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Sometimes life throws us curveballs. Whether it’s the loss of a job, unplanned home repairs, a natural disaster, or a medical expense, life’s emergencies can take a big hit on our wallets. Unplanned expenses can send family budgets into a tailspin.

So how can you protect your financial well-being and be ready for whatever life throws your way? Stated simply, you need to stash away an emergency fund and spend it only as intended. That way you can avoid relying on credit cards, dipping into your retirement or calling on your insurance every time an unexpected expense arises.

Easier said than done, right? Sure, but once you gain an understanding of how much you’ll need to save, you can make a plan to get there — day-by-day, paycheck-by-paycheck. All while learning to make smarter choices with your cash.

How much should I save?

The dollar amount you should have stashed away for a rainy day really depends on your lifestyle and financial needs. However, most money experts say you should aim to have three to six months’ worth of critical living expenses on hand at any given moment. This will give you a good buffer should you be unable to earn income for an extended period.

What are some ways you can build your emergency fund?

Every little bit helps.

The first and most crucial step to building up your savings is to break your goal down into manageable chunks and determine the minimum amount you’ll save each month. A great way to ensure that number lands in your savings is to set up an automatic deposit into your savings account, so it seems effortless.

You’ll also want to consider enrolling in ¢hange it up so that each debit card purchase you make is rounded up to the nearest dollar and the difference is transferred to your savings automatically. Hey, every bit helps. Lastly, look for ways you can cut costs in your everyday life along with finding supplemental sources of income, like selling your crafts and collections online or earning money in the gig economy.

How can you save for emergencies when you have lots of credit card debt or student loans?

If you need to chip away at your credit card debt or student loans and you lack an emergency fund, it can be difficult to know where to start. The simple solution is to start modestly. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your emergency savings and debt repayment won’t happen immediately either.

Since paying your debts will be difficult to manage when faced with an emergency, it’s important to give your debt precedence. However, make sure you have at least $1,000 in your savings account to start. That way you have enough to cover those flat tires, broken air conditioners and minor illnesses. Once your debt is paid down, then you can focus on building a three- to six-month emergency savings.

When should you dip into your emergency fund?

There’s a host of unexpected expenses that you may need your emergency fund for, including medical emergencies, losing a job, major home repairs, car breakdowns, unplanned travel expenses and natural disasters like hurricanes and floods. But it’s important to only dip into your emergency money once you’ve exhausted your available funds and cut back on discretionary spending. If it turns out that you need it then use it — after all that’s why it’s there. Just don’t forget to make a plan to replace the funds once the dust has settled.