Just under half, 44%, of millennials (ages 22 to 37) say they have an emergency savings fund that can cover at least three months of living expenses, according to a new survey of 2,200 U.S. adults CNBC Make It performed in conjunction with Morning Consult.
Schwab’s recently published 2019 Modern Wealth Report similarly found 39% of millennials (ages 23 to 38) say they have enough saved to support themselves for at least three months if something unexpected happens. That’s up from 32% of millennials who reported having three months’ worth of emergency savings in 2018.
But over a third of millennials, 36%, told Schwab they don’t have any money set aside for an emergency or unexpected expense.
That can be a problem: An emergency savings fund can be an important way to take control of your finances and avoid racking up debt for unexpected shortfalls such as car or home repairs. “That’s going to be a buffer between you and high-cost credit card debt,” says Ted Rossman, credit industry expert at CreditCards.com.
And saving doesn’t have to be a big hurdle. You can start small and build up a robust cushion to help you weather life’s unexpected costs.
How to start saving when you feel like you have ‘absolutely no money’
Almost two-thirds of millennials say they’re living paycheck to paycheck and only 38% feel financially stable, according to Schwab’s survey.
“As a young adult, you may feel like you have absolutely no money to save and that could frankly be true,” says Farnoosh Torabi, personal finance author and host of the “So Money” podcast. Schwab partners with Torabi’s Stacks House, a pop-up experience that promotes financial independence for women.
There is a limit to how much you can do with your money, especially if you have student loans, credit card debt and other monthly expenses, she tells CNBC Make It. But “getting into the habit of saving can be really simple as long as you just commit to a little bit at the time,” Torabi explains.
Make it as easy as possible on yourself. Set up a regular, automatic transfer from your checking account to a savings account. This doesn’t have to be a lot, maybe $5 a day or even $5 a week. “The key is to have it leave your hands before you get a chance to spend it,” Torabi says. “Over the course of six months, a year or even just a little bit of saving at a time… [it] will accumulate and it will motivate you to do more.”
Other people can affect your savings too
While managing your money is part math, most of it comes down to your mindset, Torabi says.
It’s more than just your own outlook. Friends and family can affect how you spend and save. “If you’re hanging out with people who are constantly spending money, constantly keeping up with the Joneses, guess what? That’s going to have a big impact on your bottom line as well,” Torabi says.
Surround yourself with people and influences that will help you make healthy financial decisions, she suggests.
That goes for social media too. About half of millennials say social media influenced them to spend money on experiences. And 48% say they’ve overspent when spending time with friends, whether it’s dining out or going on a group vacation.
“If you find yourself going down rabbit holes on Instagram, make sure you mute the accounts that are leaving you feeling less than,” Torabi says. You can also follow accounts and hashtags like #financialfreedom and #moneymotivation that give you positive feelings.
“Soon your feed will be filled with things that can actually mobilize you to make healthier decisions as opposed to the feeds that make you feel like you’ll never catch up,” she says.
Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.