Two weeks ago, I pressed the start button on my trusty laundry dryer and was greeted with silence. The cylinder didn't turn. The fan didn't move. No amount of checking the fuse box would bring my dryer's soul back to me. With a groan of resignation, I plunked my soaking-wet clothes into the plastic laundry basket and trudged upstairs to enlist the shower rod to take on double duty as a clothesline.

To be fair, the dryer had a good life -- it was pushing 30 years old. But not even its advanced age had prepared me for the eventuality that one day it would be gone and I'd be forced to -- gasp! -- find a replacement.

Be prepared
This whole scene would have been much more of a fiasco if my family hadn't prepared for such twists of fate. When appliances fail, cars need repair, or windowpanes are casualties of our family football game, we can take action with confidence. We're not rich people -- we just sock a little money into an emergency fund every time we get a paycheck. You'd be surprised at how quickly it adds up.

Not that I don't lament my misfortune when we actually have to spend this emergency money. My inner saver just can't get worked up into a frenzy of joy about shelling out hundreds of dollars for a new appliance or household repair. Yet just knowing it's there -- and that it's earmarked for just such a purpose -- is comforting in my time of distress. And it makes all the difference when the time comes to shop for a replacement.

Three simple steps to appliance harmony
When replacing an old appliance, there are obviously financial considerations -- the saving and planning that makes purchasing a new appliance less of a hassle in the first place. However, there's also the common-sense side, which you can easily overlook in the presence of tempting, shiny new 21st-century washers and dryers. (Not that I was tempted. Nope. Not me. Well, maybe a little bit.)

So, here are three rules of engagement.

1. Always keep money socked away to cover life's little emergencies. If we hadn't had an e-fund, we wouldn't have a new dryer. Sure, you could use a credit card, but who wants to pay all those finance charges? There's nothing like the feeling of being prepared for a sizable financial outlay, even when it's unexpected.

Car breakdowns and dryer deaths rarely adhere to our schedules. Having the funds easily available and readily at hand makes all the difference in the world.

2. Before you get caught up in the exuberance of an appliance purchase, survey your needs. Yes, I really did admire the sleek, high-end washers and dryers that greeted me as soon as I walked into the appliance department. And I'm not alone. The major appliance makers count on this reaction. However, our family didn't need all the bells and whistles that came with these thousand-dollar models. While we weren't necessarily looking for the cheapest style available -- we wanted something dependable, after all -- the most expensive models were impressive luxuries rather than necessities.

3. Always double- and triple-check your room measurements and appliance dimensions. Trust me -- the worst time to find out that your basement doorway is a little skinnier than you thought is when you're trying to wedge a Whirlpool through it. Enough said.

The Foolish bottom line
I didn't particularly want to spend my hard-earned money on a dryer when it died. In fact, I've got a ton of other ideas and wishes for that money in the future. But I also didn't want to be hanging all my clothes up on the shower rod to dry for the rest of the winter -- nor did I want to spend hours every weekend languishing at the local Sit 'n Wash. So a dryer it was.

In the long run, I'll pay less on energy costs (even though we didn't buy the top-of-the-line model, any new machine is more energy-efficient than one from the days of disco). And most importantly, by ensuring I had money socked away for just such an emergency, I was able to make my purchase with minimal concern. My emergency fund didn't just pay for a dryer -- it paid for peace of mind. And that is worth the cost of admission.

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Hope Nelson-Pope is online coordinating editor at The Motley Fool. She doesn't own any of the companies mentioned in this article. Fool rules are here.