Had your fill of massive businesses receiving government bailouts? Wondering who's going to save your finances? Here's your answer, although you may not like it: You'll have to rescue yourself. After all, who cares more about your financial situation than you do?
We created a list of dire scenarios you may face, then devised ways to help you escape them:
No emergency fund?
Having no cash to fall back on in case of a sudden calamity is bad news. To save yourself, start socking away three to six months of living expenses (or more, if it's generally hard for you to find a new job) in the safest place you can find -- say, a money-market fund, or perhaps a short-term CD. Money you'll need within, say, three to five years (or more, if you'd like to be more conservative) should not be in stocks, unless you want a bad year like 2008 to roll in and slash your savings by 40%.
Never got around to investing?
Have you been avoiding the stock market, storing your long-term money in bank accounts and CDs where it's having trouble just keeping pace with inflation? If you feel intimidated, don't be embarrassed. Few of us ever learned about investing in school. If you'd like to dip a toe into the stock market, we're here to ensure you don't have to go it alone.
Our Investing Basics area is a great place to start, and our vast archives of Fool articles make an excellent follow-up. And hey, the recent market meltdown might just give you a once-in-a-lifetime investing opportunity to buy in at amazingly low prices.
You don't need an IQ of 180 to figure out that a solid dividend-payer such as Coca-Cola
Retirement up in the air?
Too many people have stumbled into retirement-killing activities: investing irrationally, cashing out retirement accounts prematurely, not saving enough, or not thinking about retirement early enough, among other bad habits.
Still, don't lose hope. You can make up a lot of lost ground just by working a few more years. And it's not too late to start building up your nest egg. Investing $6,000 per year for the next 15 years will yield you more than $200,000, if that money averages a 10% growth rate. Work six more years, and your savings will top $400,000.
To get a leg up on retirement investing, take advantage of the tax breaks offered by IRAs and your employer's 401(k) plan. Our Rule Your Retirement service gives you clear, simple advice on topics such as proper portfolio diversification, avoiding tax pitfalls, and specific stock and fund recommendations.
No time for investing?
Hey, we can't all be market maniacs. Too many of us feel we just don't have the time or energy to study investing, evaluate companies, and pick our own stocks. If your schedule leaves no room for financial analysis, consider plunking your money in a broad-market mutual fund, which will likely beat most actively managed funds over the long haul -- while charging you far less in fees.
If you'd like to aim just a bit higher, you can find actively managed funds that outperform the majority of their sluggish peers. One of the funds in Rule Your Retirement's sample portfolios, Fairholme (FAIRX), has trounced the market over the past one-, three-, and five-year periods. Its top holdings recently included Northrop Grumman
Whatever your fiscal peril, there's always a way to escape it. Just stay calm, make a plan -- and don't hesitate to seek out a little Foolish help if you need it.
Further Foolish lifelines:
Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Coca-Cola, Paychex, and the Fairholme fund. Fairholme is a Motley Fool Champion Funds recommendation. Coca-Cola, Paychex, and Sears Holdings are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Coca-Cola and Paychex are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. Try our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.