A rainy day fund provides further insulation, helping investors keep their hands out of the cookie jar when emergencies crop up—and crop up they will, Salmen said.
The fund should consist of at least six months' worth of living expenses held in a liquid interest-bearing account, although you may need a year's worth of expenses saved or more if your income is less stable.
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Be wary, too, of buying more home than you can afford. Lenders are far more conservative in the wake of the housing crisis, but they still qualify borrowers with good credit ratings for more house than they should buy.
Generally speaking, mortgage payments should not exceed 28 percent of your monthly take-home pay, said Phil Cook, a certified financial planner with Cook and Associates.
Borrowers can spend slightly more in the current market to capitalize on low-interest rates and favorable housing prices if necessary, but stretch too far and you'll lack the disposable income necessary to adequately feather your nest egg.