Do You Have $1,000 Saved for an Emergency? Here's How to Get Started!

Personal finance expert Carmen Wong Ulrich shares her top three tips to start saving and stop wasting

If I were to ask you to come up with $1,000 by tomorrow morning -- cash -- could you? Last year, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that 64% of Americans say they couldn’t come up with $1,000 cash for an emergency expense.

Emergencies happen because life happens. The car needs repairs. Your insurance will only cover 70% of your child’s medical treatment. Someone loses a job.

It’s vital to have cash on the side, (hopefully only for that car repair), but very likely, to replace your income should it go away. If you’re having trouble starting, let me help rev you back up with these keys to savings-success:

Separate. Just like that old tip of freezing your credit cards in ice to prevent you from using them on a whim, you need to ‘ice’ off your savings by putting it somewhere separate from where you do your checking. Yes, linking checking and savings can mean fewer monthly banking fees, but if it’s at the expense of never having savings, it’s time to put your ‘piggybank’ someplace else.

Automate. Pay the bill of ‘you’, first. The IRS takes taxes out of your paycheck before you ever see it, so you base your budget and expenses (hopefully) on what you have left. ‘Tax’ yourself before you get access to the money. Automate funds to go to your (separate!) savings account the day (or day after) the direct deposit of your paycheck.

Discriminate. With access to webisodes online, do you really need that pricey premium cable package? When’s the last time you looked at your cell phone plan to see if you’re paying the lowest price? Talk down some bills, cancel others and write down for one week everything you spend. You’ll be surprised to see how much you can save. After all, they’re your dollars. Don’t part with them so easily.

Carmen Wong Ulrich is the author of The Real Cost of Living and the former host of CNBC's "On the Money."

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