62% of Americans can't cover unexpected expenses

Ways to save
Ways to save   

Car accidents, unexpected medical bills, an emergency plumber visit—there are all sorts of events that can interfere with even the best budget plans.

But according to a study released Wednesday, more than 60 percent of Americans do not have enough rainy day funds set aside to deal with even minor calamities.

Just 38 percent of Americans said they could cover an unexpected emergency room visit or even a $500 car repair with cash on hand in a checking or savings account, according to Bankrate, which commissioned the study. About 26 percent would reduce spending on other things, and 28 percent said they would either borrow from family or friends or use credit cards.

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"You hate to see so many people who are one relatively modest financial emergency away from a downward spiral," said Claes Bell, a Bankrate analyst who examined the survey results.

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The Bankrate survey, which was conducted in December, did have a silver lining, however. Some 82 percent of the respondents said they keep a budget—though a majority said they do so in their heads or with pen and paper.

Bell speculated that budgeting could be an outgrowth of the financial crisis and the recession. "People are more interested in keeping a household budget and keeping their expenses under control," he said.

Read MoreSavings tricks to bulk up your emergency fund

He's also hopeful that Americans could soon start putting more money away for emergencies. "As we see gas prices going down, unemployment falling and wages starting to rise, you may see people having the ability to build up savings," Bell said.

If they do, it will indicate a shift in the direction of the personal savings rate, which has been declining since June and stood at 4.4 percent in November (the most recent month for which figures are available), according to Federal Reserve data.

Perhaps some additional New Year's resolutions are in order.