A recent study from Bankrate found 61% of Americans say they would not be able to handle a $1,000 unplanned expense without going into debt.
Even more troubling, most financial experts say the average family-- and even single people-- should have much more than that in an emergency fund. A common rule is to have six months worth of necessary expenses set aside. Necessary expenses include food, rent or mortgage, clothes, shelter, taxes, insurance and utilities.
Jennifer Jurek, a certified financial planner with Sgroi Financial LLC in West Seneca, said "God forbid if somebody were to lose a job, they would have a six-month reserve to fall back on, to get them through that time and hopefully find a new job."
Many families know they need some sort of emergency fund, but how do you start one, and where do you put it?
Jurek says you can start small, you just have to get started.
"Set up an automatic transfer right from your payroll. You can do that right from your employer and take $50, $100 out of your paycheck and put that right into a savings account."
You can also set up an automatic sweep of a set amount of money from your checking account into your emergency fund account. Your emergency fund should always be kept in its own account, separate from checking and savings. Typically, it is put in a separate savings account.
Eventually, Jurek recommends working up to putting 20% of your take-home pay into savings each month. "I know that's a high number, but remember that would be total savings. So you look at even your savings in your 401k or retirement plan, as well as liquid," Jurek continued, "even if you start at one or two percent, the important thing is to get started."
This can be a great time of year for families to look into starting or building their emergency fund. Using your tax refund to set up or jump start an emergency fund is recommended. Jurek says the key to using your tax refund effectively is to have a plan for it before you receive it.
Jurek also says while six months is a good average, you should also take into account your own situation. Circumstances like job stability, health, the age of your vehicle and the age of your home can all affect how much money you should be putting away in your emergency fund.