Even if you do not have an emergency fund yet, sit down together and discuss and agree on what constitutes an actual emergency. Some ideas might be to start:
Unexpected Home Repairs- Things like a broken pipe, a refrigerator that stops working, a roof leak. Things you don't know are going to break before they do. Once you get rolling with your budget and you have your emergency fund established, you will want to keep an idea of what will need replacing and save separately for these, in the Home Maintenance category.
Car Troubles- Just typing this gives me anxiety, as I am sure reading it does for you. As with home repairs, once you have your emergency fund setup, start saving for new tires, oil changes, annual renewals and registrations in the Auto Maintenance category.
Medical Expenses- Hopefully your work offers a medical savings plan of some sort that you can save into. This would, ideally, be to cover any unexpected, above your normal medical costs, expense. Like an emergency hospital stay.
Job Layoff- Loss of full-time job, or unexpected change in schedule to not allow enough hours to cover your basic bills. This is meant to cover you will you find more work or change jobs.
The reason why we suggest that you try to save up for expected large expenses, like a new roof, instead of using your emergency fund is because we have found it is so easy to justify spending your emergency fund and if you are constantly spending it, you will constantly be living paycheck to paycheck and the stress of this will never subside. You want the emergency fund to be there if a real emergency happens, like a job layoff or an accident. Deciding between the two of you, from the start, what actually constitutes as an emergency will hopefully avoid any fighting or spending that will destroy your emergency fund. You only want to have to save this up once, and replenish it as you use it.
We recommend starting with $1,000.00 as soon as you can. Then once you have paid down your debts, building it to six months of your basic expenses (Rent/Mortgage, food, utilities, gas). In case of a real emergency, all the fun money (cable, gym memberships, vacations) will all be cut until you are out of the emergency and have your emergency fund replenished.
For more help with budgeting and emergency fund tracking, check out my Level 2 Family Finance Planner at: