Earlier this month, readers Mitch and Jenn had a string of bad luck. Mitch broke his leg in a skiing accident, Jenn’s car broke down requiring major repairs and their home’s aged roof decided to fail right in the midst of a major storm.

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The timing for all of this wasn’t ideal—just four weeks before Christmas. The financial and emotional tolls were huge, but nothing like it might have been if they hadn’t been diligently building their Contingency Fund—a pool of money every family needs when facing a dire emergency.

Mitch’s health insurance covered most of the costs of his surgery and follow-up therapy. Still they had to come up with more than $2,400 to cover his deductible, co-pays and prescriptions.

The car repairs were just shy of $2,700—not surprising given their Subaru’s age and 140,000 miles.

It was the roof that really threw them for a loop. The estimate to repair it—with no assurance that said repairs will last for longer than a few months—was $750, with a new roof coming in at $12,000. The roof failed because of its age, not because of storm damage which means no insurance coverage there.

Suddenly, their healthy $18,000 Contingency Fund didn’t look quite as massive as it did only months ago.

All of these financial emergencies were of top priority. None could be ignored.

So far, the medical bills and car repairs have reduced Mitch and Jenn’s CF to about $12,500. They opted to go for the roof repair of $750 to buy themselves time to save for a new roof.

The roof repairs are holding well. They’ve had time to get additional estimates and it looks like the cost will be closer to $10,000, which given the circumstances comes as good news.

Mitch and Jenn are crash saving so that when they replace the roof next summer the cost will not deplete their Contingency Fund. And they’re committed to continue saving like that to restore their Contingency Fund back to $18,000 by the end of 2016.

Now, I’m going to predict what many of you are thinking about now: Sure, Mitch and Jenn are wealthy so of course they have money to save. Or, they’re lucky because they have two incomes, we have only one. Or, must be nice but what about those of us who are unemployed, unhealthy, deeply in debt or [insert excuse of choice here]?

A recent study by the Credit Union National Association revealed that only 43 percent of women overall reported having an emergency fund compared with 63 percent of men. The gap was even wider between women and men age 55 to 64. Just 58 percent of women in that age group had an emergency fund, while 82 percent of men did.

I find this disturbing. Emergency savings are especially critical in your 50s or 60s, when life can really throw you a curveball, from losing a job to unforeseen home repairs.

As long as you see building your Contingency Fund as optional, there will always be something more pressing to take priority.

You must stop seeing this as something optional. Financial emergencies are coming at you, you can count on that, and you’d better believe they’ll arrive sooner than later.

Need specific reasons to grow your Contingency Fund? Here they are. Learn them well:

CHRONIC ILLNESS. I am not an advocate of running to the doctor for every little thing. But when you or someone in your family is really sick or is involved in an accident or contracts a horrible disease—you need to be prepared.

PINK SLIP. Getting a pink slip is never fun and when it comes out of the blue with no notice, it will be shocking. You need a way to pay your bills until you get another job.

DISTANT JOB. Your next job may not be four states away. Moving will not be cheap.

SERIOUS BREAKDOWN. Sure you can ignore all the warning signs of impending car trouble, but when your car gives up and breaks down, you’ll have a problem. If you think care maintenance is expensive, wait until you see the cost of repairs.

FINAL CALL. Who wants to plan ahead for mourning? Not me. But knowing I have money stashed in my CF for when bereavement requires travel means that I don’t have to think about it now. I’m prepared.

DISASTER. A broken furnace, leaking roof, natural disasters—who knows what form this type of emergency will take? That’s why you need to have money stashed away, just in case.

I understand these are tough times to find money to save. But do you really have any options? If your current lifestyle is sucking up every last dollar of your income thereby putting you and your family at risk, it’s time to make changes.

Start small. While you need a big, healthy Contingency Fund (equal to at least six months’ living expenses), do not focus on that big number. Start by saving $500. Then set your goal to make it $1,000. Now you’re on your way. You’re catching the savings bug. Soon you will reach $2,500. Then $5,000 will be in view.

Get started. Soon you’ll discover that worry-free is the way to be.

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