Author and expert Donna Freedman lives frugally, and it comes naturally.

Having even a small emergency fund can be the difference between exhaling financially and growing high-interest debt.

“Challenge yourself to save,” says Donna Freedman, author of Your Playbook for Tough Times: Living Large on Small Change, For the Short Term or the Long Haul. “It is really important to have even a modest emergency fund.”

According to the Federal Reserve, 52 percent of Americans would be unable to pay $400 in case of an emergency.

“The hardest part for getting started is so many of us feel we are already living paycheck to paycheck,” Freedman says. “Our books are already balanced, finding extra money is really difficult.”

She offers tips in her book on how to build emergency savings on even the tightest of budgets. “Think of it as a challenge. I’m going to challenge myself to save $500 by the end of the year,” Freedman advises. Start by saving $25 by the end of the month,  and then move on to $35 the next.

Having trouble finding an extra $25 to $35 a month? It’s OK to start smaller, as long as you start and keep going.

Freedman recommends savings $1 in the first week of the month, $2 in the second week,  $3 in the third week, $4 in the fourth week and $5 in the fifth week if there is one that month. You’ll save $10 to $15 a month that way and $120 to $180 in a year. It’s easy, if you just start.

Another pull-something-out-of-nothing savings tip: the pantry challenge.

“The pantry challenge is where you decide you are going to eat up everything in the cupboard before you go shopping,” Freedman says.

Freedman also likes the laundry challenge. Every time she or her partner does a load of laundry, they put $2 into a laundry fund.

“Every time we do a load of laundry we put $2 in it because eventually we’ll have to replace the washing machine,” Freedman explains. “We actually used it to replace the stove. We had hundreds in cash from the laundry challenge.”

Even during her tightest financial times, Freedman also made sure she saved some money for “riotous living,” by tucking some cash into an envelope in her bookcase.

“I think I tried to keep $40 in there. You’d be surprised how much riotous living you can have especially when you have a coupon,” Freedman says.

To free up savings she also recommends packing a lunch to take to work three times a week.  She says a great way to engineer leftovers for one of those lunches is to place aside one serving before you put an evening meal on the table.

“If you put out a meatloaf missing one slice you’ll have lunch for tomorrow,” Freedman explains.

Do this trick just once a week and you’ll save $5 for an emergency fund and more than $250 in a year.

She also recommends naming your dollars, a next car fund, a college fund, in addition to an oh-no emergency fund.

And she suggests being symbolic about your saving to help you remember.

“In 38 years, I am going to hit retirement age, so I’m going to start setting aside $38 per month,” Freedman says. “It’s just a symbolic way to think about your money.”

A final savings tip, every time you save money using a coupon or loyalty card at a retailer, put the cash amount of the savings or coupon into a savings account.

“It’s not savings unless you save it,” Freedman says.

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Article last modified on June 6, 2017. Published by Debt.com, LLC .