Oprah and Suze Orman have teamed up to provide people a free financial plan for 2009.  I went ahead and downloaded it (I love Oprah, not as much of a Suze fan, but she has good common sense advice), and here is my summary:

  1. Get out of credit card debt.  Credit card companies are trying to reduce leverage and are taking tactics like lowering credit limits, canceling accounts and rising interest rates–this means you need to read each and every notice you receive from a financial institution so you are knowledgeable about what is happening with your accounts.  These are not borrow friendly conditions.  The best thing you can do is get rid of this type of debt (this is also a good thing to do, anyway, because credit card debt is the highest interest debt).
  2. Stock up an emergency fund.  Credit cards are no longer the place to borrow in a pinch (see point above), and unemployment is skyrocketing.  This can have a rippling effect and may even put your job at risk.  You need to be prepared.  You don’t want to get behind on your payments because of an unforeseen emergency.
  3. Keep investing in your retirement accounts.  This is so important–you need to have a vehicle for your savings.  You should continue to buy stocks, bonds, and whatever asset mix is appropriate for your age and goals.  Even though a lot of retirement accounts lost as much as 30% it is not the time to stop putting money into stocks.  Don’t be afraid, it is still a great time to invest–there are a lot of bargains and opportunities out there.  I think that Suze does a great job outlining all the excuses and scenarios people have made with regards to putting more money into their 401ks–if you disagree with this advice you should certainly read the ebook.
  4. Be prepared to convert your IRA or old 401k to a Roth IRA in 2010.  They are removing the income limit and allowing you to pay the taxes over 2 years.  Roth IRAs are good because your money can go tax deferred.
  5. Spend less.  It is the easiest way to achieve financial freedom.  You should always spend less than you earn.  Separate wants form needs and learn to do without the things you don’t really need.  Then make sure you save that excess.  Aim to have at least 8 months of living expenses tucked away. Suze also provides a handing worksheet to help catalog and inventory your monthly spending, so you can see where you might be able to cut back.  And remember, every little bit helps.
  6. Get health insurance (being prepared for the worse), and have your estate in order.  You need to protect yourself and your family, make sure you have taken the necessary steps to ensure that happens.

And her 3 big takeaways, which are really words to live by:

  • When it comes to money, if it sounds too good to be true, it is.
  • If you cannot afford it, do not buy it.
  • Always choose to do what’s right, not what’s easy.

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