Relatively Easy Ways To Build An Emergency Fund

One of the keys to getting out of debt and building financial wealth is creating an emergency fund. This step is so important that it is the first baby step in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

Although it is important to build this initial emergency fund quickly, that isn’t always financially viable for people who are deeply in debt. Here are some proven ways I have used to build that emergency fund.

Sell Stuff

This is a proven winner, as selling personal items has never been easier or more inexpensive. In the old days if you wanted to sell personal items you had to buy a classified ad in your local newspaper or have a garage sale. The first way was cost prohibitive to selling cheap stuff because you had to cover the cost of the ad. The second method was labor intensive and often resulted in hours of work for little profit. Now you can sell personal items inexpensively through Craigslist, Backpage, Ebay, Amazon and other outlets.

A recent Craigslist ad I posted free of charge.
A recent Craigslist ad I posted free of charge.

If you are looking for instant results go with furniture, kids/baby clothes, toys and collectibles. I’ve been very successful selling furniture as I have approached the same as if the item was given to me any my entire sale would be profit (the garage sale mentality). Say you bought a couch 10 years ago for $500. Over the 10 years you got $500 worth of time (sitting, sleeping, watching TV) out of the couch. The couch is now worth $0. So anyone who gives you anything more than $0 for the couch has created a profit for you.

On Craigslist you can list items by category free of charge. You can upload simple photos of the item from your computer by taking them on your phone and emailing them to yourself. You can copy descriptions of your items from the Walmart, Target or other websites.

I’ve also listed multiple items together but listed their prices separately, such as a China hutch for $85 and a small end table for $20. The total for the two items was $105. Within an hour I had a text offering me $90 for both. I immediately accepted. Since I was no longer using and no longer needed either item, they were worth $0 to me. To the buyer, the bartered price fell from $105 to $90. It was still $90 more than the items were worth to me.

Posting to Ebay and Amazon is almost as easy as Craigslist, though there are small fees involved in completing the transaction based on the final sales price. I have used Ebay to sell collectible items such as electric football games, rookie cards and logo golf bags in the past.

Scheduled Transfers

Another way to build that fund is through scheduled bank transfers. In my job I get a check every two weeks. Through my U.S. Bank online account I have set up two transfers that happen every Friday I get paid. Each one is for $20. One goes to my emergency fund. The other to my son’s savings account. Because the total amount is only $40 every two weeks I don’t miss the money in my checking account. The emergency fund and my son’s saving account grow without me even noticing. Over the course of one year (26 paychecks), you I am putting $520 in each account without hurting my lifestyle.

The Savings Envelope

This is one of my personal favorites as it is so easy to do. It’s a transfer between the cash in your pocket and an envelope which you keep hidden somewhere.

I’ve written before about the $5 a week saving plan. Pick one day a week and put a reminder on your phone or your calendar. On that day, take $5 and put it in an envelope. Now stash the envelope someplace out of site, but a place that you frequent so you will remember that it is there. My personal favorite hiding places are under a stack of clothes in a drawer, in a backpack or even in a non-clear vase. If you do this for one year that $5 each week (just one less Starbucks coffee a week) would add up to $260. If you want to speed up the process you can do $10 or $20 per week.

money-envelope-lThis is a great way to beef up your emergency fund or pay for Christmas gifts for the family and friends without it hurting your paycheck. Starting January 1 put your money in an envelope. Set your goal of $10 per week. On the 50th week of the year (about eight days before Christmas) you will have $500 in your Christmas fund. Now make yourself spend no more than that $500 on your entire Christmas, and Christmas will not have hurt your wallet at all.
Another saving envelope plan I read about recently is the 52 Week Money Challenge, which is contributing money based on the week of the year it is. On your first week of putting money in an envelope put in $1. On the second week put in $2. On the third week put in $3, etc., until the 52nd week of the year (one full year) when you contribute $52. If you did this every week for one year, your envelope would contain $1,378 at the end of the year. There is even great information available for doing the challenge backwards.

If you are not going to put that money into your emergency fund, 401K or some other type of savings plan it is an excellent way to fund a vacation.

The No Groceries/No Restaurant Challenge

If you are having trouble finding the money to trying any of these saving plans there are ways to cut corners and create more money. One challenge I am trying this money is the No Restaurant Challenge. I don’t designate much of my monthly budget to restaurants, bars or fast food. For September I am challenging myself to reduce this number to $0. I am trying to see if I can go an entire month without eating a single meal out or going out for a drink. If you spend $100 a month on eating out (which is actually a low sum for most people) and you go one month spending $0 you have just created $100 for your emergency fund. Not to mention you probably just extended your life but not eating all that overly-processed food.

UnknownFor this week I am not going to buy any groceries. My son and I are only going to eat what we already have in the house. It means we are eating a few more canned and boxed foods. I have to plan ahead and thaw something from the freezer. I have to be a little more creative in my meals. But neither him or I are lacking for nourishment. We’ve been eating chicken breasts, rice, lot of canned vegetables and plenty of other good stuff.

The key is to see how much of your cupboard/pantry you can clean out before you absolutely have to go to the grocery store. If you are like most Americans, there’s a lot more food in there than you think. You need to be creative in your meal.

I haven’t been to grocery store in six days and won’t have to go again for another seven days when I need to buy milk for my growing boy.

Hopefully this will help you jump start your emergency fund.

Sometimes You Just Need To Shake Your Booty

It’s TGIF in my world. The last day of the work week before the weekend starts for me on Friday.

I spend almost every afternoon of my work week encouraging my 7 month old son Jace to “jump, jump, jump” in his Baby Einstein bouncer:   jace_in_jumper. In fact, he’s jumping right now as I write this.

So here is a little booty shaker for all of you to jump to, courtesy of DJ Kool, Biz Markie, and Doug E. Fresh.

The Changes Keep Coming

The year 2014 will definitely be one of the biggest roller coasters of my life.

I started the year out intentionally unemployed, as I had taken a buyout from my dead end job at a previous company so I could get back to working as an entrepreneur. My ex-girlfriend was pregnant with my child. My new dog, Ace, was shredding everything he could get his teeth and claws on.

I was definitely embracing the lessons I learned in Jon Acuff book “Quitter” and the nine weeks of classes I took for Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

I even found this amazing inspiration video that I loved watching over and over.

I was setting myself up for a great year.


Pregnancy is hard on women, hard on couples. It is especially hard when the couple is not actually together. They are just two people having a child together.

To say those last seven months of pregnancy were challenging was a gross understatement. There were times when I was threatened that I would never see my child. That he wouldn’t have my last name. There were times when I thought we were going to have to go Family Court to settle things.

We were both at fault. She was going through the normal pregnancy feelings and emotions. I had taken a job working graveyard shift as a poker supervisor. I hadn’t worked graveyard since I was a night stocker at a Hy-Vee in Marshalltown Iowa in the late 1980s. The 1-9AM shift, the pregnancy stress and the baby preparations all contributed to me barely keeping it together emotionally.

I was so ready for this little guy to come out.

Jace and Ace hanging out together on the couch.
Jace and Ace hanging out together on the couch.

Then things went from bad to worse. Little Jace Allen Harberts spent 49 days in the NICU overcoming a few health problems. It was tortuous. Driving up to see him twice a day to spend maybe 30 minutes each time then trying to plow through an 8-hour graveyard shift with him on my mind every moment.


In the last quarter of the 2014 things have gotten better. Jace is healthy and happy. He is growing up to be a beautiful, strong boy.

My relationship with my son is great. He is going to be a great man. We struggle at times because a 45 year old man doesn’t have a clue what to do with a four-month old baby when he’s all alone and the kid is screaming. But I walk him around, I beg, I plead, I cry along sometimes and we make it through.

Jace learning to watch football like a pro. Laying on the couch in Daddy's spot.
Jace learning to watch football like a pro. Laying on the couch in Daddy’s spot.

I set a goal to get off the graveyard shift by the end of 2015. Then a job opened with two day shifts and three swing shifts the week before Thanksgiving. I jumped at the opportunity and got off graveyard more than a year ahead of schedule.

My social life is still absent. It would be nice to have that special someone to share my joy with my son and my dog, but it apparently isn’t in the cards right now.

It has been a roller coaster of a 2014. It turns out, however, I am having a great year.

 

 

 

 

What I’ve Learned So Far

Being a single dad is challenging. Diaper changes and feedings are relatively easy. In between diaper changes and feedings are not so easy. There is a lot of crying, a little screaming, a little pulling out of my quickly-graying hair. Babies cannot tell you what they want, but they can tell you they are upset. They are like little Congressmen.

What (I think) I have learned so far in no particular order:

How awesome is this little UNI Panthers shirt? He might get three wearings out of it before he is too big.
How awesome is this little UNI Panthers shirt? He might get three wearings out of it before he is too big.

Jace has really cool clothes. Logo t-shirts, jammies, little socks and hats and onesies. Unfortunately, these clothes last approximately 90 days before he is too big to wear them again. Baby clothes go from 0-3 months, 3-6 months, 6-9 months and 9 months-1 year. This kid will have four all new wardrobes by the time he is old enough to smash his hands into a cake to celebrate his first birthday.I still wear a windbreaker the youth basketball team I coached gave me in 1995.

Also, I think adults should get to wear onesies.

Diaper Genies make one long intestine of dirty diapers. My Diaper Genie was full…or at least it seemed full…or maybe I just had a few diapers jammed in the chute. Regardless, it felt full. I needed to change the bag for the first time. Diaper Genies are about two feet tall. As I pulled out the bag for the first time I discovered it holds about six feet worth of diapers.

Ace checks out the refuse of the Diaper Genie.
Ace checks out the refuse of the Diaper Genie.

The diapers wrap around in one long blue sack like a large intestine. Which is appropriate because they hold a lot of stuff that passes through the large intestine. I was so impressed by the length of the magical poopy bag I laid it out on the dining room floor. This also impressed the dog. Ace was infatuated by what the human race would refer to as waste, but the canine race would probably call food.

I picked up this giant sack of disposable diapers and tossed them in the garbage container in the garage. Ace used this exact moment to drop a deuce on the dining room floor where the sack had been moments earlier. I guess he was contributing to the cause.

Babies have terrible timing. Just as the Vikings are marching toward a game-clinching touchdown, Jace will wake up and cry. Right when you are considering whether to call off your whole stack with a nut flush draw in a game of online poker, Jace will be hungry. As you take your first bite of lunch, Jace will scream. He doesn’t mean to do it, but he doesn’t really care what you have going on. Nor should he.

When he doesn’t spend the night, I still fall asleep to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Jace spends seven days per week at my house, and usually 1-2 nights. I work nights so he spends seven nights per week with his mother and 1-2 days. When he spends the night I put him in his crib with his lullaby relaxation machine. He had this in the NICU as a way to help him relax and fall asleep. I bought him one of these machines for his crib. It projects cartoon jungle animals on the ceiling while playing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, Mozart, white noise, a heartbeat, etc. When he is not spending the night, I still listen to it so I can fall asleep.

Babies are crazy expensive. I have great insurance, and so does his mom. Which is a good thing. Because having a baby is not cheap. I haven’t seen all the bills yet, but just the ones in dispute are more than $85,000. His NICU bill was routinely more than $2,500 per day. He could have stayed a week in a penthouse suite at Mandalay Bay for less than that.

Right after his release from the NICU he had to see the pediatrician for the first time. It was just a routine check-up and a few immunizations.

Here is the invoice:

jace_bill

Thankfully, the co-pay was considerably less than the $2917 for a 90-minute doctor visit and a little anti-cooties juice.

 

After all the things I’ve learned, I’ve also learned I still don’t know a damn thing. Babies are hard. Having one all by yourself 70 hours per week is really hard. The three of us — Jace, Ace and myself — are slowly figuring things out.

Just in time to wrap this up…Jace is stirring.

 

 

 

The Heat Is On

I vowed I would put a bad 2013 behind me and make the most of 2014. The early results are in, and my life is trending.

Started the day with visit no. 3 to the baby doctor. The little girl or guy (should know which very soon) and momma are doing great. I heard the heartbeat racing away at 142 beats per minute, which is pretty cool. (By the way, normal for 12 weeks in is 140-150 bpm, so don’t be alarmed).

Later in the afternoon, caught up with my college buddy Toby Evans. Toby and I go back to our days of working sports information at the University of Northern Iowa in the early 1990s. That meant a couple of Iowa boys out on the town in Sin City.

The night started with the 5PM tourney at Bally’s on The Strip. I like playing at Bally’s as generally the tourists are very fishy. We decided for the $65 tourney and hope there would be an overlay in the prize pool.

As it turned out, there would be no overlay as the guaranteed $1,000 prize pool was eclipsed by $150 thanks to a few reenters.

There were plenty of fish, however. Here are a few hands I saw players exit the tournament with: J-9o, Ks-4s, Q-8o and A-3o.

I cruised to the final table as one of the middling stacks. Once there I took out a couple of players to rise to one of the two best stacks. With five players left I was the chip leader. The other players at the table started begging for discussing a five-way chop. There were four decent-sized stacks and one short stack. I tried to counter with voting in two bubbles, but they were adamant for an even chop. I have a special place in my heart for all the tourists who come here to dump money and make our city grow, so I took the deal. I had turned by $65 into $230 gross (before the dealer tip).

Then it was off to sushi at the fabulous Sushi Twister. The good thing about knowing someone in Vegas is knowing you can get off The Strip and find some great food at mom and pop places out in Vegas. Sushi Twister hit the spot, and Toby was more than satisfied by the spread.

LVHThen it was back to The Strip to check out the poker room at LVH. It has been awhile since the last time I visited the LVH. In fact, it was still the Hilton then. The recently put a new poker room back in the facility and I wanted to see it. The poker room is very nice. Five tables, a couple of overstuffed chairs and two TVs. It was posh, but it was disappointing to only see one $1-$3 game going on in the room.

The other thing about LVH is the casino is basically Graceland West. Elvis played LVH (then the Hilton) a lot. He once sold out 58 consecutive shows, according to Wikipedia.

It was another great day in Las Vegas.

Current Bankroll: $1,950