Why should I build an emergency fund?

It’s easy to spend all the money in your budget (even if you don’t have one), but what happens when you have an expense you can’t anticipate? Whether you have a flat tire or need to make a surprise purchase, having an emergency fund can be a financial lifesaver.

Of course, some emergencies don’t impact the amount of money that you spend, but the amount that you earn. A common issue people face is losing their job. Suddenly, you have little or no income, but your fixed expenses stay the same. Any surprise that causes you to spend more money than you earn is an emergency.

So, what is an emergency fund? Simply put, an emergency fund is an amount of money that you set aside to cover expenses that you can’t anticipate. Generally, an emergency fund is kept in a bank account to accumulate interest until it is needed, as well as to ensure that the money is safe, both from being lost and from accidentally being spent. The best part is that starting an emergency account is easy!

  1. Know your Needs and Wants: The first step is knowing how much money you would need if an emergency occurred. If you lost your job, how much would you need to live your life for a month? Two months? Also, be realistic about your needs. You might be able to cut back on your trips to the movies if money is tight, but it’s unlikely that you can instantly move to pay lower rent.
  2. Know How Long to Prepare For: Do you feel safe having one month of expenses on reserve, or do you need more? After the Great Recession, many people agree that you need between three to six months of expenses to be completely safe.
  3. Get Started: This is the hardest part. Start with small goals and add to it over time. If you can only start with a few dollars a week, it will grow over time and be a lifesaver when you need it!

Written by Collin Smith, Financial Wellness for College Students Peer Educator, University of Illinois Extension, 2017.

Reviewed by Kathy Sweedler, Consumer Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension.

What are some ways to reduce spending in college?

The first way to reduce expenses is to avoid making impulse purchases when shopping. People can be subject to impulse buying when they are upset, feel pressure from their peers, or even when an item is on sale. Before making a purchase, ask yourself if the item is something you need, if it will last for a significant amount of time, and if this item will off set your financial goals or budget. If the answer to these questions is anything that will make the item not worth purchasing, then don’t.

Another tip to help reduce spending is to keep track of your expenses with an app on your phone. Often times, mainly in college, we are too busy to write down a list of everything we have spent and this can make it very hard to manage our money. An app can make it very easy to track income and expenses to make sure you are living within your means. If you see that you are reaching your spending limit for the week or month, re-evaluate your budget to fit your needs.

The last spending tip is to take advantage of what your college campus has to offer. Instead of going out to bars and spending an excessive amount of money, spend time with friends in an apartment or dorm. Go to your campus gym instead of paying for a membership at a gym in town. Many stores and restaurants offer student discounts, so make sure to take advantage of your status as a student in regards to saving money. A great tool to reference that offers even more saving tips is the 55 Ways to Save Money handout that can be found by clicking on this link! http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/fwcollege/5402.html

Written by Jessica Rosenberg, Financial Wellness for College Students Peer Educator, University of Illinois Extension, 2017.

Reviewed by Kathy Sweedler, Consumer Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension.

Why get a savings account?

The most noticeable benefit of a savings account is interest earned on money deposited. The interest rate on a savings account is currently very low, but it still provides extra money. A savings account has many characteristics of a checking account, but it offers other benefits. A benefit of having a savings account is that it can create a saving mindset. Finally, a savings account will provide additional security.

A savings account annual interest rate is, as of April 2015, ranging anywhere from .05% to 1%. This may not seem like a high number, but it is still creating money. For example, 1% of a thousand dollars is ten dollars. Current rates can be checked regularly through your institution’s website or other online sources such as http://www.bankrate.com/.

A savings account is a great offer because it has very high liquidity. Liquidity measures how quick an asset or any financial instrument can be converted into cash (usually into a checking account). The process is as simple as doing a quick online transfer from savings to checking. In addition to having liquidity, a savings account is backed by the FDIC in conjunction with a bank’s checking account, or the NCUSIF if your saving account is with a credit union. Your account is insured up to $250,000. (Personal limits also apply if you have multiple accounts.) Basically, a savings account provides interest with zero risk on savings up to $250,000. Specific variations on a savings account, like a money market account, may provide higher interest rates but may limit the amount of transactions that can occur. It is important to talk with a bank or credit union representative to figure out which account fits your needs.

Besides earning interest, savings accounts are great for creating a saving mindset. First, while savings accounts are liquid, the money is set aside from regular checking. This makes it more difficult to spend unexpected amounts of money on any good or service. The process of transferring money from savings to checking creates time to mull over the decision and can prevent unnecessary expensive purchases. However, the money is still available and accessible in times of emergency. Next, taking extra income and depositing into a savings account can develop a mindset more geared towards saving. Saving money is important for achieving future financial goals, and a savings account is the first step in saving and earning interest income.

Finally, a savings account can create additional security for money stored in an account. For example, a savings account has a different account number than the checking account, so if account information were to get stolen, the savings account funds would remain difficult to be stolen. It is a good idea to not link your debit card to your savings account. This will create an extra barrier if your debit card were to get stolen.

In conclusion, a savings account is a great complement to a regular checking account. It provides many of the same features of a checking account but earns interest on the money deposited. It also allows you to create a saving mindset which is important in the long run. Savings accounts can also come in many different styles, so it’s important to contact your financial institution to figure out which is right for you!

Written by Jonathan Alton, Financial Wellness for College Students Peer Educator, and Kathy Sweedler, Consumer Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension

How does the time value of money help young investors?

The time value of money concept is one of the most important factors individuals face when it comes to investing assets. Time value of money is the idea that money available today is worth more than the same amount of money available at a future date, because of interest earning potential.

Let’s say you are offered $100 today, or were given the opportunity to collect $100 one year from now. Would you take the money now, or later? Your best option would be to accept the $100 today, because of interest earning potential and opportunity cost.

Taking the payment today would allow you to invest your money in a savings vehicle like a savings account or money market account. Investing your money allows you to earn interest, meaning the bank is paying you a small percentage for using your deposited funds. Therefore, depositing your money in a savings account will allow your money to grow every year.

Going back to the example, the opportunity cost of choosing to defer a $100 payment today is the interest you could have earned through investing your money. Opportunity cost is a trade-off between what you chose and what you could have had. For instance, if you pay $10 for a movie ticket, your cost of attending the movie is not only the $10, but also the time and value of what you could have enjoyed doing instead of going to the movie. That being said, when choosing to spend or save your money, it is important to think about the opportunity cost of your decision, making sure that the benefits outweigh the costs.

The main idea of the time value of money is that as a young investor, you should start saving as soon as possible! The sooner you invest, the higher your interest earning potential, and thus, the more likely your money will grow over time.

Written by Jessica Wesser, Financial Wellness Peer Educator, University of Illinois Extension

Steps Toward Investing (Recorded Webinar)

Stocks, bonds, and IRAs – oh my!  Where should a young investor start? The recorded webinar, “Steps Toward Investing,” explores investment options and strategies. Learn about important investment concepts such as diversification, purchasing power risk, and market risk. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to have your money grow; learn how to invest while you’re still young!

University of Illinois Extension, along with the University of Illinois’ Student Money Management Center, hosted the webinar “Steps Toward Investing” on November 11, 2014. The FREE webinar will focus on terms related to investing & the benefits of investing early. WatcSaving Badgeh it below!

This is a Saving Badge eligible program, so make sure to take the quiz after watching to get credit!

“Steps Toward Investing” is part of the Get $avvy: Grow Your Green Stuff webinar series. Don’t miss the next webinar, “Making the Most of Job Benefits,” on Tuesday, February 24, from 4:00-5:00 p.m. Register here.

Written by Andrea Pellegrini, University of Illinois USFSCO Student Money Management Center