Why You Need an Emergency Fund in the New Year

The merits of stashing money away to offset job loss, medical complications and unforeseen life events.

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While Tysk recommends one account, Weiss says multiple emergency accounts can help people plan for different purposes. Instead of one large bucket, for example, you could have several smaller ones for things such as home repairs, medical emergencies and living expenses.

"Separate accounts make sense because it's easier to grapple with the feeding of these accounts," Weiss says.

[See: Your 10-Step Financial Recovery Plan.]

Multiple emergency fund accounts can be a good idea, says Golden, but the main goal is to set up one general account and put money into it regularly. College and retirement accounts should be separate, he says.

Who is more likely to save. Just like the third little pig who built his house of bricks, there are certain people who are more likely to prepare for emergencies than others.

"There are savers and spenders in families, whether it be husband and wife or brother and sister," says Tysk. Savers, as one might expect, are more likely to have an emergency fund, he says.

Some of the savings can come from making lifestyle choices, such as buying a cheaper car or house, and saving annual raises, Sweeney says. People who save for a rainy day shouldn't do so at the detriment of other important goals such as retirement, which should be a top savings goal, he says.

Having money automatically deposited into an emergency fund is a smart way to fund it, says Golden, because you're less likely to notice the withdrawal from a checking account to the fund. "Thinking of savings as a bill is one of the best ways" to build an emergency fund, he says.

As with many financial matters, doing the heavy lifting early by setting a budget and knowing where your money goes can help determine how much can be saved for an emergency fund.

"I think it's harder if you don't go through the prework," Golden says.