We all need money in the bank for a rainy day. After all, you never know when your car might break down, your roof might spring a damaging leak, or your employer might call you up and inform you that you're a suddenly a free agent without a paycheck.

New data from GOBankingRates, however, reveals that 69% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. That means they're clearly nowhere close to having a complete emergency fund, and they're taking a very big chance with their finances.

Worse yet, 45% of Americans say they have $0 in savings. That's right -- not so much as a dollar socked away in a bank account. If you're one of them, it's imperative that you work on boosting your cash reserves -- before the next financial disaster in your life strikes.

White piggy bank with dollar bill sticking out of it


Why aren't we saving more?

Nearly 33% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, which explains their glaring lack of savings. Meanwhile, 20% point to a high cost of living as the reason their bank accounts are in such a sorry state. But even if you're grappling with big bills on a limited income, chances are, there's some way for you to eke out a modest amount of savings. And the sooner you do, the better.

How to build your emergency savings

Ideally, you should have enough money in savings to cover three to six months of essential living expenses. That sum is meant to tide you over in the event of a job loss, but also, it can get you through costly home repairs, car issues, or medical bills.

If you have less than $1,000 in savings right now, or no savings at all, you'll need to start making lifestyle changes immediately to free up more cash. First, set up a budget so you can understand what your current bills cost you. From there, identify a few expenses you can cut back on, like dining out, taking rideshares, or paying for entertainment. Will it be easy to give these things up? No -- but you can live without them, and you may have to do so for a while if you want to build savings.

Of course, you could keep spending on modest luxuries like cable but make more drastic changes, like downsizing your living space or giving up a car. Doing so would actually be a quicker path to building an emergency fund, so if you're willing to make those sacrifices, it could help your finances in a very big way.

Another option? Get a second job on top of your main one to boost your income. About 38% of Americans say a bigger paycheck would help them build savings, and the good news is that you don't need to wait for your employer to feel generous to make that happen. Instead, you can join the gig economy by tutoring, pet-sitting, blogging, or consulting in whatever you're good at. The great thing about a side hustle is that its earnings won't be earmarked for existing bills, so you can take all of the money you make from it, minus taxes, and stick it into a savings account.

Building an emergency fund should trump all other financial goals you have -- including saving for retirement. If you're sitting on less than $1,000 in the bank, or, worse yet, $0, make changes immediately. If you don't, you'll probably have no choice but to rack up debt the next time an unplanned bill lands in your lap. And that, in turn, could kick-start a dangerous cycle that hurts your finances irreparably.