6 Smart Money Moves for Right Now

Just because the economy is picking up steam doesn't necessarily mean your family is out of the woods. But manage your finances right and you'll come out ahead.
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The worst of the bad times may be behind us: The economy is growing again, the stock market has rallied, even home sales are picking up. But the great recession is by no means a distant memory, and many of us still worry about both holding on to or finding a job and our overall financial security. In times like these, keeping an eye on your money and managing it well are more important than ever. You'll ride out periods of economic uncertainty in much better shape if you take the time to seriously examine your financial situation and have a plan of action in case the worst -- like a job loss -- catches you by surprise.

Start by opening and reading all those account statements. Then take a look at your pay stubs and calculate your family's living expenses. Separate "musts" like food, rent, and utilities from "wants," which are just about everything else. Now, with a clear picture of your family's finances in mind, take these critical steps.

1. Build a Bigger Emergency Fund

The traditional rule of thumb for emergency accounts is to have enough set aside to cover your family's "need" expenses for at least three months. Today, though, when unemployment can drag on, the more savings you can put away, the better. If you don't have anything at all set aside and your job is at risk, forget about paying down debt right now, says Francine Duke, a certified financial planner in Vernon Hills, Illinois. "Start saving before you do anything else."

Put emergency funds where they are safe but accessible, such as in a savings or in a money market account. The Internet makes it easy to find the best deals, but keep checking even after you've made your deposit, since interest rates can go up or down without notice. Also look into online banks, since their interest rates tend to be higher.

Continued on page 2:  2. Don't Stop Funding Your Retirement


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