Most personal finance experts will tell you to put money away for a rainy day, but what do they suggest if you’re in the middle of a torrential downpour, just at the point your funds have virtually run out and the roof is leaking? While the big picture for the economy is looking promising—car sales, housing, manufacturing, and the stock market are all up—there are still a number of discouraging economic indicators. Unemployment hangs at a stubborn high, as does credit card debt. On that latter point, adults born between 1980 and 1984 are estimated to have approximately $5,500 more in credit card debt than their parents’ generation and about $8,000 more than their grandparents’ generation, according to an Ohio State University study recently published in the journal Economic Inquiry.
Living paycheck to paycheck provides no financial cushion, says Albert Williams, assistant professor of economics at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “Friends and families become one’s cushion,” he says. If your personal economy hasn’t followed suit with the country’s improving economy, don’t lose hope. If you’re fighting financial battles in the the trenches every day, take these steps to get your finances on the right path:
Some bills will always be more important to pay off than others. With so many to take care of, it’s easy to lose track of which bills should be on the top of your list. Mary Ellen Nicol, a housing counselor at CredAbility.org, a national nonprofit financial counseling organization, says people should ideally pay their bills in this order of importance:
Mortgage or rent
Student loans or children’s college expenses
Other debts you’ve incurred
It may seem odd that Nicol ranks food secondary to the mortgage or rent. Of course, she doesn’t advocate starvation—she simply reasons, “There are always ways to work groceries and food into your budget, but you’ve got to live somewhere.”
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