Sixty percent of Americans can’t come up with enough money to pay for a $500 emergency. It’s not that they don’t the have access to information on how to improve their situation, because everywhere you turn, there is a bombardment of how-to financial advice on constructing an emergency fund – “Find extra cash by paying off your credit card every month, automate a savings or investing plan, set aside 6 months salary, make a budget, use your credit card, don’t use your credit card…” Standard financial advice is fine for people who are aren’t serial spenders and take a more sophisticated view of their finances. For the spender however, discussions on maxing out IRAs, increasing ROI, inflation, TFSAs, and any other financial product, term, or strategy is simply falling on deaf ears. Yet, it is those that are obsessed with consumption that may need an emergency fund the most.

Credit cards are sometimes recommended as a last resort during an emergency, but chances are the shopaholic has already maxed them out. Savings accounts are too accessible and are routinely drained for some must-have purchase. Even though a ‘normal’ emergency fund should be liquid and readily available, for this type of person the money should require some work to get access to, so that it is not used for foolish purchases.

Every one of these recommendations is at odds with some part of the best practices in financial planning, and the intention is only to give a few unusual alternatives since the standard advice doesn’t seem to be working. This isn’t about putting your capital to work for you, but rather keeping it far enough away, that it takes sufficient time and effort to access it and causes you to pause before spending it.

For those who think shopping is a hobby, and the rest of the 60% crowd…


  • Arrange to have some of your money ‘kept’ every payday. If you have a good work environment, ask if your company can deduct a few extra dollars and hold it for you. Alternatively you could ask a trusted friend or family member that is good with money. There will be no interest earned on this, but there isn’t any on savings of zero dollars either! This practice may help you move past whatever is stopping you from starting a regular savings or investing plan (even as little as $10 a month).
  • Every payday, go to the bank and get a roll of nickels, dimes, or quarters, and enough cash to pay for any lunches and coffees for the pay period. The denomination of coins should be small enough that you are too embarrassed to break the roll and spend any. Stash them away in your home.
  • Pick up a few $10 or $20 prepaid, no-expiry, no-fee in-store gift cards from your grocery store, drug store, or gas station (if applicable). Even if you only buy one a month and add it to your emergency fund (coins), you are making progress. Do not use prepaid credit cards!
  • Even though we are moving towards digital money, cash isn’t obsolete yet. Make your own piggy bank by cutting a thin slot in any container that has a lid. The next step is vital – glue the lid on so it can never be removed. At the end of every day, get in the habit of depositing all of your change in it. If there is an emergency, the container can be broken open.
  • Take advantage of the paydays that are not consumed by large expenses such as rent, mortgage or car payments. Use some of the excess money to stock up on an emergency supply of economical food (canned and dried) and basic necessities. This will give you a prepaid inventory of essentials in the event of any kind of emergency.
  • Start learning about global digital currencies such as bitcoin, and if necessary get someone to help you purchase a little every payday. Cryptocurrencies are still maturing, can be volatile in price, and require effort to exchange for cash, but in the event of an unthinkable disaster, they are funds that can be available to you anywhere in the world. Because they have been steadily increasing in value since inception, most people are currently holding them as an investment, but they still have the capability to transfer value globally.