Most financial experts recommend that you set aside an emergency fund of three months' to six months' worth of living expenses before you start saving for other goals.
While this money technically does not go toward any of your short-, medium- or long-term savings goals, it does act as a deterrent to tapping important accounts such as a 401(k) if you lose your job.
The money also helps prevent your family from getting into deep credit card debt.
If both spouses are working and jobs are secure, you could adjust how much you save for emergencies. But you'll need to assess your situation carefully.
The amount you need to save "depends on how long you expect to be looking for work," says Certified Financial Planner Judith Ward, senior financial planner with T. Rowe Price in Owings Mills, Md. "Households with just one worker or folks who earn commission may want a little more just because of that uncertainty."
Bankrate's work sheet can help you determine how much you need to save in an emergency fund.
Ward also suggests tracking family expenses by adopting a household budget for the best chance of success in meeting your savings goals.