Now is not the time to panic. It is, however, the time for a wake-up call.
Sometimes fear can be the greatest motivator. And what's better than the threat of an economic depression to get us serious about our finances and spending habits?
No, the sky is not falling. But if you need to believe that it is in order to get a tighter hold on your purse strings, then by all means, get your Henny Penny on.
Better yet, take a cue from the ant and the grasshopper. We've been playing the part of the grasshopper far too long, and it looks like winter is a-comin'.
There may not be much you can do about the American economy at large, but there are steps you and your family can take to get yourselves back on the right financial track:
You've heard financial advisers say it a thousand times: You need to have three months worth of living expenses squirreled away and readily available.
Now is the time to actually do it.
Put your newly honed MoneySmart skills to work, but instead of putting the extra dollars you save toward a vacation fund, put them into an FDIC-insured savings account. That way, you'll have a safety net for times of real need.
We keep hearing the party is over, but that doesn't mean life has to end. Maybe just life as we know it. And for many of us, that's probably a good thing.
The way we've been living (read: on credit) is just plain wrong. Buy stuff I don't need with money I don't have? Why, it's the American way! And look at all these nice companies willing to lend me money!
With lenders tightening their fists and interest rates poised to go up, it's a great time to get serious about cutting up the cards and paying off the debts.
We need to learn the art of saving for what we want -- even when it comes to cars and homes -- and we'll be better off for it.
We also need to understand the lunacy of paying someone else 7, 14, 28 cents on every dollar just so we can spend our money sooner than we have it. We must learn that if we can't afford to buy something with cash, we definitely can't afford to pay interest on it.
Hint: You already know not to make the minimum payment on your credit card bills, right? Well, as you pay your debt down, continue making that higher payment even as your minimum payment decreases. Your head will spin at how quickly you get that balance down to zero.
And remember, once the credit card payment is gone, that is money set free to go into your own pocket (or savings account) every single month.
Consumerism has had its claws in our culture too long. Now is the time to cultivate contentment outside of what money can buy.
Maybe tougher times will force us to spend more time with our families, look deeper than cultural labels and pull up an extra seat at our dinner table.
Western New Yorkers are experts at hunkering down for the long haul (whether it's a blizzard or a financial meltdown). In fact, some of us live for it. We'll be just fine.