How to create an emergency fund when you have no money

How to make Emergency Fund when you have no money Penny Golightly

Many of us would like to create an emergency fund but simply don’t have enough room in our budgets to free up any spare money. Let’s assume you are already pretty good at budgeting and there’s definitely no spare cash left over at the end of the month – where can you find that extra money so that you have something saved up for emergencies?

If you have no savings, and you can’t save money steadily out of what you already earn, you can still make a start on building an emergency fund by looking for the quick wins. You might like to aim to get £500 together as quickly as possible as that’s usually enough to cover something like a broken washing machine or car repairs. After that initial burst you might like to use some of the slower methods to continue adding to the savings.

You can also use these methods to get extra money to pay off  troublesome debts, especially any borrowing with high interest charges, or to get seed money to start off any project you like. Let’s go!

Where do you start? The quick wins.

Most of us have limited time, resources and energy, so it makes sense to start by concentrating on things that tend to bring in money quickly, and in quantity.

Sell unwanted items directly

You can get cash together within a week to ten days by selling your stuff directly to personal buyers. The average household has around £400 or more of unwanted items in it, so it makes sense to sell it and there’s an added benefit of clearing some space at the same time. This is usually the biggest extra quick win you can make, and it’s worth doing.

You can sell just about anything on eBay, Schpock, your local Facebook sale group, Preloved, Gumtree, Amazon Marketplace, or at a car boot sale. It’s also worth contacting friends and co-workers to give them first refusal, depending on the items. Remember to factor in listing fees, app commission, packaging or postage, if any.

Do paid overtime

If you work in a job with paid overtime, commit to doing some extra hours as soon as you can (parents may need to factor in childcare costs). The extra wages should turn up in your next pay packet. Of course, not everyone has this option, but there’s an alternative below.

Get a part time job

If it doesn’t clash with your main employment (check the small print of your contract), consider getting a part time job for a short period. Consider seasonal jobs as well, if it’s a good time of year. Make sure you’re paying the right tax on your earnings too.

You could also work on a freelance basis, although it can take a long time to get paid in certain professional areas. Again, make sure it doesn’t clash with other jobs.

Switch bank accounts

At the moment you can get £100 for switching to a Halifax or First Direct current account. Terms and conditions apply, so always check the small print. The accounts may not suit you if you have a permanent overdraft, or earn less than a certain amount each month, for example. It takes 7 days to switch, so you’d have be sure you didn’t miss any important payments during this time.

Take things back to the retailer

If you’ve recently made a purchase and regret it, and you still have packaging and receipts for unused items, you might be able to return it for a refund. If you don’t 100% love or need that thing you bought recently, return it and claw that money back for your emergency fund instead.

Do a Tenner Week Challenge

Have a week of extreme budgeting – rules here – you might amaze yourself by how much you can save. There are lots of free Tenner Week themed schedules on this site, so have a browse and pick one that suits your mood or your requirements.

Next steps – the smaller wins

Once you’ve tried the bigger, quicker paying options, you might like to top up your emergency fund money with extra sources of income. Generally speaking, if it sounds too good to be true then it might be, and if in doubt stick with the bigger names – don’t pay money upfront for any ‘registration fees’.

Market research groups

Attending market research focus groups and testing in person can pay quite well, although these events are sometimes hard to find, and they’re invitation only. Sessions tend to last one or two hours, and they usually pay you some ‘expenses’ (cash) in an envelope at the end, often around £40 to £60 and sometimes up to £200 if it’s related to a specific industry.

Recycle an old phone

There are various places to offload your old mobile handset to, including Mazuma Mobile, Envirofone and Fonebank. Shop around and you’ll get over £100 cash for some models.

Bulk buying businesses

Selling in person is likely to net you the best income, but if you’re short of time or items are proving difficult to shift then you might have more luck selling to a bulk buyer such as MusicMagpie, CeX, Ziffit, WeBuyBooks, or WeBuyDVDs. Prices offered can vary wildly, so check the value of each item with two or three bulk buyers before deciding who to sell to – selling to more than one business can roughly double your total payment.

Cashback sites

If you haven’t used cashback sites before, consider starting. They give you money back and discounts on your everyday shopping and other purchases as they’re affiliated to most UK businesses, although the process tends to take a few weeks. However, do be aware that the best deals online don’t always come with cashback, so remember you still need to shop around and factor in the total price of your shopping as well as any cashback offers.

My favourite cashback site is TopCashback*. You can choose to be paid into your bank account via BACS or get money via PayPal as two of the payout options, if you’re trying to build up your cash savings.

Paid surveys

Doing online surveys in front of the telly in the evening can make you anything from 50p to £2.00 for an average survey. Stick with the big names when you’re signing up, and look out for companies that pay cash and don’t have a high minimum payout.

Paid clicks

There are a few sites that pay you a few pence here and there for internet searches, clicking on links, and so on. I use Qmee*, an app you can add to your browser that pays you for clicking on the occasional ad while you’re browsing the internet or doing online shopping. It’s not a huge amount of money, but there’s minimal effort required and it adds up slowly over time. They also pay out quickly to Paypal accounts and don’t have a high payment threshold.

Start a coin jar

Again, it won’t net you a huge lump sum of cash but every little helps. Keep the jar away from other people who might pilfer from it, cash it in at the bank when you’re ready then transfer to your emergency fund. Don’t use the machines outside supermarkets because those take 10% or more of your cash for doing very little indeed, and they tend to pay out in supermarket vouchers rather than notes. Check drawers, laundry, the back of the sofa, and so on.

Disclosure: * = invite-a-friend link that could help this site, although it will not cost you anything. See full disclaimer section for more information.


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  1. I so need to do this, with holidays and other stuff coming up I need to deal with those first…but…asap I need to do this

  2. Hi Nikki – it’s worth getting a few pounds together in case of emergencies. I’ve found the biggest quick win is usually from selling things online. You can have money arriving within a week to 10 days, which helps a lot. Good luck!

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