In case of emergency, have a fund waiting

Say your rent is $800, and you and your spouse need at least $350 for groceries. Do what it takes to get $1,150 in a savings or money market account. Consider it untouchable.

Then, build from that base. For instance, they won't turn off the power after 30 days, so it doesn't need to be part of your survivor account. But saving to keep utilities current if you're laid off is a smart move. And of course, you're going to need gas money, since you'll be pounding the pavement looking for work.

Once your mini-fund is in place, start to expand the amount of time you want it to cover.

Though it might be tempting to use it for potentially lucrative investments like stocks, don't do it, says Jones. You're most likely to have a financial emergency during an economic slump -- which means a stock-based emergency fund may plunge in value just when you need it the most.

"Obviously, savings accounts these days don't pay much interest," Jones says. "However, that is exactly where these funds should be kept. No. 1, they should be readily accessible. And No. 2, they should not be at risk of market fluctuations."

The good news, if you can call it that, is that it had been 80 years since a downturn as bad as the recent one. The bad news is, that's no guarantee it will be eight decades before the next one. And of course, anyone can be hit with a job loss or financial setback no matter how the economy is doing.

But if you can't predict the future, you can still prepare for it, says Jones.

"The universal advice is that everyone should have an emergency fund," he says. "The other piece of advice for everyone is, 'Don't tap this fund for anything except a true emergency.'"

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