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You may be saving for emergencies all wrong

Raise your hand if this describes your situation: Every time you manage to put some money aside, an unexpected expense comes along that wipes out what you've saved.

Unforeseen costs are actually the norm. Six out of 10 Americans said they faced an unexpected major expense last year, according to a Harris Poll for the NationalEndowment for Financial Education.

Here's the thing: Many of the bills people cite as unexpected are absolutely predictable.

Eye on money: How to start saving for the future

If you have a car, for example, sooner or later you'll have car repairs. If you have a house, the same is true. If it's not the roof or the furnace going bad, it's the plumbing or the wiring.

If you have a body, you'll have medical bills. If you have teeth, you'll have dental bills.

Knowing these expenses are coming is one thing. Knowing exactly when they'll hit and precisely how much they'll cost is another. But with a little effort, you can come up with some decent approximations.

And it's important to do so because these are basic living expenses that shouldn't always come from your emergency fund. Instead, you should save for them separately, ideally in savings subaccounts (available for free at many online banks) that allow you to designate a specific purpose for each pot of money you're saving.

Emergency funds should be left alone for real emergencies, such as job loss, an unexpectedly large medical or repair bill or your living expenses if you're displaced by a natural disaster.

What you spent in previous years on predictable but irregular costs is a good starting point. If you have a sizable deductible for your health insurance, you should save that amount. If you have a car, shoot for $500 to $1,000 a year for repairs.

For homeowners, save at least 1 percent of the purchase price each year to cover repairs and maintenance, suggests financial planner Eric Tyson, author of "Personal Finance for Dummies." Some years you'll need less, some more.

You can always shoot for more precision by asking your doctor, your dentist and your mechanic what repairs are likely in your future. A home inspection can alert you to looming house costs.

What if you discover that saving for all these expenses doesn't leave you with enough money to live? Then you can't afford your life, and the smart move is to find ways to downsize until you can.

One final note: Vacations and holidays are neither unexpected nor unpredictable. Set up savings accounts to pay for them as well.

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