7 Ways to Create Your Financial Safety Net

Headlines warn of tightening credit markets, more foreclosures, fewer jobs, and higher prices. It’s not surprising that people are worried about how they are going to survive financially.

Your best defense: Start living within your means and put away some cash for emergencies. Here are some tips on how to do that.

Institute a “real money only” policy

“Try using only cash or a debit card for a day, a week, a month,” says Rick Salmeron, president of the Salmeron Financial Network in Dallas. “You’ll think twice about making any purchases.”

Take the checkout quiz

Before buying anything, says Marcia Brixey, author of The Money Therapist, ask yourself, Do I need this? Will I use this? Am I buying this because it’s on sale? How many hours will I have to work to pay for this?

Get rid of what you’re not using

Do you really need three-way calling? Do you watch all those premium channels? When was the last time you used your gym membership?

Put away your credit cards

Then focus on paying down the balances. “Pay off the card with the highest interest rate first,” says Roseann Bunshaft, associate vice president with Wachovia Securities in Southampton, New York. “After you pay that off, add the payment you’ve been making on that bill to the minimum payment due on the card with the next highest interest rate,” she says. “And keep going until all your balances are paid off.”

Pay your bills on time

Late fees on credit cards can run as high as $38 for missing the due date by even one day. Worse, paying late may hurt your credit rating. A bad rating can mean paying as much as 15 percent more for that new-car loan, instead of 6 or 7 percent, the average for anyone with good credit.

Avoid banking fees

A bounced check will run $28, on average. Keep track of all your expenditures, withdrawals, and fees. Allow at least three business days for deposits to clear. Consider overdraft protection, but resist the temptation to use it as a line of credit.

Start saving today

How much per month depends on what you’re saving for, but 10 percent a paycheck is a good beginning. Set up direct deposits, and establish a goal and a target date.

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