At some point, most of us encounter a situation where we have to pay for a major expense. This can be a new car, a medical emergency, our perhaps our child's college tuition. For anyone who lives paycheck-to-paycheck, this can create a major challenge. How do you prepare for significant expenses? Here are a few strategies from professionals so that you're not caught unaware.

Identify your biggest payments

Our regular expenses usually fall into a couple of categories: either it's a seasonal expense (lawn care, snow removal, holiday gifts), or it's known monthly bills such as doctor's appointments, car payment, or property taxes. Tally up your yearly payments, so you know exactly how much you typically spend annually. Check your previous year's records (bank statements, credit card statements) and notate the significant expenses that you've paid with a credit card. If you have children, you can figure out roughly how much you've spent on them over the calendar year for things like back-to-school clothes, allowances, school supplies, class trips, school fees, or music lessons. These expenses add up. Be sure to account for these when compiling your list of major annual costs.

Create a monthly budget

Once you have this yearly total, divide it by the number of paychecks you receive in a year. For instance: 26 if you get paid bi-weekly, 24 if it's bi-monthly. This final amount is the amount of money you should ideally set aside per paycheck for major expenses for the year. From this, you can create a budget for spending. Money management comes into play here as you categorize every dollar coming in and going out. With a monthly budget in place, you can start to save money.

Start small

Many people are not able to take the ideal calculated amount out of each check, and that's fine. You can start small by putting $25 or $50 per paycheck away. Over time and with proper budgeting, you can slowly ramp up those savings to the previously figured amount and even higher, later on, to make up for shortfalls in the beginning.

Consider online banking

Online banking institutions provide a great holding cell for your major expense fund. These institutions often limit the number of withdrawals per month to five, making it less tempting to use the money for other purposes. These banks also usually pay higher interest rates than regular brick-and-mortar banks.

Shop around

Put off the purchase of big-ticket items if you can. If it is a critical purchase, shop around first to get the best possible deal. The more money you save on the purchase means more money to have in place in case of an emergency.

Take advantage of deals

This is primarily for services such as cell phone, internet, and cable television providers. How many monthly adverts do you get in the mail promising substantial deals? Use these to your advantage by calling your provider regularly, perhaps once or twice a year, to let them know that you have been offered a better service plan elsewhere. They'll either match the offer to keep your business or go one step further and offer you a better deal. If they can't match it or won't even get within a ballpark figure, you have the option to switch providers and save money.

Meal planning

You've had a long day at work. The last thing you'll want to do is go home and cook. Eating out is a time and energy saver, but it also costs a lot. Check your previous year's statements for the number of times you eat at a sit-down or fast-food restaurant; the number may surprise you. A great way to considerably shave this number is by eating at home more often. To this end, plan your week's meals ahead of time and shop just for the needed ingredients. This saves you money at the grocery store and from shelling out for costly take-out. Bonus: it's healthier for you, as well.

These are just some tips to get you prepared for the inevitable position of paying for major expenses. Figure can help you plan for your future with tips on our blog.