(MoneyWatch) As the economy recovers and more people are finding jobs, things are gradually improving. When things are improving is exactly the time to increase your cash savings.
Now is the time to think about the number of months your cash will last if you had no income and had to use your cash to pay for essential living expenses. If you will be out of cash in less than six months, then you need to make some quick changes to reduce your expenses and increase the cash you can bring in to your bank account. For example, say your current monthly expenses total about $5,000 and you have $15,000 in cash savings. In this situation, you'll need to build your cash savings up to $30,000, or increase it by $15,000. Doing this will take a combination of reducing your expenses and getting cash you are due as quickly as possible. Here are some ways to get some cash into your savings quickly.
File your tax returns NOW: in the next few days you should have all of the necessary tax forms you'll need to file your 2012 tax returns. If your income took a hit last year, you are probably set up for a larger tax refund. Most folks receive an average tax refund of over $3,000. Prepare your tax returns online, file them by using eFile and select direct deposit for your tax refund. You'll get your tax refund cash in as little as ten days. That's much faster than the four weeks you'll wait when filing by paper and requesting a check in the mail.
Reduce taxes withheld: Speaking of tax refunds, if you typically get a tax refund, that's not necessarily a good thing. What you are doing is over paying your taxes by having too much withheld from your income. Instead, file a new form W-4 with an additional allowance. Doing this will reduce the taxes withheld and increase your take home pay. Follow the instructions on the W-4 worksheet. Use the additional take home pay to build your cash savings more quickly.
Deduct job search expenses: If you've been looking for a job in the same line of work you're currently in, many of your expenses like phone calls, costs of preparing and copying your resume, and career counseling may be deductible. You don't have to be out of work to have some of your costs qualify as a deductible expense, but only expenses that exceed 2% percent of your income count. See IRS publication 529 for details.
Cancel monthly subscriptions: If you have a cell phone and a land line, then now is the time to cut the cord. Dropping land line phone service can save about $50 per month, or more. Use a service like eFax for fax by email and Skype for long distance and international calls. Also consider dropping movie subscription services that you haven't used in a while. You can rent movies at popular kiosks and through Apples iTunes whenever you want to see them.
Cut insurance costs: Replace an expensive cash value insurance policy with a low cost term policy that provides more coverage for a lower premium. Use the cash from the policy to build up your emergency cash. Increase your deductibles for your auto and home insurance (to $500 and $1000 respectively). Low deductibles are the most expensive insurance and most profitable for insurance companies. Buy these policies through the same insurance company. This can save you ten to 15 percent or more.
There are dozens of things people can do to right-size their expenses. Have a few that have worked for you? Don't keep it a secret! Post your comments here so others can learn what works for you.