a substitute for the following in baking:

  • Fats such as butter or oils (I cup of mashed banana for 1 cup of the butter or oil)
  • Eggs (1/4 cup of banana puree = 1 egg) ***frozen bananas need to be thawed
  • Sugar (1 cup mashed banana = 1 cup sugar) *** frozen bananas need to be thawed

How to Freeze Bananas

Now that we’ve established that freezing bananas is a good thing to do, let’s get to how you do it. Bananas are best to freeze when they’re starting to turn brown and are a little softer but not too mushy. That said, I’ve frozen many a mushy one, and they turned out fine. Remember, the riper the banana, the sweeter it is.  

You have a few choices as to what form you freeze bananas in after you peel them.

Option 1: The whole banana. Good for smoothies. 

Option 2: Cut the banana in half. Good for smoothies. Since I only use half a banana in my smoothies, this is my preferred way to do it. 

Option 3: Cut the banana into slices. Good for baking. 

Freezing the whole banana or halves

Photo of freezing bananas
  1. Peel the banana.

2. Cut if you’re halving and put them into freezer bags.

3. Put the bag of bananas into the freezer. 

Freezing banana slices

Photo of sliced bananas for freezing bananas
  1. Peel the banana.

2. Slice bananas so that they’re ¼-inch to ½-inch thick.

3. Lay banana slices flat on a cookie sheet. I usually just put them straight onto the cookie sheet, but if you’d prefer to cover the sheet with parchment paper, that works as well.  

4. Put the baking sheet into the freezer. Two hours is plenty of time for the bananas to become solid. 

5. Put the slices into a freezer bag. 

For both of these methods, it’s best to label your freezer bags with the date. Frozen bananas are best used within 6 months.