Starting an emergency fund is a great way to prepare for unexpected expenses, take charge of your finances, and stay out of debt.

Staying ahead of your finances is extremely tough when you’re living paycheck to paycheck. Unforeseen expenses are always popping up, whether it’s a broken washing machine or an unexpected trip to the emergency room when your 5-year-old breaks his arm. Those few extra bucks you saved are gone in a flash, or even worse, you have to rely on a credit card.

Fortunately, escaping this cycle is easier than you think, though it does take some effort. The goal is to set yourself up with some funds to use for those inevitable surprise expenses.

Here are eight ways to make sure you are prepared, even if money is tight.

1. Automate Savings

Set up a weekly, or every payday, automatic transfer into a savings account. You can increase the amount slowly over a few months, and will be saving without even realizing it. Consider setting up a non-ATM-accessible account so you’re not tempted to dip in. It may seem small, but saving just $10 a week will add up to $520 at the end of a year.

2. Reduce Bills

Track your spending and create a budget to take charge of your money. Notice what you spend the most on and look for ways to trim monthly expenses. Evaluate any nonessentials, such as cable service or a gym membership, to see if you can live with scaling it down, even if only for a few months.

3. Earn More

It’s easier said than done, but evaluate if you have time to take on an additional source of income. Try to find a side gig that allow you to make money on your own time, such as driving for UBER or Lyft, or ask your boss if overtime hours are available at your current job. Make it a goal to bump up your income and use those extra funds to fast track your savings growth.

4. Spend Less

No one really wants to delay gratification, but you should make smart use of discretionary spending in order to be prepared for unexpected expenses. Consider everything from waiting longer between haircuts to swapping clothing with friends to driving a more fuel-efficient car.

5. Investigate Large Purchases

Look into repairing an appliance instead of simply replacing it. When something breaks, first find out if it’s under warranty. In the meantime, look for temporary solutions while you do research. For example, if your washing machine stops working, you can go to a laundromat for a few weeks.

6. Become a DIYer

Troubleshooting minor plumbing issues, cleaning your home’s gutters, or repurposing a household item are clever ways to maximize your savings. Whether you watch videos on YouTube or take a free class to learn the necessary skills, you’d be surprised at what you’re capable of—and what you can save money on.

7. Make Rules about Extra Cash

Every once in a while, you may come into some money, whether it’s a bonus at work, a tax refund, or birthday gifts from relatives. If you tend to spend windfalls right away, change your mindset. You can still treat yourself, but set aside a certain percentage of the extra money for your emergency stash.

8. Replace What You Use

Your rainy day fund will likely go up and down over time, and that’s okay, because that’s what it’s there for. Just be sure to build it back up when you take money out, for example, to replace the brakes on your car.

Making sacrifices is difficult, but the peace of mind that comes from knowing money is set aside is worth it. You can even reward yourself when you reach goals. Start small, keep at it, and before you know it, you’ll have accumulated an amount that will keep you safe from financial turmoil.

Dawn Papandrea

About the AuthorDawn Papandrea

With more than 15 years of professional writing and editing experience, my writing specialties are in personal finance, higher education, and content marketing. Publishing credits include Family Circle, Parents, WomansDay.com, CreditCards.com, BankRate.com, University Business, and many more. In addition, I also create branded content for several brands and corporations in the financial, retail, marketing, and lifestyle/parenting spaces. No matter the medium, I understands the value and power of content from both a writer's and editor's perspective.