Unless you're one of the people who lived through the Great Depression, chances are you'll remember 2008 as one of your worst years, at least as far as your finances were concerned. What does that mean for this year?

Time to regroup. To make smart choices. To control what you can control as far as your savings, investments, job and home are concerned. Here's how:
In Case of Emergency
Layoffs were huge last year, and the U.S. unemployment rate has jumped to 7.2 percent. Most of us are in danger of being forced to cut back. If you only have a three-month emergency cushion, try to boost it to six.

"There is some interesting research about having an emergency savings account, and what that does for you from a mental health point of view. It makes you feel much more comfortable, and allows you to deal with emergencies if your hours are cut down or you lose your job," said Ted Beck, CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education.

Where does the money come from? Use the Web to get the most from couponing. If you joined a car pool to save money when gas was $4 a gallon, don't quit now. Have cash transferred automatically to savings each time you get paid.
Particularly on your mortgage. If your rate is 6 percent or higher and your credit is good, you may want to refinance. "It may or may not make sense ... but if you have good credit and equity, lenders are willing to provide you with options. It doesn't hurt to call," said Rita Cheng, a financial adviser in Maryland.
If you have enough cash to make a 10 percent or 20 percent down payment, this could be your opportunity to buy at a fantastic price. You'll need a solid credit score of 720 or more to get the best rates. Start by browsing the real estate section of the Daily News, looking at homes in the best school districts (because those tend to hold their value) and visiting open houses. Be sure to pay your bills on time and whittle away any credit card balances.

If you're going to buy, be realistic. Try not to allow the price of owning the home— including mortgage payment, insurance, taxes, utilities and maintenance (which can cost 1 percent to 2 percent of the value of the property annually)—to exceed 35 percent of your take-home pay.
Even if your job is relatively secure, this is a time in which everyone needs to be looking. That means you should be meeting people you know from prior jobs for coffee, making sure your presence on websites like Facebook and LinkedIn makes a good first impression, and updating your resume so it's ready to e-mail on a moment's notice.

Of course, do this while remaining diligent at work. Face time is important in this economy. When you do something great, take credit in a suitable way.
Get your kids in on the savings act. There are so many ways your kids can help you get and stay on the right financial footing, while learning to become financially responsible. You don't have time for coupons? Get your kids to do it—and offer them a percentage of the savings. Money they have is money you don't have to spend on them. Also, consider assigning them chores you might pay other people to do.

Jean Chatzky's Layoff Survival Guide
Please note: This is general information and is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult with your own financial advisor before making any major financial decisions, including investments or changes to your portfolio, and a qualified legal professional before executing any legal documents or taking any legal action. Harpo Productions, Inc., OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, Discovery Communications LLC and their affiliated companies and entities are not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your financial or legal decisions.


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