2009 New Year's resolutions: Get organized. Trim your budget. Trim your waistline. Fatten up your emergency fund.
The nation's unemployment rate climbed to 7.2% in December, bringing the total number of jobs lost to 2.5 million. Credit card companies are lowering credit limits and reducing available credit. Banks and mortgage lenders are freezing home equity lines of credit. Investment account values have been decimated.
Forget about downsizing your home to raise cash or reduce cash outflows. You'll have a tough time finding a buyer, especially one that is willing to pay you what you think your home is worth.
Make it a priority to build or beef up your family's emergency fund in 2009. Whether it's a job loss, the death or disability of a family member, an unexpected home repair or medical bills, an adequate emergency fund can go a long way to help your family cope through a financial crisis.
The rule of thumb for emergency funds is to set aside 3 to 6 months of living expenses in a savings or money market account. Some families may need more. Some may use less.
To determine the appropriate amount for your family, start by considering the types of emergencies that might affect your family and the "safety nets" that are in place to protect you.
- Do you have a disability insurance policy that will provide adequate income to replace that of a disabled wage earner? Will that income be taxable, or is it tax free? That depends on who pays the monthly premiums; you or your employer.
- Do you have adequate life insurance to protect your family's financial security in the event of the death of a loved one?
- Track your expenses for a month or two. Think about how you would pay the monthly bills without your steady paycheck.
- Consider your family's spending habits.
- In the event of a job loss, would you be willing and able to reduce expenses for a short time or maybe long-term? Consider your job prospects. Given your education, skills, experience, and industry outlook, how long would it take to secure full-time employment?
If you are like millions of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, it might seem impossible to save 3 to 6 months' worth of expenses. Resolve to just do it. Start small if necessary. Commit to making short-term changes in your spending until you've saved enough to cover a mortgage payment or two and keep building from there.
Save your "pocket change." My family has a large glass jar that catches our pocket change at the end of each day. We spend an evening rolling coins once a year, usually just before our summer vacation. Believe it or not, we usually have close to $500 worth of spare change in our jar each year. This is just a matter of collecting spare change. Every penny really does count!