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The Best Recovery for a Financial Hangover – Part 4 of 4

Seven Resolutions to Begin in 2010

  1. Control spending: If you spend less you'll have more money available to pay down debt and save for the future. Write down your expenses for a month to see where your money is going. You might be surprised by how easy it is to find places to scale back.
  2. Create a debt repayment plan: If you carry credit card debt, write down everything you owe and make a plan to pay it off. Start with small items you can act on right away–it will make tackling the bigger debt easier. Also, try buying with cash only. It’s a sure-fire way to prevent increases in your credit card debt.
  3. Set up auto-savings plans: Arrange with your bank or another financial institution to have a set amount deducted from your checking account to a savings account each pay period. Of the Americans who have been able to contribute to emergency savings funds, automatic withdrawal is the most popular method, according to the Consumer Federation of America.
  4. Boost retirement savings: If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, increase your contributions. If you don't have an employer plan, open an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and arrange for contributions to be made automatically from your checking or savings account.
  5. Create a long-term plan: Write a list of your long-term goals, such as buying a home or saving for college or retirement. Visit the Life Events section of Smart About Money for concrete tips on accomplishing those goals.
  6. Protect Yourself: Be prepared for the unexpected by making sure you, your family, your assets and investments are insured and fully covered. If you do not have a will, make 2010 the year you establish a life plan.
  7. Find a financial buddy: Share your financial resolutions with a friend, colleague, or family member, and you’ll be more likely to keep them. Find someone else who wants to turn around their debt or cut their spending, and establish a mutual support system.

The Best Recovery for a Financial Hangover – Part 3 of 4

Tackling the Little Things

Getting debt under control and improving savings habits are two big steps to a better financial life, but those actions only are possible if Americans have more specific aspects of their financial lives under control.

While the economy recovers, job stability remains a vast and very valid concern. Without income, saving stops and debt can spiral. Even if they still have a job, Americans need to assess their marketability and increase their professional value by networking and upgrading job skills.

If someone experiences a job loss, it’s important to be proactive. They should negotiate severance pay, file for unemployment benefits and look into alternative insurance plans, because living unprotected will risk their family’s security. Individuals who have lost their jobs also should immediately start looking for work. Most states allow people to work a certain number of hours, and earn up to half their previous income, and still retain unemployment benefits.

Those who are struggling financially also might find it difficult to pay their mortgage. If individuals have missed a payment, they should immediately search through financial records or identify spending habits to find out what caused the missed payment. They also should contact their lender, who is required to examine their client’s financial life before taking any drastic action against the client’s home.

Even without a job loss or mortgage trouble, it’s time for Americans to involve their entire family in assessing the household budget. Tracking spending for a month will reveal some easy places to cut back without causing any significant lifestyle changes. Turning off lights and appliances, cutting down on weekend trips and dinners out and eliminating habits such as smoking all will help reduce household spending. And, it will give the family a head start on saving in case of emergencies.

For Americans to recover, maintain or rebuild their financial lives after this recession, they need to make permanent changes so they’re prepared for any future trouble in the economy. Identifying areas in which they are struggling, scrutinizing bills and spending habits and prioritizing aspects of their financial lives will help individuals create a proactive financial plan to last the whole year, and beyond.

Next Up: Seven Resolutions